The Quantum Mousetrap

Mark Eduljee's blog about Social Media Insights Intelligence and his FlightSim Movies

Wings Over Burma

Prologue April 27, 2014

This is a story of the storytelling of Wings over Burma, a movie created in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, as a tribute to my Uncle, FltO. Dinshaw Feroshah Eduljee, AFC.

Click the image below to view the movie on YouTube.

WOB_1_WingsOverBurmaSplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea for the movie was hatched in Sept 2013. It was completed in April 2014.

Using Microsoft Flight Simulator X to tell the story of “Wings Over Burma” began with email from a cousin writing to excitedly announce that our Uncle Dinshaw’s grave site had been “found” at a Singapore war memorial. That event triggered much discussion among the far-flung global Eduljee family about what this news meant, because, we had grown up hearing stories from our elders about how this heroic, revered Brother, was presumed dead, MIA in Burma.  For his final resting place to then be located in Singapore was stunning news!

Fast forward a bit…and by using tools and technology not available at the time of the story in 1944, like, email (muuch faster than their fastest Telegrams), the incredible research and networking power from a networked web (bigger than any Library that generation ever had access to) which provided unparalleled access to documents, pictures, ww2 film, newsreels, video, maps, the Family embarked on a journey of discovery leading to the discovery of long forgotten, handwritten copies of the flight operations logs for that fateful day with notes about the effort to find locate a fellow pilot lost in battle deep in the steamy jungles of Burma.

The discovery of the flight log was a huge breakthrough since it gave us levels of detail hereto unknown: his aircraft’s registration number (LE804), his wingman (Codanda M. Cariappa, flying LE764), their departure time (700 hours), their mission (recon +150miles/240Km deep into Burma), and all-important map coordinates (written in an old war-time format) of where his fighter went down.  It was then only a matter of time before we deciphered what they meant. And then, for the first time in over 80 years, the family had precise geo-coordinates to allow us all to virtually visit his last known position.

All of this new information, reference, history, detail and answers was soon incorporated into a Blog by cousin Kursheed Eduljee, and as long-time Flight Sim enthusiast I then began to think about what it would take to recreate his last flight in a simulated environment in tribute to his memory.

The resulting 15 minute movie took 8 months to plan, develop, narrate, film, and produce. It is a mix of history and stories, stitched together with artistic license, while being both constrained and enabled by modern simulation technology and videography tools.

It tells the story of a young man who did his duty and never returned…as so many at that time did…with courage and with honor.

What follows in this document is the story of the storytelling.

I experienced a range and mix of emotions from concept to completion of the film: awe, inspiration, doubt, fatigue, energized, anticipation, frustration, elation, satisfaction, regret, gratitude, pride ….

And, so as it was for me, I hope that you too will find the experience of this story informative, entertaining, moving, and inspiring.

Mark Eduljee
FltO Dinshaw’s Nephew


 

Index

Prologue: April 25, 2014

The Stage

 The blog

 Summarized: Wings over Burma is a story in 6 parts

 A few production Stats

Lights! Cameras! Action!

Stretching Flight Simulator X (FSX)

The Evolving storyboard

Music

Cameras

Action: Making it real (as possible)

Inspired openings

Earth moving and custom scenery

The airbase

River activity

The enemy camp

The Aircraft

The model

Bombs, wing stripes, and butts in seats

Flying and filming multiple aircraft

The Gooney Birds

Taxi sequence and synchronization with landing C47

The C-47 landing sequence

My favorite movie moments

My favorite movie stills

Closing thoughts


The Stage

Dinshaw Eduljee was a pilot in the Indian Air force #1 squadron. He flew a Hurricane fighter in the Burma front in World War II, and was the first pilot of Indian heritage to be awarded the Air Force Cross.

At the time the movie takes place, he flew missions for the combined Indian-British war effort to counter the Japanese invasion of Burma and India in the waning months of 1944. His squadron was stationed at Korengie Air Force Base on the northern outskirts of modern day Imphal, Manipur, India.

The blog

To read about Dinshaw Eduljee’s life, family, and his accomplishments in further detail, and to see a lot more documentation about the aircraft and other official Air Force records and documents (including a picture of the original flight logs) please visit the Blog set up and edited by his nephew: Kursheed Eduljee.

Summarized: Wings over Burma is a story in 6 parts:

    1. 0–2:27   Taxi to take off – setting up the story. This give it context and purpose
    2. 2:28–4:25   The War – reused old newsreel footage outlines the Burma front war situation (please see scrolling credits at the end of the movie for footage used!)
    3. 4:26–8:16  Takeoff, and the mission summary – the pace quickens; the music becomes more dramatic; we learn about the mission
    4. 8:17–9:19  Family – this section invoked many memories and emotions as I repaired old family print photographs for this segment5)
    5. 9:20–10:43   River sighting – all that’s known is that the flight “saw river activity”. Imagination and artistic license filled in the details
    6. 10:44–15:09   Enemy camp – We know the flight saw an enemy camp. We know they made 3 passes. We know how it ended.  Choosing the music for this section was probably the hardest decision. Dinshaw’s grandniece, Serena, a budding opera artiste, made the perfect call.

