Visual Effects Model Making - Airport '79, The Concord

Ken Larson preformed some nice work on this less than classic motion picture. 1979.
Kenneth began working on this feature while completing the feature Buck Rogers. The day after he finished this film, he began working on the series Buck Rogers. Ken simultaineously worked on Battlestar Galactica. This is one of many projects for which Visual Effects were supplied by Universal Hartland.

A lot of the footage was the real Concord. Universal Hartland mostly did the shots that the real aircraft couldn't do. The same aero-photographer showed up late to photograph the F-15s and shot beautiful sunset shots that were supposed to be late morning. So all, or most, of the F-15 footage was of Hartland models.

Pete Gerard, original Model Shop Supervisor, adds a few recollections...

One thing was different about "Airport '79: The Concorde" in terms of our modelmaking approach. Instead of starting from scratch in the creation of imaginary spacecraft, we needed to build miniatures of existing airplanes, realistic enough to stand the scrutiny of close-up filming. To obtain a head start with this, we ordered pre-made wooden models, the sort one sees hanging in travel agency offices or on the desks of Air Force generals. Included with the Concorde were the F-15 Eagle, a French Mirage fighter, and some F-4 Phantoms. We also fabricated a fictitious guided missile with its operating launch mechanism. We further refined the surfaces of all the wooden replica planes and then made quick RTV rubber molds. From these molds we could then make hollow epoxy/glass layups, complete the finer work, and install armatures and mounting points for motion control.

The star of the show, naturally, was the beautiful Aerospatiale "Concorde". At that time she was still making supersonic passenger flights, and everyone who could afford it wanted to fly her. However sexy and exotic she seemed, the Concorde miniature proved to be camera shy; her glossy white finish gave the optical department migraines, because she reflected the blue-screen light used in the process of filming her. Optical's mattes came out with gaping holes, and something had to be done quickly. After meetings with optical head Robert Hall and Angelo, our painter, a series of tests with various flat colors was run through the matting process, and from this a flat yellow primer was found to reflect the least "blue spill", thus yielding the most usable mattes. She could be printed white afterward, so our shops could all devote their efforts to the other model issues. Special motion control rigs evolved, with the guidance of veteran VFX cameraman Peter Gibbons, and soon Hartland was cranking out completed scenes. The whole of Hartland was at that point working at peak capacity, having to satisfy the needs of three simultaneous shows: a feature and two weekly television programs. New things were being discovered almost every day, against relentless deadlines.

Concord Concord
The star was the Concord. Mike Joyce built most of this, but Ken Larson did make small parts, particularly the probs and fins. Pete ordered one thing, that these small parts be unbreakable and they were.
Drone Launcher
Ken Larson didn't build this model of the Drone Launcher, but it could be said that it was his first Set Design job. Unfortunately, Ken doesn't have a copy of the drafting.
Drone
The Model hop built 7 light weight Drones for launching.
Target F-4
Target F-4 under construction.
Target F-4
Target F-4. Ken Larson was given the mold and two armatures and finished the two F-4 models except for some paint.
F-4 Terrorist Fighter
F-4 Terrorist fighter.
F-4 Terrorist Fighter
F-4 Terrorist fighter on stage.

The Concord, Airport '79 VFX Description

We were in the of middle making the Visual Effects for the feature Buck Rogers and the first season of Battlestar Galactica when we were handed two model kits, a Concord and an F-15. These were used for test shots for our second major feature, The Concord, Airport ‘79, the last in the ‘Airport’ feature series.

The movie opens with some of the best Concord footage ever shot, Hartland was not involved with this.

The Drone was built full size by the Special Effects Department and launched with compressed air. It began the decent while still in frame so Hartland had to build the drone and launcher in miniature. We had already built a motion control Drone so we cast seven more in lightweight foam and launched them with Estes model rocket engines. A drafting of the launcher was Ken Larson’s first step into Set Design.

The Drone destroys an F-4 Target plane with a bad explosion comped over. The F-4 Target plane model began as a Revel kit. Mike Carner assembled the kit and cleaned it up. It was molded and for some reason, the kit plastic reacted badly with the RTV silicone rubber. The model had a coat of primer but the scribe lines cut through the primer to expose some of the styrene. The silicone didn’t cure along most of the lines leaving bumps and holes. It’s the only time I’ve seen this happen, but for both of the casting made from this mold, it was necessary to fill all these distorted scribe lines and recarve them. For some reason the tail was curved and Ken Larson, who did most of the work to both castings, tried to straighten it out, but there remained a little bit of distortion. The target plane was finished and the windows painted black. The model had a typical 6 mount armature.

I think it was Pat who did most of the work on the Drone. It was carved in wood, molded, and cast. LEDs, a new technology at the time, were installed in the forward area. I think the Drone had the usual 6 mount armature.

The bad guy launches a Drone to destroy the Concord. To evade the Drone, the Concord goes though many maneuvers that we couldn’t do with the real plane, so these are among the first shots for which the model was used. The Concord was the star of the movie and the French were adamant that the downfall of the aircraft not show the aircraft in a negative way. So the craft performed heroically and eventually was brought down by evil forces.

In blue screen photography, white is hard to shoot because of an excessive ‘blue spill’ where the white reflects the blue and later this creates holes in the matte. So we painted the models yellow to absorb the blue which worked very well. Unfortunately the Concord wasn’t yellow and through a color correction that had everyone worried, the yellow was replaced with white. We were all relieved when the first tests of our yellow models came out snow white. Two motion control models were made with full armatures in yellow and, if I recall correctly, one white model for wire hanging shots. I’m not sure why this one didn’t need to be yellow.

The Concords were carved in wood, molded, and cast. Pete Gerard was a genius about chemicals, resins, and adhesives. Pete’s goal was to make a model that would break the camera in the case of a mis-program of the motion control rig. He almost succeeded although I think Peter Andersen (or son) would have preferred to break the model. Pete experimented with graphite cloth and Kevlar which were new at the time. I think we went with the Kevlar but did produce castings that were much stronger than the fiberglass that we had used on Buck Rogers. Mike Joyce did most of the work on the Concord models. Ken Larson made several sets of silver soldered brass ailerons and antennas and all those thin fins and control surfaces. They weren’t unbreakable, but were strong and I don’t recall ever having to repair one. They were also sharp and we occasionally had to clean up red spots on our yellow models.

The Air Force scrambles two F-15s to shoot the Drone down. The aerial photographer was late for a scheduled shoot of a real Air Force patrol and he shot some beautiful footage later in the day, but this was the wrong lighting so we had to build an F-15. We bought a display model of an F-15 and this was improved and detailed by David Bloomfield. It was molded and cast and a year later, additional castings were made for a model for Battlestar Galactica that was never finished.

After the Drone is shot down by the F-15s, the bad guy enlists a mercenary to attack the Concord with another F-4 cast from the same mold as the Target Plane. A larger F-4 model was also purchased from a display company and finished to match the smaller. It was the larger model that fired the four missiles at the Concord. To do this, the model was on the Stage and the missiles removed one-by-one. As luck would hold, this was the day that American Ciniamtographer magazine was doing an article on the feature. The photographer was trying to photograph Ken and every few minutes Ken had to run to stage to remove another missile. He photographer eventually got his shot.

Eventually the mercenary plane was shot down by two French Mirage fighters. This was done with another display model that was enhanced by someone on our crew.

The large Concord model landing in nets was done by the Special Effects Department on the Lot.

More shots of our Concord models.

Hartland was not involved with the snow crash scene although the stand-by painter, Walter Nycz, eventually joined our crew.
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