In a lot of ways, the anecdote of a low-budget catalyzing special effects genius is a timeless one in Hollywood. The spirit of the early days of digital effects played out on “Serenity” in much the same way. One of the scenes that presented a major hurdle was the hovercraft chase scene in which the eponymous ship’s crew is chased by animalistic Reavers. “On a big budget feature we’d use a lot of green screen and digital doubles, but we didn’t have that kind of money on this movie,” visual effects supervisor and second unit director Loni Peristere told HowStuffWorks.com. Which meant they had to get really creative.
The goal was to make the sequence feel “contemporary, interesting, and fast-paced” without having to enhance every part of it with digital effects. So to that end, Peristere had a rig built that would hold up the hovercraft 15 feet alongside a towing vehicle. Placing it on two “giant steel arms” they were able to tow the entire craft safely at speeds of 45 miles an hour — which went a long way in creating the rather convincing illusion that it was indeed hovering.
In order to photograph the sequence, Peristere couldn’t rely on the use of a gimbal — which is what was used for the podrace scene in “The Phantom Menace.” Instead, they used a much cheaper plan that involved placing cameras onto the towing rig and a car following behind. All of it makes for a bumpy and chaotic ride, but the actors did seem to enjoy it. Adam Baldwin, whose character gets harpooned and ends up hanging off the hovercraft before being pulled back in by Nathan Fillion’s character, said it was “the most fun I’ve had working in my entire life.”