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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Rigged to Perform in Crash Tests

Imagine driving a 25-foot rig of structural steel – well past the speed limit – while filming an action sequence with a hot Hollywood actor behind the wheel of a tricked-out classic car. That kind of scene is what made the 2011 film “Drive” starring Ryan Gosling and last year’s “Nightcrawler” with Jake Gyllenhaal hits. And the rig used for it got Valencia stunt filmmakers Allan Padelford and Robert Nagle a certificate of technical achievement last month from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “It keeps you in the story because the actor is really being jostled. The physics you get are real,” said Nagle, who drives the rig. For decades, driving scenes in films were shot using a process called “rear projection,” in which the vehicle’s exterior was projected behind a motionless car to give the illusion of movement. Next on the scene were rigs such as “process trailers” that allowed filmmakers to mount vehicles on trailers and tow them behind trucks rigged with cameras. Padelford, 55, founder of Padelford Camera Cars in Valencia, and Nagle, 49, advanced vehicle filming with a rig they developed called “Biscuit.” Dubbed so because it was built to film realistic horse racing scenes in the 2003 film “Seabiscuit.” Biscuit operated like a flatbed truck carrying the actor and vehicle being filmed. Cameras could either be mounted on the rig, or on a nearby vehicle. In “Seabiscuit,” star Tobey Maguire, who played a jockey, was filmed on a fake horse with real horses running alongside the rig. That vehicle was damaged in a fire, which led to “Biscuit Jr.” in 2007. The rig is lighter and faster and operates similarly, but it has the added feature of a moveable steering pod that allows Nagle to drive the rig from the front, rear, sides or other positions. That allows the actor to be filmed from more positions without Nagle in the way. The company has since built two more models but declined to discuss the rig’s development costs or its rental fees. In a statement, the Motion Picture Academy said that Biscuit Jr.’s “unique chassis and portable driver pod enables traveling photography from a greater range of camera positions than previously possible.” Darrin Prescott, a stunt coordinator and second-unit director, has worked with Nagle and Padelford on more than 10 movies, including “Drive.” He said Biscuit Jr. allowed Gosling to be shot in one collision scene as if the car was really hit and flipped 180 degrees. “It puts actors right in the middle of the action, safely,” Prescott said. Padelford Camera Cars has three full-time employees and others for location shots, keeping busy with multiple productions. The Academy certificate certainly won’t hurt. “It was definitely not something I expected,” said Padelford, who noted that the Academy tends not to give out technical achievement awards “until things are pretty much tried and true.” – Rosie Downey

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