Stunt Reaction Tutorial: A Step by Step Walkthrough (Additional Notes)
This series of Stunt Reaction Tutorial, is a step by step walkthrough that focuses on reactions, and with these tools, how to perform screen action choreography and stunt scenes safely.
The system we are sharing here is the standard non-contact stunt reaction system that is used across the world by most stunt groups. From the traditional Hong Kong choreographers, to the Hollywood stunt teams.
Of course this isn’t the only system, but it’s the safer one that is most sustainable for actors and stunt performers alike.
Stunt Reaction Tutorial A: Head Backward Reaction
This is the reaction for forward or upward driving impacts, some examples are;
- Jab punches
- Straight Cross punches
- Uppercut punches
Additional Safety Notes
When it comes to this particular reaction, you want to be very careful not to whip your head so hard that you give yourself a concussion.
Limit how far you go back, you never want to hyper-flex the disks of your spine. That’s when base of your skull bumps into the neck. That’s a quick access pass to involuntary-whiplash-town.
Grappler’s neck conditioning exercises will help. As well as a well rounded neck warm up routine.
Stunt Reaction Tutorial B: Head Side-To-Side Reaction
This is the reaction for sideways driving impacts, some examples are;
- Straight punches (side-ward traveling)
- Hook punches
- Roundhouse kicks
- Hook kicks
- Horizontal elbows
Additional Safety Notes
For this reaction, you want to explore how much to relax your neck in the middle of the motion. If you stiffen it up throughout the motion, on one hand it wouldn’t look convincing, on the other it would unnecessarily strain it.
The resistance and tension should only be engaged nearing the last 10 to 20 degrees, from the end range of your neck to slow the whip.
There’s a small ‘rebound’ that happens after you bounce back from the end range that helps to increase the amount of perceived impact. Almost like your head reached the end of it’s natural turning range, and it gets whipped back and shakes a little.
If you have jiggly cheeks it really helps to sell it. Or long hair to whip it around.
Stunt Reaction Tutorial C: Midriff & Hips Reaction
This is the reaction for impacts going into the gut, rib and crotch, some examples are;
- Straight punches (toward the stomach)
- Liver shots
- Teep/Front/Push/Stomp kicks
- Nut kick/knee
A common mistake when doing this reaction would be the tendency to do a bunny hop when initiating the hip bump. It removes quite a bit of the persuasiveness when you do that. Nobody can punch you so hard it lifts you body weight off the ground in a realistic genre, unless it’s a superhuman/supernatural show.
It kinda works when it comes to the nut kick though. But for the gut punch, what you can do to avoid this tendency is to force one leg to be firmly planted. Hence the most that would happen is that only one feet will do a little hop and that works just fine.
Non-Contact Reaction System Final Words
With this I wrap up the 3 most commonly used bread and butter stunt reaction techniques. Reactions that every stunt performer or action actor should be familiar with.
You can also apply the same principles to any other parts of the body.
These are the principles and techniques, but nothing beats real on-the-job experience to putting these into practice. Little nuanced details that you didn’t know that you didn’t know will start coming into play.
For instance, how to know if your positions and striking angles will register on screen. When to react depending on where the hit is coming in relative to the camera position. What size of reaction should you deliver to each kinds of hits, and when to go big or small via judging from the distance and width of the shot.
In general, the further away the camera is, the bigger the reaction that you should give, in order for it to translate to the audience. And the closer the camera the more nuanced you should go in order not to over-sell or end up fall out of the shot entirely.
Now go out there and throw those punches with the proper safety distance. Have fun and stay safe!
Real-Contact Systems Brief Note
Before I end this article;
Here’s just a touch and go note on the other kind of system, that I briefly mentioned at the start of the article. There is another school of thought, that believes in true contact and real impacts.
There’s so much to be explored and discussed regarding that system. And it’ll take an entire other walkthrough series to address sufficiently. For example, direct comparisons of different hits and which one sells better within what kinds of shots. And of course the obvious question about how sustainable is it really. To have your actors sock each other, and how many takes in that situation would be too many.
An iconic one you may be familiar with would be the original works of Tony Jaa, like the Protector or the Ong Bak series for example. And you’ll also see it in Jeeja Yanin’s works like Chocolate & Raging Phoenix. All of the above which are made in Thailand.
Their hits and impact feels visceral and extremely convincing.
The reason is that for that would be because for the majority of their hits, they actually make contact. Of course they aren’t going ham on each other. I’m sure they only give as much as the choreography require, and they would only give more impact and follow through for specific shots where it is vital.
But wow, these Thai stunt performers are amazing and insanely dedicated to offer that much of their bodies like that.
The question is how much to use of which system, as it’s not an ‘either or’ situation. You can integrate both, but the questions would be in what percentage of each would be most effective to sell the scene. Without killing your actors and performers that is.
For instance, in Donnie Yen’s works, you can see that they use about a 80 : 20 ratio of non-contact to contact proportions. Where they go close-up for specific shots and they go for limited genuine contact. And they shoot in it slow-motion, and use that to enhance the impact without needing to knock out the actor’s teeth.
I’ll look at making that series that discusses this another time if there’s enough interest in it. Because to make that I’ll need to take real hits to show the difference. Hence I’ll only do it if there’s actual demand for it, it’ll hurt .__.
Peps Goh is a Singapore based Fight Designer, providing Action Choreography & Coordination services for both screen and stage.
He also holds screen-combat & stunt seminars annually for actors & performers. Private coaching sessions up to a group of 4 are available. For business inquiries, you can reach him at PepsGoh@Gmail.com