Press Release from Mechanism Digital
New York, NY -- On July 12, MSNBC aired a one-hour special containing explanations and reenactments of well-known and some lesser-known water ditchings forced by unfortunate mid-air events like fuel exhaustion and bird strikes. Mechanism Digital, a New York visual effects and animation studio, was commissioned by producer Caroline Sommers to build and animate 31 shots for the special. "With real footage and CGI of real ocean ditchings -- it is so terrifying to watch that I may never board a plane again," states Linda Stasi of the NEW YORK POST in her review entitled 'Crash' Course. "Not for the lily-livered, or even for anyone else who thinks they're brave, but tremendously watchable nonetheless."
Not that Mechanism is out to scare anybody, but it goes to show that their work is effective and their images impact viewers the way they're intended. Besides technical mastery of the software and hardware used to create the shots, a major factor in the success of the animations is the research by Mechanism producers and artists conducted for each shot. The reason is, as Mechanism producer Ted Keenan explains, "We were hired by a news station, with the objective to educate viewers of real and serious occurrences and we wouldn't change the facts just to make it look pretty. We strive to make it accurate first."
Because Mechanism Digital produces so much graphic programming content, research has become an integral part of the structured process they incorporate into every job. Because WHY PLANES CRASH required a high level of realism, there were a number of details that needed to be accounted for, including lights, control surfaces and paint schemes. The presence of these elements is the reason the imagery is as seamless as it is.
The artists applied this information in Autodesk's 3D software, Maya. When the 3D models were built, they inserted several physics models which "broke" the digital plane apart until they found the right relationships between velocity, gravity and mass, recreating exactly how the aircraft broke apart on the ocean, and how the water was displaced.
Mechanism also provided a few simple but very effective solutions for some of the shots such as advising the producer to shoot helicopter footage from a high angle and perspective that mimicked following the US Airways Flight 1549 Airbus down the Hudson. Mechanism also simply took a still photograph from Pier 64 to be composited behind the descending Airbus as it crashes into the Hudson (POV -- swimming in the Hudson).
By lucky coincidence, Executive Producer/Visual Effect Supervisor, Lucien Harriot, happens to be a pilot and consulted on shots accordingly. Mechanism is also located 1/4 mile south of where US Airways 1549 went down in the Hudson; just a couple of more factors that made Mechanism the optimal resource for graphics on WHY PLANES CRASH.