‘World War Z’: Brad Pitt battles zombies, not snakes, on a plane

April 26, 2013 | 11:02 a.m.

The plane crash sequence is one of the biggest action set pieces in the upcoming pandemic thriller "World War Z." (Moving Picture Company -- London/Paramount.)

For the sequence, the crew constructed a set on a soundstage at England’s Shepperton Studios that looked like the interior of a standard commercial airliner, except that it was supplemented with strategically placed green screens. (Moving Picture Company-London/ Paramount)

Stunt performers hanging from wires and harnesses were filmed in such a way to give the appearance of “zombies and luggage whipping past the camera,” according to visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar. (Paramount)

“The film is intense and real,” "World War Z" director Marc Forster said. “It’s the intensity that drives the film.” (Moving Picture Company- London/Paramount)

An explosion rips open the plane cabin in "World War Z." (Moving Picture Company-London/ Paramount)

A shot of the compromised plane in "World War Z." (Moving Picture Company-London / Paramount)

From left, Brad Pitt as Gerald Lane, Abigail Hargrove as Rachel Lane and Mireille Enos as Karen Lane in "World War Z." (Paramount)

From left, Mireille Enos as Karen Lane, Sterling Jerins as Connie Lane, Abigail Hargrove as Rachel Lane and Brad Pitt as Gerald Lane in "World War Z." (Paramount)

Brad Pitt waves to the audience after introducing a clip from "World War Z" at CinemaCon in Las Vegas on April 15, 2013. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

It’s one of the biggest action set pieces in Paramount’s upcoming pandemic thriller, “World War Z.”

A Belarus Airlines flight attendant opens a rattling closet door only to have a rabid zombie leap toward her. Moments later, a throng of newly turned zombies is sweeping toward the plane’s cockpit, and Brad Pitt’s ex-U.N. investigator Gerry Lane, reasoning that he’s got a better shot of surviving a crash than a zombie attack at 20,000 feet, grabs a grenade belonging to a soldier on the flight and blows apart the cabin.

Gravity rips the zombies from the compromised fuselage into a bright blue sky, and Lane buckles in for dear life as the plane plummets earthward.

“It’s something people haven’t seen before, an outbreak on a plane,” noted “World War Z” director Marc Forster, pausing for just a moment before making the obvious joke. “Only snakes. No zombies. Only snakes on a plane.”

Of course, the Zs are no laughing matter, either in the Max Brooks novel that inspired “World War Z” or in Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay for the film, due out June 21.

The globe-hopping apocalyptic adventure tracks family man Lane as he races around the world trying to hunt down the origin of the disease that appears likely to wipe out mankind, hoping to find some way to bring humanity back from the brink and save his wife and daughters.

For the plane sequence, the crew constructed a set on a soundstage at England’s Shepperton Studios that looked like the interior of a standard commercial airliner, except that it was supplemented with strategically placed green screens to assist the visual effects team in building out the imagery during post-production — and it was rigged to explode.

The sequence was shot over eight days, with two additional days of second-unit filming. Five actors were cast as passengers who became infected; 22 stunt performers bolstered the ranks of the newly turned zombies.

Visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar and his team, which includes animation director Andy Jones (“Avatar”), were tasked with completing 76 shots for the sequence; 38 shots leading to the grenade toss, 38 shots between the toss and the crash landing.

“You’re mixing real zombies with some of the CG zombies,” Forster said. “You want the real zombies in there, especially for Scott and his team to match the CG zombies. Some of them blend so well between humans and CG that you really cannot tell the difference anymore.”

“The film is intense and real,” "World War Z" director Marc Forster said. “It’s the intensity that drives the film.” (Paramount)

A shot from the plane crash sequence in “World War Z.” (Paramount)

The crew had just one chance to capture the explosion, filmed using six cameras. Afterward, stunt performers hanging from wires and harnesses were filmed being whisked quickly through the open hull to give the appearance of “zombies and luggage whipping past the camera,” Farrar explained.

Pitt too had to endure a fair amount of discomfort, strapped in to his seat as massive fans simulated the wind-tunnel effect on the cabin set.

“The film is intense and real,” Forster said. “It’s the intensity that drives the film.”

“It’s almost like a horrible docudrama,” Farrar added.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex


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13 Responses to ‘World War Z’: Brad Pitt battles zombies, not snakes, on a plane

  1. John W. says:

    Ignore the narrow-minded, novel-loving purists; this looks good!

    • C. H. says:

      It does look decent, but they should have given it a different name instead of World War Z. When someone makes a movie based on a book, you expect it to at least have a few similarities.

      • John W. says:

        It does. It has zombies, is about a world-wide plague of them, and the equally expansive effort to stop them. Good enough for me. And fast zombies are always far more believably scarier than plodding, slow ones.

