Olympus Has Fallen tells the story of a terrorist attack on the White House in Washington, D.C. However, the Antoine Fuqua film was shot in Louisiana, necessitating a major visual effects effort in order to create the capital, airplanes, helicopters and a fair amount of movie mayhem. fxguide breaks down four of the major sequences in the action flick, which garnered a $30+ million opening in the U.S. this past weekend.


Final shot.

Final shot.

Original plate - the extent of the White House built in Louisiana.

Original plate – the extent of the White House build.


Sequence #1: Motorcade accident

What happens

The film opens with the President (Aaron Eckart), First Lady (Ashley Judd) and his security detail, headed by Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), driving from Camp David during a blizzard. As the motorcade travels down a mountain road, an accident forces the presidential limo off the side of a bridge – the First Lady dies but the President is saved by Banning.


Watch a breakdown of Ghost’s visual effects for the motorcade accident.

How they did it

Filming took place in Shreveport, Louisiana in mid-Summer, which meant the majority of snowy backgrounds had to be completed digitally. Car interiors were shot as greenscreen plates. “The skidding was happening because of black ice,” notes overall visual effects supervisor Evan Jacobs. “We did some tests with real cars skidding on a wetted-down pavement, but it just didn’t look right. So we went with CG cars. For where the actors are standing we built a 20×80 foot set bridge with a greenscreen around it, and a teeter tog rig with the car.” Ghost VFX in Denmark handled effects for the sequence, including backgrounds, snow and the digital cars. The studio also extended the bridge, the trees, and created the river below.


Final shot.

Final shot.

Original plate.

Original plate.


Sequence #2: C-130 attacks the White House

What happens

It is now 18 months later and Banning, no longer in the Secret Service, witnesses a terrorist attack on the White House by assailants in a C-130. The plane deflects several F-22s before itself crashing into the Washington Monument and the south lawn of the White House.

The AC-130 hits the Washington Monument.

The AC-130 hits the Washington Monument.

How they did it

Production filmed White House material in Shreveport with only a partial build of areas. “To do the White House material, we built a big flat front face of the north side of the White House with the portico, stairs, driveway and the fountain and fence,” explains Jacobs. “There were almost no trees either, which are there at the real White House, nor were there any buildings which surround it, so these also had to be added.” Since aerial plates were difficult or impossible to obtain, only reference stills and panoramas could be captured around Washington. Cockpit motion bases were filmed on the greenscreen stage.

A significant area of Washington, D.C was re-created for the sequence – shared amongst Worldwide FX’s offices in Sofia, Bulgaria and Shreveport, and Base FX in China. The C-130 and fighter jets, and the environments they fly in were digital, while the crumbling Washington Monument and the crashing C-130 made use of rigid-body sims and fluid effects for fire and smoke.


A final shot from the sequence.

A final shot from the sequence.

Cockpit plates being filmed.

Cockpit plates being filmed.


Sequence #3: White House lawn attack

What happens

The AC-130 crash segues into a ground assault on the White House by the terrorists, who enter via a destroyed gate thanks to a car bomb. Banning is caught up in the gun battle.


Watch WWFX’s breakdown of their Washington and White House shots.

How they did it

As for the C-130 attack, the White House set required numerous digital extensions, CG buildings and trees, explosions, RPGs and crowd work. No greenscreens were relied upon during this shoot so roto became a huge component. WWFX handled much of this sequence, extending Washington blocks and adding CG and comp’d smoke – even doubling the number of terrorists from 40 to 80.


Final shot.

Final shot.

Original plate.

Original plate.


Sequence #4: Send in the Black Hawks

What happens

In an attempt to win back the White House, the Pentagon sends in Navy SEALs in Black Hawk helicopters under the cover of darkness. However, the terrorists use a new weapon against the choppers and they crash and destroy the west side of the building.

The Black Hawk

The Black Hawk motion base.

How they did it

Much of the Black Hawk assault was realized with CG helicopters, with cockpit shots filmed on a motion base. “To play up the stealth factor,” says Jacobs, “we made the city lights very bright so you could see the silhouette of the Black Hawks. And then during the battle there were numerous hot light sources that we could then use.”


Olympus Has Fallen came together on a tight schedule and, for a large scale action movie, a tight budget of US$70m. In addition to the four main sequences above, other shots included military convoys, monitor comps and other aircraft scenes. “We had 1800 effects shots active at one point and ended tube8 up with 1300 in the movie,” says Jacobs. “It was something we had to previs quite a lot, and we also had a great relationship with the art department – they even had a Maya artist there who provided us with 3D models directly for some scenes.”


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One Response to How VFX saved Washington: Olympus Has Fallen

  1. Pingback: ENTREVISTA: Guillermo García, compositor digital con Nuke en “Objetivo: La Casa Blanca” | finalcutpro.es

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