Monday, November 19, 2012

Reality vs Visual Effects: The Case of the F-15 Over Afghanistan

I regularly stumble across pictures from the real world that look fake to me.   I believe that if this picture was used in a movie, that is if there was a scene that looked like this, people would complain about the bad and obviously fake visual effects.

Here is a picture of a fighter being refueled at night over Afghanistan.

Examine the picture (click on it to enlarge it) and then read my notes below.   These are the notes that I would give the technical director of the shot to help him or her understand what some of the problems are.

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, refuels Dec. 12 during a combat mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

1. The camera seems to be in an improbable position.  But it isn't, this is a camera on the refueling aircraft, completely normal.

2. The background (terrain) looks overly simple, it needs more detail.   That's how a lot of Afghanistan looks in winter at night.

3. The motion blur looks wrong.   But it isn't, the background is blurred because we are travelling fast over the ground, the airplane is not blurred because it has matched our speed.  The camera is at an oblique angle and the ground closer to the bottom of the picture is travelling "faster", e.g. more screen distance vertically, than the terrain in the upper part of the picture, hence the motion blur in the bottom of the picture is visibly more than the blur near the top, and this is correct.

4. You can see inside the cockpit.  That is correct, very high visibility these cockpits. And lots of illumination from the refueling boom.

5. The fighter itself is too low detail.  It looks like a model.   But it isn't.  F15s look like that from this point of view.  If you got up close you would see more detail, but it is deliberately supposed to be a sortof even grey from a distance (its a form of camouflage).

6. There appears to be a matte line around the front of the aircraft.   Yes there does appear to be a matte line, but it isn't.  It is the dark sky reflecting in the metal of the nose as it curves down.   It just looks like it has been outlined.

7. The lighting looks weird.   Its not your imagination, the lighting is weird.  We have a refueling boom with some sort of really bright (sodium?) light on it, a very bright moon illuminating everything with a blue-white light, reflections from the moon off the ground, illumination inside the fighter.  This is weird lighting.   That's just the way it is, or was, that night over Afghanistan.

In fact, it is a picture of a fighter at night over Afghanistan in winter being refueled.  It looks like that.   I think this is very amusing.

The original picture is at

No comments:

Post a Comment