Friday Night Lights: Hollywood Night Vision Myths – Part 1

    After talking to some of my fellow TFB writers about night vision, Austin R came up with a good idea. Take a look at some examples of Hollywood night vision and tear it apart. Just like how firearms can be grossly misportrayed in Hollywood, night vision is often even more misrepresented in movies and TV shows. For some people, Austin included, they have preconceived notions about night vision that are just plain wrong and that is all thanks to someone’s artistic interpretation of night vision. Let us take a look at two Hollywood night vision myths and see if they hold up to the real thing.

    Black Hawk Down

    Black Hawk Down was a great movie. While I cannot speak about the accuracy of the film’s portrayal of the events, what I can do is rip apart the night vision scene with the little birds giving aid to the Rangers. Watch the video clip below to refresh your memory.

    The biggest glaring issue is the green lighting seen throughout this scene. This is not night vision. But I get it, it is to give the audience the feel that it is night time and often filmmakers, specifically lighting technicians will use color to evoke an emotion or to help tell a story.

    No night vision in the scene but there is an extraordinary amount of green light that does not seem to have a source that the audience can see.

    Film aesthetics aside, there are some scenes where we see night vision “utilized”. The pilots of the little birds appear to be wearing ANVIS-6 goggles.

    This appears accurate as far as I can tell. The AN/AVS-6 were specifically built for the Army while the AN/AVS-9 were for the Air Force. The major difference is the objective lens. The AN/AVS-6 aka ANVIS-6 have translating objective lenses. Similar to the PVS-15 objective lens, as you twist the outer collar to adjust focus, the actual piece of glass does not spin. It simply moves forwards and backwards. ANVIS-9, on the other hand, has the entire objective lens spin as you adjust focus. A subtle nuance but this was designed specifically to work with clip-on accessories for the ARMY pilots.

    However, do you notice anything particular with the two photos above? 32 seconds into the video above the main helicopter pilot says “I can’t see shit”. In the context of the movie, he cannot see the IR beacon that Eversmann, played by Josh Hartnett, placed to indicate where the little birds should strafe. In reality, the reason why the pilot cannot see anything is because his night vision goggles don’t work.

    Take a look at the photo I took below versus the screen caps above. Night vision image intensifier tubes are sort of like miniature TV screens. They produce light and that light splashes onto your eye sockets. It is noticeable if you look for it. We do not see this in any of the scenes of the pilots for Black Hawk Down.

    My friend Eric shooting with his high spec DTNVGs.

    Ok, I understand the logistics of having legitimate night vision for a film is not practical. Renting night vision is not exactly costly but the risk is high for damaging them and it is not really important for the actor to actually see. They can act like they can see with the props on their faces. However, it wouldn’t be difficult to add a little green LED inside the prop housing to give the look that the night vision goggles work. There are airsoft replica dummy prop night vision goggles that have green LEDs in them to fake the appearance that they work.

    Moving on, let’s draw attention to another Hollywood night vision myth, the fictitious heads-up display (HUD) that is ever prevalent in night vision scenes. Black Hawk Down has such a scene. See the screen caps below.

    The POV of the pilots show what looks like some sort of reticle in the center, a compass at the top of the screen and some sort of tracking rectangle. While I am not a helicopter pilot, let alone an Army helicopter pilot, this seems extremely fake to me. I spoke with my friend Lee C. who is a retired Army Apache pilot and picked his brain about these scenes. TOTALLY FAKE. The technology did not exist back then like it does for Apaches. And the biggest issue is that you would not see this type of information displayed inside the night vision goggles.

    The closest thing in real life that looks like the image above would be a HUD overlaid into the objective lens. There is a magnetic compass that projects the image into your night vision goggles. However, we do not see this mounted on the ANVIS-6 goggles.

    With regards to the crosshairs in the Black Hawk Down scene this is not realistic. Lee told me that Little bird pilots would actually draw ranging reticles with grease pen onto their windshields to help aim the guns and rockets. However, this would not work at night. NODs aka NVGs have an extremely short depth of field (DOF). Due to this short DOF, it would be impossible for the pilots to aim with their DIY reticle. You can either focus on the reticle or focus on what is outside your cockpit. Not both. When flying an aircraft with night vision you set your focus to infinity. This is great for looking outside, but now you cannot see your instrument panels. So pilots will either look under their NODs or flip the goggles up and out of the way.

