Rarely in cinema these days do we see the traditional art of model making being used to create stunning practical effects. In 2017, however, Christopher Nolan's epic war film Dunkirk was released which involved a number of WW2 aerial dogfighting scenes. Unwilling to use CGI, Nolan opted for real airplanes where he could and models for where he couldn't. If you haven't seen the film yet - warning! This article may contain some minor spoilers!
Based on the Evacuation of Dunkirk, the aircraft used in this film were suitably authentic. Period Spitfire MK1's with black and white undersides, JU 87 Stukas and a Heinkel 111 from this chapter of the conflict (pre the Battle of Britain) were all represented. In terms of the full-scale aircraft, three original Spitfires were joined by a Spanish licence built 'Buchón'. Buchóns were built after 1945 and were based closely on the Messerschmitt. This particular one was dressed up to look like a BF-109 E complete with a yellow nose. It was great to see both fighters dicing it up above the English Channel during the movie.
For some aerial scenes, it was impossible for Nolan's crew to use the real aircraft. Large-scale flying models of the Heinkel and Stuka were built.
In an early sequence in Dunkirk, dive bombers are shown attacking the British held beach. Models of the aircraft were used in this scene to fly over the actor's heads.
At least two models of the Spitfire and 109 were also made and flown for the movie. These were used in the more hazardous filming scenes - if something went wrong, it wouldn't be someone's life at stake.
At one point, something did go wrong and the model 109 hit the deck.
Filming for these scenes took place on an airfield in the UK.
For scenes where aircraft were to be shown flying through plumes of water from bomb explosions, models were used.
Shooting a film on this scale with real aircraft both large and small must have been a truly mammoth task. Integrating each carefully choreographed part into one film is something Nolan expertly pulled off.
Here's a video feature covering some of the behind the scenes of the aerial filmmaking that went into making this movie.
If you enjoyed this article, remember to hit that 'recommend' button so more people can see it!
Article by James Whomsley
Editor of FliteTest.com