top gun, the 25th anniversary


The date is May the 16th 1986, and Paramount Pictures releases the #1 smash hit of the Summer, “TOP GUN”.  This was an exceptionally exciting time because this was the first movie I worked on, and I drove from LA to Phoenix, Arizona on opening day to watch it in my favorite theater, The Cine Capri.  I find it so hard to believe that less than a year earlier I was a produce clerk at Bayless Markets and then all of a sudden my big dream of working in the movies was a reality.  It was a fast year to say the least and the whole experience of watching the movie and then seeing all of our names in the credits was very surreal!!!  I’m sure Doug, AKA Deg3D is going through this fantasy land experience as we speak with his starting in  Hollywood less than 6 months ago!!!  Go get em DEG!!!!

Writing this post brings back a lot of fun flashbacks and at the same time makes me realize I’m a lot older than I feel, HAAA! Anyways, Top Gun is the story of the best of the best Navy pilots that are hand picked to become even better pilots by training at Top Gun in Miramar, California. During a brief encounter with a Soviet Mig, Cruise and Edwards become legendary by making pretty close contact with the Soviet pilots.  Both men get awarded the chance to train at Top Gun.  A love story begins between Cruise and Navy advisor,  McGillis. and falls apart when drama unfolds as friends are lost.  Cruise has to cope with the fact that he feels responsible for his gunner’s death, and he is unable to operate as a pilot while carrying this heavy burden…Crisis arises at sea and Cruise has to pull himself together to help save his fellow airmen in an all out battle with the Soviets.  In the end victory is ours, love is rekindled and the sun sets on one awesome film!

The movie was the first big hit of the summer and became a world wide blockbuster that launched so many careers into super stardom.  Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan, Kelly McGillis, and Anthony Edwards to mention a few.  The Cold War was a big topic in the 80’s and this movie brought it to the forefront.  Full of action, drama, romance, and some incredible aerial sequences that still stand as a milestone to this day.  Director Tony Scott and his crew put together a beautiful film with its awesome color and pacing.  The score by Harold Faltermeyer and the songs by Kenny Loggins,  Berlin, Cheap Trick, Loverboy, and the classics by Jerry Lee Lewis and the righteous Brothers made for a perfect soundtrack full of top ten hits, and many of the hits produced some very cool music videos.  “Take my breath away” was the breakout hit by Berlin with beautiful vocals by lead singer Terri Nunn; the band was on their last years as a group, and they also had songs featured in “Space Balls”, and “Innerspace”.

The live action was being filmed in San Diego and Nevada, with the above deck sequences being filmed aboard the USS Enterprise CV-65 and interiors aboard the USS Ranger CV-61.  In the Bay area, the behind the scenes folks responsible for the visuals were gearing up for the second leg of the film. The VFX team did some amazing visual work that tied together beautifully with the live action Aeriel scenes. The master minds behind the FX was Special Effects supervisor, Gary Gutierrez, and Director of Photography, Rick Fichter.  The two had worked together previously on “The Right Stuff”, and the work they did on that film showed off their talents at creating incredibly real aircraft miniatures in flight that rivaled actual footage of the real planes.  USFX based out of San Francisco was the VFX house that would be used to build all the F-14’s and F-5 models for the flat spin and explosion scenes.  Chief Model Maker David Sosalla was running the crew, and we were working together at Apogee in Van Nuys, CA.  David was finishing up a project he had going in Southern CA before he could break free to go to the bay for Top Gun.  David would often borrow me from my Boss, Grant McCune, to run molds and to build little parts for him and when the time came for the big move up North, Dave asked If I would like to come too!!!!  YEAH!!!!  Everyday a new adventure would take place at Apogee and I was off to work on my first big movie.  This was about mid November when we started working on the planes and we were in a warehouse over looking the bay.  The building was freezing and the ventilation system was a fan in an open window.  After the icy introduction we were off and running on getting all of the planes built.  There were three sizes of the F-14’s, two nine foot planes, a bunch of 6 footers fashioned off of some ducted fan RC models by Larry Wolfe of Jet Hanger Hobbies, and then what seemed to be hundreds of 1/32 scale kits.  The F-5 soviet jets were also ducted fan models recast for the film.  The models were built at a frantic pace and everyday loads of them would be trucked off to the mountain top location in Oakland.  The models, once there, would be thrown off 80 foot manlift’s, spun on wires, blown up, shot at, and burned on a daily basis.  I went on location once to see these incredible events and within an hour I saw three of the jets miss the drop net and disintegrate into millions of tiny pieces!!!  The hill top was terribly cold and horribly windy and there was no shade nor shelter to stop the weather that cursed and beat everyone to death.  The filming schedule for our part of the film was relatively short and we wrapped out at noon on Christmas Eve.