    What is really interesting in this scene can be plausible with real night vision technology. It is the fact that these scenes appear to show a form of thermal fusion. The bad guys are glowing white hot. However, this is not possible for the time period that Black Hawk Down happened. The little birds definitely did not have a night vision/thermal sensor suite like the Apache does. And from the scenes above of the pilots wearing ANVIS-6, they do not have any clip-on thermal devices. Even if they did I call BS since thermal devices cannot see through glass. Apache pilots use NVGs on their helmet or they use that monocular attached to their helmets. However, according to Lee, that is mainly used for targeting, not flying the helicopter.

    Kickass

    Yes, Hitgirl is a fictitious movie based on a comic book so expecting realism in it is not realistic but I would like to see more accurate portrayals of night vision none the less. In the scene below, Big Daddy and Kick Ass have been captured. SPOILERS LOL. Hitgirl saves them by turning off the lights and goes to town killing all the bad guys while she is wearing night vision. However, it is a pure Hollywood night vision myth.

    When Hitgirl turns on her NODs, we see the same Hollywood trope, the mythical NVG HUD. Stop it. This is not a real thing. If we look past the fake NVG HUD there are some glaring issues with Hitgirl’s NVGs. First of all the field of view (FOV) is ridiculously fake for analog night vision goggles. Sure everything has a green hue to it but FOV for normal night vision is 40 degrees. Only in the case of panoramic night vision goggles do you get 97 degrees FOV.

    The other problem goes back to the depth of field that I mentioned earlier. When you are shooting a gun while using night vision you cannot see the gun let alone the sights. And yet the scene from Hitgirl shows her gun and arms in perfect focus. Oh, and she can aim with iron sights. I call BS. Also what the movie shows is not true POV. Real night vision POV is what your eye sees. If this was the case then the picture below would have the pistol lined up like she was aiming it with her right eye. Instead, she is most likely wearing something like a GoPro on her face given the angle of the gun with the view from the camera.

    See the photo below, this is what true POV looks like. This was captured with a BecauseOperator LPMR POV camera that films what my 1431s see. In the photo below I am looking through the Eotech EXPS-3 on my gun. Notice the housing of the Eotech is completely out of focus to the point you can see through it.

    Here is a video clip from @BecauseOperator of a shooter’s POV while shooting a handgun with a red dot on it. Unfortunately, the camera is mounted on the shooter’s non-dominant eye so we do not get a true POV through the sight.

    Another gun/night vision issue is the lack of muzzle flash auto gating. In the screencap below you can see the muzzle flash from the SIG Sauer she is shooting. When you shoot a gun that has large muzzle flash. The night vision goggles will autogate and dim momentarily from the bright light source. We don’t see that happen with Hitgirl’s goggles

    In a short scene, we see the actual goggles that the actress was wearing. They look more like a sleep eye mask than night vision goggles. So then this changes things. Yes, this world is fictitious but digital night vision is a possibility. You could have a HUD overlaid in digital night vision, just like the SiOnyx Aurora cameras but the field of view is still suspect as well as the clarity and green hue. If Hitgirl was using digital night vision then she would not need to set it to the green tone. This system would be able to see full color night vision.

    Hollywood Night Vision Myths: Fact Or Fiction

    We all know Hollywood does not portray firearms accurately but there are some people who strive for some semblance of realism. Night Vision is just as important to me. It is not hard to rent a set of night vision goggles. Sure it might not give you the field of view that you want and in some cases can be rather noisy but let’s see night vision represented as best as possible. ITAR not withstanding of course. There should be no excuse to perpetuate Hollywood night vision myths unless it is for misinformation and propaganda.

    This week’s Friday Night Lights we only looked at two movies this time; Black Hawk Down and Hitgirl. There are plenty of other movies that we will look at and dissect. For now, here is the working list I have in no particular order:

    1. Sicario
    2. Act Of Valor
    3. 13 Hours
    4. Navy Seals (1990)
    5. Delta Force (1986)
    6. When In Rome (2010)
    7. Snow Piercer
    8. History Channel Seal Team Six
    9. Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime)
    10. Patriot Games
    11. Silence Of The Lambs
    12. Zero Dark Thirty

    If you can think of other movie scenes that we should address post them in the comments section below.

    Nicholas C

    Steadicam Gun Operator
    Night Vision & Thermal Aficionado
    Flashlight/Laser Enthusiast
    USPSA competitor

    Any questions please email him at [email protected]


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