In “No Time to Die,” it was important for director Cary Joji Fukunaga to complete Daniel Craig’s arc as James Bond by tying up all five films. This meant emphasizing the emotional connection to Bond, even during the high-octane action sequences, which impacted the VFX. This included the Aston Martin DB5 gun battle in Matera, the sinking trawler with Bond and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), and the explosive climax atop the control tower roof of baddie Safin (Rami Malek).
“I think the film went to an emotional point that we have not been to before with Bond,” said SFX supervisor Chris Corbould. “It was also interesting for me, having worked on all five of Daniel’s films, to see him master the role of Bond on each subsequent film. Daniel was at his peak on ‘No Time to Die’ and, on set during the emotional scenes, he was the most powerful I have ever seen him.”
The DB5 sequence during the extended pre-credit teaser was particularly emotional, with Bond feeling betrayed by Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). They are in the iconic car surrounded by villains and the windows are progressively weakened by gunfire. Bond sits frozen in anger, with Madeleine getting increasingly frightened, before he flicks the switch, guns appear, and he strafes the area 360 degrees around him, hits the smoke, and then escapes.
“It was great to see the DB5 back in full aggressive mode,” Corbould added. “Aston Martin supplied us with eight high powered replicas, four of which we fitted gadgets to and roof mounted pods where a highly skilled stunt driver could steer the car through the tight streets of Matera at high speeds with Daniel and Léa inside. The remaining four were fitted out with total stunt protection comprising of full rally roll cage, integral fire extinguishers, rally fuel tank and hydraulic handbrake.
“The town of Matera lent itself perfectly to the high speed chase with spectacular architecture dating back thousands of years and its polished stone road surface,” continued Corbould. “The production company spared no expense to protect the magnificent buildings of this town, carefully blending in concrete barriers to any building that might be vulnerable from a high speed vehicle cornering at break neck speed. The square where the DB5 is finally trapped, affectionately known as doughnut square, was comprised of many ancient buildings that were to be strafed 360 degrees with a pair of mini-guns. The bottom four feet of all the buildings in the square were recreated and added to the existing buildings. Pyrotechnic charges were embedded into those sections and initiated when the car spun around.”
Additional CG support was provided by Industrial Light & Magic with DB5 bomblets and smoke, and for amping up practical explosions and SFX hits on the windshield. Meanwhile, LED lighting volumes were used for all vehicle interior shots. “They provided a great base level of illumination, moving/fluctuating light levels, allowed cast to see where they were driving for wheel turns, and also gave camera marks for what was unfolding outside,” said VFX production supervisor Charlie Noble.
The sinking trawler, another highly emotional sequence, required a special rotating gimbal. This was because Corbould wanted to provide a surreal backdrop for Bond’s last moment with Felix. “This was achieved by mounting the trawler interior on a hydraulic rig capable of rotating the set whilst sinking it into a 20-foot deep water tank,” Corbould said.
“The addition of compressed air effects through the water, creating bubbling cauldrons around the actors inside the trawler, heightened the experience whereby the actors had to realistically deliver their lines [while] gasping for air [among] the water erupting around them,” added Corbould. “Obviously, the safety of the actors and the crew were paramount during this sequence, and there were many safety panels built into the set to provide escape should the need arise.”
Once the trawler starts going down, it required a number of full CG shots from DNEG for the exterior views as it disappears under the surface. The sequence had been cut with previs work from Proof, which DNEG used as a starting point. “The main challenge of the shots was, of course, the heavy FX simulation work,” said DNEG VFX supervisor Joel Green. “Andy Guest was our lead FX TD, who had great mastery of the water toolset in Houdini, and was able to set up and art direct some great simulations, which fill most of the frame. Additional sim passes for bubbles, oil, and fire were added on top along with the animated debris.”
The Safin lair finale was a traditional high-octane pyrotechnic extravaganza with Bond combating bullet impacts and explosions. DNEG handled the final exterior shots on the control tower roof. “Daniel was shot on a set piece on the Pinewood backlot,” said Green. “We had some great plates that had been shot in just the right lighting in the [Faroe Islands] that we could use as a basis for the backgrounds. DNEG built a detailed CG version of the whole island from photogrammetry but it needed to be uprezzed for these shots with additional rock detail and scattered animated grass to hold up so large in [IMAX] frame. The artillery that rained down upon the island was thanks to a big effort from our FX team, creating massive pyroclastic sims, missile trails, phosphorus-like incendiary trails as well as the missile launches from the HMS Dragon.”
“Daniel has never been shy about being [among] pyrotechnics and none more so than this sequence,” added Corbould. “The final explosion of the missiles hitting the bunkers was shot on Sailsbury Plain military complex, where we rigged three massive explosives approaching camera, which was composited into the final scene with Bond’s death. It’s the first time that I have shed a tear in a Bond film, and even on the second viewing.”