Say Whaaat?! 90s Iconic Film ‘Free Willy’ Used Rocket Launcher To Pull Off That Huge Jump.

Say Whaaat?! 90s Iconic Film ‘Free Willy’ Used Rocket Launcher To Pull Off That Huge Jump.

"We all remember that tear-jerking final scene in Free Willy, when the titular whale makes a big, inspiring jump to freedom. As with most Hollywood movie moments, however, the moment was far less sentimental behind the scenes. In fact, it required a rocket launcher.

Free Willy will celebrate its 30th anniversary on July 16. In a behind-the-scenes look at how it was made, director Simon Wincer told The Guardian, “I remember saying to my agent: ‘If I can deliver the finale—where the whale leaps to freedom—we’ve got a movie.’”

Wincer noted that it took several meetings to determine “how the hell we were going to do it. It was the early days of CGI, so we shot at high tide in a small harbour—and literally built a rocket launcher with an animatronic whale on it. It would fly out of the water and come to a stop then CGI would take over.

Wincer described the process in detail in 2016 with Slashfilm: “At high tide, we basically built a rocket-launcher and we put a full size whale on this rocket launcher (which was sunk into this harbor) and we fired the bloody thing,” he said. “It went up this track and fired out of the water until it was about 6 feet out of the water and then it came to a stop. And then the shot continued, basically, as CGI.”

Special effects artist Walter Conti, who built the faux humpback whales used in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, also built the animatronic orca used in Free Willy. His company, Edge Innovations, worked on titles including Flipper, Anaconda, Cast Away, Deep Blue Sea, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou among many others.

“It’s not just the machine, right?” Conti said during a 2021 interview with Climate Magazine. “So what does it look like? How does it move? What is its behavior? How does it connect? How does it perform? ... [B]lending that in a way that creates something that people relate to—engage and relate to emotionally—is really an art.”

During his Slashfilm interview, Wincer also praised the late Basil Poledouris’ “just fantastic” score as crucial to the scene. As he told The Guardian, it was just one more element that made that final story beat sing: “Like any pivotal movie moment, it was sound, emotion and picture coming together to lift you to your feet.”” -

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