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October 15
2019

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Director Ric Roman Waugh on Crafting the Frightening Drone Attack in ANGEL HAS FALLEN

By IAN FAILES

Early in Angel Has Fallen, the third in the Fallen film series, the U.S. President (Morgan Freeman) is on a lake fishing trip when armed drones fire on his protection detail. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) saves the President but is implicated in the attack at the lake.

The sequence would involve a substantial use of visual effects to realize the drones, as well as a number of practical explosions and stunts. Director Ric Roman Waugh aimed for authenticity in designing the sequence, both in terms of the artificial intelligence ‘racing’ drones seen in the sky and in the visual effects work itself.

Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh on the set of the film.

“My whole mandate was, if you couldn’t capture it for real, then we’re not doing it.”

—Ric Roman Waugh, Director

The director researched the kinds of drone technology that might soon become (or had already become) prevalent on the battlefield. It was weaponized drones with facial recognition that seemed a likely candidate. Importantly, Waugh wanted to also introduce high-speed racing drones into the mix and suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, could attack with almost a swarm mentality.

“We wanted to create a lake attack where you felt like you were in it and it felt like Hitchcock’s The Birds, where you just couldn’t outrun these things,” Waugh told VFX Voice. “But we knew we were never going to be able to do something at that scale all live. So we decided to do all the action practical, all the explosions. And for the drones, which were CG, we said, let’s do our camera work so that it feels like Dunkirk or Japanese Zeros in a World War II movie, where we’re barely even able to capture the action because they’re moving so fast. It was meant to be very organic.”

An excerpt from the storyboards for the drone attack sequence.

The drones fire on the U.S. President’s support detail during a fishing trip.

Waugh started the process via conversations with Visual Effects Supervisor Marc Massicotte. “In fact,” the director notes, “we said, ‘Let’s not even think about visual effects for the first round. Let’s just do it all for real. Let’s just say we’re going to launch a thousand drones. We’re going to have all these action pieces and everything else, and so let’s storyboard that as if it was real and you could actually film it.’ We then thought about things, like, if you had a camera drone up there, how high would it need to be to film things? How fast could the camera drone fly? All those considerations.”

One of the many practical explosions detonated during the attack sequence.

The resulting storyboards then informed the live-action shoot and designs for the drones themselves, for which mock-up maquettes were crafted. Previs was not at the forefront of Waugh’s mind in making the sequence. “I feel like once you get into previs you’re sometimes saying, ‘Well, okay, what about this one great tracking shot where we can be with the drones and going a hundred miles an hour?’ Well, in a real helicopter situation or a real camera drone situation, you wouldn’t be able to get that shot. And so my whole mandate was, if you couldn’t capture it for real, then we’re not doing it.”

The sequence was filmed on Virginia Water Lake in England. During the shoot, actors had to imagine where the drones were in the sky, but they were aided for other scenes with a series of pyrotechnics, stunts and boat explosions. In post, Worldwide FX completed the CG drone shots, overseen by Danail ‘Dundee’ Hadzhiyski. Waugh was particularly happy with the final result.

Another explosion destroys a boat on the lake.

“It’s crazy,” he exclaims. “I mean, we started with dots on the screen in the Avid. And we watched it progress into the finals. Sound was also a big part of the final sequence. At some point we could actually pass over the sound design to the visual effects team so they could realize that they’d start to hear these drones coming overhead and then suddenly see them coming into frame.”

Watch an official clip of the drone attack from Angel Has Fallen.

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