Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The secret to the Joker’s pencil trick is that there is no pencil

Illustration for article titled The secret to the Joker’s pencil trick is that there is no pencilem/em
Screenshot: The Dark Knight (YouTube)

While the opening bank heist is technically the first scene in which we see him, the Joker’s real introduction in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight comes during the famous pencil trick scene. This is where Gotham’s mob elite and the audience at home first begin to understand that this Joker guy (Heath Ledger) is dangerous, unpredictable, and a real fan of magic. In a recent oral history put together by Vulture, the film’s production team discusses the logistics behind pulling off this jarring and impressive visual effect.

“It’s not particularly difficult to build a CG pencil and track it in and kind of make it disappear out,” says visual effects supervisor Nick Davis before conceding that a CG effect was not ultimately what director Christopher Nolan wanted for the scene. That’s because The Dark Knight was shot on IMAX, which makes post-production visual effects a little more difficult to make look good. So, the team was forced to come up with a more simplistic solution and, in the end, they went with the simplest solution of all: Just get rid of the pencil.

“You just shoot it twice: one with the pencil and one without the pencil,” says production designer Nick Crowley, who had previous experience doing “magic tricks” with camera editing while working on The Prestige. Once they had the two shots, the plan was just stitch them together in the edit. But that meant they still needed a good shot of the unnamed henchman—played by Charles Jarman—getting his head slammed into the table. “We did something like 22 takes over two days,” Jarman says. “[I had] three [knockouts] that I can remember.” Clearly, Heath Ledger wasn’t the only one in that room deeply committed to his role.

You can read the full oral history here.

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