A few production Stats

    • Production time: It took 7 months to go from concept to posting the completed film on Youtube.
    • My estimation is that at a rough average of 4 hours per sitting, spread over an average of 3 total days per week, over 7 months … that’s about 500 hours. My family contends that it felt more like 600 hours to them, but who’s counting?
    • The FSX video recordings totaled 331 files, spread over 9 subdirectories, and added up to ~ 550 GB of space
    • From start to the end of the scrolling credits the movie is a few seconds over the goal of 15 minutes.

Lights! Cameras! Action!

Stretching Flight Simulator X (FSX)

This is the story of a combat mission set in 1944. FSX was never designed to be a combat simulator. It has great graphics and decent developer’s kit, but for the sake of the image-conscious Microsoft brand, bullets and explosions are not in its standard feature set. Their Combat Flight Simulator provides those effects. But while CFS offers tracers and explosions, CFS is light years behind FSX in terms of models, extensibility, graphics quality, terrain and weather realism, and its global environment.

FSX was therefore the more logical simulator choice that gave me the environment, realism, and models I could (hopefully) bend and twist to meet the storyboard, but solving the missing “combat” features that were so crucial to the storytelling were going to be significant hurdles. And to be clear, while I’m a sim enthusiast who owns every one of the FS versions, (Yes, back to the first version from a company called SubLogic where a mountain was a 3-sided wire pyramid!), and I’ve a lot of experience installing and flying different aircraft, changing instrument panels, and tinkering with effects like jet exhaust contrails, I am not a developer. I’ve never had any reason before this project to really dig into the programming side of the Sim experience.

To begin to think about using FSX as a combat mission narrative tool — to tell a story set in 1944, at an airport does not exist in the FSX or in the real world, with fighters flying in formation, and with world artifacts exploding on command meant that I’d need to new approach to meeting my goal of telling my Uncle’s story, AND keeping it captivating.

This therefore became my “headache” list; things I need to learn to try to solve:

      1. Turn Imphal airport back into its 1944 version (I also learned that there were some really bad assumptions in that statement)
      2. Create the enemy camp and river-activity points at the exact geo-location learned from our historical records. This was a no-compromise issue I wanted to maintain to keep the story as authentic as possible.
      3. Blow $#!* up in the sim, preferably with tracer whizzing to the target
      4. Find a decent Hurricane IIC aircraft model that could be painted with IAF markings, aircraft reg markings, and the tropical color palette to match the records and version Dinshaw flew that day

Hmm… #4 was the only thing I was reasonable confident I could do. 1 – 3? …no idea where to begin! For that, I would turn to the Flight Sim community of sites and tools online, make the FSX SDK my friend, and heap on a liberal helping of dogged determination.

The Evolving storyboard

Since this was a personal story about a revered person in the family, my first instinct was to create a (safe) documentary. But the more I thought about all the stories my Father (the young Shahriyar in the movie) had narrated to me about his larger-than-life big brother hero, and the more I thought that, if they were both alive and were witness to our modern technology and interconnected way of life, they’d probably advise (nay, challenge) me to take advantage of all of that to make the story informative but also interesting and captivating. 

They would have wanted us to remember the past, but to also learn, try new things, and embrace the tools and promise of what is their future. 

So, from starting out as a stodgy and reverential documentary, the storyboard evolved into the hybrid that you see…it looks and sounds like an old analog radio and war-time film in places, but then also uses HD video, flight simulation, art, music, and storytelling to inform, document, and entertain. 

When cousin Kursheed and I first talked about the idea of creating a short film, we both agreed that it would be hard to keep anyone’s attention beyond 10 minutes. But that was when all we were thinking about was putting together a documentary. But as story evolved, as I began to weave the story, apply music and voice over; add Family references and touches of War, its time stretched out to 15 minutes.

Another need to extend the time was the music clips: it was impossible to cut them off just to save time, and there needed to be parts that did not have any music accompanying the visuals. 

Everyone in the family who saw the movie before it was posted it to YouTube was surprised to learn that they had just sat through 15 minutes of watching something.  I hope the viewing public has the same reaction. It seems like the content is captivating enough to hold one’s attention from start to end. Time, and the viewing public’s comments, will tell if that is the right assumption about the movie’s ability to captivate, inform and entertain.

Music

Choosing the music was perhaps the hardest part of making this movie. I was surprised how often I thought I had the right music, only to question my sanity the next day.  Part of the yes-no process was the storyboard evolution. In its own way it pushed and herded me in the right direction. An additional complication was that I was aware that the mood would need to evolve. And so it did: it begins with one of my person jazz musician favorites setting the mood for just another day at the office, to the noisy takeoff and trombones with hints of the terrible events to come, to the final beautiful, haunting, exquisite melody that accompanies the most violent section of the film. 

I must give full props to my daughter Serena for pointing me in the right direction for the final music clip. The final sections’ music was a hurdle I was not able to get over by myself … I wanted beautiful, appropriate music, and that seemed to be in the direction of the classics, but I had listened to a LOT of music trying to get to the right sound, to no avail. So I talked to her. Why? She’s a trained vocal performance major (an opera singer to the lay person). 4 years studying the art, language, essence and history of music paid off: after listening to what I was trying to get to, she pointed me to Strauss’s, Morgan. And after cropping it to the parts I needed, voila! … it all came together. I can see Dad smiling.

