While filming Fight Club, director David Fincher
and actor Edward Norton found themselves giggling and rewinding this segment
of Meet Joe Black over and over. Says Norton: "I think [Pitt's]
getting whacked by the car is the best thing I've seen in years."
Stunt specifications: Three life-size, lifelike stunt body castings
built to withstand repeated collisions with cars and asphalt.
Physical materials: Silicone rubber, soft urethane foam, heavy duty steel
armatures, wigs, acrylic eyes, bungees.
The special effects team known as Anatomorphex (with over 20 years'
experience in film and television) was given the job. These are the same
folks who created the oversize Jack in the Box head, and even that
device is complicated. The 14-inch white fiberglass globe contains a mini
lipstick camera embedded in the mask's pointy black nose. The actor who
wears the head is fitted with video-vision goggles which enable him to
walk, run, ride a bike, or drive a car.
Anatomorphex first life-casted the face and body of Brad Pitt. Feeling
confident the structure would survive repeated, punishing blows, they
constructed the head and hands from silicone rubber. The bodies were cast
in a dense, flexible, urethane foam over thick steel armatures. Several
were made, as they would each get bashed around proper.
The stunt employed a whipcord system, consisting of a pneumatic pull
arm firmly anchored to the ground against a large truck.
Like a fake Hollywood punch delivered during a bar room brawl, the oncoming
minivan never hits the dummy—it only drives by, just missing it from
behind. The whipcord itself does all the work. A cable was threaded through
a pulley to a condor 30 feet up in the air, then yanked at the base of
the body double's neck. The cable was airbrushed out during post production.
WHAM! Brad Pitt gets hit by a van. Take
that, you fucking ponce. He flies backwards, up into the air. A sight
to behold, to be sure—but it's hardly sufficient. Instead of just landing
on the concrete, the arc of his path collides hard and fast with a second
BAM! The taxi was already in synchronized
motion, intersecting the dummy's arc and knocking the body double back
into opposing traffic. The effect was violent and scary to
those watching the stunt live on the set. For each shot, the dummy was
lined up in the camera. Views shuttled between the video image of Pitt's
filmed final position in the street, and the live feed of the dummy.
"We were concerned about the potential wear and tear these body
doubles were going to receive," says Anatomorphex. "We built
three full doubles, and an extra head too. We shipped a huge repair kit
with us, figuring we could always work on two body doubles while one was
filming. We did about two dozen takes and after the first, it became obvious
just how durable our 200 lb, steel, silicone and urethane body doubles
were. Aside from dusting off the inevitable shattered windshield glass,
they required very little work, even after slamming into and skidding
across the asphalt. Wow!"
Silicone rubber is still one of the cornerstones of contemporary Hollywood
special effects. Pitt's gray suit showed wear and tear quickly, and the
wardrobe people were kept busy stitching sleeves and mending pants.
During one take, the taxi stunt driver was nearly injured when one of
the dummies slammed into the windshield head first—with all its weight
behind it. The dummy pushed in the front window to within an inch of the
seatbelted driver's face.
After awhile, the silicone began to show a few signs of abrasion, needing
minimal paint touch up. After another take, the team discovered one of
the prosthetic eyeballs had popped out.
They never found the eye—but that's the scene which ended up in the
movie. Astute viewers watching Meet Joe Black on DVD can see the
eyeball bounce off the screen as Pitt's dummy body collapses in a heap
and slides tastefully out of frame.
Recent use of the body-double-smashed-by-car effect was employed in Sweden.
A television commercial campaign aimed at minimizing collisions between
cars and careless pedestrians shows a man idly talking on his cell phone,
then stepping into traffic with disastrous results.
Brad Pitt once worked at El Pollo Loco, where he was asked to
dress up like a chicken.