Comic-Con Live: Flyboys Panel

July 20, 2006

11:47 - Room is barely 1/4th full… Panel starts at 12:00 noon. Everything starting soon!

Read on for the rest of the coverage.

11:54 - Lights start dimming… but nothing yet.

12:01 - Room has filled to halfway back… Still hasn't started.

12:04 - Starting off showing new trailer for Flyboys. Lights dim… get ready… go…! Applause for the trailer.

12:07 - Anthony Ferrante and the rest of the people show up. Anthony from iF Magazine is giving a bit of an intro to the guys who are here. Introductions: David Ellison - a real pilot, debut film, one of the top 3 acrobatic pilots in the country; Mark Franco - VFX producer (Independece Day, etc.); director Tony Bill - Academy Award winner for The Sting; Dean Devlin - producer of Independence Day, etc.

Dean Devlin: Thanks to Comic-Con. Debuting this info here for the first time.

Tony Bill: 40 years since The Blue Max about WWI. Last time since there was a WWI film.

Why has it taken so long for a movie like this to come out?
Tony: There hasn't been good producers like Dean. When they made the great classics in the 20s, they had the airplanes but had almost no way to film them. They didn't have helicopters, etc. Now it's harder to get the airplanes, but we have all the other ways to capture the excitement of the actors in the airplanes in the air.

Dean: Also, in Hollywood, they always love to tell you the movie you can't make. 20 years ago they said you couldn't make a movie about Pirates, and look, now we see the result about that.

Dean: This is one of the largest independent films made; we've raised money independently to do this film.

Tony: Was inspired by the WWI comics as a kid growing up. First American super-heroes of the 20th century were WWI aviators. It's taken 6 years to get this off the ground.

For Mark, was there any pre-vis done to get this off the ground?
Mark: We wanted to make it so badly that we put things together right off the bat. Started December of last year.

David: Grew up flying since I was 13 and to get a debut scene in a movie doing what I love was amazing. Went to Independence Day screening and loved it, and now to be able to work with them (Devlin, Bill, etc).

12:15 - Something special for the audience to show. Clip being introduced via video from James Franco (applause). "Just wrapped Spider-Man 3, so I can't be here [at Comic-Con] cause had to go to Canada."

Clip was second of 6 aerobatic scenes from the film. Looks like early in the film, still unexperienced. General yelling at the pilots to get going. Huge German(?) plane with two gunners on the side fighting the 6 or so Flyboys planes. Red german fighter fighting, too. Lots of great in-air fighting sequences. Down-the-barrel gun shooting shots. Kills one German gunner and shoots engine. Big plane goes down… wings fall off. Being chased by dog fighting pilots. Still being chased and shot from behind. One guy is hit… entire plane blows up. Chasing through farm fields, one fighter gets back up attacking german dog fighter from behind. His gun breaks and starts hitting it with a hammer (haha) to try and fix it. German comes up behind him. Closes his eyes waiting to be killed. Hears gun shots, opens them, pilot flies up next to him, gives him a salute, and flies away. Applause.

12:23 - Mark: Doing sequences like this in the film… Each pilot has a story as well. (Story boards are shown. Story boards to pre-vis video sequence.) Using pre-vis in order to find out what cameras we need to use and what we need to do to shoot. Learned how much plane we needed (as in, to build for shoots/sets). Showed shooting on green screen background of planes.

Some of the planes are partially built. The camera gear was considerably large to get the shots and work around the planes. The crane they were using was big (shown in the video footage).

The obvious things to make something look real are visible attributes. But to make the flight look real, they used motion capture. Placed the motion capture in a stunt plane (w/ time code) and followed by a camera. Motion was recorded of flight and was edited and recorded and pieced together.

Tony: 8 time National British champion doing aerobatics (for the motion capture). Planes in the computer are flying exactly like real airplanes. "Dare I say, for the first time, in Hollywood is this done."

Everything in a real airplane is tied into the film, including the rutter and airplane pieces (in regards to CGI). There are scenes where even I (the director) can't tell which are real and which are fake airplanes.

12:29 - Queston about model work.

Dean: I'm real proud of what we've done, because everything is so real.

Did you do any actually flying?
David: Yes, we did do some. A lot was green-screen. (Talking about green screen filming.) They'll tell you "bank right and start shooting", and if you don't know how an airplane works, the controls are complicated. David talked to the other actors about this because of his flying experience.

One more question from Anthony - The art of this is a really amazing story.

Tony: The story… The americans didn't want to go fight this war. But these guys went over and learned to fly for the French. This movie takes place during (the WWI time). Lafayette Escadrille (french name of the real life group this is based after).

Dean: One of the things to keep in mind is the context - the airplane was invented only a little bit earlier. It is this brand new technology and no one had any confidence flying it. "They're weren't given parachutes" because the French thought the airplanes were more value than the people. The average life of these guys was 3-6 weeks.

12:34 - Open to audience questions.

1 - How did you do the pre-vis graphics?
Mark: We did pre-vis of all 6 major (aerobatic) battles. A few ground battles and others were done with story boards. But the real pilots need a sense of what they need to do in the air from the pre-vis.

What program? Rendered and done in Maya. Rendered in RenderMan.

2 - I work as a camera operator. You said the plane doing the aerobatics was encoded. I imagine the camera chasing the plane was encoded?
Mark: The IMU unit was inside the acrobatic plane only. The camera and chase helicopter was just a visual reference. The time code was synced up with the camera so we have a reference point to go find the data. So if to look what a barrel roll looks like, we can go find it quickly.

Dean: This was shot on the Genesis cameras that Superman just used.

3 - Are there certain pilots you referene in real life?
Tony: Yes, a few specifics from the real life group (Lafayette Escadrille). We also composited a few together to create some. The group was highly documented during WWI because they were so incredible.

Dean: Eugene Bullard was the guy the African-American pilot was charactered after. The first and only African-American pilot during WWI.

4 - I'm a fan of your (Dean Devlin) work. Asking about Stargate and what it's like to see how this Stargate thing is still going.
Dean: Stargate was a film a lot like Flyboys because it's a film no one wanted to do or fund and we had to get the funds ourselves. I thought one time about "what it'd be like if I didn't do this." It's like being in a dream… and now the it's like the dream has walked out of my mind, across the street, married someone, etc…. You can't help but be proud of that, especially when no one believed in that. There was a day we went back to the editorial suite and no one was there - everyone was gone.

Is the trilogy dead?
Dean: The interesting irony is that now that Flyboys is independent, we've made a deal with MGM to release it. And now I'm in a position where I could suddenly do those sequels. We're in talks with MGM to do Stargate sequels.

5 - I always see a director's cut of DVDs and I want to see the director's cut in film.
Dean: You'll see the director's cut in theatres!
Tony: There is always pressure from studios to get films done on time and so on.

(Sorry for the missing last few mins. Battery problems. Nothing major.)

1:01PM - Fin!

Flyboys comes out September 29th!

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