Episode 333 — NO TIME TO DIE — VFX Sup Charlie Noble & Special Effects Sup Chris Corbould
Episode 333 — NO TIME TO DIE — VFX Sup Charlie Noble & Special Effects Sup Chris Corbould
DNEG (www.dneg.com) is one of the world’s leading visual effects (VFX) and animation studios for the creation of feature film, television and multiplatform content. DNEG employs nearly 7,000 people with worldwide offices and studios across North America (Los Angeles, Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver), Europe (London) and Asia (Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Mumbai).
DNEG’s critically acclaimed work has earned the company six Academy Awards® for Best Visual Effects and numerous BAFTA and Primetime EMMY® Awards for its high-quality VFX work. Upcoming DNEG projects on behalf of its Hollywood and global studio and production company partners include Dune (October 2021), No Time To Die (October 2021), Ron’s Gone Wrong (October 2021), Last Night In Soho (October 2021), Ghostbusters: Afterlife (November 2021), The Matrix 4 (December 2021), Uncharted (2022), Borderlands (2022), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2022), The Flash (2022), and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023).
In this Podcast, NO TIME TO DIE VFX Sup Charlie Noble and Special Effects Sup Chris Corbould talk about some of the most memorable sequences in the film, usage of virtual environments and digi doubles and the balance of achieving invisible visual effects in the JAMES BOND franchise.
[02:55] Charlie Noble and Chris Corbould Talk About Their Starts as Artists
[05:47] Process of Identifying Big Sequences in the Original Bond Script
[09:06] The Balance of Achieving “Invisible” Visual Effects
[12:30] Charlie and Chris Discuss the Most Complicated Sequence in No Time to Die
[19:11] Virtual Environments in the Film
[21:15] The Future of Digi Doubles
[32:18] The Chase Sequence in Matera, Italy
EPISODE 333 — NO TIME TO DIE — VFX SUP CHARLIE NOBLE & SPECIAL EFFECTS SUP CHRIS CORBOULD
Welcome to Episode 333! This is Allan McKay.
I’m speaking with the VFX Supervisor for No Time to Die Charlie Noble and Special Effects Supervisor Chris Corbould. I talk to them about some of the most memorable sequences in the film, the usage of digi doubles and the balance of achieving “invisible” visual effects in the James Bond franchise.
I’m super excited about this interview! This is also a great way to kick off the New Year!
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[01:17] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!
[40:27] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!
INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE NOBLE & CHRIS CORBOULD
[02:55] Allan: Thank you again for joining the Podcast! Do you want to quickly introduce yourselves?
Charlie: Hi, I’m Charlie Noble, VFX Supervisor on No Time to Die.
Chris: Hi, I’m Chris Corbould, Special Effects Supervisor on No Time to Die.
[03:08] Allan: Awesome! To start out, can we get a bit of a background? Charlie, can you talk about how you got started?
Charlie: Yes, sure! I started my career as a 3rd AD (crowd control). And then I followed that into post-production, into the cutting room. Loved it! Then I ran around looking for another cutting room job and got one with the Moving Picture Company which is a production company producing commercials. They had 7 Directors and a 35mm cutting room, and I was an assistant in that cutting room. Then, MPC was involved in producing commercials, and our production company mainly serviced them. Then I moved from there and MPC set up a VFX facility. It was just the two of us. After a few years, 8-10 of us left to set up DNEG back in ‘98. Things grew from there.
[04:43] Allan: What about you, Chris, with special effects?
Chris: I was at school and just finished my [exams], and I got asked to go help out on set during summer holidays. It was for a film called Tommy. I was a huge fan of that group. And I loved [being on set] so much, I never went back to school after. I got a VFX job right after, which was an apprenticeship for several years. I was doing engineering. I learned technical tools that were so crucial to special effects. From there, I started working on James Bond’s. Fifteenth film later – and the rest is history!
[05:47] Allan: I love that! When you’re looking at the first script treatments, what’s your experience in terms of identifying the big sequences?
Chris: When you first get the script, it’s fairly loose. Sometimes, it’s as loose [as saying], “A Car Chase Sequence”. The writers may not even know what part of the world we’re doing it in, which cars we’re using, etc. It’s my job – and the Director’s and Stunt Coordinator’s job – to piece together what those sequences are. The written pages are there for us to look at, but it’s our job to embellish it as spectacularly as we can. We have to get together and pitch ideas, and the Director makes the choice.
Charlie: From the outset of [No Time to Die], it was clear that there was a huge desire to get as much in camera as possible. I saw myself as an extension to all the other crafts. We ended up producing about 1,500 shots. Certain things firm up as we go into the pre-production process. We discover which bits will be done practically and which not.
Chris: Charlie makes all our special effects and stunts, and even sets extensions. That is what makes them work. We do our bit, but Charlie paints out the driving pods on top of cars, the wides when stunt people are doing stuff. He is a hero! It’s invisible visual effects. [They are not] in your face.
