Press > Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > Larry Jolly (Helicopter Model Builder)

How did you end up being a model builder for movies and how come you mostly build helicopters and such?

I grew up watching features from the World War II era that featured some extraordinary miniature work for the time. My family came from a performance model aircraft background. I started flying contests at age seven. A friend recalled that when I was a high school senior I told him I was going to fly model helicopters in the movies. I got my first chance in the pilot for Airwolf. The miniature Hughes 500 that blew up in that pilot was the first scale machine I had ever built and was the first of over 300 cinematic pyro demolitions. I quickly was educated in Hollywood miniatures requirements and the very real differences between professional miniatures and hobbyist models. I opened a shop and developed my crew and the skill set to produce high quality in house camera match flying vehicles for cinematic work.

How did you get the assignment to build a miniature helicopter for Escape From L.A.?

Around Christmas time 1995 I got a call from Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) to come up to Disney and have a meeting with John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) to discuss a miniature for a possible upcoming project. We looked over his boards and discussed the possible methods we could use to get what he needed. I got a call a couple of weeks later and got the go on the project.

How did you prepare for this project and how was the helicopter constructed and filmed? Also, how close did you work with Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) and Producers Air Force who did the full-size mockup to get all the details right?

We used the same drawings that the art department used for the full-size mockup. We spent a Saturday morning going over their mockup looking for deviations from the drawings. We took our own photos and measurements to make sue everything matched. The helicopter had fairly low mechanical requirements from creation view point. It had to be a faithful reproduction and had to have lights and working counter rotating main blades but we had developed methods to cope with those details before. Steve Addis (Miniature Helicopter) was our lead modeler on this project and he did a great job. Since the shot was motion control we decided to use a stepper motor controlled transmission power drive unit that could be removed from the main body of the helicopter. Giving a director options is a sure way to get on his good side. Helicopters are prone to vibration with everything spinning. They are a true thing of joy when everything is spinning in harmony. Since the shot was on a computer controlled model mover against a green screen I designed the machine so that we could do a pass with the body of the helicopter and then film a pass separately with the blades power unit and then join them in post. This would keep any vibration isolated to the blades power unit and keep the body stable and steady simulating a larger object with good damping. We finished the machine on time and the shooting schedule was pretty low key being a total 2nd unit ordeal.

Model Construction

Buena Vista Visual Effects Studio

Full-Size Mockup

How many people were involved in making it and how long did it take to make?

We had four-five weeks to produce the miniature. We were doing two other features at the time and I set three of my advanced guys loose on the project as I supervised the other projects that had to film first.

What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie?

It was great meeting John and getting the chance to witness his creative process.

What happened to the helicopter after the movie was finished?

The miniature was retained by the company. I kept the molds. I don't release those.

What do you think of the movie personally?

It was great being able to participate in the making of Escape From L.A. I am happy with the contributions and look of our miniature.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

The last feature we did was Interstellar. We produced and operated the flying 33 percent Predator drones for the film. I still fly and compete. I currently design and produce agricultural surveying UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for DreamHammer, a San Diego based digital information company.

Thank you for your time, Larry.

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Photos: Copyright 2017 Larry Jolly