Scene Is Believing: The Dark Knight Rises

 

The IMAX prologue: Bane takes the plane

Early positive reviews for Sam Mendes’ Skyfall are hailing it as James Bond’s renaissance, Nolan-esque in terms of scale and depth. Mendes himself has acknowledged The Dark Knight in particular as a big influence – “What Nolan proved was that you can make a huge movie that is thrilling and entertaining and has a lot to say about the world we live in.” Christopher Nolan has long been a James Bond fan (see especially his Inception snow bound homage to On her Majesty’s Secret Service) but with his refusal to farm out to second unit, and control over script and production, it seems unlikely he will ever direct a Bond film under EON’s aegis. That doesn’t stop him though from creating awe-inspiring sequences that could be ripped straight from the James Bond big book of stunts. The most impressive of which so far must be villain Bane’s stunning aerial plane to plane hijack from The Dark Knight Rises.

In the opening prologue, CIA agents operating in a war zone somewhere in Eastern Europe transfer captured nuclear physicist Dr Leonid Pavel to a small Bandeirante turboprop plane. Along with Pavel are some captured hooded mercenaries, one of whom is revealed to be Batman’s soon-to-be nemesis, Bane (Tom Hardy). He has planned this series of events all along, as his own men jump in a plane-to-plane transfer from the back of a C-130 Hercules transport plane, tethered by cables. Landing on the smaller planes wings, they attach cables to the fuselage. As the Hercules ascends, the Bandeirante’s wings tear off in the turbulance, and it is left hanging nose down like a hooked fish.

Bane overpowers his captors inside, as they all tumble about in the now vertical plane. Outside, his men attach charges to the tail section, blowing it off, opening the inside up. Leaving a true believer behind pumped full of Pavel’s blood to fool crash investigators, the mercenaries release the plane. As it drops like a stone around them, Bane and Pavel are winched up by cable to the Hercules, and Bane’s despotic plot begins to take shape.

For such a large scale film, The Dark Knight Rises has a surprisingly small number of VFX shots – only 450. A small number of these were used in the ambitious prologue, which is mostly stunt heavy, in-camera work, in the air and on the ground. The VFX team extensively pre-vizualised the sequence, so that Christopher Nolan would know exactly what he needed to shoot in the air. In the end, a planned for eight day shoot was achieved in two days.

The Bandeirante plane (both authentically realistic exterior and interior) was built and rigged to pivot on the ground from the horizontal to a vertical right angle, so that the action of Bane and the others inside tumbling and falling about the cabin would be realistic.

To get close-ups of the mercenary wing-walkers, the plane was tilted slightly so the camera would only capture open sky. Rotoscoping was mostly used to add moving exterior views through the windows and the open tail section. Wide shots of the plane hijack were shot over Inverness in Scotland, partly for budgetary reasons, mostly because of the challenge of shooting in the temperamental weather conditions there, to capture an interesting background. Aerial stunts had never been attempted in the area before.

The plane dangling by cable from the back of the Hercules was a light weight shell, actually suspended from a helicopter, echoing this shot from James Bond’s Licence To Kill.

The shots of the wings breaking off were achieved with a 5th scale miniature built by New Deal, Nolans effects crew from The Dark Knight and Inception. They thought it would be cool to show the plane’s turboprop engines flame out as the turbulence tears the wings away. They put little mortars inside the exhausts and had those shoot out fire as the plane flips over. For shots of the aerialist hijackers walking on the wings, they wore only parachutes – it was felt that it was too dangerous to wear tethers, as these might get snarled up. The effects crew tracked their movements and added digital cables in post. Four men really did fly out on lines from the back of the Hercules though, after safety test were done with dummies. They also clambered around the suspended shell hanging from the helicopter, this time they were tethered.

 

After Bane secures Pavel, his men plant charges to blow the tail cone off. This shot was a miniature, using a small amount of explosive to create a flash effect. Fans in front of the model blew debris around, creating the illusion of high speed movement. Just like in the days of The Empire Strikes Back, when Action Man sat in the pilot’s seat of the model Snowspeeder, an action figure was used as the pilot of the miniature plane here. I say “action figure” – it was actually a Justin Bieber doll…

The climax of the sequence, where Bane secures himself and Pavel to a cable and the fuselage drops away around them to the ground below, was a mixture of real in-camera filming, thousands of feet in the air with dummies, and close-ups in the mock-up on the ground. All in all, the whole prologue was a seamless blend of real stunts, model work, and VFX, all perfectly matching in IMAX’s eye-popping scrutiny.

Originally posted 2012-11-05 15:10:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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