Cameras

There are over 50 custom camera positions that were used to shoot the various movie scenes. FSX has a fairly tedious camera set up process that involves, among other issues, weird stuff like converting the Sims Lat/Long positioning into a decimal format (WHY?!), calculating a ground camera’s msl elevation instead of its above ground elevation (WHY NOT?!), and about a dozen other parameters to establish camera behaviors like tilt, or follow, or zoom, along any one of 3 axis’s, that work in some types but not required for all (AARRGH!!). 

The camera that captures Dinshaw flying by the ship at deck level, or the one that follows his flying over the wharf in the river sighting sequence, or the close flyby over the hill in the final scene are just 3 examples that took hours to position, and elevate, and align so they were just right.

 I have a new appreciation for a cameraman’s job!

Action: Making it real (as possible)

I’m actually quite amazed by how the movie evolved and turned out. True, I had a general idea of the 6 major parts I wanted, but the details for section organically evolved in sometimes mysterious and amazing ways.  Most often, doing something lifted the fog that lay ahead enough to lead to next steps. When I hit a creative wall, I’d backtrack a bit, or go exploring other directions looking for inspiration, or simply doodle a bit, fly around, or sipped some tea. I let the movie evolve and inform me. I allowed it to live and breathe and take on a life of its own. I’m glad I did.

Inspired openings

The movie’s opening sequence is a good example of how, as often happened throughout the movie making process, seemingly innocuous, unconnected, or random events or communication led to the inspiration of what to do next, leading to significant music, art, or design decisions.

I recall I was a bit tired one day after spending a couple of hours concentrating on synchronizing parts of the 4 aircraft taxiing in FSX in the first scene, and to relax, I took off and flew around the airport in Dinshaw’s Hurricane model enjoying the dawn/early morning scenery, and the light it cast on the clouds and airbase below (tuned right, FSX is superb in this area).

I had just positioned a camera for a top-down shot of the airbase for the taxi synchronization work I was doing (about 1000’AGL), so I was using the view from that camera to fly and following myself flying around (much like flying a model airplane), and as I flew towards the camera firing the guns, I began to think about how terrifying it must have been for troops on the receiving end of such a strafing run, and how the old newsreel film announcers (invariably these newsreels were shown to the public before a movie show) would say something like “and our boys are taking the war to the enemy with guns blazing”, when the inspiration hit… that’s how I’d start the movie too!: how about if the beginning was like someone tuning in to an old movie/radio broadcast?!!  That led to weaving in and out of “newsreel mode” to create sections and transitions.  The voice over also evolves from being very warble-y with a lot of static and am-band tuning effects in the beginning, to be clear and focused at the end.

Adobe Audition 3 was the tool of choice for all music edits, and voice over recording/effect (used the walkie-talkie effect)

Earth moving and custom scenery

There were 3 big “earthmoving” projects:

      1. the airbase in the opening scenes
      2. “river activity” (at time 10:48)
      3. the Enemy camp (12:34).

As an aside, see also 13:04 get a sense of how difficult it must have been for the pilots to notice and attack a well camouflaged jungle encampment. And it is certain that the camp was MUCH more primitive in its makeup than what was available to work with in FSX’s object library.

The airbase

One of the nice things about FSX is that it has a very large number of airports that are pre built into its virtual world.

I’ve flown around its “world” twice – not with long-distance intercontinental routes, (well, there were some exceptions: the NY-London-return-to-NY Concorde flights come to mind) but by using smaller legs, zigzagging across countries and continents in an attempt to virtually “see” the world. Two memorable flights: to Timbuktu at end of the road in the middle of Africa; Helicopter landing on the Taj.

Given that experience, I knew there was an airport at Imphal; I’d flow into it in the past, remembering that it was where Uncle Dinshaw was once stationed. I had imagined flying formation with him.

Anyway…The problem was that Imphal’s airport was very modern. It had a modern black-top tarmac, concrete taxiways; there were a lot of modern-looking buildings around the airport perimeter, and it had a modern Tower. It definitely would not have been in that state over 70 years ago in 1944.

Community tutorials became my guides as I set about the task of learning how to build and change airports, to change tarmac into dirt and taxiways back to grass. I used the excellent community tool: Airport Design Editor (ADE) and the Object Placement Tool (OPT) in FSX’s SDK, to place hangers and other ww2 artifacts to change Imphal from a modern airport to an old ww2 airfield.

The experience using ADE was however not straight forward.  It was not the tool’s fault… it was the concept of layers, land classes, and all the little “rules” FSX imposes with things like elevation, hierarchy, and data-point compatibility and  formatting. If this all sounds complex, in truth and no exaggeration, it was. I spent the good portion of 2 months getting the airfields and the environment built. OPT in the SDK is nothing short of ridiculous from a design, stability, documentation, and usability POV.  As one example: after placing an object, you need to save the scenery file, convert it, make sure it’s in a specific location in the FSX file structure, then add it to the scenery files list in FSX (there is a well-known bug that makes this step maddeningly unstable), then, let FSX rebuild the scenery Db, then, and if all goes well, restart the flight and HOPEFULLY your object is where you expect it to be, at the height you expect it to be at, and in the orientation you wished it to be pointing in. There are numerous community tools that try to simplify this process, but just all they do is reduce 15 steps down to 8, which is still painful and very time consuming

But, through trial and error, persistence, and lots of patience, the airport slowly took shape – the tarmac was replaced with dirt, concrete taxiways replaced with grass, drogue balloons were in place, barracks sprang up and camouflaged aircraft shelters and static wartime aircraft were placed.

