Flying with Red Tails
After 23 years, George Lucas finally brings Red Tails to the big screen: the high-flying story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American fighter pilots in U.S. military history that helped turn the momentum in Europe during World War II. Directed by Anthony Hemingway (The Wire, Battlestar Galactica), exec produced by Lucas and produced by Rick McCallum and Charles Floyd Johnson, Red Tails arguably contains the most authentic-looking aerial footage in movie history. And the dogfights are spectacular.
"The Tuskegee Airmen were such superb pilots that it was essential for us to create visual effects that would live up to their heroism and put audiences in the cockpit with them," Lucas said. "They were only in their early 20s when they performed these amazing feats. They became the best of the best -- the top guns. It is an honor to bring to the screen a story inspired by their heroics."
Industrial Light & Magic originally planned around 500 VFX shots, but that shot up to 1,600 after production. So ILM concentrated primarily on the opening dogfight, establishing a tone and setting the bar to be met by five other studios: Pixomondo, Rising Sun Pictures, UPP, Rodeo FX and Ollin VFX Studio.
To ensure authenticity, the visual effects artists closely studied the performance of real P-51 Mustangs. "It's amazing what these planes could do and the speed they can achieve," says Craig Hammack, ILM's visual effects supervisor. "On a dive, they can go up to 450 miles per hour and seemingly turn on a dime. It's pretty amazing to see the flexibility and maneuverability of a plane that was built for combat."
Blending the gimbal and greenscreen work together proved challenging because many of those scenes captured with the actors were constrained to a relatively stationary cockpit. "If he actors are in action or if there's a lot of action going on around them then you can get away with a lot," Hammack adds. "But for a large part of this movie, they are flying in formation, talking over the radios, but there's not a whole lot going on around them. So, you get a good long time to stare at what is computer-generated."