From the beginning, Disneytoon's “Planes: Fire & Rescue” was destined to break new ground. “Not only is it the biggest visual effects movie we’ve ever done here at Disneytoon Studios,” says producer Ferrell Barron, “nobody had ever really attempted to do an animated movie featuring fire of this magnitude before—the size, scope, scale and frequency of smoke and fire in this is really extraordinary. So the first thing we had to do is dig into the effects side of the film, because it was so important that we get fire right. It had to be real.”
John Patton was tapped as the effects animation lead for the film. “Out of 1224 total shots in the film, more than half feature some kind of effect: fire, smoke, water. And ‘fire’ is in the title of the film—it’s a key element in the story—we had to make sure we nailed it.”
So the team studied the science of fire through online research, books and talking to a host of firefighters. Says Patton, “We referenced a lot of live-action fire footage to understand how it looks from different distances and with varying intensity. A lot of variables—the fuel source, weather, size—affect how a fire looks.”
Filmmakers decided to build a library of smoke and fire, creating more than 80 effects with more than 800 frames each that could be selected by effects artists and adjusted to fit the needs of the scene. They were able to select and dial up or down accompanying smoke, too. “The idea was to create and shoot fire from various distances with differing details,” says Patton. “Each one can be very time-consuming, so rather than reinvent the wheel every time, we created a library of options that could be used to populate a scene with a number of unique fire effects.”
But not every fire in the film comes from the library. Patton estimates that half of the fire in the film was custom designed. “If it was something that needed very specific art direction from the director—a specific look, motion or timing to the fire—we did a custom simulation.”
Filmmakers also had to be aware of the level of light each fire might emit, taking into consideration the time of day and the scope of the fire. Says Patton, “In the Augerin Canyon sequence with a massive blaze, we had to be careful about having everything go completely red or orange. We wanted it to be threatening, but not overpower the action.”
The climactic sequence included a 571-frame shot, according to Patton. “Dusty flies through what we like to call an effects extravaganza—water, smoke and atmospherics like smoke and embers—and ends up in the valley that’s entirely ablaze. That was a big challenge for the team, but it all came together: the lighting, the flight, the camera composition and the effects—I think everybody is proud of that shot.”
“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is a new adventure-comedy about a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire.
When world-famous air racer Dusty Crophopper learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he must shift gears and is launched into the world of aerial firefighting. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger and his courageous team, including spirited air tanker Dipper, heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter, ex-military transport Cabbie and a lively bunch of brave all-terrain vehicles known as The Smokejumpers. Together, the fearless team battles a massive wildfire and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero.
Opening across the Philippines on August 20 in 3D and 2D cinemas, “Planes: Fire & Rescue” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.