Despite mixed reviews stateside, everyone agrees that the spectacular Day of the Day pre-credit sequence in “Spectre” is among the franchise’s best. Filmed in Mexico City amid a crowd of 1,500 extras in full costume and adorned by all of the cultural glam and craft, it features Daniel Craig’s James Bond at his most relaxed and confident on a rogue mission to kill an assassin. It boasts an amazing opening tracking shot, an explosion, a collapsing building, and a thrilling hand-to-hand in a helicopter that does an unbelievable barrel roll. However, ILM London, on its first Bond mission, handled the deft VFX that pulls it all together.
For starters, the tracking shot (conceived by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema) is actually six set-ups in different locations cleverly stitched together by ILM. It covers Bond walking through the festival escorted by Stephanie Sigman, entering a hotel, continuing through the lobby, going up the elevator and into her room. After stopping for kiss and jumping into bed, Bond takes off his costume and is dressed to kill. He steps onto the balcony and struts along the rooftops to kill Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) and foil the terrorist bombing of a nearby stadium.
“It was all shot without motion control and a lot of work had to come together in pulling our various joins together and hiding how our joins happened,” explained ILM’s VFX supervisor Mark Bakowski. “The first one is Bond walking at the festival with crowd replication, extending the environment with statues and architectural details.
“One other interesting twist that happened doing a shot like this, especially with a thousand or so extras, is that you can’t get a perfect take where every extra does exactly what you want every time, so we removed people’s faces by putting masks on them because they were looking at the camera too much, or re-angling their eyes—or certain extras would try to pop up in scenes again and again, so we did a lot of changing their clothes and swapping out their faces.
Meanwhile, the helicopter gag was a hybrid of different approaches. When the helicopter takes off, initially, that’s all real with a crowd of 1,500 extras around. But the moment the camera goes higher than six feet, the CG extensions start to kick in. Then when they get into the crazy aerobatics, this was shot 100 miles south of Mexico City at an aerodrome. Mendes insisted that it had to be a real helicopter. So when you see the really wide shots, it’s a genuine helicopter with a CG Zocalo Square and crowds underneath.
There are a few shots where the helicopter actually buzzes the square at the location with an entirely CG crowd. There was, however, one shot where the helicopter swoops over camera and gets dangerously close to the crowd looking on. That was a one-shot wonder.