How they made the biggest stunts in Need for Speed

Need for Speed director Scott Waugh was once himself a stunt performer and co-ordinator. So when his new film – based on the popular EA video game series – came about, it was clear that Waugh had the knowledge, and audacity, to make the scenes of street racing, crashes and other stunts for real.

“Scottie wanted the film to be a throwback to the 60s and 70s style of the old race car movies back in the day of say Bullitt and Road Warrior,” DOP Shane Hurlbut told fxguide. “There was a sense of raw energy that just comes across so nicely with those older films. We wanted to do a very contemporary looking piece with the latest tech and small cameras, immersing this audience and putting them in the driver’s seat at 180 miles an hour.”

Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots stay in Need for Speed.
Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots stay in Need for Speed.

Although that meant that each stunt and special effect would be attempted practically, it did not preclude the use of visual effects. Far from it, as both Atomic Fiction and Cantina Creative helped augment what had been achieved in-camera in several sequences. “It was so refreshing to work on a project where the default answer isn’t, ‘Oh we’ll just figure it out later – in post’,” comments visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie from Atomic Fiction. “To have a team, everyone from the director down, to figure out how to do the best we could while shooting. Not in a ‘we hate visual effects kind of way’, more in a ‘we want this to look as good as it can possibly look’ way.”

Below, we break down three of the biggest stunts in the film in terms of how they were shot and executed and how visual effects contributed to the final shots. But first, here’s a look at some of the challenges the filmmakers faced in bring the street races, crashes and car sequences to life.

Which camera?

Before embarking on a film that Hurlbut ultimately knew would require 50 cameras for its shoot, the DOP carried out an extensive camera test. “I’d never heard of anyone doing a camera test as large as we did it,” he says. “I think the budget on it was $250,000 and we tested nine formats.” Those cameras were:

  • ARRI Alexa
  • Sony F65
  • Sony F55
  • GoPro Hero3
  • 35mm film camera
  • Canon EOS C500
  • Canon EOS-1D C
  • Blackmagic Cinema Camera

The cameras were tested in terms of latitude, day exterior, night exterior, ISO range, sensitivity of the sensor, fill ratio, backlight ability. “We also put them on the racetrack and Willow Springs,” adds Hurlbut. “We wanted to see how the rolling shutter was going to work at speeds of over 150 miles per hour, and how we were going to mount them so we didn’t get the jello rolling shutter effect.”

How the Mustang was driven and filmed for a scene in the film.

“Once we did all that,” continues Hurlbut, “we took all these tests and edited them altogether and all the cameras were labeled just one through nine. We sat in the theater at Technicolor on a forty foot screen and we chose camera no. 6. And that happened to be the Canon C500 and that became our A camera. What Scottie really loved about this camera was how beautiful the skin tones were, how real it made everyone look and everything feel. The ARRI Alexa was our B camera, the 1D C was our C cam and the GoPro HERO3 was the D camera.”

How do you shoot super-expensive Super cars?

Whilst the film features a large number of Super cars and Muscle cars, the real thing would have clearly been too costly to film and crash. So the production entrusted RCR (Racing Chassis Replicas) to build the chassis, with the picture car, special effects and stunt departments building the car and fx rigging around that. Designs came directly from the manufacturers who assisted by providing 3D CAD data. Hurlbut’s team was also involved in working out where holes and rigging could be fitted to enable cameras, sliders and rigs to be mounted on the cars.

Several camera cars, chase cars, camera platforms, aerial assemblies, GoPro mounts, crash cams, helmet rigs and other rigs made the shots possible on Need for Speed. An important part of capturing the action was actually allowing for stunt drivers to control the cars. One setup made use of a shooting platform in which a stunt driver rode in a pod attached to the car, and camera operators could be positioned to film the action.

Being faithful to the game

Hurlbut notes in the film there are “three or four odes to the game where you’re literally driving the vehicle. The camera is centered in the driver’s seat – you see the hands on the wheel, see the speedometer, see rear view mirror – all that immersive quality.” These POV shots were filmed with the Canon EOS-1D C and a special helmet cam fitted with Zeiss’ lightweight 15mm ZE prime at t2.8.

“Then there’s over the back of all the cop cars,” adds Hurlbut. “You have the strip in the foreground with the red and blue lights flashing and that is at the foreground as we’re flying down the road. Another ode to the game in terms of colors – I wanted the nights to be very chromatic to replicate what the urban lights are – sodium vapors and mercury vapors – golden amber tones mixed with cyan green – rich feel like the game.”

Stunt #1: The bridge crash

Three Koenigseggs race in this crucial sequence in the film.
Three Koenigseggs race in this crucial sequence in the film.

The action: In this crucial set-up for the rest of the film, car mogul Dino Brewster challenges Tobey Marshall and Little Pete to a street race in three Koenigsegg super cars. As they’re sent into a slide on a bridge, Little Pete’s car gets airborne as Dino’s car pushes it from behind causing it to flips and crash in flames. Little Peet is killed, Dino absconds and Tobey ends up going to jail.

