VFX breakdown

VFX Breakdown of "Masters of the Air"

June 13, 2024
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"Masters of the Air," the Apple TV+ World War II miniseries, is a visually stunning depiction of the 100th Bomb Group and their aerial battles. The series, produced by the legendary team of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman, relies heavily on advanced visual effects to recreate the intense and dynamic air combat scenes of the era. This article provides an in-depth look at the VFX techniques and technologies used to bring this historical drama to life.

Collaboration and Scale

The VFX work for "Masters of the Air" was a massive collaborative effort involving several top-tier VFX houses, including DNEG, Weta FX, Rodeo FX, Whiskytree, and Distillery VFX. Each studio brought its unique expertise to the project, contributing to the seamless visual narrative of the series.

DNEG played a significant role, delivering over 1600 shots and more than 200 assets across eight episodes. Their work included everything from virtual production to intricate visual effects that required a meticulous level of historical accuracy. Weta FX and Rodeo FX also provided substantial contributions, ensuring the series maintained a high standard of visual fidelity throughout​.

Historical Accuracy

One of the primary challenges in creating the visual effects for "Masters of the Air" was ensuring historical accuracy. DNEG's environment supervisors used satellite images and historical data to recreate the European landscapes as they appeared during World War II. Modern elements like highways and contemporary buildings were painstakingly removed and replaced with period-appropriate details such as dirt roads and fields. This attention to detail extended to the reconstruction of bombed landscapes, ensuring they matched historical records​.

Cloudscapes and Contrails

Creating realistic cloudscapes and contrails was another complex task. Instead of using traditional matte paintings, the VFX team developed a system to generate various cloud formations. These clouds were created as macro clusters composed of smaller clouds, simulating the non-linear and chaotic patterns seen in real cloud formations. This method provided a dynamic and realistic backdrop for the aerial combat scenes.

Contrails, the trails left by aircraft engines, were also rendered with high precision. The VFX team ensured that the contrails behaved accurately based on the time of day, weather conditions, and aircraft movement. This included simulating the spinning effect caused by the propellers and the impact of different lighting conditions on the contrails' appearance​.

Cockpit Shots and Body Tracking

The interior shots of the B-17 bombers required detailed body tracking of the pilots and crew. Each movement had to be accurately captured and augmented to convey the sensation of travel and combat. This involved complex tracking and animation to ensure the actors' movements synchronized with the motion of the aircraft and the surrounding environment​.

Pre-Visualization and Virtual Production

Pre-visualization (previs) played a crucial role in planning the intricate aerial sequences. The Third Floor, a renowned previs studio, provided detailed animations that helped directors and VFX teams visualize the final shots before filming. This process was essential for coordinating the large-scale aerial battles and ensuring all elements aligned correctly in post-production.

Virtual production stages managed by Lux Machina and DNEG Virtual Production allowed for real-time visualization of complex scenes, providing directors with immediate feedback and enabling more dynamic and immersive storytelling​.


The VFX Supervisors involved in "Masters of the Air":

  • Xavier Bernasconi (DNEG)
  • Wayne Stables (Weta FX)
  • Patrick David (Rodeo FX)
  • Aidan Fraser (Whiskytree)
  • Matthew Lane (Distillery VFX)
  • Helen Bunker (House of Good Vibes)
  • Alex Lemke (East Side Effects)
  • Michael Huber (East Side Effects)
  • Matthew Smart (Previs Supervisor, The Third Floor)
  • Stephen Rosenbaum (Production VFX Supervisor)


"Masters of the Air" is a testament to the power of modern visual effects in bringing historical events to life with unparalleled realism. The collaborative efforts of multiple VFX studios, combined with innovative techniques and a relentless commitment to historical accuracy, have resulted in a series that not only captivates but also educates its audience. The visual effects in "Masters of the Air" are not just about spectacle; they serve to immerse viewers in the harrowing and heroic experiences of the airmen who fought in the skies during World War II.

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