NEW YORK TIMES Newspaper features Scroggins Aviation

In Hollywood, Flights of Fancy
Published: July 8, 2012




Enter Scroggins Aviation. Early in the season in the American television show “THE EVENT,” a Boeing 767 goes down in the desert. To achieve the aftereffect, which is featured in two episodes, Scroggins, based in Las Vegas, sawed an airliner into pieces and transported them 320 miles, or 515 kilometers, on 12 trucks before reassembling the plane at Pinnacles National Monument in the California desert.

For this project, the chief executive of the company, Doug Scroggins, called on his unusual experience as both a dismantler of airplanes for a salvage firm and as a film producer.

“Right now I’m devoting all my attention to the film industry,” Mr. Scroggins said in an interview.

That includes working on television shows and on the director Robert Zemeckis’s new movie “FLIGHT,” which is scheduled to be released in November — starring two McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and Denzel Washington.

Mr. Scroggins’s most challenging assignment to date was building the Boeing 707 flight deck featured in the short-lived television series “Pan Am,” a celebration of the glory days of air travel. The cockpit had to open like a clamshell to allow the filming of the pilots and the flight engineer at work. Every dial, gauge and breaker panel was checked for authenticity, Mr. Scroggins said, especially since the cockpit structure was really that of a Boeing 727.

“It was a major job,” said Mr. Scroggins. “It was a big, big job. We made sure that the thing was 99.9 percent accurate. That’s how confident I felt about the build. I tell a lot of guys it was a 727, and they can’t believe it.”

But building an authentic interior is often not enough: To create the effect of a plane crashing — as in “The Event” — or to add a static airplane to the scene of a busy airport tarmac — as needed for some sequences in Pan Am — takes sophisticated digital photographic techniques, said Sam Nicholson, chief executive of Stargate Studios, which specializes in visual effects and virtual environments.

A frequent flier himself, Mr. Nicholson said he enjoyed the challenge of trying to recreate the world of aviation circa 1960 with digital special effects.

“I like flying. I like traveling, and I’m glad every once in a while a movie comes along that wants to do it perfectly, historically real,” he said of the scenes in “Pan Am.” “They are a completely computer-generated environment based on historical photographs rendered by computer,” he said. “What we do looks like a plane and feels like a plane, but there’s nothing there.”

It is just the opposite approach at Air Hollywood. To accommodate the range of demands for movies, television shows, commercials, even promotions for airlines, everything must be physically on hand: airliners; first- and coach-class seats; and a warehouse of check-in counters, meal trolleys and metal detectors.


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