‘Of Course,’ Keanu Reeves Actually Shot Those John Wick Chapter 4 Desert Scenes, But One Part Had To Be Digitally Altered

In the world of modern cinema digital effects can truly make anything look real. However, because of that, viewers can no longer be entirely certain how much of what they’re watching is real and how much was created inside a computer. We know how hard Keanu Reeves works to make the John Wick action sequences legit, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get a little CGI help now and then.

One thing that digital effects allow is for movies to avoid traveling to difficult locations, by using green screens and other tricks to create the necessary locations from inside a soundstage. However, in the case of John Wick: Chapter 4, the production still went to Jordan to film some complex desert scenes. That didn’t mean that digital effects weren’t used, as visual effects supervisor Janelle Croshaw Ralla tells Befores and Afters that Keanu is still in a digital environment in those scenes, just one that is based in reality. She explained…

Keanu actually did that, of course. Light VFX took all the Jordan footage and created a full CG environment to put that into, and it just worked beautifully. That’s the beautiful thing about a John Wick film, you’re always starting with something real. It’s very, very rare that you’re not.

We’ve certainly seen digital effects artists create something out of nothing, The Avatar franchise is almost nothing but digital effects. But it’s going to be easier for them to create something when they have reality to work against. It makes taking the time to go out and get the “real” shot valuable because it allows the visual effects artists to start with something rather than nothing. 

Considering that John Wick: Chapter 4 took the time and incurred the expense of shooting on location, it might make one wonder why digital effects were used at all. The other visual effects supervisor, Jonathan Rothbart, explained that it was ultimately necessary because sand doesn’t exactly corporate, so digital effects were used so that the sand didn’t get in the way of the filming. He said…

We were really there, and it just gives you those huge vistas. However, sand is kind of a nightmare because you can only brush so much sand away and you’ve got horses riding through and everything else, so traditionally you end up replacing a lot of that sand digitally just to hide all of the tracks and the machinery.

The reality and the digital effects came together in a way that likely made it look like there weren’t any digital effects at all, which is, of course, the ultimate goal. Even the John Wick franchise can’t do everything practically

While we appear to have seen the last of John Wick, outside of his Ballerina cameo, one hopes that the tradition of using primarily practical action will continue as the franchise finds new life in spinoffs. And if John Wick: Chapter 5 actually does happen, we can still be confident that what we are seeing is real, and it's only the details that are getting CGI help.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.