The secrets behind the ‘Independence Day’ cloud tank effects

Learn more about the spaceship arrival/cloud tank VFX at this exclusive VIEW Conference panel.

Readers of befores & afters will no doubt be aware of my obsession with all things VFX retro. Which is why I’m excited to announce this special 25th anniversary Independence Day panel to be held at the 2021 VIEW Conference.

It will dive deep into the making of the film’s design and visual effects, including those stunning cloud tank shots used to create the alien spaceship arrival phenomenon, the moment when the destroyers enter Earth’s atmosphere hidden behind massive clouds that are glowing from the inside.

More on that VFX below, but first a quick note about the actual panel, which is happening on Thursday, 21st October at 9pm CET online. The virtual panel features these amazing speakers:

VOLKER ENGEL – visual effects supervisor
DOUG SMITH – visual effects supervisor
OLIVER SCHOLL – production designer
PATRICK TATOPOULOS – production designer and alien creature effects designer

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I’ll be chatting to these original members of the ID4 team live about their work on the film, and there will be a chance to ask them questions, too.

The ID4 cloud tank work

Now, back to the cloud tank visual effects for Independence Day. To create the arrival phenomenon, the cloud tank set-up was a rig that was 50 cm long and also 50 cm wide in a horse shoe shape. It had halogen lights attached and plastic tubing with 1 mm holes drilled into it, which ran in the same horse shoe shape in front of the halogen lights.

While a technician slowly moved the rig forward (in this case from right to left), white tempera paint was pushed through the copper tubing and the lights made the paint cloud glow from the inside. The team shot this from the side and from the front with high speed cameras, mostly Photosonics at 360 frames/second.

A big thanks to VFX supervisor Volker Engel for sharing those pics and the info behind the work. You can of course hear more directly from him and the other panelists on October 21st.

Here’s where you can buy tickets for VIEW Conference. I’ll also soon be giving everyone a sneak peek of ANOTHER retro panel I’m hosting at the event…hope to see you there!

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2 Replies to “The secrets behind the ‘Independence Day’ cloud tank effects

  1. My friend and former fellow camera assistant Jeff S was on this film. Pretty sure he was the ultra high-speed camera tech, too, as the Photosonics camera camera came from Hill Production Service (now long defunct). We both worked there together. He trained me how to service cameras and lenses. Eventually he went full-time freelance and this was one project he worked on. Hill had allowed him to tech the Photosonics cameras. The 4E was the camera used. Amazing piece of mechanical engineering. It has 4 registration pins: two above and two below the gate. Pressure plate has holes and a vacuum system pulls the film flat. No curl. The pull down claws are trident-like. Three pins per claw and there are 4 total: two above and two below the gate. The movement block itself is built like a tank. Solid.

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