Saanich wind tunnel shines on silver screen

Local company provides special effects for Tomorrowland

Peter Zaoralek

George Clooney may keep his perfectly coiffed hair away from 220 km/h air currents, but the actor who played his younger self in Tomorrowland had to throw caution to the wind.

Bodyflight, a portable wind tunnel company based in Saanich, was enlisted for some key freefalling scenes in the sci-fi adventure film, based on the futuristic themed part of Disneyland. The film stars Clooney as a disillusioned inventor who – persuaded by a teenage science enthusiast – embarks on a journey to unearth Tomorrowland, an ahead-of-its-time cityscape that exists in their collective memory.

The scenes were filmed on a studio lot in Vancouver, where the 11-year-old actor Thomas Robinson learned to fly in a wind tunnel before graduating to open-air flying. Each minute of the experience simulates a skydive freefall in both length and sensation, but without actually falling.

“We were approached the year before by the stunt co-ordination team about using the mobile system for filming a key scene,” said Peter Zaoralek, owner of Bodyflight. “They were looking for a way to create lifelike sequences around a freefall scene and the Bodyflight System offered a versatile, cost-effective solution.”

For Tomorrowland, Bodyflight used its X1 machine, a fully portable skydive simulator which produces wind speed up to 230 km/h. The system allowed for use of a clear wall-to-wall air flight chamber and an open-air flight system with custom net rigging and air-cushion systems.

With guidance from main stunt flyer and trainer John Suiter, professional flyers worked with Robinson and other cast members to teach them how to use the wind tunnel.

“Initially Thomas worked with John Suiter in the wall-to-wall flight chamber,” said Zaoralek. “He was a natural flyer and became skilled enough that he could do his own stunts for the sequence.”

The final sequence was shot within a maze of blue screens, cranes and machines in an open-air environment, surrounded by specialized trapeze nets and safety systems.

Following the release of the film in May – which grossed $208.6 million at the box office – Zaoralek is hoping to attract the attention of other productions looking to film realistic freefall, flying or wind-related scenes.

“The film industry is very busy in Victoria and Vancouver currently and we hope this means more interest in the technology,” he said. “With a portable machine and ability to fabricate whatever may be required, we can bring the technology to any location, which is a huge benefit.”

 

jacob.zinn@saanichnews.com