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Old February 4th, 2010, 05:25 PM   #1
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safest way to crash a car into a tree?

as the title suggests, how would you go about crashing a car into a tree and making it look convincing? I'm working on a project in which the main character crashes his car into a tree. He is hurt pretty bad, but he walks out of it so it's not a really hard hit.
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Old February 4th, 2010, 05:29 PM   #2
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Find a junker with airbags and an actor with insurance...
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Old February 4th, 2010, 05:31 PM   #3
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already have the vehicle, '88 Mercury Grand marquis

the plan I had was to replace the seat with a racing bucket with a 5 point harness. I have a racing helmet with a visor and a neck brace. and I would run it into the tree at 20MPH.

any other suggestions?
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Old February 4th, 2010, 06:36 PM   #4
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Couple of suggestions. 1. Change script to have actor hit by car, easy to do in After Effects without any chance of anyone getting hurt. 2. Sell car, neck brace, helmet with visor, 5 point harness and buy more gear or After Effects if you need that to accomplish step one above. 3. Save a tree and any chance of getting hurt.

If possible I can try and convince my ex to do this but generally she rides a broom.

Overall I would classify this under "bad idea."

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Old February 4th, 2010, 06:40 PM   #5
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Why not just make the crash happen offscreen? After the implied collision you can cut to a CU of the actor w/some fake blood on his face (or whatever) and a little smoke or stream to make it look like the radiator busted.

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Old February 4th, 2010, 07:00 PM   #6
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Andrew's idea is a good one also and here is a link to the AE I talked about.

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Old February 4th, 2010, 07:09 PM   #7
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I don't have After effects, and I don't have $1000 for it.
there has got to be a film trick or something. people were making movies a long time before computers were around

more suggestions?
and I'd like to hear more suggestions, don't just shoot down my only idea
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Old February 4th, 2010, 07:18 PM   #8
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Hey Alec, You are right, crash it. BUT BEFORE YOU DO!!! Consult someone who knows what they are doing. There has to be a professional stunt man around.... Or you could call the stunt man (not sure on the name here) guild down in LA and see if they have a local recommendation for you. AND MAKE SURE you buy insurance for anything that could go wrong, make sure all involved have signed professional prepared waivers to take the liability off of yourself should your driver become disabled because of the stunt and make sure that you have a crew that will get the shot the first time. Also make sure you notify the local police and get permission (crashing a car on purpose or otherwise and not reporting it) is not legal and you could be charged with several things. Is there a place that runs demolition derbies near you? They might be able to help also. I think you might find that after all of this that 1K for After Effects might be a cheaper way to go. Or you could go out and whack the thing into a tree and take your chances...... BTW hitting a stationary object like a tree at 20 mph is like jumping off a two story building....
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Old February 4th, 2010, 07:37 PM   #9
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I'm not sure whether you want the safest way or the cheapest. One way it's typically done is to run a cable to the front underside of the car and pull it into the tree. If the cable is visible you remove it in post. But you need special gear to pull the cable fast enough so it looks convincing. The car is pulled by a cable so you don't run the risk of it missing the tree or bouncing off it or going too fast or slow.

But the gear for this and the personnel to run it properly, convincingly, safely and legally would cost way, way more than AE or any other software.

No one's trying to stomp on your creative vision, and admittedly there's probably nothing that will look as good and realistic as actually doing it. But you must take a hard look at your budget to see if you really can do this. Even if you can get permission from the city or county to do this, are you prepared to hire two off-duty cops to stop traffic in both directions on the street while you rehearse and shoot? And the fire department as well as paramedics to be standing by if something goes wrong, which all real productions do and I imagine is because it's legally required? This isn't run n' gun at the local mall -- you will attract attention and could wind up in jail if you don't dot your i's and cross your t's....

Even if the tree is way out in the country on someone's private properly, I'd really urge to think twice about this.

Jerry's right. Find a local stuntman and find out if it's even possible to do what you want on your budget.
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Old February 4th, 2010, 09:36 PM   #10
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I gotta agree with others and say this sounds like a horrible, horrible idea. Do you actually have someone willing to crash into a tree at 20mph?? I can only hope they are a true professional stuntman with experience. Otherwise you guys are truely flirting with danger and risk serious injury, jailtime and/or lawsuit. Do you know how many of these stunts go wrong?! Yes, people were making movies long before computers were around... but they also had quite large budgets ($1000 was nothing compared to what they spend on an average car crash).

My advice, go with crazy camera angles, fast edits, and if needed fade to black with the sound of a car crash dubbed in. That way viewers get to picture a horrible crash, and envision the worst. The fast editing will help build momentum into thinking something bad is coming then BAM! Then fade up from black showing the drivers bloodied, hunched over or whatever.
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Old February 4th, 2010, 09:51 PM   #11
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If you do not have $1,000 to buy After-effects, to even stage this stunt, you need to examine whether you should even be doing it at all.

I have a sense that despite best entreaties towards caution and prudence, you will go ahead anyway.

The only safe way to do this on the cheap will be to crash the car with a dummy in the driver's seat.

