All hell breaks loose when Egyptian princess Ahmanet’s sarcophagus is being flown from Iraq to London and ravens begin to crash thru the cockpit window, in Universal Pictures’ The Mummy (in Philippine cinemas on June 7. 2017). As one might imagine, things go downhill from there…and the plane begins to dive.
Director Alex Kurtzman and lead actor Tom Cruise were vocal from the jump with special effects department head Dominic Tuohy that they wanted everything to happen for real; this Zero G stunt was no exception.
For The Mummy’s pivotal plane-crash sequence, the cockpit action was shot on a stage at Shepperton Studios, while the VFX ravens were added digitally during post production. However, as soon as the sequence called for shooting the interior of the body of the plane during the crash, all movement was done practically, safely on stage.
“There is meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail on our sets for this film,” raves Kurtzman. “Every set tells a story and reveals something about the character- these sets are a gift for any filmmaker. I constantly walk on these sets and my jaw just hits the floor. This cargo plane set build is a huge artistic and engineering feat.”
On stage S at Shepperton Studios, this huge 20-ton steel frame cargo plane set was constructed and mounted onto a hydraulic base…proving to be the most complex build for the production. This gimbal allowed for continuous rotation with the actors inside. Simultaneously, it provided a 15-degree tilt—front and back—to simulate take off and start of the crash.
This cargo plane set was built from the ground up by Tuohy and his team of 30. SFX began working on the plane build for 16 weeks, then began working with the stunts department. To accomplish this stunning feat of movie magic, there were skilled technicians drawing the rigs—as well as model makers, engineers, power technicians and senior technicians…many who have worked on Dominic’s team for more than 30 years.
Tuohy underscores the pride the crew took in their work: “We didn’t want this stunt to look contrived. We wanted it to use physics and real time. As far as I am aware, this is the first time this has been done for a film, and we embraced that.”
Never been done before for a film, the production then introduced a real plane at Novespace headquarters, housed in Bordeaux, France, into the mix to complete and film this Zero G sequence.
At Novespace a real Airbus A310 aircraft was flown, with 40 cast and crew members inside to experience the Zero G effect. The cast crew did 16 parabolic flights within a two-hour period, twice a day over two days. For the stunt, the pilots enacted a total of 64 parabolas (repeated weightlessness sessions). Each parabola allowed for the filming of a key sequence in the scene.
The 20 seconds of weightlessness audiences will see on film leads the crash sequence, with Nick trying desperately to grab parachutes from the plane wall and pass one to Jenny. Each take filmed was unpredictable as the cast and crew floated weightless around the plane cabin…at the mercy of physics.
Again the interior of the set was all rubber, this time with obvious weight and safety restrictions for the in-flight journey. This real plane set was 10% less wide and 40% lower in height than the cargo plane set rig that was built on the studio stage.
Tuohy concludes that the interplay between the Zero G flight and the cargo set had to be perfect. He ends: “We wanted to keep everything as real as possible, so the trick is for us to try and do that seamlessly between the real Zero G flight and the physical SFX done on stage.”
The Mummy is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.