Filming “On Location” with The Blue Max Project

When a film director is researching his next big film one of the key tasks is hunting for the right location to film at.  If the movie is based on a book or a historical event, the challenge is convincing movie-goers that they “got it right”  by finding the perfect location.

On a humbler scale, I face the same challenge with Rupp’s Skizzenbuch.  Fan’s of Jack Hunter’s novel  “The Blue Max” have their own mental image of what the story looks like.   Rupp fills his skizzenbuch with sketches and photographs and I have to create images that are believable to a reader of the novel.

You use the tools you have and one tool I have is the Rise of Flight (ROF) mission builder from 777’s fine World War I flight sim.  The mission builder is based on historically accurate maps from The Great War.   You can customize the environment by choosing locations, setting the  weather and placing objects on the map.  When you’re done, you can fly the sim in the setting you helped create. I thought I would send my virtual “Production Crew” into the flight sim to see how close I could get to recreating Bruno Stachel’s first Aerodrome, Jasta 77 located at Beauvin.

We started with the game map.  At the beginning of the book Oberleutnant Kettering orients the new officer Bruno Stachel on the location of the various Jastas.  His description is detailed enough that we were able to find most of the aerodromes on the ROF map.   Bruno’s home base was located next to a small farm village called Beauvin.  This is a fictional aerodrome so we used some artistic freedom on its location and configuration.  The quotes on the map are from the novel.


The Production Crew scouted the  3D map in their virtual helicopter looking for an appropriate location to build the Aerodrome.   We were looking for an intersection of a north-south railroad with an east-west road near a river.  We found just what we were looking for and sent down the Stage Crew  to start constructing the village.  There are limitations of course.   My Creative Director was not happy with some of the compromises ( he is a kind of fussy person)…. the river was a little large, the north-south train track was there, but not the north-south road, a few too many buildings at the Aerodrome.  My Technical Director was not concerned at all.  He knew the Special Effects Team could clean that up in post-production.  Here is the map with quotes from the novel’s descriptions that it is based on.

2-Whole Base_c

One of the challenges in making films about WWI aviation is getting functional aircraft that are historically accurate.  In the Sim World my Technical Director was very happy since we have unlimited aircraft that fly well and are wonderfully rendered.  You can also design your own skins for the aircraft and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my squadmate WWDubya who designed the skin on the DFW in the videos below.  Jasta 77 is described as having a “paper strength” of eighteen with twelve active pilots.  We stocked the aerodrome with eighteen aircraft made up of Pfalz’s,  Albatros fighters and a few DFW two seaters for recon and bombing assignments.


The wonderful thing about a 3D model is you can zoom around to any location and take screenshots from different vantage points.  When an Architect designs a building mentally he or she tends to have an image of the design in thier head, likely from a few vantage points. When you have a 3D model you can explore to find views you never considered.  There are a number of locations at this site that are key to the story line of “The Blue Max”.  The bridge where Stachel saves a school girl, the row of poplar trees to the south of the aerodrome that Stachel crashes through, the Officers Mess in the old house on the main street… and most importantly the abandoned factory on the west end of town where Rupp witnesses Stachel’s cruel murder of Von Klugerman when he forces his plane into the side of the chimney.  I sent the Sketch Artists down to walk the streets and start story boarding for the Skizzenbuch.  They were very pleased and where careful not to fall into the river when they had too much to drink ( perhaps the Officer’s Mess was bit too accurately modelled!).


No film production is complete without some drama and we had our share.  It culminated with the Creative Director (CD) and Technical Director (TD) attempting to fly a circuit around the town we had just created to make a short video for the Studio Execs.   The CD was doing the filming and the TD was the pilot so it sounded like a perfect pairing right? It was a classic conflict of artistic vision versus practical reality.  If you notice in the video the wind sock is almost completely horizontal. The mission builder ( me ) got a little out of hand with the wind modelling and it was whipping along at 4 meter’s per second going from west to east.  This is historically accurate ( but perhaps a tad too strong)  as the Entente flyers fought the wind on the way back from their flights into Germany.

The CD insisted that they fly due south and come back over the Aerodrome heading north for landing.  He thought it would be the best view for filming.  Considering the crosswind, the TD argued against it, but the CD insisted. In the first take-off attempt  that west wind lifted one wing up, forcing the other into the grass and they crashed.  Five tries, five crashes.  Finally the TD got the knack of leaning on the right rudder and tilting down on the right aileron to counter the tipping and managed to get air born.  Unfortunately the next four planes were destroyed in the landing..  By the ninth try the TD was fuming and we were losing daylight.  Thankfully the CD was knocked unconscious in the last failed landing and his Best Boy took over.  Calmer heads prevailed and the tenth try they took off heading east and landed into the wind heading west.


The take-off went well enough, but the Technical Director came in a bit hot for the landing. Put it away nicely in the hanger though (just short a few wings).

Finally on the 11th try as the sun set we got the video we were looking for (we will edit out that last rough part of the landing before we send it on to Hollywood).

Those Studio Exec’s are an impatient bunch so it is good we finished. Hopefully they will approve so the project can go into full production.






Leave a Reply