This was one of those life changing times and filled with so many memories and new friends.  Long gone are the days of miniature crews and FX being done this way, and I am so glad that I was allowed to share in the fun of these golden times.  On film everything looked so incredible and the crew had really outdone themselves with these incredible visuals.  It was a real treat to work with Gary Gutierrez and I’ll always be a fan.  His work on “The Right Stuff” still stands as some of my favorite movie magic.  Working with David Sosalla and Rick Fichter would go on for many years to come and they were always great fun to do shows with.  Below are the names of the talented crew that put all of these FX together, and it would be so cool to catch up with everyone again.  With all that said, Happy 25th Anniversary to TOP GUN and to all of those that made it happen!

Special Effects by
Peter Cairo
special effects
Steven C. Foster
special effects (as Steve Foster)
Gary Gutierrez
supervisor of special photographic effects
Allen Hall
special effects coordinator
Robert G. Willard
special effects
Marvin Gardner
special effects assistant (uncredited)
Jamie Hyneman
special effects crew (uncredited)
Mike Menzel
special effects technician (uncredited)

Visual Effects by
David Carothers
model maker: USFX
Samuel Comstock
animator: USFX (as Sam Comstock)
Stuart Cudlitz
model maker: USFX
John Eaves
model maker: USFX
Rick Fichter
director of photography: USFX
Whitney Green
production manager: USFX
William Groshelle
animation supervisor: USFX
Donald Hansard Sr.
process coordinator (as Don Hansard Sr.)
Don Hansard
process engineer (as Don Hansard Jr.)
Marghi McMahon
model maker: USFX (as Marghe McMahon)
Ted Moehnke
pyrotechnician: USFX
Earle Murphy
model maker: USFX
Kjell Ness
assistant model maker: USFX
Allessandro Palladini
assistant model maker: USFX
Mitchell Romanauski
assistant model maker: USFX
Steve Sanders
model maker: USFX (as Steven Sanders)
David Sosalla
model department supervisor: USFX
Wes Takahashi,

from the film, the old Paramount logo

the story

the title

the beautiful opening images on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise

F-14 launch


incredible LIVE action areial scenes, no CGI here


encounter with a Mig

Filmed like George Miller's Mad Max trilogy only in the air. awesome shots and incredible lighting

Edwards and Cruise

Val Kilmer

the wooing of McGillis

romance is in the air

the boys are always in trouble and have to get their do from Tom Skerrit

A very young Meg Ryan

death on the high seas

Tony Scott's incredible lighting added so much to the mood and feel of the film as seen in this spectacular image

a row of Tomcats at Miramar

more of Scott's magic

the greatest shot in the world. the tail mounted camera as the F-14 launches from the deck and rolls into battle

a victorious return

the boys are a back and the sunsets with the end of 1986's Top Gun!!!

the VFX maestro, Gary Gutierrez

the world famous Rick Fichter

the F-5 at USFX, hey I have hair in this pic!!!!

David Sosalla

Mitch Romanauski and Steve Sanders work on one of the 6 foot F-14's

Stave sanders on the set

launching missiles

the F-14 takes a bow

the falling F-5

one of the VFX cameras equiped with the shaking drill addition for those bumpy looking shots

off the man lift




getting ready for the wire rigged flat spin

1/12th scale F-104 cockpit models were used!

ready, set,,,,,


Mitch, Earle, and Gary discuss the shot


60 Responses to “top gun, the 25th anniversary”

  1. May 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Wow 25 years truly zips by fast I was 24 years old when it came out, man do I feel old now yikes

  2. 5 evil_genius_180
    May 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    YES!! I freakin’ love that movie, I’m looking forward to the article. 25 years already? I guess that means it’s time to whip out the DVD and watch it to celebrate. 😀

  3. May 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    This as Childhood fav.
    Now I feel the need for speed! 😉

    • 8 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 10:11 am

      HAH!!!! that’s so cool!!! I still it being used when you walk into Best Buy as the big demo movie on all the TV’s and sound systems!

  4. 9 DeanneM
    May 16, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Hmmm, not much here to edit…heh. I expect that you’ll have some fun pics. 🙂

    • 10 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 10:12 am

      OK now you’ve got your work cut out for you!!!

