What a smashing stunt! Breaking glass...
The use of shattering glass in production looks dramatic on the big screen. The methodology behind breaking stunt glass is really interesting and there are many considerations when using it.
This article is for people who are interested in becoming a stunt performer and want to understand the use of stunt glass in a production.
Here's a good example...
I'm going to talk about the film Trainspotting 2 where I was privileged to be asked to put together an action scene with the Director Danny Boyle. The fight scene involved a fall back onto a glass table with the use of a detonator.
The setting was in a house that was being burgled in the middle of the night and I was the homeowner. After hearing a noise downstairs I went to investigate what was going on only to find intruders confronting me. This is the moment where I was confronted by one of them and if you look in the background in the doorway, you can see the other, this character was played by Robert Carlisle. Having realised what was going on I said some expletives and turned around. The stunt performer doubling Robert Carlisle came hurtling towards me and you can see this stunt in my showreel.
Robert's stunt double hit me with great force and I was propelled on to the glass table. With my weight, the weight of the stunt performer and the speed at which he hit me, the end result was impressive.
As those of you in the industry will know, Danny Boyle is a perfectionist and the intricacies of the glass smashing was really important - the effect in the end was brilliant.
Each of us involved in this scene had our own concerns, of course the overall responsibility lay in the hands of the Director Danny Boyle but the other stunt performer and I had some major safety considerations.
I was wearing pads, however, so much can go wrong when landing on smashed glass. I also had the responsibility of the other stunt performer making sure that he fell on top of me, not into a pile of broken glass. The stunt performer had his concerns, how hard should he launch himself into me? How can he protect himself from the glass underneath us both? We all managed to do a great job and the end result was very dramatic, perfect for the big screen.
Let's move on and talk about the most common types of glass that are used in productions, there are four. Stunt glass, otherwise known as 'breakaway' glass can be made of:
Sugar glass – it is created from water, sugar, glucose and corn syrup. It looks and sounds convincing when used in a scene such as in the form of a beer bottle in a bar brawl but has its limitations for use. For example, due to its construction, most liquids can’t be used in it and when it’s made, it can soften if it’s not used. If it is used in the form of a wine bottle, more often than not, it breaks up well before impact if the bottle is swung in a fight scene. This is due to the base of the bottle being heavier than the neck and this problem would need to be taken into consideration with the choreography.
Synthetic resins – the materials used in stunt glass has evolved and improved massively, now producing excellent shattering effects as seen when using synthetic resins such as Piccotex or SMASH. Thermoplastics are easily moldable and brittle the products created can last and be stored a lot longer than sugar glass. It also provides even more realistic noise and visual effects.
Rubber glass - is a catalyzed silicone product created when two specific liquids are poured into a container and left overnight to turn into a solid, water clear rubber that can be easily broken or 'crumbled'. Rubber glass is often used in piles on the floor after a glass smashing stunt so the actors and stunt performers can walk on it safely.
At some point in your life you must have walked passed a telephone box that has been vandalised and seen the broken glass on the floor. You would have noticed that the pile of glass was in chunks rather than the shards of glass you would get from dropping a wine glass on your kitchen floor. For safety reasons tempered glass is used more and more now in every day life because it's less likely to cause injury with human impact. It is ideal to use in stunt work, but what makes it more ideal than the alternatives?
It is a type of 'safety glass', processed by chemical or thermal treatments to increase the strength compared to that of normal glass
Tempering puts the outer surfaces of the glass into compression and the interior into tension, so, when the glass breaks up it crumbles into granular, chunky pieces instead of shards of sharp deadly glass
When used as stunt glass the ‘popper’ technique is used sometimes to shatter a pane of glass the moment a prop gun is fired or just before a stunt performer makes an impact
Tempered glass can be laminated so when it breaks it can remain as a sheet rather than lots of little chunks
A scene in a production could involve the use of different types of stunt glass and special effects depending on the complexity of the scene.
We got it just right in this bar fight involving stunt glass in Peaky Blinders.
John Wick 3 - it was a smashing success!
Let's take a look at the action packed movie John Wick 3. The fight scene in the glass building is outstanding, the setting in the room where the fight begins is very impressive, it's a room full of glass cabinets where Keanu Reeves fights with assassins. With a combination of awesome choreography, skilled stunt performers, actors, special effects and great direction from the Stunt Coordinator and Director this adds up to outstanding movie mastery. So what are some of the shatteringly impressive considerations that went into the scene?
Great special effects! As you can imagine this scene would have been a health & safety nightmare with the use of so much glass so a lot of the fantastic effects were added digitally after filming
Some of the panels of stunt glass that they used were set off by detonators just before impact from a body
The actors and stunt performers did a lot of miming pretending to smash glass
Glass on the floor would have been rubber glass to reduce the risk of injury
Of course every stunt comes with an element of risk and before they could do retakes, every bit of glass had to be cleaned up. The tiniest piece of stunt glass can cause issues especially if you are rolling in it and it can gets your clothing or worse case, in your eyes.
What are the most important factors when using stunt glass in a production?
Health & safety above all
Insurance because accidents do happen
Script breakdown - so you know what glass is needed and how much
Miming - much like in the scene in John Wick 3 miming a reaction and adding the effect afterwards is a good option
Custom made stunt glass - there a limited amount of places that can produce custom made stunt glass and more money will need to go into the filming budget
There are other points but they are the main ones, we will cover other breakable objects used in stunts such as wooden chairs in another article.
Read the article 10 considerations when choreographing a fight scene so you can see other considerations when it comes an the actual fight.
Find out about the best glass breaking scenes in movies here. Great movies such as Blade Runner, Die Hard and The Matrix.
If you have any questions or require a quote for fight coordinating contact me today on 07770934916.