When Heath Ledger uttered the immortal words, “How about a magic trick?” in The Dark Knight, he wasn’t lying about what we were about to see.
Cast and crew who worked on the grisly scene have explained how it worked, how they ultimately ended up going with slight of hand instead of CGI, and how the stuntman on the receiving end of the Joker’s desk slam was knocked out several times and could easily have been seriously injured or even died.
“I think even Chris [Nolan, director] assumed we were going to have to do some CG,” VFX supervisor Nick Davis told Vulture.
“It’s not particularly difficult to build a CG pencil and track it in and kinda make it disappear out.... [But] wherever possible, we tried not to do unnecessary visual effects shots.”
Instead, Nolan, who had worked with his production team on magic tricks in previous film The Prestige, decided to stage the stunt for real, with the stuntman swiping the pencil away at the last minute – so swiftly and at such an angle that it wouldn’t be obvious to the viewer.
“We did a couple of half-speed rehearsals just to get the hand action of my right hand sweeping across, taking the pencil as my body was going down, and my head striking the blank surface,” stunt actor Charles Jarman recalled to Vulture. “It was a little hairy, because the pencil’s stuck in the table. If, for some reason, I didn’t get my hand in time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Well, possibly through a Ouija board.”
Jarman apparently had “three knockouts” while filming the scene, which was the only time Heath Ledger broke character, asking Jarman “Are you okay? Are you okay?”
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