      • 11 DeanneM
        May 17, 2011 at 11:19 am

        …aaaand, done! 🙂

        I truly wish at the time we hadn’t lost touch; I was out of the loop and didn’t even know you worked on it! 😦

        But what an awesome movie!! I totally agree that the FX are outstanding and live up to today’s standards quite well. It’s all seamless and pretty much flawless…made for a completely enveloping movie going experience. The story was incredibly well written, too, and engaged all types of movie goers. KUDOS to all who helped create this new classic.

  5. May 17, 2011 at 2:45 am

    Ohhh Yeah…..!!!!
    that’s some thing interesting..

  6. 14 Scott D
    May 17, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Still a good movie after all this time. But if it ever is remastered, I hope they replace those F-5s with something more Russian. Haha.

  7. 17 evil_genius_180
    May 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Love the article, John. (for those who don’t know, when I posted my first comment, the article wasn’t up yet.) I didn’t know you worked on this movie. Not only did you work on it but it was your big break. How cool is that?! This is an awesome movie, not only because of the great story and acting, but because of the awesome special effects. I LOVE the model work you guys did, it looks fantastic. Tony Scott knows how to hire the best of the best (he’s kinda like Top Gun that way :)) and get those effects to look real. Awesome job by everyone involved, I think this is one of the best movies ever, definitely one of Tom Cruise’s best films. It’s gotta be so cool to know that you’re a part some of the most beloved films of all time. 😀

    • 18 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      I was very happy to be a part of this one!!! And also Tony Scott is putting Top Gun 2 in the works,,, Knowing Tony it wont be a remake or a plane old sequel,,, He’ll do something awesome I am sure,, Just hope there’s not to much, CGI

      • May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm

        I heard romours about Top Gun 2, but it was mostly about Cruse coming back to play an instructor. It great news to hear that Tony Scott is part of this project, as it his baby after all.

        I have to say that though I love CGI and how it given directors more options. The Old style FX just can’t be beat.

        Any Chance you will be doing some of the concepts on this one?

      • 20 evil_genius_180
        May 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm

        Yeah, I saw that listed on IMDb but I didn’t look at any of the details, it’s slated to come out in 2013. That’s great that Tony is doing it, I was afraid it was going to be a new director. It would be awesome if Tom came back as Maverick, except now he can be more like the Viper character, the one that everyone looks up to, with a new batch of young hotshots. 🙂

      • 21 Scott D
        May 18, 2011 at 9:03 am

        Interesting, but wonder what kind of plot they are going to use? Hope they don’t use the current Mid Eastern theme.

        And would be interesting what planes they will choose. Right now the mainstay of the US Navy is F/A-18E/Fs, but given CGI these days, they can make something new like a Super Tomcat.

      • 22 evil_genius_180
        May 18, 2011 at 10:06 am

        The F-35C is a possibility. Of course, the problem is getting people to believe that they actually got the thing to work. 😉 Though, F-35s have been featured in a few movies already, despite the problems Lockheed is having with the VTOL and STOL variants.

  8. 23 Lori Rigler
    May 17, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I remember watching Top Gun with lots of people who were your biggest fans. When we saw your name in the credits it was AMAZING! People probably thought we were crazy! But at that moment, we were so proud of you! You went for your dreams and have achieved it. -I am still proud of you!

    • 24 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      LORI!!! how sweet, this is the first time there wasn’t something funny and evil attached to a message from you!!!! Big or small we all have had a lot of our dreams come true!!!!

  9. 25 the bluesman
    May 17, 2011 at 11:13 am

    F-5s are way cool. Even when they are from a no name commie country. I figure they are exports.

    Very cool stuff John, and no CG! I have always thought physical models blow up better.

    Brings back memories for me too, 1986 is the year I went off to art school in Denver. And we had to actaully draw evrything back then!

  10. 28 Sue Gordon
    May 17, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Like Lori, I remember watching Top Gun and hardly being able to wait for the closing credits to see your name. It was a great movie and so exciting for us to cheer you on as you launched your career! We all love you John, and we are all so proud of you, not just for your career accomplishments and your outstanding talent, but for your (most important) successes as a husband and father. God bless!

  11. 30 christine
    May 17, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Hey John, it’s your little sister…..you should point out that one of your models from this movie (and some other cool models from other movies) can be seen in person at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas! I just took a photo of your plane from Top Gun there last month and sent it to you! xoxoox Great article…I remember seeing the movie and screaming and cheering for my brother.