I then placed 20 camera locations around the airport and runway in anticipation of the need to capture the action of taxi and takeoff from many angles.

Yesss! Very proudly I shared screen shots of the changes to Imphal airport with my circle of cousins and friends, asking for thoughts and feedback:

WOB_2_ModernImphalDegraded

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ummm… not so fast!

Our resident historian Jagan Pillarisetti (visit his IAF links site), wrote to point out that I had worked on the wrong war-time airport!

WHAT!!??…

Well, it turned out that the actual airport that the fighters had used in ww2 was North of the city of Imphal, and quite a distance from the current, modern-day location. And as proof, he produced an old war-time photograph of the airbase too!

 WOB_3_ImphalWW2Photograph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D@^*!!! Weeks of painstaking earthmoving to turn back the clock on the modern Imphal airport – into the garbage bin!

(This was something I experience often during the making of the movie, just as soon as I thought I had something licked, some small detail blew up into a showstopper. Another time this happened was when I had them “flying deeper into the hills” (11:28 into the movie). Everything had been filmed and edited, and I was looking through the final movie on a big screen and I noticed with horror that somehow and somewhere along the timeline of the project, #2 aircraft’s registration markings had flipped, like looking at numbers in a mirror. Luckily I had a backup and restored the aircraft, and re-filmed, edited and produced that segment, but to this date, I have not been able to figure out what caused that.)

Using the old airport photograph for reference, with its distinct triangular shape bordered by the river to the north and east, and a road to the west, I searched for its location around Imphal. It took a bit of searching find the location in Google Earth, and then using/converting the coordinates to find that location in FSX.

Of course, there was no trace of an airport in FSX at that location.

WOB_4_ImphalNoAirport

This was a major decision-point: Should I just use the modern location that I had just spent weeks developing, and pretend it was correct, or, embrace the suck and build the airport where it really was supposed to be, with its distinct shape and location?  I’d have to build an airport from scratch!! AND, also add a river that wound around it to the north and east. I had never attempted this level of programming before. It was intimidating, and I had doubts that I could pull it off. Fear of the unknown.

I could feel Dad and Uncle watching over my shoulder to see what I was going to do next. But they needn’t have worried…I knew deep down what I needed to do. I needed to do the right thing. I would not disrespect their teaching or voice.

Sigh! There was really no choice…I had to abandon the modern location, and buckle down and learn to build the old airport in the new “old” location. I would use use the airport picture that providence had sent me as my guide.

The result I am proud to say is what you see in the movie. It matches, to the best extent possible that FSX allows in its environment, what the forward fighter airbase Korengie, Imphal, might have looked like based on its old war snapshot.

WOB_5_1_CustomImphalWW2_FSXAirport

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOB_5_2_CustomImphalWW2_FSXAirport

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOB_5_3_CustomImphalWW2_FSXAirport

 

 

 

 

 

 I then got down to adding runways, taxiways, trees, buildings, roads, perimeter fences, vehicles and static aircraft to make it come alive.

For a fun view, carefully freeze frame at 6:48 and you can see the perimeter fence and guard towers that ring the airbase.

Here are 2 views of the airport taking shape — no runways, taxiways, or vegetation yet.  Birds circled in red (placed using OPT from FSX default scenery. The SDK provides the how-to documentation.)

WOB_5_4_CustomImphalWW2_FSXAirport

 

 

 

 

 

 WOB_5_5_CustomImphalWW2_FSXAirport

 

 

 

 

And the final airport, in the early sunrise on the day of the mission:

WOB_6_Done_CustomImphalWW2_FSXAirport

Revetments

The well-defined airport revetments which nestle the parked aircraft in the movie (See above, or notice them as the 2 fighters start up and taxi out, 1:06) probably do not reflect the reality of Imphal’s war-time airport in 1944.

In reality, the revetments used to protect parked aircraft and maintenance areas as seen in the old wartime photograph below were most probably just mounds of earth with well-placed safety trenches that personnel could take cover in during an air attack, although, the chances of that happening was slim-to- none given that the allies had complete air superiority by that time.

This then became another one of those times during the making of the movie where the need for telling a story outweighed the desire to stay as close to reality as possible.

I was therefore faced with a choice: Although not ideal, I could either use the revetment models available in FSX’s virtual environment (and stay as close to the truth as possible), or, not use them because they did not truly reflect what we see in the photograph and present just a flat landscape Also, FSX does not permit any type of “typography” in airports…no sloping runways, no land features of any kind. Its airports and runways are unnaturally flat as pancakes.  The flat featureless airbase would have just looked odd, so I used what I had available.

The walled revetments surrounding the parked aircraft in the movie are therefore probably NOT what Imphal had in reality, but they are built into the environment anyway to convey the idea that they existed.  I apologize to any of you purists out there for choosing context over reality. So there it is.

