To recreate modern-day Los Angeles in a video game, all one has to do is load up Google Earth and go to town, so to speak. To recreate the 1940's Los Angeles of Rockstar's L.A. Noire, one man had to hang out of a biplane.
Team Bondi might be making a name for themselves creating the lifelike face mapping technology that grants uncanny life to the criminals, cops, and civilians of L.A. Noire, but to recreate a realistic 1940's Los Angeles the team had to use decidedly low tech means.
They found those means in the photography of Robert Spence now archived as part of The Spence Collection at The Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives at UCLA. Spence risked his life on a regular basis throughout the 20's, 30's, and 40's, hanging out the side of a biplane holding a 46 pound camera, documenting a side of the city few at the time had seen.
According to a profile of Spence recently run in Air and Space Magazine, the Los Angeles rich and famous of the 1920's used to pay him $10 a picture for aerial shots of their homes. At a time when most aerial photographs were taken from a top-down perspective, Spence's shots captured a side of the city perfect for Team Bondi's purposes. Says Simon Wood, a production designer for the studio:
"They showed us the density of the traffic and the pedestrians, the trolley car routes; they showed us different mosaics and sidewalk patterns that we couldn't make out from the other street photo reference materials. They showed the different types of rooftops and tar roof styles and air conditioner units."
So as you're tooling about the streets of 1940's Los Angeles, appreciating the intricate details captured of a time long since passed, remember this insane man hanging outside of a perfectly good airplane, taking snaps for $10 a pop.