Tricks of the Trade 13: How to fly through a fireball

VIC ARMSTRONG Second Unit director and stunt coordinator for 'Tomorrow Never Dies'
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Bond Films always have one big stunt at the beginning. This one opens in Afghanistan at a terrorist arms sale. The British navy is given orders to fire a cruise missile before Bond discovers nuclear weapons in one of the jets. Bond saves the day by fighting off the terrorists, stealing the plane and taking off just as one of the rockets explodes.

We had all sorts of dramas filming this one. We needed to shoot an aeroplane lifting off, coinciding with lots of explosions and flying through a fireball. The runway we had was in France - for the snow - and it was too short to land or take off planes, so we had to get four jets, two of which we shipped out in pieces and two more parked 80 kilometres away for the air shots. There are few optical illusions for this kind of task. We got two planes doing "touch and gos", meaning they fly in very slowly, hold themselves on the ground for a second and lift off again. We had to slow the camera speed so it matched the take-off speed with the rest of the shots.

We try to do the special effects on set, but if it's impossible we enhance things. We did tests to show local people and the snow-control officers what we were up to. We also had to get approval from avalanche guides. We shot some explosions in the studio, in particular a model jet flying along a wire coming through a fireball. To do it in reality would have stalled the plane's engines. For the end shot we optically put the real plane and the model one together.

We did the run-ups with Bond at the helm with half a plane stuck on the front of a truck. This was coordinated with explosions in the background. For the on-set special effects the team used dynamite, gasoline, black powder and magnesium to get sparks. I tell them what I want, how long it should last and what it should look like. It might take them seven or eight hours to lay them all in.

I've been blown up millions of times so I know what to expect. This way you get all the different angles; looking over Bond's shoulder as the fireball builds up, the model shot as he comes through it and out, and then a wide shot, which we did in France, of the overall explosion. When we did that one, we nearly wiped out the whole mountainside.