The picture below shows what the parking/maintenance spaces really were like, with earthen revetments or spaces dug into the natural typography.

WOB_7_PhotoHurricane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This image of a Hurricane at Imphal was also used as a guide to decide aircraft markings and their placement – no fuselage roundels, just simple registration marking on the fuselage (see more about this in the Model section below). Image credit: IWM

River activity

Creating this section was particularly interesting in that I took great artistic license to build and film it. All we know from the flight logs was a location where the flight “saw river activity”. No one knows what that really meant: it could have been troops, a firefight, a group of fishing boats, or a group of people waving to them for all we know.

WOB_8_RiverActivity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boat/s, pier, and other objects were however placed at the exact geo-location provided in the log, which is at the point where the Shwegyin/Mutaik Chaung River flows into the Chindwin River. The scenery and objects placed were limited to what is possible and available in FSX’s default object library

For a fun look however, freeze the Movie at time frame 10:33-to-35 to view the farm, vehicles and birds above the river boat.

But this was another one of those decision points that I’ve mentioned were sprinkled throughout the movie making process:  Should the aircraft remain at altitude and observe (which is probably what happened) which would have caused the movie to display some barely discernable specks and shapes on the river, or, should this be a showcase for some real fighter pilot flying skills, to cut loose, roll inverted, go in low, show reflections and scream overhead? Hmm…guess which path was chosen? Artistic license carried the day.

I must however admit that it is entirely possible (and very probable) that all the objects placed in that scene, and the height of the passes flown by the two aircraft in the river flyby section of the movie do not resemblance or reflect the recon tactics and rules of engagement that the real pilots must have performed. Apologies again to the purists for choosing context over reality, but this “observation of river activity” was part of the storyline and it could not be ignored. So there it is too.

Also, this was an important jumping-off point for the second leg of their recon mission as the fighters turned to fly into the hills, and their destiny.

The enemy camp

The enemy camp in FSX is built at the most exact location which could be deciphered from the wartime operational records, aligned to what’s available in FSX’s virtual environment.

WOB_9_1_Location

 

 

 

 

 

This is the exact location in Google earth, with surrounding villages and notes from the log

WOB_9_2_Location

 

 

 

 

“RU929661” was the location of the incident that was written into the flights log books.

The hills around the camp

The hills to the south side of the camp in the movie do not exist in the default FSX terrain. That had to be created in FSX. The default elevation in FSX at that location is of such low fidelity that what should be hills rising up to 6-700 ft., are in fact mere gentle, undulating surface bumps.  The FSX “hills” seen in the movie as the 2 hurricanes attack the camp were created from a series of FSX terrain –class polygons, stacks at various elevations, to create the surrounding hills.

I did attempt to lengthen and create hills 360 degrees around the camp location, especially to the north of the road, but each custom elevation/scenery files addition caused FSX performance to slow down to the point that it became impossible to produce a smooth flight.

FSX performance degradation is also a main reason why the camp is not fully surrounded by jungle (as it most probably was) – every custom group or strand of trees I added around the camp’s location to fill it in using OPT degraded FSX’s performance. I suppose with unlimited time and the latest monster video cards the performance problem might have been solved, but on balance I worked with what I had, and was satisfied with what’s finally in the movie.  You can see some of the default “undulating hills” at 14:21, but they are barely 50ft. in elevation and were therefore unusable. And to answer the power FSX users: yes, I did try changing the terrain mesh and other resolution setting in FSX’s options dialog, and that did make a slight difference to the terrain mesh detail, but the change was not significant enough to be really useable when balanced against performance hits. FSX’s default terrain mesh at the location simply does not match the real typography for the region, and honestly, I did not expect it to given how remote the region is anyway.

Here is a snapshot of the area with the default terrain mesh. As you can see, there is not much there by way of any terrain features. The red lines outline the gentle undulations.

WOB_10_Hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ground cover around the camp

It’s also interesting to note that if you view the default FSX ground-cover scenery class (freeze movie at 13:30) it’s actually 2-d photographic scenery of the tops of a tropical forest laid flat upon the surface.

WOB_11_TreeIslandsConopy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FSX does not place 3d trees to match the scenery images. My guess is that since the FSX team knew that would cause machines to a crawl, they simply fudged it by providing a flat illusion of a tree-top canopy. I believe that’s also why there are “tree islands”, to create a balance between having a barren 3d landscape, and a fully rendered 3d forest causing every system to run as 3 frames per sec.

The Aircraft

One aspect of the sim that FSX does provide a lot of control over, is its aircraft. There are (no kidding) thousands of aircraft available for free on various sites. And they are pretty simple to install once you get the basics – there are many online and YouTube tutorials. Please visit my favorite, simviation dot com  which I support with a yearly subscription to help keep the site running. If you are an FSX sim enthusiast in need of reasonably great models, scenery, and tools, I highly recommend this easy to use, no sign-in required site.