  12. 31 johneaves
    May 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    you just did, HAAA!

  13. 32 Colin
    May 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    An interesting fact – the effects in this movie are so good that the Chinese attempted this year to include them in a news story about their air force on training exercises. Here is a link – http://www.ministryoftofu.com/2011/01/cctv-news-suspected-stolen-scenes-top-gun-fighter-jet-news/

  14. 34 Buckaroohawk
    May 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Wow! This film was your big break. That is outstanding! “Top Gun” has always been one of my favorite movies. Everything about it just feels and looks so right. The way it was shot, those deep saturated colors, the characters, the pacing of the plot; it’s all spot-on perfect.

    I love working with CGI, but nothing compares with great model work when it comes to blowing stuff up! It must have felt a bit strange for you, though, watching models you spent so much time building being blown to smithereens. There must have been some conflict in your mind between “Aw, man…I spent days getting that plane to look that good,” and “That explosion looked so freakin’ cool!”

    Finally, here’s a neat bit of trivia: You have a note above that reads “special effects assistant (uncredited) Jamie Hyneman.” Mr. Hyneman, of course, is now one of the stars of “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel. In early episodes of the show, two of the model planes from “Top Gun” can be seen hanging on the wall of their workshop!

  15. 35 johneaves
    May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    wow I didn’t know that about the mythbusters… And as for the jets I had no idea what was happening until I went to the location that day to see them all get destroyed,, It was a hard pill to swallow… mainly because from my POV it was all in real time and to much would happen to fast and didn’t look good at all, but what the camera was seeing was long and graceful spins and slow motion explosions!!! amazing how different everything can look through the eyes of a camera

  16. 36 JNG
    May 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    F-5s looking cool in their bad-guy colors (apparently originally intended to be North Korean)…actually, that’s just a cool-looking aircraft regardless. As was the F-14, great cranky high-performance birds that they were. Intense flight scenes…and intensely homoerotic volleyball scene. :\ I wonder how Top Gun 2 will be, but I hope it’s worthwhile; sometimes I feel our military doesn’t get enough credit and support from the public, and it’s a valuable thing when fiction can help to jog everyone’s interest.

    • 37 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm

      I sure hope 2 will be good and the climate seems a lot different know between Hollywood and the Military, It will be interesting to see what will happen all though Paramount has had a long history of working well with the armed forces!!! and I agree the military really doesn’t get the recognition that they all deserve

  17. 38 Richard Knapp
    May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Top Gun is one of my favorites – just watched it again on TV the other day. Pretty neat to find out you worked on it, definitely going to have to watch for your name the next time I see it.

    Great model pictures – thanks for posting!


    • 39 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      WOW Top Gun seems to be a lot of folks favorite movie,,, I need to get a scanner that can transfer slides to jpegs so I can post all the pics I have from the model shop

  18. May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    That’s an awesome account, bud, thanks for sharin’ that early part of your career! The film of course is a bonafide classic, in so many ways!

    peace & bananas | deg

  19. 45 Jay
    May 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    My stepdad always wanted to be a pilot but his eyesight wasn’t good enough, so Top Gun was a movie he went absolutely crazy for. I remember very well the night we all piled in the car and went to see it. He just loved it and thus we were all forced to listen to that “Highway to the Danger Zone” song all summer long. Hard to believe that was such a long time ago.

    ’86 was a huge year for Paramount, with Top Gun in the summer and Star Trek IV at Christmastime, and it was probably the peak year for my Star Trek nerdity.

    Thanks for another great post, Johnny! Sorry if I missed you at WonderFest. I wasn’t able to make it this year.

    • 46 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 11:06 pm

      What a great story and lots of fun memories for you!!!! I didn’t make it to the FEST this year and man I was bummed!!!

  20. 47 Matt Boardman
    May 17, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Woo hooo!! I love this movie! I still remember the first time I saw it. We were living in a hotel room while they finished the house we were to live in when we first moved to Michigan. My dad felt like I was too young to see the movie, but much to his chagrin, he went to work one day and they happened to be playing it on TV. Ha! I felt the need, the need for speed! Soundtrack has always been in my collection and I never tire of listening to it!

    Thanks for sharing your stories with us, John! The pictures are great and now I feel like I want to watch it again!

