Let’s take a moment to step back in time to Glasgow Film Festival 2020 – simpler times and of course pre-pandemic where we were blissfully unaware of what was to come.
The film industry as we know it has changed forever and a man who knows about change is special effects legend and Academy Award winner Chris Corbould. A varied career so far he has worked on six James Bond films and is now part of the Marvel Universe.
We sat down with Chris to talk about his career to date, building Batman’s Tumbler, working on No Time To Die and more.
Over your career is there any one moment or film you’ve worked on that really sticks in your mind?
That’s a really difficult one. But I’ve got a special place in my heart for GoldenEye. It was my first big film in charge and first Bond film in charge of SFX.
Also it was at a time when they hadn’t made a Bond film in seven years because of litigation going on in the U.S.
It was a real proving ground to find out if Bond was still relevant. Some great films came out during that seven year period such as True Lies. Times had changed so GoldenEye was a real mission for everyone that worked on it to ensure that we could keep Bond alive and still appealed to audiences.
Casino Royale, Batman trilogy I loved all those. Working with Christopher Nolan on the Batman films was great, great filmmaker and we got on well. He really explored my craft rather than take the easy option of doing everything with visual effects.
Chris really wanted to see what I could do and I saw him grow as a director. When he did Batman Begins he never really did a big action film before. So going from there to what he did with The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises I saw him grow.
Who were your inspirations or mentors that really shaped your career?
When I first started off I worked for a special effects company where I was put with R&D engineers, so learnt engineering for the first four or five years.
There was a guy called Ken Morris there who taught me, he was my mentor and taught me a lot about fabrication and putting stuff together. People like Derek Meddings and John Richardson taught me a lot.
Meddings taught me a lot about the miniature side of things. Then later in my career I went on to do miniature work on a couple of films.
Of all the accolades you have received and been nominated for, is it still surreal to have an OBE and of course an Oscar?
Yeah! I think I was disappointed we didn’t get the Oscar for The Dark Knight. It was some of the best work me and my team had done. The truck flip, built the Batmobile, Batpod and think it deserved more recognition than it got.
I think there was some embarrassment around it because they changed the whole Oscar voting system for Best Picture.
Where do you keep your Oscar?
It is above the fireplace. I think we won everything that year, it was one of those magical nights.
We were in the right place in the right time.
These days a lot of the Oscars are won probably on the visual effects work. I firmly believe that with Inception we were a major part in getting the Oscar with the visual effects.
What was the biggest challenge when Christopher Nolan approached you for Inception?
The big revolving corridor. A lot of the success of that is down to Joe Gordon-Levitt who spent a lot of time rehearsing in it.
That rig is 120ft long, 30ft in diameter. It’s fine when you are walking on it normally but when you turn if 90 degrees you then get a 12ft drop [laughs]. So Joe worked really hard and sold the whole thing.
We made that rig to do six revolutions a minute, which doesn’t sound a lot, but the max we could shoot with it was three revs per minute.
When you started cranking it up you saw the look on their face go from acting to self-survival!
The visual effects in Inception are just incredible. Where did you even begin to bring that to fruition from concept stage?
It is a process. Chris is not the sort of guy to compromise and the worst thing you could do with Chris is try to compromise.
We would talk about it, come up with a plan and then I’d get together with my guys to discuss how we are going to do it.
I’ll never forget when we did the flipping truck in The Dark Knight, I was putting that off. You tend to find you lose a lot of sleep over things then all of a sudden they write them out of the script.
But it soon became apparent this scene was not going away. I tried to sneakily say to Chris about just flip the trailer bit over, leave the tractor unit like a big pivot. Also said about shortening it and he just wasn’t for it.
We built the rig, went down to the place where we blew the hospital up and stuck a stunt guy in it who drove it down pressed the button and it just sailed over. So I went back to Chris and told him we were on!
It is quite a nice feeling knowing you achieved it.
But then he threw another spanner in the works. The place he chose to do it was the banking district in Chicago. The road was the same width as the truck so if it had gone up, veered off slightly then it would have straight through the middle of a bank.
I lost more sleep over that. I remember I was at the starting point, making sure all the cylinders were charged up. So said to Chris we are ready and started watching it going down the road and just couldn’t watch it.
There would be either two outcomes; either a loud whoosh which is the ram going off then a crash and a load of sound of breaking glass. OR a loud whoosh of the thing going off, then crash and people applauding.
