How to make a trawler sink and a glider fly (and go underwater): 6 of the biggest visual effects scenes in ‘No Time To Die’

We also cover the ice fall, Matera scenes, Land Rover chase and those final devastating explosions.

Here at befores & afters we recently got the chance to interview No Time To Die special effects supervisor Chris Corbould about his practical effects work on the film. Corbould’s work of course went hand-in-hand with the production design, stunts and other aspects of production to make so many of the dynamic scenes possible.

Not to mention, visual effects, with nearly 1500 shots overseen by production visual effects supervisor Charlie Noble. The principal VFX vendors on the show were DNEG, Framestore, Industrial Light & Magic, Cinesite, Blind LTD, Territory Studio and TPO VFX.

Here, Noble breaks down six of the major VFX sequences on the Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed film: the opening ice fall, the Matera chase scenes, the sinking trawler, the Land Rover chase, the glider flight (and sail), and the final island explosions. DNEG visual effects supervisor Joel Green also weighs in on his studio’s principal shots.

VFX sequence #1: Through the ice

In a flashback sequence, young Madeleine Swann falls through the ice, only to be rescued by Lyutsifer Safin.

Charlie Noble (overall visual effects supervisor): Main and second unit went out to this remote lake, just about an hour or two’s drive out of Oslo. Production designer Mark Tildesley built a real functioning house on the lake. When we get out onto the ice, we were actually out on the real ice. Stunt coordinator Lee Morrison had one of his performers actually fall through the real ice, into the water. So, a lot of it was practical.

VFX by Framestore.

The chosen look was an early morning misty feel, and the ice needed to be very clear ice, which we tried to achieve there on the ice with an ice rink machine that went out every night and polished the ice. It was pretty difficult to fight the elements, and we ended up having to replace the ice as she runs out onto it.

Framestore handled this whole sequence. There was a hero shot that was chosen for the correct feel for the levels of atmos that special effects supervisor Chris Corbould had provided. He’d positioned a whole load of smoke trucks all around this lake. Some of them were half a mile away. They gave us a really lovely mist that sat there really nicely, but inevitably, when the wind picks up, it gets a bit sparse.

So, we had one hero shot with the correct level of lighting and the correct mist levels, and then Framestore copied that and rendered out a scene with all of the desired components, lighting, the ice, the snow on the trees, everything. We could then render a frame from each of those corresponding camera angles to give us a guide as to how we would then go about selectively grading each shot to pull them all in line, tweak the sun around a little bit, just to give us more interest for some of the shots where we’re looking away from the sun, and then just adding in the right level of atmos for each shot so that they’re all consistent.

Above: Lidar Lounge’s Instagram post includes a look at the surveying, scanning and photography that took place on location.

We also had a stunt performer fall through the real ice on the location. Then subsequently for shots of the actress hammering away at the ice when she’s in the water underneath the ice surface, we shot on U Stage at Pinewood. We’d shipped over a container load of real ice from the real lake, thick slabs of ice that she was able to go underneath, and actually we could get the close-up shots of her flailing against the real ice.

And then once you get deeper and wider, Framestore produced the underwater environments, added bullet bubble trails coming in, where Safin shoots the hole round her to make a hole to pull her out, although we don’t know that at the time.

VFX sequence #2: Matera

Bond and Swann are pursued by Spectre assassins in the Italian city. The sequence includes the Aston Martin DB5 donut and shoot-out, plus several environment augmentations.

Charlie Noble: ILM handled Matera. We enter Matera through a CG tunnel. We emerge from a CG tunnel and the whole town is revealed in front of us, which was a story point for later on. Bond needs to cross out of Matera to visit Vesper’s grave, and he has to cross a bridge over a deep gorge. That bridge was actually in a neighbouring town, Gravina. So we went to Gravina and scanned and textured this bridge, and then shot plates of that environment, and then brought that bridge back to Matera and positioned it in the gorge on the east of the town.

Once we’re in the town, there was lots of clean-up work to do. Obviously you’ve got car chases going around this town. You’re doing multiple takes of cars screeching around corners, so there’s a lot of rubber laid down to paint out. Then there was lots of 21st century clutter to get rid of, satellite dishes, construction cranes etc.