        And to your argument: Do you think Gene Roddenberry would have thought that the Star Trek reboot resembled his universe at all? Answer: no. I knew him. My friend was his archivist and friend for decades and agrees. Still, the ST reboot, like this WWZ adaptation hopefully will be, was fun and enjoyable — just not exactly like the original.

    • John W. says:

      Just saw it, and while I thought it was done well, besides the shear scale of the outbreak, there wasn't much new here. And all the major action sequences were already shown in the trailers, so virtually no surprise zombie scenes. The most interesting aspect to me was the effort to figure out how and where it all started, but even that was sort of glossed over just to show more locales. Kind of disappointed because I really wanted to be wowed by more than just cool, fast-moving zombie CGI. The was a rental. The remake of Dawn of the Dead still stands as the best modern zombie movie.

  2. Catherine Gusman says:

    Looking forward to watch this film! I took part in it!! Looks great!

  3. Vicki Ann Myers says:


  4. Zombie Freak says:

    Flight of the Living Dead (2007) – This plot is not even original EPIC FAIL

  5. Xian says:

    This movie is going to be a big-budget flop for three big reasons:

    1. PG-13?!?!? For a ZOMBIE movie?! Really??? Are you high?? No matter how much you think you'll push the PG-13 envelope, I've three small words for you: The Walking Dead. If you're big-budget zombie epic can't be as over-the-top in its violence as the AMC cable show (or previous zombie movies for that matter, from the amazingly great George A. Romero trilogy that put (non-voodoo) zombies on the cinematic map, to the current zombie movie trend of the last several years) then you won't draw the type of horror-geek audience you're hoping will make your first weekend box office gold. Most mainstream auds will think your film is weak in this regard as well (having been exposed to years of zombie films and The Walking Dead, they'll expect solid EFX work and not just CGI-candy in place of the kind of practical effects work that truly sells a shot).

    2. The screenplay deviates from a book that nearly everyone who read it loved. Max Brooks's journalistic book (owning much to Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka's nuclear war novel "WarDay") was a smart, scary look at the post-World War Z world and how a certain number of people from all walks of life helped end the zombie threat on the planet (not just a few, select locations). Instead, we're going to be treated to a star-vehicle tent-pole for Brad Pitt that has eviscerated the novel's themes and troubling details in favor of a globe-trotting, hero-saves-the-day (and-his-family) bunch of saccharine that horror fans, and fans of the book, will not be ready to accept.

    3. The trailers and much of the production chatter indicates that this film has an overreliance on CGIcandy in place of characterization, story and practical/physical effects with believable physics. Instead, there appears to be wave after wave of CGI zombies pouring around the cities like a flood that hardly looks as impressive as the slow walkers of George A. Romero's films (they're going to get ou no matter how slow and shambling they are, sucka!) or even Danny Boyle's running "infected" of "28 Days Later" which made running zombies a kind of thang for ADHD kids that can't seem to wait for hot human lunch to be served onscreen. CGI in service of story, character and to support practical, onset, physical effects is not a bad thing, but having it take over your movie with impossible action that can only be achieved in a computer lends your fabricated reality a sense of disbelief that can only harm your movie.

    Kids might love the film, but that alone won't help it make back it's marketing and production costs (and overruns)… for that you'll need the true genre fans, and it's not likely they'll show up for this dog of a movie.

    • John W. says:

      Hey, Drama Queen (EPIC FAIL!), the opening weekend receipts have already proven you wrong there, but what is most amusing about your page-long rant about how awful this movie is, is that you haven't even seen the thing. I can only imagine how much you drone on about movies you've actually seen.

  6. Otto says:

    28 Months Laterer should be the title of this stinker :|

  7. smok wawelski says:

    i think somebody pointed this out already, but i am to lazy to check. anyway explosion was not on 20,000 feet but much lower, airplane was already descending for landing. but this is ok. what is not ok is "Gravity rips the zombies from the compromised fuselage into a bright blue sky".
    it is explosive decompression, not the gravity.

  8. Steve F says:

    Good looking movie and the special effects are well done buts it all over the place plotwise. Privileged asthmatic irritating white kids survive and constantly complain while streetwise ethnic kids lose their whole families and don’t say a word. Israel which has meticulously predicted and protected against this because of the holocaust (obligatory to mention in any movie featuring Israel) and Arab attacks then loses Jerusalem to feedback from a muslim karaoke machine as much noisier helicopters and planes fly overhead. British zombies however go crazy at the sound of a squeaky door. Nobody else cares about their family as they all try and save Brad Pitt. But someone had time to design and build a zombie dead counter. There was one email from Korea but none from India ? Its like they had a good idea, filmed some great set pieces but struggled to put them together into a coherent plot and gave up.

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