There's a striking shot in the trailer for Django Unchained where a sharp-shooting Jamie Foxx blasts an evildoer off his horse, spraying the cotton fields with blood in extreme close-up. Consider that a mere appetizer, though, for the bloody feast that is the actual feature. In Quentin Tarantino's Django world, characters don't simply get shot and then bloodlessly slump to the ground; instead, they're blasted backward as a gigantic (and chunky) crimson geyser erupts from their wound. How did Tarantino do it? We rang up Django's special-effects coordinator, John McLeod, for the lowdown on all of that spilled blood.
"Actually, Quentin gave us quite a bit of direction on all of those scenes," said McLeod, who was responsible for concocting a blood bag that would be hidden in the actor's outfit, then triggered to explode outward — a "hit."
"We'd go from the smallest of hits, these little pinprick-style hits where the blood just dribbles out of a little hole, to the full-on gushers that have everybody ducking for cover behind the couch," laughed McLeod. "One of Quentin’s directions was that he wanted the hits in some of the scenes to be very meaty. He kept pushing for it: 'I want to see flesh and meat ripping as the squibs are going off. I don’t want to see a bunch of liquid; I wanna see a meaty effect!' So we were trying to introduce different materials, strips of latex, little bits of particles, that we put inside the blood bag."
To blow the blood bag open, McLeod uses a squib, triggered to explode after an electric charge is delivered either through a remote control or a hidden wire. "Behind that, we have a metallic shield that protects the actor and directs all the energy of the squib outward through the bag," explained McLeod. "Of course, the bigger the squib is, the bigger the hit is that your actor takes against his body, so that’s where we had to be careful."
Were some of the actors reluctant to strap giant explosives to their chest? "We encountered a bit of that," admitted McLeod. "Quentin definitely wanted the most out of everybody, so I would basically suggest to the actor that if they were having a problem, we should talk to Quentin. Most times, the guys were game, but some of the hits really stung and left little red marks or a little bit of a black and blue. You definitely don’t have to do much acting when those large-scale hits are going off!"
McLeod was particularly careful during Django's third-act mansion shootout, where "those squibs were probably approaching the biggest squibs I’ve ever done on humans," he confessed. "I mean, hundreds of gallons of blood and thousands of squibs. When you see the film, the walls were literally painted with blood. Nothing was added onto the walls; it was all actual fallout from the bullet hits on the people’s bodies. We would kill some of the actors eight or nine times."
And though you might not expect much restraint from the auteur behind bloody flicks like Django, Kill Bill, and Pulp Fiction, McLeod said that even Tarantino had his limits. "There's one scene when the guys get up on the rocks and fire down on the group sleeping around the campfire, and we did a couple of hits on those guys that people were referring to as, uh, 'the Bellagio fountain,'" McLeod laughed. "The blood from those hits was going very great distances up and outward in the air, and that was the point where Quentin said, 'I think you might have gone a little too far on that one.' But he was laughing like he enjoyed it, so ..."
McLeod chuckled. "The funny thing is, later on, we surpassed that. So I think it all depends on the mood he was in."