Special effects and stunts can bring even the wildest imaginations to the screen, but realizing those effects is often an elaborate and seriously complicated process. It took teams of engineers to bring the animatronic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to life, and Jackie Chan routinely almost dies doing his stunts. But sometimes the truth behind your favorite scenes is less complex programming or death-defying stunt and more ridiculously hilarious circumstance or simple prop.
10Hyacinth Hippo In Fantasia
Walt Disney’s Fantasia is a masterpiece that has been inspiring children since its 1940 release. Scores of aspiring ballerinas have watched the Hyacinth Hippo scene with rapt attention. It showcases tutu-clad hippos as they pirouette across a field framed by neoclassical columns to “Dance of the Hours” by Amilcare Ponchielli. Few would suspect, however, the unfortunate truth that helped create this beautiful scene.
The artists at Disney often liked to study live models to improve their animations. They employed this technique for the scene in question, but the live model they used was not actually a hippo. Instead, Walt Disney brought in an overweight woman. The animators put her in ballet shows and a tutu and recorded her as she “tripped with lumbering grace over the live-action stage.” The point was to capture which parts of her body jiggled and quivered so they could make the bodies of the hippos do the same. Some are already probably questioning the boundary between cruel and comedy for this entry, but it gets even worse when you consider that, given that it was 1940, there was a racial motivation as well. The model was African-American, and the animators referred to her as “a negress.” So yeah, maybe more “awful reality” than “hilarious.”
9Woody’s Horse In Toy Story
Good sound effects can make or break a film, especially for an animated film. Everything has to “splat” or “kerplunk” in just the right way. But getting the right sound for a cartoon can be tricky. Sometimes the sound team needs to go to unconventional lengths for the perfect effect.
This was true for the Toy Story sound team. They left no stone unturned in their quest for the perfect sound. Or, more accurately, they left no face unlicked. To accurately portray the slobbering slurp Woody’s horse gives Woody in the film, the sound team took a poor soul far down on the artistic ladder and covered his face in peanut butter. They then drove him out to a field to find just the right cow with a peanut butter addiction. The cow enthusiastically complied with the situation and licked the peanut butter from the intern’s face. The lick-a-thon lasted for hours because the sound team needed plenty of material to make sure they got the perfect slurp.
8The Zeppelin Scene In The Last Crusade
Sometimes the fictional world of a movie scene calls for actors to act in conditions that do not exist in the real world. Good actors, of course, can bring the fictional world to life despite the limitations of the world in which they are acting. Case in point: the scene where Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are on the zeppelin in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In the movie, the scene takes place during winter, but it was actually filmed during summer. In the movie universe, the passengers were dealing with frigid temperatures that required fur coats and warm jackets, but the reality of the scene had the actors dripping with sweat.
Sean Connery’s solution to the problem was to do the scene without pants on. It was the only way for him to authentically bring his character to life, and when Harrison Ford saw how well it worked, he also took his pants off for the scene. Don’t believe it? Go back and watch, and you’ll see that the scene is mostly nothing but close-ups that only feature the actors—especially Sean Connery—from the waist up.
7Pubic Hair Wigs And Jeff Bridges’s Family
The second dream sequence in The Big Lebowski is one of the most famous scenes from the film. Jackie Treehorn has just drugged Lebowski, and he hallucinates that he’s in some surrealistic, bowling-themed porno replete with a shoe-dealing Saddam Hussein. One notable part of the scene shows Jeff Bridges, crazy-eyed and grinning, sliding between the legs of the female dancers.
The look on his face was more than acting. As he slid under the women, Jeff was looking at giant tufts of pubic hair that he was not expecting to see. The dancers thought it would be funny to play a little joke during the surreal scene, so they decided, in secret, to stuff their shorts with pubic hair wigs. As Bridges glided along the floor to Kenny Rogers’s “Just Dropped In,” he found himself the surprised viewer of some serious bush. A bit of serendipity makes the prank that much better, because the day of the prank was also the day Bridges decided to bring his family to the shoot. The dancers couldn’t have known Jeff’s family would be there, but it only made his reaction better.
6Sirens In Swingers
Swingers is a ’90s classic and an endlessly quotable movie. But it was filmed on a shoestring budget, and everything was done pretty much on the fly. Because of the lack of money, they didn’t usually have the proper permits to shoot where they were shooting. In fact, have you ever wondered about the weird audio and strange camera angles in the famous “you were so money, and you didn’t even know it” scene? Well that’s because it was shot with cops all around them demanding to see permits. You can even hear sirens in the background.
When they first stopped on the highway from Vegas to Los Angeles to shoot the scene, they fooled the cop by saying that they were just waiting for the rest of their crew and convoy. Halfway into the scene, another cop showed up, this time demanding to see a permit. One of the actors, Avram Ludwig, told the cop that their “permit” was with their producer, who had just left. While Ludwig pretended to call the producer, they just secretly kept filming. The cop started to get wise and called the first cop, but by that time they had already pretty much finished the scene. The audio, though, came entirely from the microphones on the actors rather than a boom stick, and they had to surreptitiously film around the cops. That’s why the scene sounds so off and why the camera angles are basically nothing but the backs of the actors’ heads.
