To film the interior of the cockpit of a fighter jet in flight in “Top Gun: Maverick”, the director of photography Claudio Miranda had to think of a tailor-made installation and involve the actors in the staging of these sequences. A demanding and high-precision job, but one that achieves a breathtaking level of realism.
Top Gun: Maverickthe time it takes
In franchise history, Top Gun: Maverick can lay claim to the title of longest-awaited sequel. 36 years indeed separate the release of the two films, that is to say one year more than the interval which separates blade runner (1982) by blade runner 2049 (2017). Why did you wait so long ?
Several factors can explain this very long time, including the availability of Tom Cruise, Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer, all engaged in hellish schedules from the end of the 1980s. The desire also to return there, which fluctuated according to the careers of each one. What story to tell too, and tell it when? But above all, the more time passed, the more the available technology developed and offered encouraging prospects.
Top Gun: Maverickwhich received the green light in the spring of 2017 on the initiative of Joseph Kosinski, could perhaps have taken its time, if it had not been for the question of the exploitation rights of the story Top Gunwritten by journalist Ehud Yonai in 1983. Paramount had 35 years to commit to the production of a new film Top Gun. A period beyond which Paramount should have bought the rights to the story again. This legal aspect probably played into the start of production, meaning that it was “now or never“.
Fortunately, more than 30 years later Top Gun and, already at the time, its maximum use of technology, the possibilities offered to film the sequel are very satisfactory. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda told how he was able to shoot the aerial footage from the cockpit of the F/A-18 Super Hornets in an interview with the LA Times.
Real conditions for exemplary authenticity
Claudio Miranda cut his teeth notably with David Fincher, for whom he officiated as chief electrician. Having become director of photography, he worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttonthen Tron: Legacy and Life of Pi. For the latter, he is rewarded with the Oscar for best cinematography in 2013.
Since then, he has been in all of Kosinski’s films, and is therefore in charge of shooting Top Gun: Maverick. An insane task, which asked him a lot, but which according to him contributes to the immersive force of the blockbuster. He takes as an example a detail, which could be insignificant but in reality makes all the difference.
We see Tom take off from the aircraft carrier and we see him do this little whim. In most films, all the actors do is step back (to convey the feeling of the catapult, editor’s note), and take off. But when Tom takes off, what’s different is that there’s this other head shake as the jet leaves the flight deck. When you see that, you say to yourself “we are really with him, in the cockpit”. I think that’s what makes this movie so special.
6 cameras installed in the cockpit of two jets
Today, the miniaturization of equipment coupled with their ultra-performance works miracles. Thus, to turn inside the jets in flight, six cameras were installed in the cockpit of two F/A-18 Super Hornets. Sony Venice 6K cameras, equipped with remote heads to be able to film from the front but also above the shoulders. To install them, however, it was necessary to respect constraints and that the US Navy gives its agreement.
Thereby, the cameras should not interfere with the ejection systemhad to be powered by their own battery so as not to use aircraft power, withstand shock and vibration, and be able to withstand up to 7.5G of pressure.
Like there was no going back live nor controls for these cameras on the ground, the actors trained to operate them themselves, during the flights. These flights lasted 90 minutes, and took place several times a day. The actors thus had to, alone, play their role, check the light and their make-up, trigger the cameras and be careful not to make “camera glances”.
For his part, unable to act on the equipment once the plane was in the air, Claudio Miranda had to study the flight plan, the trajectories and the weather, to know at what different altitudes they would fly, in order to best configure the exposure to camera light. A job carried out with brio, which could well be awarded with a nomination for the next Oscars…