If I were in charge, I’d create a Visual Effects Hall of Fame, an early inductee would be this shot from “True Lies” (1994). The denouement of an enormous, spectacle-filled action scene is deceptively simple—a classic ‘you think you know what you’re seeing but you don’t.’
In context: we’ve just been through an outrageous action sequence involving a Harrier jet, a crane at the top of a skyscraper and missiles. Lots of quick cutting, action and chaos. After all the havoc, a 19 second long shot of our heroes landing on the ground is a welcome relief.
The shot design: a fancy fighter jet is landing with the camera at a safe distance, slowly dollying forward. The camera move is modest. There’s nothing obvious to subconsciously telegraph to the audience that there are any camera tricks or visual effects used in the shot.
The shot continues: the heat ripple and flying debris feel natural and not over the top. The police car in the foreground physically shields us from the jet, giving us a slight sense of security, even when the jet bumps into it. Again, the camera is being conservative… until the jet lands. The audience is fully expecting a cut to a closeup of Schwarzenegger emerging from the cockpit (rather than revealing the real pilot), but it doesn’t cut. The camera moves closer to reveal Schwarzenegger was in the cockpit the whole time.
Arnold sat in the cockpit of a 7,000 lb fake Harrier jet constructed by the production, which was lowered via a single cable attached to a crane. That’s really Schwarzenegger and Eliza Dushku in the shot. The bump of the police car adds fantastic verisimilitude.
The wire was erased digitally, and the spinning turbines are *not* CG, but are tracked footage of a real Harrier intake. If you’re interested in the SFX & VFX of “True Lies”, you’ve got to buy Cinefex 59 or just buy it for the Cinefex iPad Edition.
“True Lies”, visual effects supervisor John Bruno, physical effects supervisor Tomas L. Fisher. The visual effects for this shot were produced by Digital Domain. DD’s digital effects supervisor was Jacques Stroweis.