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The Mind-Blowing Way Back To The Future III's Train Scene Was Actually Filmed

If you're a sci-fi movie fan, or you just had a typical cinematic upbringing in the 1980s and '90s, you're likely familiar with the climactic train scene in "Back to the Future III." The pivotal sequence, which depicts Doc Brown's time-traveling DeLorean being pushed to its crucial 88 miles-per-hour by an old-west locomotive, is a vintage Robert Zemeckis set piece that works so well you might not have ever put much thought into how exactly it was accomplished.

But, there seems to be no special effect that someone on the internet doesn't know the skinny on. While such a scene today would simply be filmed with CGI, and while watching the movie you might assume that they simply pushed a DeLorean down some tracks with a train, a set photo that was quietly posted to Reddit in 2018 reveals that the truth is a little more Hollywood-magical than any of those less-inspired methods.

The scene was accomplished by miniature photography

As seen in the photo posted to Reddit, the locomotive and DeLorean time machine were both miniatures, albeit quite large ones. Miniature effects used to be quite prominent in films before the advent of CGI, and when done well (as they are in "Back to the Future III"), they can be difficult to spot, especially if you aren't specifically looking out for them (via FXGuide). 

If it's been a while since you've seen "Back to the Future III" and you're interested to see how the shot in question looks in the finished film, another helpful Reddit user named u/TooShiftyForYou captured the sequence in GIF form, and added that the sequence uses the same shot of the train pushing the car three different times, but with different layers of visual effects added. This, combined with the construction and editing of the sequence itself, makes it less-than-readily apparent that a shot is being reused multiple times, let alone the miniature nature of the shot itself. 

Now that you've gotten a glimpse at how the scene was made, it might make it hard not to see the miniature effects the next time you watch "Back to the Future III." But hopefully this knowledge of the filmmaking craft that went into making the movie will make you appreciate it more, not less.