Outstanding Effect Shots, part 2 of 24

Welcome to the Single-Minded Movie Blog advent calendar. Between the 1st and the 24th of December every day will bring you a short post about a classic or not so classic shot from the golden era of visual effects.

The DeLorean lands
- in Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

A special kind of high-tech sleight of hand was used for a specific scene in Back to the Future, Part II. The problem was this: All live action shots where characters interacted with the DeLorean time machine were done with a full-size car, but all flying shots (is this the best car ever!?) were done using a model car, shot on blue screen. So how could they do a shot that showed the car flying past the camera, landing, driving along for a bit, before coming to a stop, and then actors exiting the vehicle?

The key is the split screen effect. First the full-size car was shot on location, with a motion controlled camera. The last bit of flying was accomplished with a ramp. Then a clean, empty plate was shot to match the first one perfectly. By using a lamppost on location as the split screen line the two plates were stitched together.

Finally Peter Daulton of Industrial Light and Magic programmed a motion control shot of the model DeLorean, where the last bit perfectly matched the live action version, while the first part of the shot showed the car flying. This model shot was added to the empty plate, with mind-boggling attention to lighting condition. So basically the flying DeLorean changes from a 3 foot model with little puppets, to a full-size car with real people, right in front of our eyes, as it passes behind a lamppost!

The first time I saw this shot I literally yelled out loud. I had NO idea how they pulled that off. It was pure movie magic.

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