Nuts and Bolts of a Car Chase: What Goes into Creating a 'Fast and Furious' Action Sequence
Action sequences have changed quite a bit since James Bond corkscrewed his red AMC Hornet hatchback over the rickety wooden bridge in The Man With the Golden Gun. Even though that stunt is still impressive according to today's standards, and has gone down in history as one of the best, action sequences have evolved and complicated over time. Today, many of these adrenaline-filled scenes require millions of dollars and several years to plan and execute. So, how do filmmakers do it? What goes into planning and bringing an action sequence to fruition? Check out how the filmmakers of Fast and Furious 6 conceptualized, planned, and souped-up their epic car chases after the jump.
The Fast and Furious franchise is known for action sequences that push beyond the paradigm as well as the laws of physics. It used to be that filmmakers could shoot a car chase relatively cheaply, but after CGI and an audience wanting more of that high-octane good stuff, it seems as though those days are gone.
Independent filmmaker Justin Lin signed up to do the Fast and Furious franchise back in 2005 and has directed the last 4 films including the 6th installment. With a budge of $160 million, two years, and scenes that call for tanks and a car driving out of a plane taking off, this is Lin's most ambitious film yet. Here's what he had to say in an interview about constructing action sequences and car chases:
I have a little vault of crazy ideas and those are just for my own enjoyment and then I develop the scripts. A lot of times, the example on this one is the tank, almost didn’t make it into the movie. I remember after Fast Five we were talking about the vault and we were kind of joking around about how, “Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could actually drive the vault and the vault could shoot?” Somebody was like, “Wait, that’s a tank -- ” But it was just a fun idea. At that point it didn’t belong in the movie, so it wasn’t until development that I’m able to put in these sequences.
Check out this behind-the-scenes video to get an idea of some of Lin's "crazy" ideas that were, according to an article in Car and Driver, "probably the most technically ambitious and expensive car sequences ever filmed."
Assuming that most if not all of the car chases in Fast and Furious 6 came from Lin's little vault, I think it's safe to say that the first step in creating an action sequence is visualization. Of course, many of us use storyboarding to various degrees to map out and organize our scenes, and Lin is no different -- only he commissioned "pre-visualization" artists to create digital renderings of stunts.
After you've spent a pretty penny on digital renderings of your scenes, or saved a few bucks and drew them yourself on a printed copy of a storyboard template you got online, you're ready to script it. Chris Morgan was one of the writers for the film, and making decisions on the particularities of the screenplay, like which cars would be involved and locations, was a huge undertaking. Each decision had to coalesce with Lin's vision and ideas for stunts and make them possible. He describes developing the concept of having a "vehicle as a weapon," a path that lead him from the beefy Mercedes G-wagon to a lean F1 racer to use for the "flip-car."
Check out a featurette on the "flip-car" below.
There are also a lot of logistics being worked out outside of the script. For instance, this may sound childish, but Lin often uses toy cars to conceptualize scenes. He even brings them to the set with him. Now that I'm thinking about it -- it's actually a pretty ingenious move. What better to model a scene with a car chase than with models of the cars themselves. Not only that, but the team draws up a bunch of diagrams of the city streets they'll be filming in and posts sticky notes on it to help them further understand the mechanics and timing of the scene.
Next, Lin and his team had to evaluate what they were up against in terms of locations. Not every shot in a car chase scene was shot in the same location.
-- only small portions of London’s streets can be closed at any one time and Glasgow doesn’t necessarily always look like London, the special-effects department carefully measured every aspect of the filming sites using conventional surveying tools and LIDAR measurement systems. That was done in order to plan the action correctly, and so that scenes can be visually extended using computer graphics.
The VFX for this film was a gargantuan undertaking. 10 special effects companies, as well as Universal's effects department, worked on the film, which tallied up to more than 1000 people. Seeing as how the cars that were raced, destroyed, blown up, and flung into the air were real, it's impressive to see how much work the VFX took to create the mood of the film -- the subtle atmospheric touches and strokes of destruction that couldn't be created in real life. Realizing the talent of these VFX artists was integral to the making of the film, because it allowed the filmmakers to take the story to places it wouldn't have been able to.
So, you've got your plan, your script, and your VFX artists telling you, "Yeah, go film shots from a single scene in three completely different places on the globe. We'll make it all look like London." Now it's time to shoot. Just let me ask you this -- do you have a camera car?
Lin and his crew employed up to 12 different cameras for certain action scenes -- some of which were mounted to motorized behemoths ("camera cars") like the Porche Cayenne, Cadillac Escalade, and Mercedes M-class. Check out the behind-the-scenes video below to get a glimpse of some of the methods they used in filming a chase scene, which include mounting cameras to enormous cranes, what looks like a remote control car, and an elaborate rig on a car. (You can spot one of these "camera cars" at around the 1:38 mark -- and watch the little remote control car-cam get swallowed by the falling foam rocks at 2:03.)
Even after your footage has been shot there is still plenty of work to do with editing and visual touch-ups in post. The LA Times reports:
Lin was going full throttle, attempting to cram a year and a half's worth of post-production into 12 weeks. The director had five film editors simultaneously cutting "Fast 6" together while teams of specialists made visual effects and color timing tweaks elsewhere on the lot. Sound mixing took up two movie-theater-sized stages all by itself.
As far as VFX goes, the "camera cars" and camera rigs had to be digitally removed from scenes -- as well as their reflections. Some scenes were sped up (for obvious reasons.) Some shots were done in front of a green screen and visual-effects supervisor Kelvin McIlwain explained some aspects of this:
We shoot the cars on stage without windshields or door glass -- you can’t get rid of some reflections. So we have to add in digital glass to those cars, too.
A lot of time and effort went into producing the sound as well -- you can't have a car chase without sound! Lin's team decided not to record "automotive, explosive, or concussive sounds." Instead, sound editor Peter Brown used sound samples they found in libraries as well as some the made themselves driving around in an airport.
Sound fun? I think so -- but it also sounds expensive (it reportedly cost $20 million for the 7 minute flip-car chase alone.) Maybe not all of us will take this information and go out and try to replicate it, but I know that I personally have a better understanding, and therefore respect, for all that goes into those absurd and impossible action sequences that I roll my eyes at (yes -- admit it -- some go pretty overboard.) At least now I can look at it from a more technical point of view and applaud the filmmakers' artistry and ambition.
What do you think? Do you have any $20 million scenes you're cooking up -- or have you ever worked on a film that had one? What are some cheap DIY options indie filmmakers can use for their car chases?
[via The Verge]