Waugh started the process via conversations with Visual Effects Supervisor Marc Massicotte. “In fact,” the director notes, “we said, ‘Let’s not even think about visual effects for the first round. Let’s just do it all for real. Let’s just say we’re going to launch a thousand drones. We’re going to have all these action pieces and everything else, and so let’s storyboard that as if it was real and you could actually film it.’ We then thought about things, like, if you had a camera drone up there, how high would it need to be to film things? How fast could the camera drone fly? All those considerations.”
The resulting storyboards then informed the live-action shoot and designs for the drones themselves, for which mock-up maquettes were crafted. Previs was not at the forefront of Waugh’s mind in making the sequence. “I feel like once you get into previs you’re sometimes saying, ‘Well, okay, what about this one great tracking shot where we can be with the drones and going a hundred miles an hour?’ Well, in a real helicopter situation or a real camera drone situation, you wouldn’t be able to get that shot. And so my whole mandate was, if you couldn’t capture it for real, then we’re not doing it.”
The sequence was filmed on Virginia Water Lake in England. During the shoot, actors had to imagine where the drones were in the sky, but they were aided for other scenes with a series of pyrotechnics, stunts and boat explosions. In post, Worldwide FX completed the CG drone shots, overseen by Danail ‘Dundee’ Hadzhiyski. Waugh was particularly happy with the final result.
“It’s crazy,” he exclaims. “I mean, we started with dots on the screen in the Avid. And we watched it progress into the finals. Sound was also a big part of the final sequence. At some point we could actually pass over the sound design to the visual effects team so they could realize that they’d start to hear these drones coming overhead and then suddenly see them coming into frame.”
Watch an official clip of the drone attack from Angel Has Fallen.