Morpheus on… “…Provided I Don’t Get Hit By A Truck…”

Back at the beginning of the Eighties, in series like “Moonlighting” and “Hill Street Blues”, a major CHANGE took place in American TV drama series; the previously-disregarded writers became PRODUCERS – and began taking over the shows.

Suddenly, stories began developing (arcs) over a number of episodes – even whole seasons – something which had previously only happened in soaps.

Furthermore, if the writers got bored with even a MAJOR character (or the actor’s wage demands grew too big) – they were HISTORY. And recently, this has begun to happen a LOT more often. But it is the TECHNIQUE now being used which is what the piece you are reading is about.

The thing is, thanks to CGI, a while back it became possible to COMPREHENSIVELY WHACK an actor. I mean, they now casually step into the street and get clobbered by a BUS.

In the past, if you wanted to write out a character in this manner, you had to employ an expensive stunt team. The driver of a car would drive at a sedate speed down the street, while a heavily padded double for the actor would roll gracefully over the car’s bonnet, bounce off the windscreen as the driver braked – then roll back down the bonnet and land sprawled on the road, facing away from the camera.

HIGHLY unconvincing.

But now, thanks to Digital, the actor THEMSELF gets nailed – and by a vehicle they could not POSSIBLY avoid being KILLED by.

With modern tech, the trick is actually pretty simple – and CHEAP. It consists of digitally compositing three elements. (1) the actor walks into the street – then moves out of shot (2) with the camera still rolling, the bus, truck, trolley, train, whatever, drives over the spot – at SPEED – then (3) back in the studio, the “in-between” shot is recorded against a green-screen.

If the actor is fit, a harness is strapped to them – they then pose in the position they were in on that street shot (the director lines them up with the playback) – and when said director shouts “action” – three burly grips YANK said actor off their feet onto some mattresses, in the direction the vehicle would have knocked them.

A few takes for safety and there it is. The post-production SFX people then composite the three elements together on their computer and that character is dramatically and spectacularly REMOVED.

So, actors – if you want to remain in employment – LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING!


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