James Bond and remarkable automobiles go together like fine cigars and rare cognac. Of the 26 films that make up the James Bond movie pantheon, including Moonraker (half of which takes place in outer space) all feature some significant cars performing amazing stunts.
While we watch these films, we suspend disbelief and feel that Bond is performing these extraordinary feats himself, but this is not the case. Instead, the driving, and sometimes flying, sequences are put together by the film’s visual-effects team and stunt drivers.
With the 26th 007 film releasing this week, we had the opportunity to speak to the No Time To Die special-effects supervisor Chris Corbould. He has been the man who has helped make this automotive magic happen for a total of 15 Bond films beginning with The Spy Who Loved Me, the film featuring the submarine Lotus Esprit S1, where he worked as a special -effects technician.
In 1995, when Pierce Brosnan took the role of Bond in GoldenEye, Corbould graduated to special effects supervisor and has been responsible for the that movie magic on every Bond film since.
If that wasn’t enough of a resume, Corbould was honored with an Oscar and BAFTA for the film Inception, and his other film credits as special effects supervisor include The Mummy, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, X-Men: First Class, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Most recently, he was second unit director on Christopher Robin and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. He was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth in the 2014 New Years Honours for his services to film.
So, come with us and take a step behind the camera, and allow Corbould to tell us a bit about how he creates these stirring live-action car scenes in the 007 movies.
Andy Reid: So, Chris, it looks like No Time to Die is as much a new film as it is a film homage to the legend of James Bond films.
Chris Corbould: It is great to see the (Aston Martin) DB5 back in the full combat mode rather than the odd cameo role, and that is pretty exciting.
AR: That brings me to my first question. There is a lot of Bond mythology around the DB5 in the bond franchise. Does using the DB5 present obstacles for special-effects work because of how old the cars are? Is there a certain level of difficulty in keeping that mythology intact as a special-effects artist?
CC: The first decision we needed to make is do we use the old gadgets from the Goldfinger car, or do we upgrade them? Some of them should be upgraded, hence we’ve got a multi-barrel minigun behind the headlights instead of the old Browning single-barrel machine guns. But we decided to keep the smokescreen. It was a mixture of old and new, and a nice balance because it gives the audience something new along with the traditional stuff.
AR: How do you make these new cars with incredible performance limits look at the edge of out-of-control?
CC: Main thing is really the camera work. We also modify the chassis and the suspension of the cars. One of the problems we had when shooting the big chase scene in Matera, which is a multi-thousand-year-old village in Italy, is that the streets were made of polished stone. They tried all different kinds of compound tires. The stunt driver decided to spray some fizzy drink on the street, and we then got the traction we needed.
AR: Since you are effectively Q in the 007 film process, is there a favorite of all the cars you have messed with over the years?
CC: There are two. One of my personal favorites is the Aston Martin V8 Vantage in The Living Daylights. I was personally responsible for filming the chase sequence in that film in Austria on an ice lake. And it was fascinating when the car came back in this film, 30 odd years later, the same car.
From a technical standpoint, the cars in Die Another Day on the ice, with all of the gadgets, we had to actually convert the Jaguar XKR to 4-wheel drive, and we had to make sure that the cars did not fall through the ice. We had to create an inflatable float system for them in case they did end up falling through the ice to protect the drivers.
AR: A lot of the sequences you are responsible for look to be done in one take. That’s got to be a little bit stressful as its this one take or you get nothing.
CC: Yes, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over those one-take wonders. They can be a bit stressful.
AR: How about the flip in Casino Royale?
CC: The stunt guys kept trying and trying to flip the DBS over without any help from the effects department, and the aerodynamics would not let it flip over. No matter how hard they drove it and cornered the car they could not get it to flip. Finally, the stunt coordinator had the effects team add a nitrogen cannon to the car and they were able to get it to flip the first time out.
AR: For No Time To Die, the DB5 figures prominently in the film. How many different DB5s did you have for the film?
CC: We had 8 cars in all, 2 of them were real DB5s – whenever Daniel gets in and out of the car, we want it to be in is splendor. We had 4 stunt versions which were fully roll caged up with all of the safety elements, and we had 2 that we remounted driving pods on the roof and had a British rally pro driving the car from the roof as Daniel inside acted during the high-speed chase, and we actually had two more in case a car was damaged during filming.
The cars were all made by Aston Martin. I love working with Aston Martin; they are geniuses. It’s all hands on. It’s not all filled up with robots, it is engineers and craftsman making the cars. They did not have much time to make them and they just got the 10 cars done. I have a lot of admiration for Aston Martin.
AR: You also helped with the Bond-series DB5 cars that Aston released last year. What was that experience like?
CC: Yes, it was that was great. There were certain elements they wanted help with, the guns and such. They assisted with the smoke machine, the mechanism that makes the car look like the guns are firing and the oil slick. Aston actually designed and created the bulletproof shield and the revolving number plate themselves. They are brilliant engineers. It was great fun working on t without the stress of film deadlines. I loved it.
AR: I would guess sadly that you were not given one of the cars though.
CC: I spoke with (producer) Barbara Brocolli and asked, ‘Well, I’ve done 14 of these films, when I am going to get an Aston?’ I still don’t have an Aston.
AR: Of all the effects you have created, which was your favorite practical effect?
CC: Second outing with BMW, they wanted us to use a Z8 but they only had 2 so we had to make another 3 exact copies. The one that was cut in half, the saw blades would not cut butter. We had to make it look like it would cut it in half.
AR: I am guessing that no actual DB5s were killed during the filming.
CC: No. A few were hurt a bit, but none actually died.
AR: In the whole series of Bond films, is there a favorite car for you or one you messed with?
CC: As soon as you get to do something out of the ordinary with the cars is fun. The V8 Vantage is probably my favorite as it is back. In the Living Daylights, it was so difficult due to the low temperatures. We had to work to deal with the nitrogen cylinders working in the super-low temps.
AR: Do you feel like the 007 franchise is the best commercial for Aston?
CC: I feel that it is a bit of a two-way affair. Obviously, it is beneficial to Aston Martin but it benefits the 007 films as well.
AR: Final question. What is the single most difficult car effect you have done in the 007 franchise? It looks like quite a few have been very difficult.
CC: Wow, there are so many that were difficult. In No Time To Die, the off-road sequences with the Land Rover Defenders was extreme. They were quite extraordinary as they are off road; most of our driving sequences take place in urban environments, so we were able to do more extreme stunts. You don’t usually see rural car chases. It was as exhilarating to create the sequence as it will be to watch it.
AR: The way the action sequences are done, there is something that you do with your effects that labels them a 007 film with the look they have. What is the differentiator versus everyone else in the action scenes?
CC: We try to do as much as if for real. Others use green screens a lot. We try to get as much as we can done for real. When our cars look to be driving fast, they are actually being driven quite fast. It is not through the use of green screen.
We want to use effects in Bond films when we need to and not gratuitously and to do them for real. We work to make the sequences in Bond films being rooted in reality all the way back to Dr. No, and we pride ourselves in preserving that legacy.
AR: is there one car Easter Egg we should look for?
CC: Look for when Bond activates the smokescreen; it is fun and goes back to the earlier films with the DB5.