The model

WOB_12_1_TheModel

 

 

 

 

 

This was the original FSX base line model from Abacus. (That is why, I’m sorry, I can’t post the models used in the movie online)

WOB_12_2_TheModel

 

 

 

 

 

It was repainted with FltO Dinshaw’s aircraft registration (LE804) with unnecessary/incorrect white and red paint markings removed from the FSX base-model, and a camera port added (just to the left of the roundel midway on the fuselage)

WOB_12_3_TheModel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is FltO Carriappa’s aircraft’s (LE764) with upper surface white stripes removed to be able to visually separate the two aircraft during the movie’s action (and ending).

I spent a fair bit of time on adding customized model effects. All these effects are available on FSX community sites in their basic form along with their how to install documentation.

Gun flash, smoke:  These are effects (fx_spandau.fx) that are written into the aircraft config file. See examples of these in the movie at 00:9, 13:01, and 13:06 clearly shows the falling cartridges. Cool!!. The original sound file was a very light machine gun sound (Spandau from WW1), so it was replaced with a more suitable cannon sound file.

Dust from the undercarriage (1:31 – 40)  The default dust effects in FSX are small puffs of solid-looking dirt that extrude from wheel-ground contact point on non-paved surfaces. For the movie, the length of time and the dust billow were enlarged, and the particle extrusion, spin, and life time extensions and enlargements were done using the free FXEditor community tool.

Exhaust flames:  This is an effect-gauge animation combination available through online FXS community sites. In this case LP_ and HP_Flame.fx. Each spot from the exhaust stack is a single light entry in the aircraft.cfg file of either LP (low manifold pressure bluish flame) or HP (high pressure pinkish flame), with the X,Y,Z axis positioning provided in the SDK documentation to determines their placement along the aircraft centerline. The effects turn “on” at 2 throttle settings. The Low pressure Blue effect triggers at about ¾ throttle, and the hot red-pink pops only at >80% throttle settings. These params are contained in the gauge file that the effect calls. So if you see the exhaust flames in the movie, it’s a good visual clue as to where the throttles were at that time the clip was recorded.

Fuselage repaints:  The original Abacus texture files had a messy “paint-over” job and I had to clean up the area around the markings and removing unwanted paint schemes. The Indian Air Force Light/Dark blue roundels and the other unwanted paint markings were removed, brightened or cleaned up using a combination of DTX and Paint.net tools.

This image below of a Hurricane at Imphal was the guide used to decide aircraft markings – no large fuselage lettering or white/high contrast roundels, just simple registration marking on the fuselage. It shows a pilot about to climb in to a Hawker Hurricane Mark IIBs of No. 1 Squadron IAF in a revetment at Imphal Main, India. Could it have been Flight Officer Dinshaw on one of his sorties??

WOB_7_PhotoHurricane

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: IWM
For more images of Hurricane liveries and profiles, visit the this page from the Dinshaw Eduljee Blog

Bombs, wing stripes, and butts in seats

Since the scenes in the movie almost always show both Hurricanes, I needed to establish a clear visual distinction between the two aircraft for the viewer.

It was (relatively) easy to remove the white top wing surface stripes from the #2 aircraft. That became the key distinguishing mark between the two aircraft.

About the bombs: as evidenced by the picture above, it is highly likely that both Hurricanes flew with external fuel tanks, and NOT bombs. But there was a problem…the FSX models I was using either had no attachments model, or a model with bombs. And so once again, I needed to make a tradeoff between keeping it real, and playing within the FSX construct to use what was available and possible in FSX. And so, without access to the source model files (aircraft model makers do not freely distribute these) to change the default bombs to drop tanks, Dinshaw’s aircraft retained its default model (with bombs) while his #2 flew the “clean” version. That was another way to held distinguish the two aircraft.

Also, in order to populate the Imphal airbase with other aircraft, it was necessary to create static versions of the Hurricane aircraft models.

WOB_13_ButtsinSeats

 

 

 

 

An eagle-eyed viewer will notice that there is a pilot in every static model. Removing the pilots from the static aircraft was impossible because the model’s source files were not available to me.

Flying and filming multiple aircraft

To reach the goal and intent of creating a visually connected story, it was absolutely critical that the story not be just about “one aircraft”. There had to be other aircraft moving and flying about in the same scenes.

All multiple working/moving aircraft you see taxiing, flying, strafing etc. is a result of playing and replaying and recording multiple layers of simulated aircraft movement.

They were created by first flying a scene in a single aircraft in FSX while simultaneously recording it using the excellent community tool: FSRecorder. That then becomes layer#1. Then, layer #1 would be played back while simultaneously flying or taxiing another aircraft and recording both, to create layer#2. Think of adding layers, one on top of another, to get a final scene. As an example, the first taxiing-to-the runway scene required 5 overlapping recordings, all synchronized to achieve the effect of the 4 aircraft taxiing out in unison, while the 5th aircraft lands just as they all approach the runway. One of the small gotcha’s resulting from this multi-layered formation recording approach is that the props of aircraft flying in formation seem to be “synchronized” (example: 8:00) Sorry, no way of getting around that visual anomaly.

The Gooney Birds

To further the intent of providing a “living” airport and war environment, one of the key decisions I made was to add the gooney birds — the C47 transport’s, into the story.

WOB_14_c47CockpitView

 

 

 

 

 

The view from aC47

WOB_15_taxiLineup

The decision to include them in the story was also bolstered by learning that these transport aircraft played such an important part in the Burma Theater.