5Lando Calrissian’s Helmet
Take a look at a picture Lando Calrissian’s helmet. Now take a look at a baseball glove. Do you see any similarities? You should, because Lando Calrissian’s helmet is nothing more than a baseball glove decorated with space stuff.
The prop guys for Star Wars felt a bit of designer’s block, and they couldn’t figure out how to do the helmet. Star Wars featured an insane amount of characters with unique looks and costumes, so it’s completely understandable that they would run into creative traffic jams every once in awhile. How they solved the problem, though, is pretty funny.
To clear their heads, they would often play baseball on Fridays. One Friday, one of the team members named Nilo Rodis-Jamero jokingly put a baseball glove on engineer Wade Childress’s head. Everyone was laughing, but Rodis-Jamero had a bit of a eureka moment. He pulled Childress back into the studio, and he began to take pictures of Childress with the glove on his head. That is the origin of Calrissian’s helmet.
For Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the casting calls were pretty difficult. They had to find the perfect spider. Not the perfect Spider-Man—they literally had spider auditions. Raimi wanted the perfect spider for the scene where Peter Parker receives the initial radioactive bite, but the spider that most resembled Raimi’s vision was a black widow. It would be too dangerous to use a real black widow, so entomologist Steven Kutcher brought in various spiders to “audition” for Raimi. Eventually, they found a spider that looked just right to play the part.
There was just one problem: The spider was the wrong color. The solution was makeup. Raimi explained that he wanted the scene to look as realistic as possible, and CGI simply did not look as good as a fabulous spider in drag.
The Ringwraiths, or the Nazgul, from the Lord of the Rings books and movies are some of the most terrifying and menacing evils to come out of Mordor. They are terrible creatures whose rings have faded their physical forms to nothing. Only their black robes give them shape, and they swoop from the sky on the dark wings of shadows. The only thing you’ll sense before they cut you down is a screech that sounds like the wail of every nightmare you’ve ever had.
That awful, soul-piercing screech, though, has a far less menacing origin. As has already been pointed out on this list, sound effects can come from some pretty strange places. Sound guy David Farmer started out experimenting with animal cries like those of harbor seals, but another sound tech told him it just sounded like plastic scraping together. Instead of being discouraged and looking elsewhere for the sound of pure, unadulterated evil, Kramer was inspired. His solution was a trip to Target to buy plastic cups and bowls. That’s it. He just scraped the plastic from Target together, and that is what you’re hearing when you watch the movies.
2Krupps Coffee Grinder
This innocuous coffee grinder has appeared in a few films as some serious future tech, most notably Back to the Future II. If you recall, at the end of the first film, Doc Brown appears at Marty’s home in a flying, futuristic Delorean. Doc tells Marty and Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, that they must come with him to fix a problem with their children. Doc begins to dig through Marty’s trash for fuel, and we find out that the fuel is the trash. In the future, Doc was able to purchase a “Mr. Fusion” that lets him turn ordinary garbage into the radioactive fuel necessary for time travel. The Mr. Fusion, though, is nothing other than a simple coffee grinder. They literally make no adjustments to it.
Then, in Aliens, the Mr. Fusion/Krupps Coffee Grinder is used as an integral part of the Nostromo spaceship. We like to assume that perhaps Doc Brown’s inventions become the essential key to deep space travel, and both films happen in the same universe.
The ’80s classic Predator introduced the world to one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time: the predator. The plot centers around Arnold Schwarzenegger as he fights the predator after the creature kills the rest of his special ops crew. We only catch glimpses and flashes of the alien monster throughout the first part of the film, and one of the first ways the film introduces the predator is through his creepy neon blood dripping from a leaf.
The shot lingers on the glowing green blood, and you know that the predator is going to be serious business. But once again, the effects department has fooled us with their wily ways. The predator blood is nothing more than the juice from a cracked-open glow stick mixed with K-Y Jelly.
+Aragorn’s Broken Toes
The second entry about The Lord of the Rings concerns the acting ability of Viggo Mortensen. He played a phenomenal Aragorn (to the point that many have a hard time picturing Aragorn as anyone else when reading the book series), but there is one scene where he is not acting at all. The scene in question comes from the second installment of the series, The Two Towers, and it starts with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli stumbling upon a burning heap of orc carcasses.
Aragorn and his friends believe that the lost hobbits Merry and Pippin are among the dead. In anger and frustration at letting his friends down, Aragon kicks a helmet and falls to his knees in pain. The amazing thing is, when Viggo kicked the helmet, he actually broke two toes, and him falling to his knees with a screaming howl was a real reaction to the real pain. He’s not mourning the deaths of the hobbits; he’s lamenting the destruction of two of his toes.