Supervised overall visual effects design, development, Pre-vis, Virtual Production and Live Action shoots. Interfaced daily to plan, manage and refine concepts, process, and work-load distributions amongst the other on-set production departments, particularly the show directors, producers, writer, Art Department, SFX, Stunts, Makeup, and the invaluable show technical advisors and researchers. During Post Production, directed shot production for all 13 vendors consisting of more than 1100 (all remote!) VFX artists on four continents, and worked tirelessly with the Showrunner, and the editors to deliver the show. The scope of the project was the equivalent to producing three large VFX movies back-to-back in the time it typically takes to produce one movie.

Research & Reference

We went into the project with a mandate to get it right. Every decision we made had to account for being technically and historically accurate. There are definitely some creative cheats in there, but I could confidently say that 95% of it (and there’s A LOT of “it”) is faithfully correct, even down to plane serial numbers and squadron ID’s.

Everything started with Donald Miller’s book “Masters of the Air” and John Orloff’s scripts and research bible. We also had a dedicated researcher and a B-17 technical advisor present throughout the prep and shoot. From these resources and watching thousands of hours of historical video reference, listening to oral histories, and scouring of YouTube and websites like the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, I learned nearly everything there is to know about the 100th Bombardment Group, a B17, its payload types, the Norden Bombsight, and its airmen. I studied combat formation flying, Luftwaffe fighters (Bf109, Bf110, Fw190, and Ju88) and their attack strategies, and the P-40, P-47 and the pivotal P-51 Mustang counteroffensive. I also studied German flak guns and the devastating impact they had on the B-17’s and their crew.


Armed with Orloff’s beautiful scripts and voluminous research bible, I worked with the directors to choreograph previz for the mission sequences so that they were not just historically and technically accurate, but also fun to watch. Typically the directors would begin by sketching storyboards, and then I would interpret these boards with our previz team who would then start blocking the action. The other production departments would then reference the approved previz as a guide to prep their work and be ready for shooting.

Virtual Production

For interior angles, sectioned set pieces of the B-17 were built and detailed to perfection by Stuart Heath and his team at BGI Supplies. These set pieces were positioned on huge motion bases designed and animated by SFX Sup Neil Corbould and his team. Using a hand-controlled joystick device to puppeteer the motion base in real time, a SFX technician could effectively “fly” the plane set piece, reacting to action played-back on the LED walls. So for example, if there was a flak explosion directly off the port side pilot window, in response the technician would jolt the plane toward starboard. This connected actor performances to the plane and action outside the windows. It also brought interior set details to life as things jiggled and swayed inside the plane.

BGI Supplie's B17 Flight Deck and Nose compartment set piece sitting on top of a 10-ton 6-axis motion base provided by NCSFX, and backed by our horseshoe-shaped LED Wall.

Traditionally, VFX shots of actors in planes is done either against a bluescreen or greenscreen, or camera angles that aim upwards showing just infinite sky. The issues with these approaches are that the actors don’t really know where to look and perform to the surrounding action (other than some VFX geek like me waving a tennis ball on a long pole as  eyeline reference). Lighting is more restricted because there’s this giant green or blue backing that’s in the way and often reflecting an undesirable blue or green cast on the actors and set. Composing reverse cameras angles looking over the actors out the windows at surrounding action is nothing more than a best guess at where the action will eventually be animated into the shots six months later in Post. Directors, DP’s, and actors generally don’t like it because it presents a very limited understanding of unseen action, and that usually translates to flat performances and boring action sequences. Also, editors initially won’t have the surrounding animations to assemble cuts for months into Post, so they have to make educated guesses in connecting foreground actor performances with (eventual) animated background action, timings and continuity. Really, the only positive for shooting against a green or bluescreen is that is provides VFX compositors with solid matte extractions. Not to be quickly dismissed, not using blue or greenscreen can be a significant costly compromise for a VFX budget.

Alternatively, employing a Virtual Production workflow during a shoot provides real time (proxy) visual effects to the production crew, and one toolset of VP we decided to leverage on MOTA was to build giant LED walls in place of where a green or bluescreen would have otherwise been positioned. On the walls we would playback editable previz content through Unreal Engine, which gave the director control in adjusting or even re-staging the surrounding action. The actors could see and react to everything out the windows, and the DP could dynamically control the lighting and look, including weather conditions and interactive FX. And the cameras understood exactly how to compose the shots for the entire action. Additionally, the editors received temp composited plates that represent the directors’s vision of the action, and that allowed them to more confidently cut the action together and deliver it sooner to VFX to swap out the previz and visually upgrade the content out the windows.

                    Seen from the stage floor, an early test of a B-17 set piece sitting atop a motion base "flying" through (crude) previz clouds within the horseshoe-shaped LED volume .
                    Seen from inside the B-17 flight deck set piece sitting atop a motion base, an early test of "flying" past (crude) previz of German fighters projected from the LED wall.