Charlie: I don’t want to do any disservice to the thousands of artists who work on this. They go above and beyond to make great looking shots, in a limited time. [I have to] give them credit, really!
[09:06] Allan: So many people aren’t aware of the work that goes into delivering a feature. These days, post-production is no longer post-. It goes through from pre-production. With Bond films, they have to be done in a realistic manner. Have you experienced the balance between what’s ridiculous and what works?
Charlie: You’re right! The Bond films have evolved over the years, and certainly the Bond character has as well.
Chris: Before Daniel’s era started, we did Die Another Day. And I think we pushed the boundaries too far with invisible cars in that film. That was a wakeup call to all of us. We went back to a really grounded and gritty Casino Royale with Daniel. It was ultra realistic, with fewer gadgets. That was the back-to-square-one moment for us.
Charlie: And I think with all the films, you get to go to fantastic looking locations. We did travel to some great places and build some great sets.
[11:20] Allan: It’s a different era as well. You two are really close to the IP. I think Bond in the 90s was a whole different era. Casino Royale took a different direction.
Chris: This is the 25th in the series now. You have to keep evolving. The great Sean Connery set the scene. Roger Moore was more of a tongue-and-cheek era. You couldn’t keep doing the same things. You have to put the shutters down and reinvent it [every five years].
[12:30] Allan: The biggest question – or the most daunting one – is: Was there a particular sequence in the film for which you could talk about the process?
Chris: I think the trawler was the biggest sequence in the film, where Bond is trapped in the trawler and it’s sinking. It was a very emotional scene. We had physical effects. We built a 50- or 60-foot long “spit roast” with the set inside, so that we could take it 360 degrees and also sink it at any angle into 20 feet of water. We went through various options, and Cary [Joji Fukunaga] agreed on this one. We then started to build the set which was a pretty hydraulic set. Once that was built, it was all computer controlled. It was programmed. The set had to sink with the actors in it, so we had all sorts of escape hatches in it. If they put their hands to the ceiling, it would pop off so that the actors could have the feeling of safety. I told Daniel, “I really think you need to rehearse this.” He came down with Jeffrey Wright and we started rehearsing how quickly it revolved. We added compressed air into it with the two of them in there. Charlie, why don’t you take over from there?
Charlie: The scene starts in Jamaica with the real trawler. Chris set off a big charger at the end of it. Then we go inside for Chris’s work. We added some subtle stuff in there, like bubbles. Our main work started when we went outside: We saw the surface of it sinking. There were a lot of complicated sims that had to interact with each other, with fire, water, sprays, the bubbles that were coming up. As you go underneath the debris, like fishing nets, there is oil leaking out. These were complicated sims, in a short amount of time. Back on the surface, Daniel resurfaces and gets rescued by a cargo ship.
[17:06] Allan: I thought that sequence was well executed. Obviously, there is the question of safety. In terms of planning for it, how much time goes into the safety aspect?
Chris: Testing is vital to everything we do. There is very little that’s not tested on the set. Sometimes, it’s tested 20-40 times. We want it to be safe. We want it to be what the Director wants. Every time you do a complicated effect on set, you’ve got several takes and that’s big money! We aim for safety and economic reasons to get the shot in as few takes as possible. For a big shootout, we would lay down the effects on walls so we don’t have to go in to do reloads. If you didn’t do that, it would be time consuming. But there is probably 4 times the footage shot in the testing process, than what we do in the film.
[19:11] Allan: Charlie, in terms of some of the bigger challenges with doing VFX in this film, I imagine there are some virtual environments. Can you talk about some of those sequences?
Charlie: We went out to Kalsoy in the Faroe Islands with a scanning crew for texturing and a helicopter for photogrammetry. We were able to build a good model of the island and we handed it to our modeling department to layout the island infrastructure: the harbor, the train tracks and the missile silos. Art department provided great plans for the missile silos. We went back with the second unit and an aerial team to shoot some plates. The vantage point we flashed out in the previs process. We shot from those angles, lots of aerial plates as well to follow the journey of the glider. Once we were inside the sub-plant, we built huge sets which took up the whole stage. We expanded those to be three times bigger, populated them with workers – and Chris blew it up later.
[21:15] Allan: Digi doubles are becoming a big necessity. I know you’ve done a few on the film. How much work was involved in creating digital actors? And what’s your opinion on how far this technology has come?
Charlie: In terms of the digi doubles, the stunt team did such an amazing job. We didn’t have too much of our involvement. Faces had to be replaced, obviously, for Daniel’s 1-2 stunt performers. We got a jump start and took Daniel to the USC’s ICT Light Stage in downtown LA. We scanned him there. That gave ILM a pretty good head start in recreating his head. It’s the best one we’ve seen! The others we captured during principal [photography] with Clear Angle [Studios]. For the facial performance, we used ILM’s Medusa rig. Once we had that cut, we were able to take those shots into the Medusa studio, and they could act accordingly. For anything more expansive, we used ILM’s Anyma rig. That was a big effort on our and ILM’s part. There was some epic stuff that went on in the film. Some of the stunt driving. We had cameras in the backs of cars.
