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When Jeff Campbell, a visual effects supervisor with VFX studio Spin, initially set to work on the first “John Wick,” the 2014 action thriller from director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, he started with an industry-standard test: Establish a single, simple kill effect meant to get a sense of the look of the violence the filmmakers were after. “We did different levels of blood and gore,” Campbell remembers. “Everything up to the look of ‘300’ (2006), where it’s slo-mo blood flying everywhere.”
What Campbell found was surprising: Stahelski and Kolstad, both former stuntmen, asked for the violence to be stripped down, understated and “totally real.” “They wanted us to dial it all back, [using] just a little blood mist and muzzle flashes,” he says. “These are stunt guys, right? They claim they have seen all these effects before. They’ve witnessed broken limbs, gunshots. They’d sometimes catch us and say: ‘That’s not what a gunshot looks like’ or ‘No, the limbs shouldn’t break like that.’”
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One of the striking things about the “John Wick” movies, including “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” which Summit Entertainment released May 17, is this commitment to authenticity when much of what happens in the films is over-the-top. The violence in the “John Wick” series is often brutal, as Keanu Reeves, playing the titular hit man, cruises the streets on quests of ruthless vengeance. But from the beginning, Stahelski and Kolstad have tempered their approach.
“A lot of times when you’re doing special effects for action movies, when someone gets shot, the blood explodes out toward you, toward the camera,” says Kirk Brillon, who was visual effects supervisor on 2017’s “John Wick: Chapter 2.” “But when you’re actually shot by a bullet, the blood’s coming out the...
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