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
Buena Vista Visual Effects Studio
How many people were involved in making it and how long did it take to
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
The miniature was retained by the company. I kept the molds. I don't
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
What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy
doing in your spare time?
The last feature we did was
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.