We knew from the start there was no time during prep to design, previz and then light, render, and comp more than five hours of "final pixel" content, nor would it have been a wise spend considering there were multiple directors on the series and they would have to be involved with approving the work before it could be used on the Walls. Doing this while they were prepping for the rest of their live action shoots was not logistically feasible, so we committed to rotoscoping most of the LED volume plates, and then compositing the exterior action adding pilot window reflections, dirt, and scratches in Post. Instead of traditional hand-articulated rotoscope mattes, we used new machine learning tools that can auto-rotoscope a high percentage of a given plate. In some cases, the focus was so shallow, making the backgrounds out the windows soft enough that one couldn’t tell a previz exterior from a VFX composited background, so where we could, we took the win and just used the plates as they were shot.

Inside the nose compartment set, an actor can see German fighters fly past on the LED wall and shoot at them.
Inside the flight deck set, a director can position a B-17 formation, and a DP can interactively light the shot from within Unreal Engine; illuminating actors, planes, and clouds from the LED wall.
Inside the flight deck set, an actor is immersed in the displayed volume content and can check his position in the formation, and perform to the surrounding planes and action.
P-51D set piece riding a motion base in the LED volume. The Tuskegee Airmen (Red Tails) flew P-51C's, but we only had access to a real "D" (bubble canopy), so we made a historical compromise.

Live Action Photography

The 100th Bombardment Group was stationed at Thorpe Abbotts in East Anglia. There’s a museum at the original site, but the airfield itself is now farmland, so we shot the exterior airfield scenes at Abingdon Airfield in Oxfordshire. We were able to stage a lot of scenes at the airfield where the Art Department recreated the Control Tower, some surrounding buildings, and adjacent hardstands.

Art Department constructed the Thorpe Abbotts Control Tower, adjacent service buildings and hard stands. BGI Supplies built two full scale B-17F models ("Wild Cargo" pictured).

Stuart Heath and BGI Supplies built two full scale model B-17F’s for the show. They had access to the original Boeing construction drawings so the exteriors were precise and perfectly detailed down to the last rivet. Neither model was flight worthy, but one had electric motors attached to the wheels so it could taxi and navigate a hardstand. The other could be used as a background parked plane. For the CG B-17’s, we LiDAR scanned the practical models and were also able to LiDAR scan a few real B-17’s (both F and G models), including the infamous (B-17F) Memphis Belle to compare (very) slight differences against the full scale production models.

The Olive Drab F’s preceded the natural metal G’s, and there were some subtle structural difference between the F and G models, most notably substituting the single interior Nose gun on the F for twin 50 caliber “chin” guns that are exterior mounted underneath the Nose on the G. Sadly for episode 109, other than painting the practical full scale models silver we couldn't physically modify them to look like B-17G planes so for continuity reasons when we show the CG aerial sequences in this episode, they are really silver B-17F planes masquerading as model G planes.

Generally for ground-based shots, our job was to populate hardstands, taxiways, and runways with CG B-17’s, whether static or moving. Neither of the full scale model B17’s had working propellers, so we would typically remove the physical propellers and add CG versions for shots that required them to be spinning. All shots of any plane taking-off, flying, and landing in the show is CG.

The yearlong Prep and Shoot during 2021 mandated daily testing and mask wearing at all times, even out on the airfield.

Post Production


In addition to tracer fire, we art directed clouds to help frame the action and embellished with contrails to help the audience know where to look.

Good example of creating explosive fire while flying 180mph. Tricky simulation to get looking "right". Also note the multiple layers of elements that it takes just to create photo-realistic two second shot.


Some of the notable challenges the Art and VFX Departments encountered was the cancellation of shooting at visually rich and diverse European locations due to COVID restrictions. To maintain a high production value, however, we decided to digitally extend and populate sets buit by the Art Department, or fabricate entirely as CG the dozens of environments the audience is treated to in the show.

No way to travel across the channel from London to Paris in 2021, so for this episode 104 period establishing shot of a steam train traveling toward Gare du Nord in Paris Whiskytree created it as an entirely CG shot.

Paris Establisher circa 1944, By Whiskytree

Here's a visual breakdown of the various elements that went into creating the shot:

Stalag Luft 3 POW camp extension with digi POW's.
Stalag Luft 3 POW camp extension with digi POW's.
Ramitelli Airbase in Italy was home to the Tuskegee Airmen (Red Tails).

For terrain environments and towns seen from the air, sometimes we had the benefit of multi camera array background plates, but most of the time German, French, Italian, Swiss, Dutch and Greenland environments were built entirely as CG terrains, regardless of altitude. For these aerial shots where we see a foreground character close-up, we shot on stage in a LED volume and then inter-cut with exterior angle plane extensions or wider, all CG shots.


For all shots of flak-damaged B-17's on the ground, we added damage as a Post effect to the physical full-scale B-17 models. During the mission (aerial) sequences, we had to track progressive battering to the planes to maintain continuity to the end.

Some of the more gruesome battle moments gave the audience brief glimpses of often disfiguring attacks. The original makeup application was then completed as a Post enhancement.

Another graphic encounter where we had to emphasize the brutal inhumanity of this time in history.

Adam Rowland - The glamour and fashion of working on set!