Stunt work and its preparation is a finely honed craft. Any mug can do it - once. Living or dying or permanent disabilty is another matter. It is one thing you should not be thinking of scrimping on.

The five-point harness etc., could be a good move but there needs to be added well designed structure to support it otherwise the harness itself becomes lethal.

You will also need to be sure the airbag circuitry actually works, a potentially dangerous exercise in itself for the home-mechanic. It may or may not be safe for use with a helmetted driver. Stunt people already know the risks and solutions.

You need to ensure the older car remains structurally sound as designed, has not rusted in critical cabin areas, developed cracks or been patched up after a previous crash. Any of these may alter the deformation sequence and crush the driver space instead which would be a very uncomfortable situation.

My inclination would be to not do this in spite of the Police etc., but to engage with them in perhaps doing the stunt as a film stunt but also to have the respective emergency services involved an a "practice" response and rescue.

They do this from time to time and might even have one scheduled which you might be able to tap into with "your" car.

The alternative is to find an already head-onned wreck, place it against the tree with a dummy in the pilot's seat, jack the rear up the rear, get a friendly pyro guy to explode the screen, debris and headlights out forwards and drop the rear of the car to illude the post-impact rebound. A half-second afterwards, drop branches and leaves straight down from the canopy of the tree.

For the prelude to the impact, drive your good car up to the tree, roll camera, call action and reverse the car away from the tree with your real driver in place looking forwards, then reverse and speed up the action in post. Do some other shots in the sequence, say a POV driver, CU on driver at point of impact, thrown forward, airbag goes off, stuff flies forward off the rear parcel shelf.

Just a thought.

Last edited by Bob Hart; February 4th, 2010 at 10:11 PM. Reason: error
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Old February 4th, 2010, 10:52 PM   #12
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If you've got to do it consider:

#1 Show car approaching tree, then separate clip without a driver and closeup on front of car and tree during impact without a driver. Show aftermath of driver in a separate clip. Make sure your camera and crew are not directly under any of the tree in case something breaks loose.

#2 Use a cheap cam and suction mount with view over top of hood looking at tree as driverless car hits tree. You could even pull this off with an older HDV or HV20 cam or even a SureShot in movie mode and bleach it out, distort it, shake it.... so it is abstract and it's not so obvious it's a cheap cam. Show the view from the driver and leave the driver out of the car.

#3 Combine 1 and 2 (cam's gonna come off in #2, could be great or could look terrible)

Last edited by Roger Shealy; February 5th, 2010 at 07:52 AM.
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Old February 4th, 2010, 11:26 PM   #13
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I really appreciate this guys, this is the information I was looking for. I really am going to take this seriously and take all of the necessary precautions.
Things I overlooked:
1) the police. I should give them a call and see if this is even a legal thing to do. the actual scene would happen just off the side of the road which is private property, but we will be using the public road.
2)having emergency response on the scene. I just assumed this was out of the question, but it wouldn't hurt to ask around and see if it can be done. better safe than dead.

details already in consideration:
1) the five point will not be strapped to the existing drivers seat. the seat will be replaced with a racing seat. (not using the existing seat mount, but bolting it directly to the sturdy frame)
2)the car does not have airbags which would be safer for wearing a helmet. as far as I know, there should NEVER be anything between your face and an airbag.
3)the cameras will be framed so that the driver isn't visible.
4) we have revised the actual gameplan to consist of running the car to the tree, slamming on the brakes (with time to slow down a bit) and aiming to hit it about 5MPH ish. then, take it down to the shop down the street, pull the drivetrain and radiator, weaken the front end considerably, then take it back up to the scene. place it against the tree and shove it into the tree with a tractor with cameras rolling (without anyone in it). that way we get the most EFFECT with minimal IMPACT.
5) I will be sure to check and triple check the structural integrity of the car. I will be driving it, and will be the ultimate deciding factor of whether it happens or not.
6) I'm going to call my insurance agent and see about the possibility of insuring self inflicted injury.

I'm sure I'm leaving some major details out, but there's still a couple weeks before we want to shoot it. please keep the discussion coming guys. I have a few phone calls to make tomorrow.
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Old February 5th, 2010, 04:03 AM   #14
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I was gonna suggest hiring Grant Imahara from MythBusters to create a radio-controlled car! :-)

But the cable-pulled vehicle idea might be best. Get a tow company to help.

I would NOT put a driver into a car to crash. What's worse than killing someone is having them permanently disabled. And that's much more likely than killing them.

Carefully consider the effect, what needs to be done to get the desired look, and then determine what it might cost. But don't let the lack of money let you get short-changed on safety. If you can't afford it, don't do it.

Instead, look at the lack of funding as a challenge to think different.

Most of all, realize that it's just a movie. If you end up paraplegic, will anyone care? Will it matter? Is it worth it? As a news photographer I've covered a lot of accident scenes. Trust me. It's not as trivial as it might look. Doesn't take much to mangle up a human being.
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Old February 5th, 2010, 07:29 AM   #15
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Sorry but you are out of your league here.
Many good comments that you have completely ignored!
Your last post shows that you have no clue.

There are so many ways to pull this off without crashing a car.

Not trying to piss in your pool, but you really need to rethink this.

All the Best!
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