Time and money are perennial concerns, and accurate modeling of real world things requires both. The trick seems to be how to apply resources where they can be most effective, and for us that often means where these things are the most visible. How many seconds will a thing be on the screen? How close to the camera does it need to be, can it be, should it be? To be? Or not to be? If the camera is hanging outside an airplane, does the airplane need to exist?
One such potential THING for Arctic Currents will/might/should be a DeHavilland Twin Otter (DHC-6) as like those operated by NOAA. While the Twin Otter used for aerial bowhead survey work stays aloft for hours looking for whales, our 3D computer graphic thing is NEEDED on screen for about 6 seconds — maybe 10 seconds in the core narrative, the way we’re thinking at the moment, and can potentially return later in the film (in the way of themes and motifs and story fulfillment) for another 5-8 seconds. That’s not a lot of screen time for an thing as complicated as an airplane.
Some 3D models we make, some we buy, some we buy and wish we made and some we make and wish we had bought. All go through phases of repair, redesign, and rebuild. This one we bought. It’s far from perfect. On close inspection, there are obviously many parts missing, some of which we would have expected to be a part of any Twin Otter — and others that are obvious customizations to the NOAA aircraft and we wouldn’t expect so much from a stock model. The engine intakes appear to lack guts! Interestingly, they appear to be hollow, not a concern unless the camera wants to be put nose on to the plane. The wires from the tail, the odd sensor stem and the quality of the landing gear may or may not be an issue depending on how close we get to the aircraft. The position of the main gear IS an issue, but easily repaired. The number of windows – we will have to see. The poor quality of the landing gear fairings will require more of an effort. They hurt the eyes like looking at the sun.
We’ve gone as far now as to try and identify the differences between the features of our purchased model and those of the actual aircraft used for the aerial surveys. How many of these deficiencies we fix will depend on the shots in the film. Now to save time and money. We will set up the 3-4 shots that include the aircraft and from those images determine where changes to the models need to be made, all the while reminding ourselves that film is not real-life. We need to resist the urge to make our model a museum replica. This is hard. We are a museum. But our objective here is not to duplicate an object in every detail from every angle. We are not building a flight simulator, just what a few seconds of camera work needs. We need minor in-flight adjustments, not something that can actually get off the ground.
This is one of the interesting differences between producing an animated film as opposed to a live-action film. In live-action, the job of the filmmaker is largely subtractive. You need to remove the light you don’t want, the walls that are in the way, the ambient rumblings of unsettled ductwork and hungry gaffers. This is not a problem in animated film. The set starts with nothing, and the filmmaker’s job is entirely, absolutely, unyieldingly additive. If you want something, you have to make it. Everything has to be made, and you cannot afford to make things that not seen.
It is sad sometimes to look at the computer monitor and see no one is holding the camera (we have to fake camera shake), that for half the aircraft shots, there is no ocean, and when there is an ocean, there’s not necessarily an airplane, even if you think you can hear one. Because you want it so much to be real…
BUT, you will never see the sound-recordist’s boom mike at the top of a shot – unless we spend the time and money to put it there… we hope. Strange things do happen.
In the meantime we have a Twin Otter. It’s far from perfect. It will never be perfect. Our job will be to make sure no one can tell.
– Roger Topp (UAMN Head of Production)