A realistic special effect bullet hit is an elaborate magic trick that requires careful planning and quality materials to produce convincing results. Of course, no actual bullets are ever fired, but the audience will believe the effect if it’s well crafted.
Always keep in mind that the most important concern for an operator when creating a bullet hit is the safety of talent and crew. The director, cinematographer, actors, and special effects operator have to work together to develop and execute a plan that mitigates risk of injury.
We posted a video that demonstrates a variety of bullet hits and explains the techniques used to achieve them: Filmmaking Tutorial: Action Scene with Practical Bullet Hit Effects. This video presents some practical information on how to produce masterful images with minimal risk and get them on film.
HOW TO CREATE BULLET HITS EFFECTS
Selecting the bullet hit effect you'll use depends on the target. Is it a person? A metal surface? Dirt, red brick, cinder block, concrete, asphalt, wood, sheetrock?
The composition of the target determines the plan and materials you’ll want to simulate a convincing bullet impact.
BULLET HIT EFFECTS ON PEOPLE
There are two common methods for creating bullet hits on people. In one, small pyrotechnic charges pop a bag filled with fake blood. The other uses compressed air released into a tube filled with blood to cause a realistic splatter.
PYROTECHNIC BULLET HITS
The pyrotechnic method of delivering blood bullet hits requires licensing and permits from the ATF, the state government, and the local fire department.
In the pyrotechnic method of delivering blood bullet hits, tiny explosive charges pop holes through plastic bags of fake blood concealed in costuming. The costuming has been “distressed” with a stippler or a rotary cutter to weaken the fabric so a hole forms right where the operator wants it—and then blood spurts out.
For a pyrotechnic bullet hit, the operator incorporates several layers of protection to shield the talent from the explosive charge. The pyrotechnic device is seated in either a durable plastic or brass shield and is taped to a fake blood bag. The shield is then backed with a highly-shock absorbent material like sorbothane. The completed blood hit gets taped inside costuming. On cue, the operator triggers the charge and blood spills out of the freshly made hole in the wardrobe.
A simple way to understand how big productions deliver bullet hits on a person is to check out the instructional video for The Hit Kit. The Hit Kit streamlines the assembly of fake blood hits. The kit is designed for the lead-free pyrotechnic charges that many studios and organizations now require.
NON-PYROTECHNIC BULLET HITS
The Air Squib Kit
Another frequently utilized method of delivering fake blood bullet hits is The Air Squib Kit, or some sort of pressurized air rig. The Air Squib unit uses compressed air to push the fake blood through costuming. The Air Squib method is shown in the demo video Bullet Hit Effect and Dust Hit Effect (the squib is triggered at 0:22 seconds).
The Air Squib approach features a very discrete Air Squib Nozzle that is easily attached to costuming with the custom cut Air Squib Tape patch. The nozzle is connected to one end of a tube filled with fake blood, the other end of the tube is connected to the Air Squib device. The Air Squib device can then be triggered by a wireless remote—forcing the blood to shoot out on cue.
For a comprehensive demonstration of the operation and materials of the air squib approach, check out the product demonstration video Air Squib Bullet Hit.
The Stearic Acid Gun Kit
There’s another non-pyrotechnic approach to delivering blood bullet hits: The Stearic Acid Gun Kit. Operators make fake blood capsules out of brittle wax (stearic acid) that can be used on human skin. The operator then propels the capsules at low-velocity at the talent. The capsules pop on impact, leaving a glob of fake blood.
The Stearic Acid Gun Kit is a very low cost way to deliver great looking blood bullet hits.
BULLET HITS ON MATERIALS (NOT PEOPLE)
DO NOT FIRE SWEENEY MARBLE HITS, CAPSULES, ZIRC HITS, OR DUST HITS AT PEOPLE OR ANIMALS! DO NOT FIRE TECHNO BALLS AT PEOPLE OR ANIMALS!
When you want to recreate bullet hits on metal surfaces like the side of a car, tank, boat, or plane, there are Zirc Hits. Zirc Hits create a flash of sparks on impact and they can be fired from a paintball gun. If you would like to see what the impact of a Zirc Hit looks like on camera, cue Bullet Hit Effect and Dust Hit Effect to 0:18 seconds. The impacts on the large barrels are from this type of hit.
Zirc Hits are a pyrotechnic item. To purchase Zirc Hits in the state of California, you’ll need an ATF FEL, a Pyrotechnician’s License, A Permit to Purchase from the Local Fire Department, and a completed Pyro Agreement.
Nearly Every Other Material
For bullet hits on nearly every material other than metal, your go-to is Sweeney Dust Hits.
Sweeney Dust Hits are .69 calibre spheres (the same size as paintballs) so they can be fired out of a paintball gun. They’re filled with dust and create an impressive cloud on impact. We sell them in a variety of colors to make it easy to approximate the color of the material you’re shooting. They come in tan Fuller’s Earth, brick red, cement grey, black Fuller’s Earth, white talcum powder, and tan Walnut Dust. You can even build custom Sweeney Dust Hits using Sweeney Capsules and a matching filler material of your own choosing.
Techno Ball Dust Hits are another option. Techno Dust Hits fly straighter and faster because their casings are dimpled like golf balls. The casings also are made of material that tends to crumble, so there are no sharp edges after impact. This particular type of dust hit comes filled with a versatile reddish tan powder, at the moment, the only shade of dust available by Techno.
If you look closely at the video Bullet Hit Effect and Dust Hit Effect, you’ll notice that the good guy and the bad guy are actually using the same prop gun. It’s true.
Also, the prop gun was made of plastic and had zero moving parts.
What’s more, the getaway vehicle never went faster than 5 miles an hour.
I mention these points to highlight that well engineered filming of fake bullet hits can help you create a greater sense of realism. I also bring up these points to highlight that a heightened sense of action can be captured, even within exceedingly safe parameters.
Here's the final edit of the video: