‘Any good car chase needs a good car, and James Bond is blessed with the Aston Martin DB5’
Chris Corbould OBE has created special effects for 15 Bond movies, acting as Special Effects Supervisor on the past nine. As vehicles from No Time To Die — including a replica DB5 stunt car — come to auction, he tells us about the fine art of big-screen car chases and explosions
The first James Bond film I worked on was The Spy Who Loved Me, which was released in 1977. I was working for a special effects company at the time, based in Pinewood Studios. The first task I was given was to create a ski stick that turned into a gun. I ended up on the set, helping to blow up Karl Stromberg’s underwater base, Atlantis.
About 75 per cent of my role as Special Effects Supervisor is about engineering. That aspect of the job has become more prominent through the years. The Spy Who Loved Me featured mechanical rigs, but nothing quite like the sinking house in Casino Royale (2006), which was four storeys high and weighed 120 tons. For Skyfall in 2012 we showed tube trains crashing through the set, which required the construction of an overhead monorail carrying two carriages.
‘I said to the director, Sam Mendes, “Sam, we’re out in the middle of the Moroccan desert, no buildings in sight — I can give you an explosion you’ll love!”’
James Bond technicians have always prided themselves on trying to get everything on camera for real. That’s been their mantra for many years. CGI [computer-generated imagery] is a wonderful tool, and we use it for many reasons, particularly to ensure safety. However, the actors will have very different reactions to an assistant director simply shouting ‘Explosion!’ over a megaphone, compared to a real-life explosion 100 feet behind them.
The big explosion at the end of Spectre , in which Bond destroys Blofeld’s desert lair, was supposed to be CGI. The computer guys kept showing examples to the director, Sam Mendes, but he wasn’t happy with them. I said to him one day, ‘Sam, we’re out in the middle of the Moroccan desert, no buildings in sight — I can give you an explosion you’ll love!’ And he said, ‘OK, let’s go with it.’
I’ve come up with a number of special effects ideas on the James Bond films. The tank chase in GoldenEye (1995) was originally a motorbike chase. I was asked to go to the office to talk to the producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and the director, Martin Campbell. They said, ‘How can we make this bike chase more spectacular?’
My instant response was, ‘Get rid of it. Let’s do something different. Bond starts the chase in a military park with military vehicles everywhere, so let’s have him take one of them — like a tank.’
We then came up with this theory that, yes, a car is faster, but the tank can take shortcuts through buildings. We had lots of fun with that.
Location can be a big factor in dictating how a sequence will look. When you do a site visit, you soak up the architecture and the surrounding nooks and crannies, and everything starts to fall into place. In Istanbul, we went up to the rooftops and somebody said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a motorbike chase along this roof?’ The whole sequence for the opening of Skyfall stemmed from that.
For the initial car chase in No Time To Die (2021), I visited Matera in southern Italy about 13 times with Lee Morrison, the Stunt Coordinator. We would report back to Director Cary Joji Fukunaga with locations we’d found and what we could do. He would then tick some of it off, but also say, ‘No, we need something else here’ and we’d have to go back out again.
A key ingredient of any good car chase is a good car, and James Bond is blessed with the Aston Martin DB5. We needed 10 of them for No Time To Die, but at £2 million each it wasn’t financially viable to buy them all. Instead, we settled on two real DB5s for shots of Daniel Craig getting in and out, then Aston Martin made eight identical replicas.
‘In Matera we built a whole rig that enabled us to make the car do a doughnut remotely, without Daniel doing a thing. Unfortunately, Daniel stole our thunder because he did the doughnut himself!’
You need at least two models of every car. If one goes down you can’t have 500 people left standing around while it’s being fixed. We fitted two with driving pods on the roof so that we could have British Rally champion Mark Higgins driving the car while Daniel and Léa Seydoux were being filmed inside going round corners at 80 miles per hour.
Two more DB5s were kitted out with all the gadgets: we updated the guns on the front and had little bomblets that would drop out the back. Four other cars were stunt cars — dressed from the windows up, and fitted below with roll cages, hydraulic handbrakes and stunt fuel tanks.
In Matera, Lee Morrison couldn’t get the DB5’s tyres to grip the polished stone the way he wanted. Then he came up with the idea of spraying a well-known brand of fizzy drink on the road and letting it get tacky. I was sceptical at first, but the extra tackiness allowed him to go around corners 20mph faster.
Daniel Craig is a very good driver. For every film he spends a couple of weeks with the stunt guys, getting used to each car. They really put him through his paces.
In Matera we built a whole rig that enabled us to make the car do a doughnut remotely, without Daniel doing a thing. Unfortunately, Daniel stole our thunder because he did the doughnut himself! But for insurance reasons he can only do so much. You can’t have your main actor taking too many risks.
It’s unusual to have two car chases in a single film. In No Time To Die, however, the two sequences are so different — one in a city 5,000 years old, the other rural and off-road — that they complement each other.
The chase featuring Range Rovers and Defenders was shot in six locations. We started off in Norway, but also used Windsor Great Park and a private estate in Scotland. Land Rover gave us 10 pre-production Defenders to film with, which nobody had seen at that stage. They didn’t want any pictures getting out before the big launch, so we had to keep them covered up at all times.
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I spent about 11 months working on No Time To Die. It’s rapid and it’s daunting at the start when you’ve got all the ideas laid out in front of you, and you think, ‘How am I ever going to achieve this?’ But luckily I had a wonderful crew who rose to the challenge every time.