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How They Pulled Off the ‘Spectre’ of Death Opening in Mexico City

How They Pulled Off the 'Spectre' of Death Opening in Mexico City

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.

READ MORE: “The Zen Perfection of ‘Spectre,’ Nostalgic Feast for Bond Fans”

“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.

“The first shot runs up to the door of a hotel and pauses on the Day of the Dead poster. We then transitioned by rebuilding the doorway and re-projection work in Maya and Zeno [ILM’s software platform] to transition as Bond enters the doorway. The lobby of the hotel is in a different part of Mexico City. Once in there we cleaned up the hotel and the roof and made it simpler. The elevator is one take with a Steadicam; as he walks toward the room, there’s another join hidden by people walking. We timed the performances of [Craig and Sigman] so they were on the same dynamic motion as the extras. We used roto and passion warp and projected the environments.”

The interior of the room was shot at Pinewood in London but the vantage point outside the window is a plate of Mexico. The balcony was shot in Mexico with a lot of re-positioning and re-timing. When Craig walks along the rooftop help up by a large safety wire, none of the rooftop build was actually there. Interestingly, the only reason Craig walks is because of the knee injury he suffered. Yet his confident strut is much more effective than running at full speed.

The shootout was shot at Pinewood and ILM recreated the Mexico City environment accompanied by CG glass and smoke. The building was completely CG and after the explosion and collapse of the building, Bond shifts into high gear to avoid sudden death.
“Where Bond is running toward camera and makes his big leap, there was a lot of material shot practically, including a large, collapsing rig, a stuntman running along the rooftop. But as it turned out in the end, the only live-action element was the body of the stuntman. Everything else is digital,” added Bakowski (who previously worked on two other Bonds: “Die Another Day” and “Quantum of Solace”).

READ MORE: “Why ‘Spectre’ Is Daniel Craig’s Shining Moment as James Bond”

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.

Sam Mendes is very driven, very intense and very creative,” Bakowski observed. “Although it’s a Bond film and an action film, I think he’s sees it as a work of art as well. He understands the characters and the history and how flexible visual effects can be.”

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