It’s important to note that Flight Officer Dinshaw’s flight had NO CONNECTION with the C47’s portrayed in the film, on the day the story takes place.

Homage to the C47’s value and contribution to the war effort was also paid by including them in the part that gives context to the “the war” they all were in (Movie time: 3:52)

But this choice to include multiple aircraft introduced big aircraft movement complications and synchronization problems, and I use the word big very intentionally here.

The first section, from taxi to takeoff, was particularly challenging, because, not only were there 4 aircraft (the 2 hurricanes and the 2 C47’s) that needed synchronizing, but there is 1 C47 that lands just in front of them too.  FSRecorder was used extensively throughout the movie for all the formation flying. (Fly and record, then playback the recording while flying another aircraft and record simultaneously. Repeat as many times as needed).

The Taxi sequencing  paragraph bloew is one example of the type of forethought and synchronization needed for just this one section. The same concept was repeated in other scenes  throughout the movie wherever one sees multiple aircraft or formation flying.

Taxi sequence and synchronization with landing C47

For the taxi sequence this was the order of fly/record/playback (5 times – one for each aircraft)

      1. First, Taxi C47#2 to the runway. The time it approaches C47#1 parking spot noted. This taxi sequence (from its parked position on the SW corner of the airfield, to its takeoff-ready position on the runway) becomes track1.
      2. Then, change to C47#1, and while playing back Track1, taxi to the runway while recording track2: As C-47#2 approaches C47#1’s parked spot (1:58) (the engines had to be up and running by that time) C47#1 pulls out ahead of C47#2, and leads it to the runway. This becomes track2.
      3. Playback track 2. Transfer to Dinshaw’s Hurricane (LE804) and taxi out, timed so that his aircraft approaches the main taxiway just as the 2 C47’s roll past him. Then follow the  2 C47’s to the runway. This becomes track3 (2:05)
      4. Playback track 3, and record FltO Carriappa pulling out behind LE804, this is track 4. Now all 4 aircraft are taxiing out together to begin their missions for a 700hours Take Off time. (2:08). Oh by the way: make sure that the C47’s pull out far ahead enough onto the runway so that the following Hurricanes also have place enough to roll on to the runway too. Oh and, the C47’s must both turn at about the same time onto the runway for dramatic effect.
      5. For track 5 (the C47 landing ahead of the 4 taxiing aircraft is C47#3) I had to position and fly #3 from an altitude and distance to the south of the airfield, that when flown to the airport, spend the exact time needed for a descent, final approach and landing all lined up to match the time that the 4 aircraft approach the Runway  — so #3 C47 lands just in front of the 4 taxiing aircraft (5:57), then, #3 pulls off the runway and taxi’s back to runway parking while the others are getting in position (5:25), on time for a camera to zoom under its wing, just as the hurricanes were set to take off. (5:40) Whew!! It’s the little things…

Oh, and also — this was a gotcha that I had not anticipated: After each track was recorded, FSX’s time-of-day setting needed to be reset otherwise the sunrise lighting would be off. If not reset, imagine begining the taxiing for the first airaft at 6:30 am and by the time all the other tracks had been created (and it the starte time had nt been resert) they’d all be taking off at high noon.

All this was also done while keeping to the beat of the music, thinking about views from the cockpit or around the line of taxiing aircraft, with time needed for the storytelling. It took about 2 months of spare evenings/weekends to get the entire taxi-to- takeoff sequence just right.

The C-47 landing sequence

With the exception of a few frames mentioned below, due to time constraints, the entire landing sequence of #3 C-47 had to be left out of the movie. It was such a beautiful dawn flight. Bummer!

From that sequence, these were the only three moments that made it into the movie: To begin, freeze the movie at 1:51. Notice, just above the horizon to the right of the frame – see the #3 C47’s strobe lights as it flies towards Imphal’s airbase.

WOB_16_c47StrobeDistance

 

 

 

 

C47#3 on final approach: Notice moving strobe lights in the distance… Movie time: 1:51

WOB_17_c47JustAheadLanding

 

 

In this shot its flight time is synchronized to land just ahead of the 4 aircraft taxiing to the runway to take off.    4:56.

WOB_18_C47Swing

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it then swings into view as the others takeoff and the music beat changes…

C-47#3 landing approach:  Left on the cutting floor

Here are a few clips of scenes from the landing C-47# left our due to time constraints.  (Perhaps one day I’ll post it as its own sequence as a separate video).

WOB_19_1_c47approach

 

 

 

 

 

As it approaches, the taxiing aircraft can be clearly seen on the ground (yellow arrow pointers) still close to the places where they were parked.

WOB_19_2_c47approach

 

 

 

 

 

Here the #3 C47 lining up for its final right turn to the runway this shot was taken from a camera position on the camouflaged building you can see as the 4 taxiing aircraft approach the runway. The landing C47#3 is getting closer to the airbase. At this time it has lowered its flaps and landing gear.

WOB_19_3_c47approach

 

 

 

 

 

The same scene above, but taken from the perspective of the approaching C47#3. This is also a great view of the custom built FSX airport.

WOB_19_4_c47approach

 

 

 

 

 

And here C47#3 approaches, placing it juuuuust ahead of the taxiing aircraft.