    • 48 johneaves
      May 17, 2011 at 11:08 pm

      YEAH BUDDY another great story of the good ol times!!! Good job their sneaky boy catching it on the tube too!!!!I used to do that all the time and I think my dad knew

  21. 49 R.J.Minnes
    May 18, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Though I’m not a Tom Cruise fan for various reasons (though his part in “Tropical Thunder” was hilarious), “Top Gun” was the very first fighter movie that got my adrenalin really pumping and as such is a real fav of mine. Although good fighter movies remain rare we’ve have since then been treated on pics like “The Red Baron” and “Pearl Harbor” (not an Affleck fan either, but the Battle of Britain scene was begging for more), but “Top Gun” was the first one…

    • 50 johneaves
      May 20, 2011 at 9:05 am

      I boycotted seeing Pearl harbor for both Affleck and because I was a huge fan of Tora, Tora, Tora, and heard that a lot of Hollywood liberties went into rewriting history for this one!!!..
      I worked on Tropic Thunder but have yet to see it,,,,, perhaps this weekend.

      • 51 the bluesman
        May 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm

        I didn t care for Pearl Harbor either…mainly bcause Ol Ben dives his spit into the English cahnnkle in a near vertical dive and lives. And theres are the modern day warships in Battleship row.

        Tora Tora Tora! is the better film.

  22. 52 Greg
    May 18, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Us Navy guys who used to work on these Tomcats like to watch the movie. We see the movie at least once a month during deployments.

    Naturally, we nitpick the movie. For example, Goose (Edwards) would have never in a million years hit the canopy when ejecting. I used to work the GRU-7 ejection seats and the first thing that goes during the ejection process is the canopy. The canopy is literally connected to a cord behind the RIO (co-pilot) which when the canopy is sufficiently out of the way it the cord will pull a explosive device that causes the actual seats to eject.

    It’s still referenced in the Navy as one of the cheapest Navy ads they ever had. Late 80’s and early 90’s had a bunch of “Maverick” pilots.

    • 53 johneaves
      May 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Sure was a great time and the tom cat was a favorite from kidom on,, It was a treat to actually build this one for a movie when I had made so many of them as a kid for fun.

  23. 54 MickRC
    May 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    As a Navy JROTC cadet I visited Miramar in 1974 and got to see a lot of the school. Included was a great video about the history of the Dogfight and the creation of the Tomcat as the ultimate interceptor. Medical problems kept me out of the Navy as an officer so I spent 22 years in the Air Force as an NCO.

    IMO, Top Gun is the best Military Aviation Movie made since Battle of Britian and The Blue Max. We used to say at work “The Navy gets Top Gun and we get Iron Eagle – man we got hosed!”. Seems like the Navy gets all of the good movies. The last time there was a great Air Force movie, it was Strategic Air Command with Jimmy Stewart, the B-47 and the B-36.

    • 55 johneaves
      May 20, 2011 at 9:01 am

      You are so right!!!!! HAAA! Go rent or by and old movie called Air Force,, it’s about the B-17 pilots in route to Hawaii and discovery just before landing the Pearl harbor has been attacked.. Awesome awesome movie that few know about… I love Strategic Air Command and hope it goes DVD someday!!!!

  24. 56 Terry
    May 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I was 16 when Top Gun came out, I wanted to be a pilot so bad, but I had bad eyes. I was in San Diego in 1989 for Radioman School when I was in the Navy, there was several buildings where they filmed scenes at. To be honest I still would love to be a pilot

  25. June 2, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Thanks for this wonderful recap!

    Man, I love that movie. I can remember seeing it in the theater like it was yesterday. I was 18, and this movie did strike a chord with me. Agreed, it was a US Navy promotional picture (which is why it had a bad press in Germany), and some of it was corny in hindsight, but it still means a lot to me. Top Gun is arguably *the* movie of the 80’s.

  26. 58 Gary Gutierrez
    June 12, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    John Hall was special effects supe. I supervised vfx. Thanks for the recollections and pix!

  27. July 1, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Back two months ago there was a (US) nationwide anniversary theater screening of Top Gun. Even though I had the Blu-ray handy at my fingertips, I knew I had to see all the awesome aerial footage again on the *big* screen and have the soundtrack music assault my eardrums at a volume of 11. Still worth every penny!
    As I usually sit through the credits in the theater, I caught your name Mr. Eaves and I thought “Really? Could it be the same guy?”

    Even though you witnessed dozens of hours of model work being destroyed, did you keep any fragments as souvenirs?

  28. July 3, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Top Gun remains a modern classic of a movie. 25 years on it lost none of it’s appeal.

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May 2011

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