We had 10 DB5s built for the show, one of which had a pod driver on the roof in a cage so you could have the actors in the car being driven by the driver on the roof. During the chase, you could have the whole action going on and they could just concentrate on acting. That needed painting out every now and again, when we saw it. And then when we get to ‘Donut Square’, because it’s a thousand-year-old square, with ancient churches, and you’ve got to be quite careful as to what’s going on, Chris Corbould had clad the buildings with extra set dressing to protect them. He’d positioned his charges in those bits of these removable panels. So after take one, you could take them all out, as required. We had to tweak the timings of the odd one, but it was generally pretty much in-camera.

When Primo gets out and starts firing into the window, again, there’s SFX hits coming in onto the windows of the DB5 with the actors in there. Obviously we had to get involved a little bit, just to maintain continuity of those bullet hits and add extra hits to really sell the fact that he’s trying to pierce a hole next to where Madeleine’s sitting.

When Bond is making his way across the bridge and is blocked off from both sides, he has to dive down onto the side of the bridge to avoid a car that’s going to run over him. This was a CG car that hits a buttress, and then flies over him.

And then on the other end of the bridge, Primo is chasing him. He roars to a halt on his Triumph Scrambler, which was a face replacement from ILM. Bond then is trapped. He takes the only exit, which is over the side of the bridge, as you do when you’re Bond. He grabs hold of an electricity cable and then swings in and lands underneath the bridge. That was a practical stunt done by Dave Grant, one of Lee’s guys, and we replaced his face whenever we saw him. And then Daniel lands at the bottom and then runs off back into the town.

When we’re on that bridge, we’re obviously having to split in plates of Matera around it. And obviously, whenever we’re in Matera we’re having to position the bridge where we should see it.

VFX sequence #3: The sinking trawler

Felix and Bond become trapped on a sinking trawler boat, which explodes.

Charlie Noble: The trawler was a real trawler we shot on in Jamaica. Once we get inside the trawler, we’re onto a set build on the deck at Pinewood. And then we’re inside the galley for a big fight, again on the set at Pinewood. Bond and Felix end up in the engine room, which was an amazing submersible set that Chris Corbould built on Pinewood’s U Stage. It could sink and twist and roll as it went down into the water. So we had Jeffrey and Daniel in the set as it went down, and it was pretty much all in-camera. Cinesite added extra bubbles for frenetic chaos, but all of that was pretty much in-camera.

VFX by DNEG.
VFX by DNEG.

Once we get back outside, then we’re into DNEG’s CG trawler. We scanned and textured the real trawler that we had in Jamaica, and then DNEG built that and were able to sync it with all the water sims and fire sims and oil leaks, and all the general detritus that is floating, coming up, floating off the deck as it goes down.

As Valdo and Logan Ash escape in Nomi’s plane, Ash sets off some chargers off the back of the trawler, which Chris did for real. We set off a huge explosion on the back of this trawler, which fortunately, being pretty solidly built out of steel, it withstood, because we had to hand this trawler back after the shoot. So, the owners wanted it back in a working order.

Joel Green (visual effects supervisor, DNEG): I particularly love doing any visual effects based on reality. So, having the references, the real trawler and everything like that is always great. We scoured the internet for reference. I probably watched every single clip that’s out there of a boat sinking, which we would discuss, pick the ones that had different elements from different ones. And so we always had a real life reference to base the different beats off.

VFX by DNEG.
VFX by DNEG.

The big challenge with heavy, full-frame water sims is just the time that those things take. We had one of our great FX artists, Andy Guest, who led the charge on that, and he kind of lives in that world anyway. He’s very experienced and great with the Houdini FLIP water system, and did a great job around that. I think it’s always the thing, also, where you’ve got that chicken and egg thing with your animation and your sims, because as you’re kind of belching out with this water swirling around and stuff, that’s going to affect the movement of the boat, so we had to make sure we were making everything sync together.

VFX Sequence #4: Chase in Norway

Bond, Madeleine and Mathilde (their child) are pursued in a dramatic Land Rover sequence in Norway.

Charlie Noble: This took us across eight locations and various sets, each of which had to have elements of each location split in on the bridging shots so that we could maintain continuity. But we started off leaving the set build of the house in Ascot, in the UK, and then the action is picked up on the Atlantic Road in Norway, a beautiful road going across the coast.

