Go inside the bunker of ‘No Time to Die’ with ILM

How the VFX studio helped craft the missile silo interiors for the film–it even included motion capture.

For No Time to Die scenes inside Safin’s bunker headquarters–an island missile base that has been converted to a nanobot factory–the filmmakers called upon Industrial Light & Magic to craft various set extensions and other visual effects. These were aimed at complementing the existing set builds, and certainly fit into the ‘invisible effects’ side of the film.

ILM associate visual effects supervisor Bruno Baron tells befores & afters more, including how motion capture even became part of the mix.

b&a: Can you give me an overview of the bunker VFX work?

Bruno Baron: They had a set built for that, accounting for about ¼ of the total length. It was quite impressive. They managed to build an entire section of this bunker with platforms quite high up where people, including some of the heroes, could lean on railings and look downward onto the pool that was made. We did quite a lot of augmentations to the set itself, such as the silo roof, the overall extension to get the full length, the side corridors and the pool. We also dealt with many stunts, and the moment the silo roof opens. We also worked on the final confrontation between Bond and Primo, and created Primo’s exploding eye augmentation.

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b&a: I heard you called that the ‘algae pool’ internally?

Bruno Baron: That’s right, it was the algae pool. We started with what they had built and we had to extend it. We had to make it huge and vast, so we extended it on many shots, making it a very long corridor. We also worked on all the action bits that happened in that environment. Some sequences are set in the biologists room that overlooks the facility. We augmented the containers and vials by filling them with their deadly creations. The particle simulations ended up looking very cool. Our reference for that were flocks of birds in a murmuration pattern.

b&a: One of the signature shots I was thinking of, and I wondered how much augmentation was involved, when you saw those workers in their wetsuits with those white fluorescent lights lighting up the pool.

Bruno Baron: They had one of these pools, essentially just a section of the entire walls with balconies, and they had some lights on set, sunk into the water, and we then extended all of that. The foreground was always practical and then we were transitioning into our CG. I think we added an extra four sections on top of the one practical section that was constructed as a set. Which means we also had to create some of those workers. There was some crowd work involved, of course.

For some crowd augmentation shots we had the right 2D elements such as scientists doing their bits in the pool. But there were also a good number of shots where the elements didn’t work for the angle and we also required specific actions. For example stepping from the pool onto the sidewalk and also walking up the inclined side ramps. In these cases, we used 3D crowd agents to ensure proper contact with the environment.

One of the best moments for me personally was to drive the motion capture shoot for these crowd agents. We did that internally with our motion capture team in San Francisco. They’re amazing! It was the first time that I had the chance to work with them and it was a blast. They were super enthusiastic about doing that shoot for the film.

In half a day, we managed to capture all our clips for this environment. We had guards dying, reacting to having been shot, jumping over obstacles, even falling into the deadly pool. We also had scientists running away panicked and then climbing up the side ramps. The capture team had set up props that had similar dimensions to portions of the original set, such as sidewalks, inclined ramps, and crash mats they could jump onto.

b&a: That’s amazing because, I mean, even though I know it’s quite a big visual effects film, I didn’t ever think that there would be motion capture in a sequence like that.

Bruno Baron: I think everybody did a great job there. It takes a village. because you need the team on the motion capture shoot to get us the data. Then we all process that, refine it, and make any necessary final adjustments to fit each shot perfectly. After that it goes into lighting, FX simulation, to end with comp. The other aspect of the pool was its bioluminescent look that gets activated when people run into it. That was one of the main challenges look-wise. Every time they were running into the pool, we had to create this colorful blue effect all around them. Our FX artists took care of those simulations. As I said, it really takes a village.

There was one particular shot there that was quite challenging. It was a takeover of the mad scientist falling into the pool. It ended up being a blend between a stuntman and our digidouble. The whole thing was augmented with bioluminescent FX simulations and comp. We studied real bioluminescent organisms, and fine tuned our FX simulations in order to add it in the right places, where colliding objects would move fast enough.

b&a: Because you were working on these vast environments, often the cameras peered down into these huge halls, essentially. What were the things that helped sell that kind of vast environment?

Bruno Baron: That was mainly done in FX and comp. On set they had some vents that were spitting out a bit of smoke. Sometimes it fit the shot quite well. Sometimes we needed to adjust the amount to tell the story of the humid atmosphere. That steam was accumulating at the top of the bunker, and created the haze we see in the distance. We took advantage of the fluorescent tubes, and lit our atmosphere accordingly. Not only were the tubes lighting all the water, but it was also affecting all the atmosphere in the bunker.

b&a: At some point, that top room where they first visit has some charges set to explode–what VFX was involved there?

Bruno Baron: There were some explosions on set created by the amazing SFX team that we augmented. It was a combination of FX and comp, and one of the challenges for that was to feel the blast. There is smoke coming toward the camera at a high rate of speed and it was like, okay, how do we convey that? What is the right amount? If we put too much, we’re obscuring the nice explosion and fire in the background. But if we don’t put enough, we don’t “feel” the blast. That really is quite important to convey, ‘Oh, okay. Bond doesn’t joke around.’

b&a: You mentioned the opening of the roof–is that where the water is dripping in?

Bruno Baron: Yes, Bond goes into another part of the facility and they have this ancient mechanism and he opens the door with. And when that door eventually opens, you have three pools in the main courtyard of this facility, which are three silos. They open up, each one over. In the courtyard, we have already established that these pools contained some water. So all this water on the top now falls into our bottom pool where the algae is. So we had to run a water sim to get all this water crashing down. Given the framing of the shot, it was quite a tricky sim.

You’ve got the main water sim from the falling water itself plus all the derivatives that create this curtain: white water, drizzle, atmosphere being pushed away. Then we use that main water sim as a source for our second sim in the pool. That creates ripples and helps generate a second set of derivative sims, such as white water. Each event feeds the next. Plus on top of that, you start adding some of the blue algae–all the colorful bioluminescence and when you light that, you also have these spores that light all of this. So it was quite complex!

b&a: Were you matching any kind of waterfall effect that they tried to do on set?

Bruno Baron: They did film a reference for us. They actually created two trap doors of the correct size, but these were shot on their own from the top. We could see what was happening on the top and they also stuck a camera that was right at the edge of the door teeth. So, as they opened up, they had a camera just there. We could see the curtain of water maybe two feet down from where it drops, but that was it. After that, everything that happens down further was left for us to figure out.

b&a: The only other thing you mentioned was the character with the electronic eye.

Bruno Baron: Fittingly, Bond has a watch that can trigger an electromagnetic pulse. Since this other character (Primo) has got this electronic device in his brain and eye, Bond triggers the watch which causes the electronic eye to overheat and eventually explode.

We had to work out, how much do we want to see? Do we want the eye to explode completely? Should we just keep it simply behind his closed eyelids? How much smoke, sparks, do we want in there? Does it damage his skin? Does it start to sizzle just on the eyelid because it’s overheating? We ended up with a good compromise, a bit of everything, but not overplaying it either, after all this isn’t a gory horror movie.

b&a: Did it require much digital augmentation of the actor?

Bruno Baron: We ended up having a full CG reconstruction of Primo’s face. So, we had a CG version of him essentially in this shot that was animated to his performance. That’s what allowed us to pretty much augment all the areas that we needed to. We combined it with the actor’s performance and, wherever we saw fit, augmented those areas where the damage to his face happened.

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