4 Hacks For Fight Atmospherics

Filmmakers gush over good stunts and fight sequences. It’s just what they do. There’s something about being in an industry where you pour your heart and soul into the craft that leads to pure appreciation and adrenaline upon witnessing fellow filmmakers doing the same. From hours of collaborating with fight masters and stuntmen/stuntwomen, to working out the appropriate camera angles and lenses, film fights are made of solid dedication. So how can we best highlight that dedication and ultimately help others gush over our work? I’m glad you didn’t ask! Here are some simple hacks for how atmospherics can better sell your fight, anyway.

First off, let’s define atmospherics. Here is my quick definition – “Atmospherics in film are any physical particles that affect the light dynamically, setting mood or giving an illusion of depth.” Yes, I expect you to write that down. There will not be a test.

Anytime you see smoky dens or smoggy streets scenes in film, you are seeing the use of atmospherics. On the surface, these effects seem to simply set mise en scene. Under than gorgeous facade, however, is a practical purpose. Atmospherics, like fog, assist light in bouncing back to the camera’s sensor, allowing a scene to feel “dark and seedy” while allowing the audience (and more importantly, the camera’s restrictive sensor) to still “see” the action. Wet pavement accomplishes the same effect for night shoots. It’s not noir-bound, people! Atmospherics not only affect mood and intake of light, but shift an audience’s perception of what a character is going through and how large an impact they just took. The art of atmospherics is surprisingly complex, and can range from simple uses of fog machines to more complex squib charges and sweeney guns. For the sake of this post, I’ll give a few hacks on using atmospherics for unarmed/non projectile combat.

Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2 (1994) using the dust-up technique.

Let’s begin! Atmospheric Hack #1 for film fights – dust up your stunt people and actors. That’s right, just throw some Fuller’s Earth on them, or on a surface/prop which will take/make an impact. When the hit, punch, whatever, hits its mark there will be a nice “poof.” This helps the impact sell, the audience track the action, and let’s face it – it just looks cool. Watch for it in film fights. I’ve just ruined the way you watch fights, haven’t I? Good.

Marvel’s Daredevil doing a spit take – Netflix, Season 1, Episode 1

Hack #2 – Have your actor take a swig of water or fake blood (the nontoxic kind. Don’t be one of those directors who makes your actor ingest a toxic substance. Or nuts. Don’t be that guy) before they are “punched” in the “jaw” or “gut.” The resulting spit take, if done right, will make the audience cringe on the character’s behalf. I do love me some Netflix Daredevil in the morning. Just be careful not to overuse this technique or have your actor take too large a swig for, say, an open-handed slap vs. a solid punch. I’ve seen it. The cool factor drops.

Hack #3 – Make use of scenic atmospherics. A punch flying through swirling smoke or shooting a fight ultra slow mo in the rain can create beautiful moments and tie into gags and environmental cinematography. So stage a fight in a “blizzard.” Just don’t be that director who makes Gene Kelly catch a cold from singing in the rain.

Into the Badlands – AMC, Season 1, Episode 1, utilizing environmental atmospherics (plus good old-fashioned milk?).

Hack #4 – Invest in effects like those found in the Action Essentials pack. Is that as much fun as doing effects in production? No, but it can help you achieve effects that would be either too dangerous or time intensive on set. You could also invest in a friendly-neighborhood VFX artist! They can apply the effects for you, or make custom effects for your scene that match your already excellent atmospherics. I recommend them (no bias).

So there you have it. A few tips on how atmospherics can help fights sizzle and leave other filmmakers gushing over your action sequences. So go out and make movie magic. Just don’t actually punch anyone. That’s what fight masters/producers are for. *wink* *wink*


And spread these tips around!

We can all appreciate the quality craft of our fellow filmmakers, learn from them, apply them, and inspire others to do the same.

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