Chase Sequences

I’ve been watching a lot of chase scenes lately. One-Eyed Monsters lends itself to a lot of large-scale set pieces – you’re manipulating four characters that keep ending up in life-threatening situations. Add in that society as we’ve known it ended a few years back and the world is a dangerous place. The large scene/small characters aesthetic is best suited to Rube Goldberg machinations; you get yourself in a pickle and you scramble your four characters around using whatever’s on hand to get out alive, often involving all four characters in different parts of the screen.

There’s a chase scene in Episode 1. So I’ve been watching car chases to get ideas.

“do you have [pause, sigh] The Fast And The Furious?”

My favorite video store, if anyone knows me at all, knows me for going after cult indie movies from ten years ago, genre deconstructions that played a few hundred screens, anything new from Charlie Kaufman. It’s a little embarrassing to go in asking for The Transporter.

A history lesson: car chase movies got big in the 70’s. For years all vehicle scenes in movies were shot in a stationary car on a soundstage with footage of a moving road projected behind the car. In ’68, Bullitt came out and shot a chase scene with actual cars squealing around San Francisco at ridiculous speeds, and everyone fell in love with the road again. The funny thing about 70’s car chase movies is how much mileage they got out of that thrill; most of the chases from the big chase movies basically involve fast cars squealing around corners.

That’s really all there is. “Now they’re squealing around corners in a construction site; now they’re squealing around corners in a residential neighborhood; look, they’re squealing around corners in a cardboard box factory!” As on YouTube poster mentioned, there’s always a cardboard box factory.

This is kind of tame by today’s standards, though there’s something I like about the purity of it. That when I stop expecting to be dazzled I just sit and appreciate the speed of it, something modern chases take for granted. It’s a little easier to imagine myself in that car than if the car is flying off a ledge onto a moving train. But a scene like this makes a lousy adventure game (“left click to go fast, right click to squeal tires.”)

wind the frog!

A lot of modern scenes show more creativity with their chases. I finally caught up with The Road Warrior, and it’s silly but impressive. There’s that famous scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark that so many people claim is the greatest chase scene of all time, which I think is mostly nostalgia talking (the tank scene from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is sillier, but better choreographed and generally more exciting, and with a higher occurrence of Nazis defeated with fountain pens). The Bourne movies are good if you can tell what is going on.

But these mostly rely on some pretty crunchy violence for their thrills. Which is thrilling, though sometimes adolescent thrills. It’s odd, but the best inspiration for the kinds of scenes in One-Eyed Monsters is something like this:

Kids movies can’t rely on things blowing up or people firing flaming crossbows at each other, so they tend to focus on characters’ ingenuity to get them out of situations. Movies like Toy Story or The Wrong Trousers better mimic actual puzzles in a game than anything I’ve found in an action movie. And I mean that from a design standpoint. Don’t worry, plenty of things blow up in One-Eyed Monsters. But in terms of building puzzles, it’s a lot more fun for me to design something like this:

Next post: more concept art!

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