There’s nothing more exciting in the middle of an action movie than some good old destruction, especially of the vehicular kind. They’re the kinds of crashes and explosions that can often make real life seem a bit boring. That’s because most vehicles these days are built to pretty high standards of safety and security. The kinds of explosions and crashes we see in movies just don’t happen in the real world.
In this video from Insider, the team at JEM FX pulls back the curtain to reveal some of the secrets they use in order to make the crashes spectacular and cinematic for the movies. Some of these have been well-popularised in behind-the-scenes videos from movies, but this video really breaks things down – both figuratively and literally – to show just how choreographed and well planned out these crashes really are.
The video highlights a few techniques. Probably the most commonly known about are ramps and air cannons. Ramps have been well-known in behind-the-scenes “making of” videos since the 1970s. Air cannons, too, have been around for a while, but they really hit the public consciousness after The Dark Knight was released and clips showing how it was made were plastered all over the web and TV – and not just with cars but huge 18 wheeler trucks, as the video below demonstrates.
What I’d never realised about many of the collisions, explosions and general mayhem that’s shown off in many movies is the fact that they will often intentionally weaken the vehicles in order to make them squish, buckle and fold in very specific, deliberate and predictable ways. They do this with a process called “scoring”. It’s similar to scoring a piece of card to fold it, or scoring a piece of glass with a glass cutter to break it, except here, it also involves removing entire chunks of the car’s support system to ensure it breaks the way they want it to.
I knew that engines, fuel and other potentially problematic elements of a vehicle were often removed. As well as internal aesthetic pieces, like unused seats, to help reduce the weight and make it easier for them to fly on-camera. But I never realised there was such an art and science involved in making their destruction happen in such specific ways.
Another technique, that I’d only ever seen with human actors before to simulate a reaction to a punch, kick, explosive shockwave or other rapid impacts, is the use of wires. Again, made popular for use with humans in movies like The Matrix – especially during the dojo fight sequence – but cars? It turns out wires are also often used to pull cars, either to get them moving as quickly as possible as fast as possible or to force them to follow a specific path.
But wires are also used to stop cars in an instant to simulate an impact without there actually being an impact. This, along with the selective “scoring” technique, is demonstrated in the video at the top of this page using a scene from the movie Bright. They explain how they managed to make a vehicle come to a dead stop and crumple the front end as if it were hitting an invisible barrier at the end of a dramatic car chase sequence.
While many of us don’t really have the budget for this sort of thing in our own videos, it sure is a fascinating look at how these things are done for the movies!