[24:23] Allan: Charlie, from your perspective, how far have digi doubles come? How comfortable would you be using them for stunt sequences?
Charlie: It’s getting really close, isn’t it? The bar is being raised every 6 months. We had one or two moments where we had to do close-ups. Thankfully, Daniel’s stunt double was a pretty good match. We didn’t have to go too far with our digi doubles for principal performances. But should the need arise, I’m pretty confident. You can’t beat a real performance.
[26:35] Allan: You’re absolutely right!
Charlie: Sometimes it comes down to practical liability. You’re shooting on three stages and you can’t be there. Or, you get an injury half way through. We have those to help out.
[27:13] Allan: Chris, I know it’s more in the realm of stunts, but how much have virtual actors become common?
Chris: I’ve had a very limited experience with that. The film I did after No Time to Die was Doctor Strange. That was a whole other world for me where digi doubles were the norm. I think nondescript digi doubles have a place. If you have an explosion going on, you don’t want to have stunt people nearby. I think if I were an actor, I’m not sure how I’d feel about having a digi double replace me on the screen. I don’t know if you get that spontaneous reaction from a digi double. If you aren’t in the explosion, you get a different reaction than an actor acting against the greenscreen. There is a body rush. When we do pods on top of the cars it’s different when you have stunt people.
Charlie: Those pod shots looked amazing!
[29:27] Allan: I was chatting with Peter Chiang (www.allanmckay.com/319) about F9. Putting people in the car, you’re getting a more natural response.
Chris: You’re reacting to the real parts of the actual location. The look on your face is really different. And the gravitational movement of your body as the car moves.
Charlie: As much as possible, the pods were used for the chases. We knew we’d have to do some closeup work. All the stunt cars we had, we recorded all the car movements from each location of going over the terrain. We fed into one of Chris’s gimbels. We had those surrounded by 360 LED panels with the actual environment. So the car was getting lit by the right environment. And the cars can see what was coming at them. We had to do some process work, of course.
Chris: One of the regrets I have is that we didn’t do more of the wider shots with the pods. So that you could see that it was Daniel driving. It would be nice to have a few looser shots.
[32:17] Allan: On the topic of cars, the Aston Martin sequence which involved the 360 machine gun: What was that experience like, in terms of tasks?
Chris: The whole process of a car chase is pretty lengthy. You have to agree on what the car is, where you’re filming it and what it’s going to do. It was a full-on action sequence. We’ve been there many times. We shortcutted that by choosing the DB5. We had to talk about how many cars we needed. I said 10! Do we buy 10 cars (they’re about $10 million each)? Do we rent them? I don’t see people loaning them out for action sequences. We agreed that Aston Martin would get us two original DB5’s with James Bond pulling in the car and stepping up. Then Aston Martin made 8 other cars from scratch. We put pods on top of those. It was forever evolving. After we got the cars, we came up with the location. And then the gadgets. Do we stick to the original gadgets? Cary felt that the repaired DB5 would have some upgrades. We swapped out the tires too. We went out to locations and reported back to Cary. Then the whole circus moved out.
Charlie: We are really fortunate to build on so much that was done in camera. We had to paint some things out, put some digi doubles nearby, and a moped rider who got swiped. With the chase cars, we had the plates to come further forward. We added CG cars to plates to put in rear views. As the chase cars came closer, there were some explosions that went off. We added some bits too. The agent’s car had to blow up, and we had to add the effects of the bomblets. There was a lot of cleaning up to do from the rubber, from previous takes. We needed to clean up some of the smoke. Bullet hits on the windows were both from Chris and myself. Chris used pellets to create the shatters. And we added more concentrated plaster on Madeleine’s window. It was a combination of our work.
[39:15] Allan: That was my most favorite and memorable sequence!
Chris: One thing that the Production Head was mindful of was that this town of Matera was thousands of years old. They’d put concrete blocks and make the donut square. Bond has a reputation of not leaving the world the way it was when he came in. They succeeded. The people of Matera were really welcoming. There is only one road and we kept shutting it down.
[41:14] Allan: I really wanted to ask that question. Thank you so much for your time! And congratulations on such an epic film!
Charlie: Thanks, Allan!
Chris: Thank you!
I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank both Charlie and Chris for their time.
Please take a few moments to share this Episode with others. That would mean the world to me!
I will be back next week. I’ll be sitting down with Activision Blizzard Senior Director Creative Talent Robin Alan Linn. You don’t want to miss this one!
Until then –
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