Executing the stunt: Production shot the lead-up to the race just north of Atlanta, Georgia, while the bridge section was filmed in Columbus (about three hours away). Atomic Fiction married the two locations with set extensions so that, for example, plates filmed on the bridge appeared to show forest in the background.

For the crash, stunt co-ordinator Lance Gilbert devised a pipe-ramp system that enabled the rear Koenigsegg fitted with a ‘car catcher’ to push Little Pete’s car sideways for the launch. Parts of the car, ramp and rigging were digitally removed by Atomic Fiction, which also augmented the car itself for some aspects of its flight. “We were actually able to use the real car for the motion,” says Baillie. “We matched the motion of the real car exactly and use it for really great lighting reference.”

Watch behind the scenes of the Koenigsegg street-race.

A key shot from the sequence was intended to make Pete’s Koenigsegg look like a piece of paper flying into the air as the rear car drives straight underneath it. Hurlbut actually describes this as a ‘Key Frame’. To capture that in an even more interesting way, the DOP mounted a GoPro Hero 3 on Pete’s car and aim down towards the ground. On his blog, Hurlbut discusses setting up the shot: “I mounted it right next to the driver’s side mirror pointing down at the ground. I envisioned when the car was hit, it would drift into a side position and then launch upwards into the air. When it did this I was hoping that the car flipping up would stay perpendicular to the car that hit it. I also framed the GoPro so that it would use the 2:35 frame aspect ratio from the extreme right and left to be the top and bottom of this frame.”

After flying through the air, Pete’s Koenigsegg erupts into flames and tumbles across the bridge. To film that section, the special effects crew attached a giant steel cage around the car, along with cabling that enabled them to pull the car and make it roll while it was ignited. Because of the rigging, Atomic Fiction carried out further augmentation on the stunt. “It’s one of the most brutal paint-outs that I think I’ve seen in my entire career,” admits Baillie. “We augmented it with some CG and also just really talented paint artists. The result is remarkable.”

Stunt #2: Mustang on a helicopter

Watch part of the helicopter sequence from the film.

The action: Tobey and his team make their way to San Francisco in a multi-million dollar custom Mustang (based on a 2013 Shelby GT500). At one point they evade several bounty hunters by latching themselves onto a U.S. Army helicopter that carries them over a canyon in Moab, Utah.

Executing the stunt: Again, production acquired as much as the stunt practically as they could – a real picture car was picked up by a real helicopter. Atomic Fiction provided visual effects touches to the scene with digital doubles inside the car and occasionally digital cables.

Behind the scenes of the chopper stunt.

“Scott originally wanted stunt people driving in the car that drove the car off the cliff,” recalls Baillie, “and this big Sikorsky S-61 was going to catch the car with the stunt people in it. The stunt people were jazzed to do it, but unfortunately safety concerns kicked in. So the picture car team brought in robotics to steer the car and we ended up doing CG cables and digi-doubles inside the car.”

Stunt #3: Racing in the DeLeon

The crash at the DeLeon.
The crash at the DeLeon.

The action: The film’s climatic showdown between Tobey, Dino and other drivers takes place in the DeLeon near San Francisco, an underground street race that ultimately sees massive car casualties. Although several crashes occur in the race, a signature scene involves the flipping of a McLaren P1. The action sees a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento connect with the McClaren, forcing the later to roll multiple times and end up on its roof.

Executing the stunt: Both cars were operated by stunt drivers, with the McLaren replica fitted with safety rigging and roll cages underneath its skin. It also had a giant arm that would sense the correct angle to then launch an air canon that made it flip appropriately. Visual effects artists would later carry out the necessary rig removal and CG replacements to ensure the roll cage and mechanics were not seen.

Behind the scenes – filming the DeLeon sequences.

To capture the action, Hurlbut arranged a number of GoPros on the McClaren that showed the car spinning while in flight, while also employing – and destroying – a Canon C500. And while this close-to-action coverage was crucial to immersing the audience in the crash, Hurlbut also relied on aerial views for the DeLeon and other car sequences – something he calls ‘expansive intimacy’.

“We used aerials not only to give you this amazing expanse and beautiful landscape, but we use them as a geography tool,” explains Hurlbut. “You’re very intimate, you’re with the emotion of the cast, you’re intimately involved in how they’re experiencing and what they’re feeling.Then you jump out wide and you realize – holy shit they’re going to go down there and take this hairpin curve! In the aerial you see that expansiveness.”

All images and clips copyright © 2014 DreamWorks.

5 thoughts on “How they made the biggest stunts in <em>Need for Speed</em>”

  1. Pingback: Need for Speed Stunt Breakdown - hier werden noch echte Autos geschrottet | netbuzzing

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  3. Pingback: Shane Hurlbut, ASC | fxguide – How they made the biggest stunts in Need for Speed

  4. Oh man, did the crew get taken out by that fast-rolling tire headed straight for them, at 1:25 ?!!

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