Look closely and you can see the cable pulling the ‘Speed’ bus towards the plane before it explodes

'Speed' bus explosion with plane

But, so what…’splosions!

#speedvfxweek is brought to you by YellowDog
#speedvfxweek is brought to you by YellowDog.

If you watch Speed more than a couple of times (this author has), it’s true that you do start seeing some of the magic behind the huge moments in the film. For example, in the first bus explosion, you can see the vehicle towing the bus. Then in some of the bus-in-the-city scenes, you can see some of the ‘crash cams’ attached to the bus itself. And in the final plane explosion at LAX, you can see the endless cable loop that ensured the bus and plane would always meet at the desired point before going ‘Boom!’.

Perhaps those cables or cams would be painted out digitally these days, but such is the magic of the movies that these artefacts don’t detract from the viewing – that’s because the central focus is on the action. And that includes in that final plane explosion, as Jack and Annie make it out of the bus, only to watch it careen into a freighter aircraft.

Speed’s special effects supervisor John Frazier recounts for befores & afters how the sequence came to be, from the endless guide cable, to shooting at Mojave airport (not LAX) and the loads of explosives on board the plane and the bus.

Look closely for those cables
Look closely for those cables…

Bus into plane

John Frazier (special effects supervisor, Speed): We shot this at Mojave airport. What we used was a guide cable to line up the plane and the bus. In fact, when the bus is going down the tarmac towards the plane, you’ll see the cable on the runway. You’ll see the cable on the tarmac moving, whipping back and forth, and that cable was our guideline. For years, I reckon I was the only one in the world to notice it…

We had two guys on the buttons. And because we had the bus on a guide cable, we knew exactly where it was going to go. It was a big semi pulling the bus. We had a quarter of a mile to get it right and get it up to speed.

illustration of cable work
This illustration shows how the endless cable worked.

Lots of gasoline

This was a pretty big blast. It was the right combination of gasoline. We used the dirtiest, oldest gasoline we could get. That’s the most volatile. When you use new gasoline right out of the pump, it doesn’t give that look. We saved that gasoline in barrels for a couple months just to try to age it a little bit. And then you put about 15% diesel fuel in it to get that black, black smoke. And then you don’t set it all off at once.

bus crashed airplaine

We had a what we call non-electrical explosion. So one sets off the other one. Basically you send the signal to it, but all the blasting caps are on time delays, and they’re all just momentary. It’s just seconds from each other. And that’s real critical, the timing, so that the explosions overlap each other, but there’s no gap in the explosions. So it’s like it just keeps rolling, but it’s really not. They were on preset time delays.

The gas would just keep making the explosion just bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger as it rolled up into the sky. I thought that was a nice explosion as well. We were out in the desert for weeks just prepping that plane and making sure that we would test the time delays, and make sure that we had the right time delays.

Shooting explosion elements
Shooting explosion elements.

The producer gets away

That’s the producer, Ian Bryce, running away from the plane. He was in that tow vehicle. Jan de Bont wanted it to like it was being towed, because he didn’t want it to look like anybody got hurt in it. They blasted out all the windows to make it look like a FedEx or a freight plane, again so that it didn’t feel like anybody got killed.

‘Jan kind of turned white’

One thing that happened was, we knew we didn’t have anytime to put the fuel in the bus, so we just loaded it up. Nobody knew that the plane was full of gasoline and bombs. They were shooting it half of the day, and at the end of the day it was like, ‘Okay, let’s blow the bus up.’ And Jan said, ‘So how long is it going to take you to fill up the gasoline?’ I said ‘It’s had gasoline in it all day long.’ So that kind of turned him white.

Explore our in-depth ‘Speed’ 25th anniversary coverage during #speedvfxweek, Coming up: baby carriage carnage, shooting crashing train miniatures…

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