(V2. Escape from Hell)
Director Timur Bekmambetov, Sergei Trofimov
Production Designer Eldar Karkhalev
Assistant Production Designer Anna Ivonina, Alisa Soloveva, Marfa Ragimova
Set Decorator Nikolay Bulgakov
Property Master Yana Goncharova
Art Departament Coordinator Ksenia Borisova
The main idea while choosing shooting objects and drawing sketches was to see the world through the eyes of a pilot deprived of the ability to fly — to imagine the hero, who was buried alive. For this purpose, the horizon line must be obscured by high walls and earthen embankments; so that it seems that we are below ground level and there is no hope of flying back into the sky again. In the interiors, the windows had to be located above human height — this is how we built the decoration for prison barracks. Even the airfield was separated from the rest of the world by a four-meter earthen rampart.
Most of the action in the film takes place at the airfield. Unfortunately, not a single German wartime airfield, in its original form, has been preserved on in Russia. The scenery had to be constructed at an abandoned airfield in the Leningrad region. Additionally, we needed to saw bushes, mow high grass, and clean the joints of slab from turf.
For the film, we have built two versions of the plane on which Devyataev escaped — for filming outside the aircraft and for scenes inside the cockpit. Both versions could move around the airfield. There wasn't reliable preserved information concerning the appearance of the aircraft that was hijacked by the hero. After consulting with specialists, I assumed that the aircraft Heinkel He 111 H-22, designed to launch V-1 missiles, was transformed from an earlier model of the bomber He 111 H-6, which did not contradict the truth. Based on archival photos in which planes are covered with soot, oil and scratches, I decided to make the airplane with traces of time, and not the way we see them on exhibits in museums of military equipment. In painting the plane, I deliberately made the green color a colder shade than it actually was. On the contrary, the lower part of the fuselage in the original colors seemed too blue to me, and I made it light grey. So the overall color scheme of the scenes in captivity looked much more complete.
All contents of the aircraft were done from scratch, according to sketches and photos. The aircraft propellers rotated, and all the levers and buttons could be pressed to make actors play more directly. We only put off the animation of arrows on the devices untill the post-production stage. Also, specifically for the film, we made sockets, extension cords and a generator in the hangar.
We designed and constructed a petrol tanker to fuel the aircraft at the airfield with the help of photos — the original ones have not been preserved.
The fighter Bell P-39 Airacobra, on which Devyataev flew, was also built in exterior and interior design. We were lucky to find a war diary with the correct tail numbers of the planes that flew on the day the hero was captured.
First, before filming, we scanned the aircraft model we made. Then all the textures and markings were transferred to a computer model for the follow-up filming in a virtual space that was created specifically for the film.
In one museum photo, I noticed that pilots made notes on American devices. The moment of memorizing unfamiliar names plays a significant role in the plot, which is why we added cheat sheets in Russian to the dashboard.
The Karlshagen camp on the island of Usedom, where Devyataev was kept, was destroyed during the war, but from the preserved ruins we could get an idea of what it looked like. It was a relatively small labor camp in the interior of the island. At the stage of collecting material, I came across two images from other camps, which determined the type of the camp in the film. In the first photo, a barrack dug into the ground up to the roof looked very creepy.
And in the watercolor made by the prisoner, I was struck by the prospect of barracks abutting the factory building.
Therefore, we also had a building of the constructivist power plant, like a terrible temple, towering over the barracks crypts. It was a great success to find this power plant and build decorations nearby, since there was alike power plant on Usedom that towered over the island (and is well-preserved to this day) of the same construction time as ours. I even decided to make gallows on wheels to greater emphasize the industrial character of the island and the labor camp. It was also important to display the closeness of the sea, because some prisoners were going to escape from the island by boat. Therefore, the camp parade ground was built on the windswept shore of the Gulf of Finland, only a barbed-wire separated the prisoners from the sea.
Mikhail Devyatayev, in his memories about the escape, describes how he landed on the field. At first we developed his real version, but in the end we have chosen version with landing on a slope, a more dramatic and compositionally favorable one. For the first time after imprisonment, the heroes could see endless, vast open spaces.
The interiors in the film were purposely designed in a way, so the hero couldn't see the sky through the windows. The windows were either very high, or they were obscured by shutters, bars, fabrics or a thick layer of dust.
We decided not to build full-scale scenery for the second camp (Sachsenhausen), which Devyataev got in, the whole scene was made by using computer graphics. We constructed this object as a giant stone trench leading to hell. I fitted this trench into the existing plan of Sachsenhausen. It was put in a place of the commandant's office and the alley at the main entrance of the camp. We didn't make any significant changes to the remaining buildings and barracks built in a semicircle. We used the abandoned Petrovsky Dock in the city of Kronstadt as a sample of textures for a computer model.
For the Visual Effects Department, I developed a plan for the island of Usedom with all the objects appearing in the film. We took a map of the area where the shooting took place and implemented it into the proportions of the real island of Usedom, making up the necessary geography for the film. According to this plan, the island was completely rendered in 3D and used in flight scenes. Also, many post-production visualisations and concepts for different states of the sky in the film were made for VFX, assets were commented, visual materials were selected, and much more things were done.
It was the first project where I continued my work during post-production, when I realized the significance of the artist's presence at this stage.