Old-school miniature plane explosions + new-school VFX techniques

How Wolf Hound utilized miniature plane models for its dynamic aerial battles.

In our continuing series here at befores & afters on the visual effects of Wolf Hound, we now turn our attention to the film’s use of miniature models to help depict scenes of the aircraft being shot down.

Already, we’ve noted that real planes helped accomplish many flying scenes, complete with additional VFX elements such as tracer fire. A similar combined effort enabled practical miniature plane explosions to be combined with digital effects techniques for the most dynamic final shots.

Wolf Hound visual effects supervisor Ryan Urban, from Turncoat Pictures, explains further.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: How did Wolf Hound approach the various plane destructions?

Ryan Urban: Damaging the real planes was out of the question. Exploding them, even more out of the question.

The director, Michael B. Chait, always loved the use of miniature scale models, so when the planes in Wolf Hound get shot down he relied on Special Effects Coordinator, Matthew Stratton and his team to fabricate the base layer for the final shot. We knew each shot would have a handoff to VFX.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: How did you break up the shots?

Ryan Urban: We tasked the 1-2 man plane destruction shots primarily to Crafty Apes Vancouver. Crafty Apes’ team, led by VFX Supervisor Chris Van Dyck, handled the destruction of the Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire, P-51 Mustangs, and ME 109. Turncoat Pictures took on the B17.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: Besides explosion enhancement, it looks like there’s a lot of other work happening in these shots. Can you shed more insight?

Ryan Urban: Besides adjusting and fixing scale issues with the miniature scale explosions, there were some challenges like wires and paint job of the planes. The propellers were also removed and replaced digitally.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Some model planes had more time than others. As a result, some looked closer to the real ones than others. Regardless, for all miniature shots, we had to dig through the aerial footage to find the closest match. That gave us the best frame of reference and a source that we could repurpose as actual textures. We used as much of these to reskin the plans, projecting details or replacing parts of the miniatures as needed.

We lucked out and found what we needed to add in more details.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: Why do you say lucked out?

Ryan Urban: Had we had a larger budget, we might have been able to plan some of these setups differently from the get go. Aside from a few calls before the shoot, VFX didn’t get fully involved until post. It would have been ideal to have more detailed on-set reference photos of each plane, textures and digital scans of the planes that were used. Luckily, they had almost every angle we needed and then some from all the flying footage.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: Did you like working with miniatures?

Ryan Urban: It was definitely fun to work with footage of miniatures. I felt this was the best approach given the director’s vision and production team’s experience with visual effects. The thought of a full CG shot wasn’t really in the cards, budget nor aligned with Mike’s goal. After working on Wolf Hound, I bet he’s changed his mind a little bit on what’s possible with visual effects. Even if we ever did a full CG shot on future films, I’d still recommend him and his DP shoot something to base the shot off of.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: Did any surprises arise with the miniatures? I assume you had only a few chances.

Ryan Urban: Once the edit was closer to picture lock, we knew a couple of shots needed something different than what some takes of the miniature showed. I pitched to Mike to do a search for “the moment” he was after in the aerial footage dailies – if it even existed. Sure enough, it did exist! We then replaced a few miniature shots with beautiful aerial shots of the Mustang and Hurricane. Then with VFX, we match-moved the shots, painted and mapped on damage and destruction and ran a complex FX simulation of CG fire and explosions for those hero moments.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

b&a: How about the B-17?

Ryan Urban: We threw the kitchen sink at this. Luckily our schedules synced with senior FX artist, Val Kharitonashvili. He took on the effects work for the B-17 sequence.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Val’s details in his CG were great. In fact, one of his test renders was farther away just to see how the explosion was looking as a whole. Light bulb moment – I showed that test to Mike and suggested how we could incorporate that into a new shot. The search was on for unused flying footage that could work as the POV shot of the destruction. We initially had a POV shot that was another miniature, but logistics and with happy accidents along the way, this route was a stronger solution.

Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2022 Wolf Hound Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wolf Hound is available now on all streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV, and on Blu-Ray and DVD at Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy.

Brought to you by Turncoat Pictures:
This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.


Join the VFX community by becoming a b&a Patreon...and get bonus content!

Leave a Reply