Radical 3D Delivers Previs for Red Tails with LightWave
"LightWave is easily the fastest, get-a-good-look-as-fast-as-you-can software out there--without a doubt. There’s no muss, no fuss," McKinley says. "Everything is built in: You get your modeler, great animation, and a great renderer--all in the same box, ready to go."
Outside the Box
The Radical 3D team produced roughly five different models and three separate environments for the project. "It was all pre-vis, but it was nice looking; it wasn’t cheesy," McKinley describes. "I think it helped [the other studios’ CG and VFX artists] realize a lot more with pre-vis looking better than what they were used to."
Radical 3D artists worked remotely with the client, Lucasfilm, sending them a series of QuickTime files every day. They also handed off their pre-vis work to Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a division of Lucasfilm.
"ILM took all the pre-vis we had, all our scene files and motion files from LightWave, with zero issues," McKinley says. "They used a lot of those motion files in the final animation—that was gratifying. There are shots in the film that are literally exactly the same as our pre-vis—nothing changed, not even a camera. Then you can see ones where they changed the camera a little bit, but it’s the same airplane motion. And then there are others that are a composite or hybrid of a couple shots we did."
McKinley and his team are especially proud that two sequences comprising "the big money shot of the entire film" came from Radical 3D. Originally, the film’s final shot was one gigantic, climactic battle.
"The Red Tails escorted the B-17s during a massive propeller-driven, BF-109 attack. They fight them off, and then one of the planes gets hit. They stay with it, and then jets attack; they fight those guys off and one of the heroes is killed. It was a massive, 600-shot sequence," McKinley recalls. "In the final film, they split it into two separate sequences: an escort mission where they were attacked by the regular BF-109s and the last sequence, where they were attacked by the jets and defending the lone B-17."
In one sequence, "one of the Tuskeegee Airmen is on the tail of a German ace, who does an insane, high-speed, tall rotating maneuver where he actually spins the plane a full 360 degrees in mid-air and shoots the Tuskeegee Airmen as he flies by," McKinley describes. "Later on in the film, one of the Tuskeegee Airmen does the same maneuver and shoots a plane down—and that was the money shot used to promote the entire film. Every trailer ended with that shot--that was gratifying to see."
It was a real aerial combat maneuver that Pilot Richard Candelaria, member of the 435th Fighter Squadron, 479th Fighter Group, described to McKinley during his research for "Dog Fights." Candelaria performed the maneuver in WWII while being chased by a BF-109G German fighter that he could not shake. "In a last ditch effort, he pulled this stunt," McKinley says. "It was such an iconic move; the fact that it was real is even better. Matt Zeyn and Tom Bremmer did a great job with it. We used LightWave for that shot."
The move wasn’t in the storyboard or the story, but Radical 3D artists put in the pre-vis. "They were so happy with it that it became a story point," McKinley notes. "We are really proud of that one, specifically." It is rare, but gratifying when impressive graphics influence the storyline.
Looking back, McKinley and his team of artists at Radical 3D continue to be impressed with Red Tails. "Just the sheer scale of the project… The film has 60 minutes of 100 percent CGI with 1,600 effects shots. It’s a massive-scale project, and it takes someone like Lucasfilm to do it."
Producer McCallum is equally thrilled with Red Tails and its impressive effects, all of which started in pre-vis. He also credits the pre-vis process with helping not only save money, but also better focus the director, who might not have experience working with VFX. "Without previsualization, we couldn’t have done anything," he says. "With someone like McKinley doing pre-vis and a company like Halo doing animatics, it changes everything—the whole dynamics."