Brad Pitt

(December 18, 1963 - )

williampitt Meet Joe Black (Universal, 1998) was a horrible, plodding film weighed down by an overwrought sense of importance - but one scene in particular stands out as perhaps the greatest use of special effects in the history of American cinema. Rent this film and watch Jennifer Aniston's husband (or Gwyneth Paltrow's ex-fiance) get smacked upside down and smashed apart by not one, but two cars speeding in opposite directions.

The setup: Marcia Gay Hardin meets foppish, doe-eyed Pitt in a coffee shop. They talk, they flirt, they conform 100% to Roger Ebert's textbook definition of a Meet Cute. He says all the right things. She smiles and twists her hair, etcetera and so forth. They confess a mutual attraction toward one another, but part ways all the same. Each glances back over his or her shoulder repeatedly, so slower viewers can wrap their minds around a developing chemistry.

Then it's heartwarming movie magic as Brad Pitt carelessly steps into traffic. The most wonderful thing about this scene is sensing that the special effects crew enjoyed working overtime to ensure this moment wouldn't just be realistic, but indelibly etched in movie-goers' memories.


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 jb 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 vehicle.

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.

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