Aerial Photography with JetStrike

One of the things I learned while creating the JetStrike teaser (in only 3 days!) is the importance of aerial photography. Part of making Jets look powerful and life-sized is shooting them in a realistic way. Of course we can add a touch of Hollywood’s hyper realism but starting with a foundation based on real aerial photographer is critical. With less than a week away from the JetStrike release, I figured I should share my findings.

Here are a few tips that helped me stay grounded while in the air.  I also learned the plural for Aircraft is Aircraft. Dang-it!

01. Camera Type:
Generally the camera is at a safe distance inside another aircraft with a long zoom lens. This is important to avoid the perspective distortion you get from wide angle lenses but it also helps to avoid the miniaturization of the models.  For this I used an After Effects camera with a long zoom like 5,000-10,000 which is equivalent to a 100mm or 200mm.

02. Camera Physics:
When the camera is mounted in another aircraft, there are limits to how fast and how safe this aircraft can follow a subject. Understanding this helps to avoid creating unrealistic movements that would not be possible and unrealistic.

It is also safe to assume that there will be a certain amount camera correction. This is where the subject moves and the camera has to re-frame the subject. In After Effects, I added a small amount of wiggle to the anchor point of the camera like wiggle(.5,50). This helps give the shot a fluid levitation feeling since a real person would have a hard time fixating perfectly on the center of a Jet without some serious Gyro-Stabilization.

I also like to add a camera searching effect where the operator pans across the sky and stops on the subject with a small zoom. This helps establish the world and create a bigger scope to the shot. The idea is that the CG  environment doesn’t just end right outside of the frame. Even though it probably does.

03. Atmosphere & Speed:
To create more speed an movement I used Particular to generate some soft atmospheric clouds that simply fly past the jets. This is easy to setup with a directional emitter since in most cases the Jets are actually not moving but instead the camera is moving around the Jet and the background parallax is what gives the shot motion.

04. Lighting & Materials:
I like to setup the lighting similar to the real world, a far away parallel light for the primary source with an ambient light to simulate global illumination. I also add some secondary lights, like a blue or brown light to mimic the reflection of the sky or the mountains. Always think about what is inside and outside the frame.

We spent many hours setting up the shaders to work in a variety of different situations but to get shots to feel right it is important to adjust the shader settings for each scene. How does the specular highlight look on a real airplane? Is it too reflective? Too much contrast? Small tweaks to the shader make a big difference!

05. Camera Shake & Glow:

To give the shots a little bit more energy I also added a small amount frame jitter or high frequency camera shake using the wiggle expression on the position of the final frame.  Color Correction and glow also got a long way to give the shots a bit of haze or atmosphere.

06. Heat Distortion:
Usually you can use turbulent displacement to get a nice heat effect but I wasn’t really satisfied with how the effect looked when you isolated it  to just the afterburner.  Another option is setting up the displacement map effect with a fractal noise but this can be a bit of work.

So we built our own Heat Distortion Plug-in. More on that soon.


I even had a chance to go up in an aerial photography helicopter to see how it works first hand!

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