VFX by Framestore.

Bond then turns off this Atlantic Road onto a track, which is now in Scotland, roaring down the side of Loch Laggan, pursued by two Range Rover SVRs, which Bond has to bump out the way, which they did for real. They wrote off a couple of these SVRs, one of which we needed to get much closer to it, to really sell the impact from Bond wanging the wheel over and pushing this SVR up the bank, because it climbs the bank and does a roll and flips over.

Framestore handled this. For that shot behind the two cars, they’re both CG, and then we come around to the front to pick up on the real action. It was all done for real, but we had to massage the shot a little bit and give it a bit more jeopardy. Then race down a riverbed, for which Lee had constructed various ramps and tracks so that we could drive a repeatable path from take to take. After a number of takes the ground is churned up and these tracks are very evident, so Framestore completely cleaned out all of the previous tire tracks and made it all pristine again.

Bond ends up pushing them over and escaping back into Ascot again–as in, the the Ascot foggy wood–where Chris, and Ian Lowe, the SFX floor supervisor, filled it with great atmos smoke. Here, there’s a shot of the Land Rover coasting to a halt through some ferns, which required CG ferns and CG atmos.

VFX sequence #5: The glider (and submersible)

Bond and Nomi infiltrate Safin’s headquarters in a missile base by launching a glider–that turns into a submersible–from a C-17.

Charlie Noble: We had the real practical set build that Mark Tildsley had built in the back of a real C-17 at RAF Brize Norton. The RAF lent us a plane to shoot on. When it gets dragged out the back, it was dragged out for real, but then it only went so far, so we had to take over. Once it’s out and gliding down, then it’s all DNEG CG with digi-doubles inside in a full sky environment.

VFX by DNEG.
VFX by DNEG.

Joel Green: We mapped out the path that the glider would take from the back of the C-17 all the way down to it reaching the water, and rendered out a 360 lighting pass that cinematographer Linus Sandgren used on some LED panels to light the actors for the close-ups where they’re inside the glider.

Charlie Noble: For the flying shots, we had them inside the glider set build on a stage, surrounded by a volume of LED panels playing back a fairly decently rendered environment from DNEG.

Joel Green: It was not intended for final pixel, but it really helped. When we came to put the shots together, having that interactive lighting and everything else, it made the comp so much more convincing.

Charlie Noble: Especially when you’re going through clouds, you’re getting the right flickering light. It really helped sell that. Any little reflective bits inside the cockpit, you get a bit of life on those as well, which you might not normally have the time to do in comp. So it brought the whole thing to life and tied the two together.

Joel Green: When it hit the water, it meant there was a need for really detailed ocean surfaces. There were a handful of shots where they’re under the water, and again, some shots where Nomi and Bond are filmed inside the cockpit. For the actual transition, it’s still the same glider model–it just folds its wings in and dives under.

VFX sequence #6: Final explosions

On the nanobot factory island, a missile strike on the silos there thwarts Safin’s attempts to launch an attack on millions of people, resulting in enormous explosions.

Charlie Noble: We had a layout for how the infrastructure was positioned on the island, so we knew where the silos were in relation to each other. Chris Corbould set off some of the biggest explosions I’ve ever seen, on Salisbury Plain, based on the spacings for those missile silos. It gave us really good scale and detail for DNEG lay into our CG versions of these explosions that we had to produce, that would follow the contours of the silos. We couldn’t really just take the ones from Salisbury Plain and drop them in. They had to follow the contours of the CG silos. But they were incredibly useful and gave us great scale and detail.

The SFX supervisor on ‘No Time To Die’ breaks down the film’s five biggest practical effects

Joel Green: Especially the real spoiler moment, when the whole camera gets wiped through with smoke and stuff. We took a load of those elements and laid them in, mixing with CG elements, obviously, to really sell that moment. Sim’ing that scale of explosion in Houdini was a massive challenge as well, because that timing was very specific. It was a big moment for the Bond films and we just wanted to get the maximum impact there. On top of that you have all this phosphorous-type stuff raining down beforehand to completely obliterate the island.


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