Film and TV has developed so much in the production department over the last couple of decades, that it astounds audiences how they managed to achieve what we thought was the impossible. Crazy stuntmen flinging themselves from buildings, explosive gunfights between characters and car chases that have you biting your nails and hanging off the edge of your seat. After the credits have rolled, and you and your viewing party trade your favourite lines and scenes of the film, the moments that stand out to you begs the question: “But wait… how’d they do that?”. Well, we cannot reveal all the tricks of the trade can we (got to leave some things a mystery)? But to find out the top 5 industry “secret” props, keep on scrolling…
Sugar glass (also known as breakaway glass and candy glass) is a prop used in many different forms- and is simply made from mixing dissolved sugar, water then heating to an extremely high temperature (about 150˚C!) until it can be formed into its desired shape (e.g. a bottle or thin sheet). To ensure it does not (re)crystallise, corn syrup is often used to aid the consistency. Because it resembles glass both in look- and when broken in a scene shatter similarly- and is unlikely to cause any harm, it is considered an effective and inexpensive prop to manufacture. The downside? Due to the chemical structure of its main ingredient sugar, it must be used quickly after it is made as the brittle quality that is achieved only last so long.
Considering the strict laws surrounding money, its distribution and usage, even the material (cotton instead of paper), lack of watermarks and security numbers all serve to make sure the illusion stays intact. If you notice, we never tend to see money in an up close shot whenever it is shown, sometimes even just being printed on the side the audience is viewing- all these add to the “authenticity” of the fake money. Ironic right? The faker the better as any attempt that may be viewed as duplicating real currency is seen as counterfeiting and is met by strict government investigation- ouch.
“Are they really driving…?
I know I am not alone in the thought of watching a scene of characters in a car travelling through the streets of a metropolitan area, casually engaging in conversation…but their eyes leave the road a touch longer than is deemed safe or their hand movements on the steering wheel don’t quite sync up? Come on I know we have all wondered: “Are they really driving and delivering their lines that perfectly?”. To answer your burning question, sadly no. Ahh but do not despair as it is really the safest option when filming a simple driving scene compared to a stunt driver commandeering a high-octane car chase.
Add to this that the actor must mime the driving process, it saves time and money compared the traditional (and slowly disappearing) use of green screen with a stationary car. With today’s technological advances, it sure is nice to see that we have moved away from the days of repeating background and bad “driving”- I am looking at you Knight Rider.
Drop your (Prop) Weapons!
Times gone by a trick like this was semi-difficult to pull off, making the use of quick cuts of the camera or miming the shot with the intended actor. Nowadays, like the prop mentioned below, it can be a combination of visual effects mixed with postproduction touch-up and image editing. It all is dependant on the budgeting, tone of the scene and action that is being performed, for example if it just a simple extra being killed by our hero without any consequences, it most likely will be shot in one quick wide shot with a blood pack being added to bolster the legitimacy of the gory death. However, if the scene is to depict a vengeful, violent killing meant to be shown in close up detail, there is a combination of a retractable blade (practical effects), with the squib (small, explosive device filled with fake blood- again practical effect) setting off, then if required adding those extra details in CGI to add to the illusion. This one remains somewhat of mystery to most, as there is a method called impalement illusion, wherein the actor wears a corset (or frame) around their body with “entrance” and “exit” slot for the blade to fit through. Again, this is something that screen productions have utilised over the years and even stage magicians as a popular act but there is still some secrecy shrouded around this technique. Hmm, I guess a magician cannot reveal all his tricks.
Either using practical effects such as elaborate prosthetics being produced by special effects props specialist to fit the scene, design and body of the actor it will be fitted on or the detail given in post-production VFX; the desired look can be achieved easily with todays options. In Marvel’s Iron Man, the iconic chest arc reactor worn by lead Robert Downey Jr was achieved without the need for CGI; accomplished by constructing a replica of the actor’s chest spray painted with makeup to match his skin tone, whilst holding the main design piece in the middle. In other more meticulous scenes, CGI may be needed to add an additional layer of legitimacy to the screen. This can be seen in 2014’s RoboCop, featuring a scene of detailed operation that looks so real you can see pieces of brain matter on the surgeon’s tools- but you will be potentially shocked to know that that was all CGI. I know blew our minds too.
So there you have it, our Top 5 industry tricks for the special effects and technically derived moments in filmmaking. There are many more industry tricks that create the wonders of film and television. From make-up to props, film has created these techniques way before CGI. It has always been one of the greatest parts of the industry is bringing together the tricks. What are some of your favourite film moments using these techniques?
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