Keeping these scenes out of the movie was a tough decision, but on reflection, they did not add to the story, and would only have added time. On balance, the couple of places where the sequence was used (2:29, and again at 4: 50 for continuity, and at 5:37 for the underwing camera flyby to the aircraft parked for takeoff) were the only times that C47#3 did add to the story line.

My favorite movie moments

0:51 – Score one for the birds

1:04 – Clear!

1:35 – Cough! Cough!!

1:58 – Airbase panorama

2:28 – The chap between the uniformed soldiers, waving to the aircraft. The person leaning on the cases is waving too

4:51 – Getting the third C47’s landing timed just right so that it appears just ahead of the taxiing aircraft

5:06 – The transition to “…turns out there was nothing routine about it”. The music, the aircraft turns and positioning, the sweeping landing lights, the camera changes — all came together. The taxiing was the routine and easy part. The mood starts to get a bit serious now

5:48 – The preflight check and music synchronization just work. This was not planned. It was one of those happy coincidences where what I did when recording the aircraft (no music) turned out to be perfectly timed with and when the music was added!

6:23 – Feel the power!  The “hot exhaust” custom effects are in full view

7:23 – Here we go… the music and visual say all there is to say

8:28 – Look out for the prop!!

8:45 – The whole family sequence – so many memories of Grand Dad, and the stories Dad would tell us of his Brother, his school days, and growing up in Lucknow India, when the family sat down for Sunday lunches. It’s a tradition I’m trying to keep going with my own family. (Grand Ma passed when my Dad was very young.)  He plays “playing air force captain” at 9:15. Dinshaws younger brother, Uncle Eddie, insists She watches over the Family. It’s true.

9:49 – 10:13 Dropping in, and skimming along the river. It was really fun to fly this scene. One take.

10:19 – No, there is no bird strike!

10:34 – Building the dock with the boats, trucks, and “stuff” on the quay was an exercise in pure creativity

10:47 – Reflections and shadows

12:08 – Over the trees

13:18 – The smoldering camp

13:21 – The lineup for the final pass

My favorite movie stills

WOB_20_1_MorningBird

An awakening airbase: Sunrise, birds… (53 sec)

WOB_20_2_FirstLook

First look: The Hawker- LE804 (0:57)

WOB_20_3_Groundview

A ground level view of the airbase (1:31)

WOB_20_4_TaxiandHold

“Taxi to and hold…” (1:58)

WOB_20_5_waving

Waving in salute (2:21)

WOB_20_6_Synchronized

Synchronization achieved! (4:58)

WOB_20_7_lastLook

A last look at home (5:56)

WOB_20_8_wheelsUp

Wheels up: (6:39)

WOB_20_9_Climb

Full throttle climb out with home-base in the background (7:34)

WOB_20_10_Formation

Formation flying enroute (8:08)

WOB_20_11_ontheway

On their way 8:31

WOB_20_12_theThreeWOB_20_13_CaptainWish

Grand Dad Feroshah, Dad (Shahriyar), Uncle (Dinshaw)

Dad playing Air force Captain! (9:17)

I grew up with these pictures

WOB_20_14_dropIn

Inverted and “dropping in” to check out the river activity (9:54)

WOB_20_15_Pullout

Pulling out of the dive at the last second (10:12)

Notice shadow and reflection on the surface of the famed Chindwin River

WOB_20_16_flyBy

Not in the movie, but flying past the river boat. The shot used in the move is from another camera positioned on the deck of the boat and much closer to the aircraft (10:27)

WOB_20_17_BuzzBoat

The river activity on the muddy Chindwin: Reflections, colors, (10:47)

WOB_20_18_LowFly

Low, low flying (10:50)

WOB_20_19_attackBegan

Their attack began!! (12:08)

WOB_20_20_HeadOn

The river along which the Camp was erected (brown surface frame right) can clearly be seen in this attack sequence (12:10)

WOB_20_21_skimtrees

On his first pass, Dinshaw’s hurricane skims the trees, while the camera flies through the branches and leaves (12:12)

WOB_20_22_smoulder

Pulling up after the first pass, with the camp beginning to smolder: (12:24)

WOB_20_23_outOftheSun

Second pass: Out of the Sun, gun flashes, smoke…(12:59)

Closing thoughts

I experienced a range of emotions, and high and low points throughout this project. I’ve been inspired, elated, frustrated, happy, sad, and anxious and fulfilled. Distant, fading memories of times and stories told around the family Sunday lunch table about “big brother” Dinshaw — the school captain, and larger than life, pipe smoking Air Force officer, flooded back.  And there were providential events manifest throughtout the project that resulted in the creation of wonderful, unplanned moments throughout this movie — like the persons waving goodbye, birds that made the scenery seem and sound that much more like a normal morning in tropical India, discovering Morgen (morning) so appropriate for the evening, finding Dad’s old “playing air force captain” picture, the ringing trombone as the 2 fighters turn away from the airbase making for a perfectly timed audio-visual transition for the story… I’d like to think that these were all not just mere coincidences.

I’d like to think that unseen hands were guiding this effort.

I’d like to think that it was the spirit of my Family, telling its story.

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