Evolution of Car Chase Scenes in Movies

Car chase scenes in movies have come a long way since the early days of cinema. Let's dive into how things have changed from Buster Keaton movies, through the rear projection era, right up to modern purpose-built rigs for complex scenes in today's blockbusters.

In the early days, with very limited access to special effects, the filmmakers had to use tricks like filming the scene backwards to reduce the danger of, for example, causing an actual crash. With no stunt doubles and old cars that weren't very safe to begin with, it wasn't easy for the actors. After that, the industry moved into big studios, where car chases could be planned and set up in a way that was convenient for the huge film cameras to capture. Rear projection was introduced for shooting movie stars behind the wheel without any unwanted danger.

Once the film cameras got lighter, filmmakers could return to the streets. They resorted to undercranking (recording at a lower fps value) to make things look faster — a trick that is still used today. Along came other solutions, like using right-hand drive cars driven by stuntmen, while the actor sat on the left seat and just pretended to drive the car. 

Finally, a modern solution was born — the biscuit rig, where the car shell is placed on a bigger chassis, which can accommodate the stunt driver, as well as cameras and lighting equipment. It's variants of these devices that can be found on modern sets, like the Fast and Furious franchise. And with modern motion control VFX rigs, who knows what the future might bring us?

What is your favorite car chase scene? One of the modern technological marvels or something more classic?

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4 Comments

Robert K Baggs's picture

Ronin for me. The petrolhead's choice!

Casper Maarly's picture

Not too worried about Car Chases in movies. Can you do something to stop most every accident resulting in an explosion? I think that is the real cause of Global Warming.

Jim Tincher's picture

The French Connection.... amazing car chase scene....

Charles Mercier's picture

I usually don't watch violent films. As soon as I see a car flip, I simply stop watching. I recently saw a trailer where a large truck hit the back of another moving vehicle on the highway and forward flipped! Ridiculous.