Lucky enough it was the second one!
Sounds like Christopher Nolan is responsible for some grey hairs as well as sleepless night…
Yeah. He’s got to take his responsibility for quite a few of those. And so can Sam Mendes and Martin Campbell.
And the rest of em’…[laughs]
I tend to go to sleep dreaming of problems. I was finishing off The Dark Knight Rises in L.A and Sam Mendes called me up saying he had this great underground chase through the underground of London but need one jaw-dropping moment.
I went to sleep and the brain is still going and woke up at 2.00am in the morning and just thought tube train!
That’s how that whole thing generated for Skyfall in that very cool scene.
So phoned Sam and he absolutely loved it. Went back home, sat down with my team and were like what were you thinking!
They said they are 30 tonnes each so said we’ll make a couple to which they said they are 60ft long!
It was banter. My team is what I am in awe of. I see the dedication they put into stuff like the sinking house in Casino Royale, underground train, it amazes what they can do.
What was your initial reaction when you seen the Tumbler finally built and operational?
I think the main reason why he asked to see me is that he is a big James Bond fan and likes to do as much as possible on-camera that’s probably why I got the gig. I went up, started talking and got on like a house on fire.
On his table there was a model Tumbler that was really unorthodox. I went to my crew to see what we could do and they just all knuckled down. We built every bit of it except the engine. It was identical to that little model Chris showed me that was made out of bits of everything.
Our full-size one looked exactly the same and we did the same with the Batpod. We produced a beast of a machine in the end. We spent a lot of time jumping it, find the weak spots then strengthen that up and jump it again.
It is a process of elimination. We were jumping that sixty-seventy feet in the film in the end.
That thing could 100mph, 0-60mph was about seven seconds. The camera car had a job keeping up with it in Chicago!
There seems to be a resurgence of practical FX with audiences growing tired of digital FX – what are your thoughts on this change?
Having worked with Derek Meddings I learnt a lot from him. I used to go help him out. You look and learn, see what is possible.
The sort of miniatures I was getting involved in weren’t that miniature! We used to laugh and call them big-a-tures.
That sinking house model was 30ft high, it was huge. We made a plane on that film that came out of a hanger, that was a miniature.
It helps me when I am trying to come up with concepts to show directors these days I always get the guys to quickly put together a basic miniature and I then shoot it. It is a great tool to show a director what is in your head.
As soon as they see something for real it starts clicking little gears in their heads.
What’s it been like working on No Time To Die?
I think it’s a very powerful film this one, Daniel Craig is on fire with his acting in this one – this is the best I’ve ever seen him act.
It is going to be a really special film.
It’s got all the action and great to see the Aston Martin DB5 in combat mode rather than just looking pretty and firing the odd gun. It really gets involved this time and we shot a great sequence just outside Aviemore, another off-road one that is going to be just spectacular.
Everyone always has THEIR James Bond, who is yours?
I’ve liked all the James Bonds I’ve worked with. I mean I thought Timothy Dalton was underrated, I thought he was quite a gritty Bond. The two films he did I think really good films.
Pierce served a time when he had that little bit of humour, more so than Timothy but not as far as Roger.
I’ve done six films with Daniel now and love him to bits, he is a nice guy and works with us to make sure whatever we do looks good as well as us making him look good. It is a real collaboration and can’t think too highly of Daniel!
Weird to think how much he was panned when he was cast but it is hard to imagine him no longer being Bond…
I loved him but some of the press just slaughtered him. You just want to get in there and start laying into them. So what if he is blonde, who cares!
This is the 25th Bond and why I think they are still relevant is that they change with the times.
Who knows the way they’ll go, but they aren’t even thinking of the next Bond. Right now it is Daniel’s era but it is so exciting what way they will be going.
You are also working on the new Doctor Strange, how’s that experience been?
It is the first Marvel film I’ve done and probably after this film I am going to concentrate on second-unit directing.
But hopefully main unit after a while and writing.
I feel I should do a Marvel film to put my stamp on it, if I can.
I’ll still be involved in the creative side of special effects and hopefully the team I’ve got with me now I can push them forward. I’ve been doing it for 40 years now so it would be good to give someone else a chance.
I absolutely love directing, I just adore it.
No Time To Die is released in cinemas on September 30th