Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is often hailed as one of the best superhero movies. Even after a decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nolan's trilogy still towers above the rest. It's been ten years since Heath Ledger played one of the best Jokers on the big screen, and since the movie's release, many fans have wondered about the infamous pencil trick that the villain performs. Upon watching the movie for the first time, the pencil trick scene came off as one of the more brutal moments. Thankfully, we now know how the trick was performed.
The Dark Knight pencil scene happens when the Joker is trying to assemble a mob crew to take down Batman. He takes a pencil out of his pocket, stabs it into a table, leaving it standing straight up, and asks if anyone wants to see a magic trick and watch a pencil disappear. It's at this time that a goon approaches the Joker to take him down, only to have the lunatic villain drive the goon's head into the table, causing the pencil to go through his eye and brain, instantly killing him. The pencil disappears as promised.
In new interviews with some of The Dark Knight cast and crew, the pencil trick has been demystified. And no, it was not a trick done with computer wizardry, but that wasn't always going to be the case. Nick Davis served as visual effects supervisor for the movie, and states that even Christopher Nolan thought at first that it would have to be done in post-production with CGI. Davis had this to say about the decision not to use digital effect for the pencil trick.
"It's not particularly difficult to build a CG pencil and track it in and kinda make it disappear out. But we shot it in IMAX, so you see it on a giant, great, big canvas. Wherever possible, we tried not to do unnecessary visual effects shots because, digitally, you can never really re-create an IMAX image."
So how did the Joker pull off that infamous pencil trick if no CGI trickery was used? Stuntman and goon actor Charles Jarman was the lucky man who got to make the pencil disappear. According to Jarman, they had to do 22 takes and they tried different tables over the course of two days. In the end, it was some quick movement from the stuntman that made the pencil disappear. Jarman explains.
"I remember Christopher Nolan saying to me, Look, we're going to do a couple of shots where you need to be able to take that pencil away. We did a couple of half-speed rehearsals just to get the hand action of my right hand sweeping across, taking the pencil as my body was going down, and my head striking the blank surface. It was a little hairy, because the pencil's stuck in the table. If, for some reason, I didn't get my hand in time, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Well, possibly through a Ouija board."
During the course of the 22 takes, Charles Jarman admits that he was knocked out three times from Heath Ledger ramming his head into the table. Jarman says that Ledger only appeared on the set as the Joker and that he would leave the room during takes to come back as the character as a part of his method acting. The only time that Ledger broke character was after Jarman was knocked out, asking the stuntman, "are you okay? Are you okay?" As it turns out, the pencil trick was all real with some sleight of hand magic to pull it off with a great actor and stuntman. The pencil trick breakdown was first reported by Vulture.