Chris Corbould must be ridiculously good at D.I.Y.
Seriously, his house must be a technical marvel; with hydraulic platforms raising you to the floor of your choice, a garage filled with vehicles so technically marvellous that us mere mortals just couldn’t comprehend the technology (and we’d suffer a stroke if we tried to), one of those machines that makes your food for you if you tell it what you want and properly constructed flat-pack furniture. Imagine THAT on Through The Keyhole. Loyd Grossman would have an embolysm.
…Oh hang on. He doesn’t do it any more.
After all, this is the man who –along with his team of magicians– brought us the spunky little Q-Boat in The World Is Not Enough, the ice chase between Bond and Zao in Die Another Day, the sinking Venetian House in Casino Royale and (if I may turn heathen and mention something non-Bond for a moment) Batman’s latest front-axle-free tank of a Batmobile.
He’s the man to whom directors turn when they want the technically impossible made possible: when that bike needs to be adapted to fire lasers and shoot grenades, or that car has to transform into a giant pair of knockers and back again at the flick of a switch.
Nobody’s been doing it better than him (sorry) for over two decades, and last month CommanderBond.net had the honour of talking to award-winning Special Effects Co-ordinator Chris Corbould about his career and his time and experiences as a well-respected member of the Bond family.
First things first, Chris, how did you get into the business? Was it your Uncle (Colin Chilvers) who influenced you to get started?
I first started in special effects after going to work with my uncle during my summer holidays from school whilst he was working on a film called Tommy. I was going to go back after the summer break to commence my a-levels but never set foot in the school again. That early introduction was especially exciting as I was a great fan of The Who and Eric Clapton both of whom were in the film. My claim to fame on that film was opening every single tin of baked beans that Ann Margret rolled around in, which was approximately 500 gallons. In those days we didn’t have electric can openers either. The thing that influenced me most was the variety, creativeness and teamwork needed to carry out complex special effects. It became immediately obsessive and I was hooked to this day. After Tommy, I gained a position as trainee with a special effects company in Pinewood where I proceeded to learn engineering and fabrication work, vital to the years ahead.
We’re sure everyone’s familiar with you as a member of the “Bond family”, but how did you get to be part of that “family” in the first place?
I first worked on a James Bond during my early years with Effects Associates in Pinewood. I was involved with making Special Effects gadgets and props for Spy Who Loved Me and later spent some time on the 007 Stage filming the submarine sequence. Shortly after that film I left Effects Associates and went freelance on Moonraker, which was where I was first introduced to Cubby Broccoli and Michael Wilson.
Moonraker was based in Paris but we spent many months on locations such as Venice, Florida and Brazil which promoted a closeness and camaraderie amongst the crew, especially with Cubby and Michael.
The “family” were intensely loyal to crew who had served them well and hence the reason they kept recalling the same names as part of their “extended family”. This was the magic era of Derek Meddings on James Bond and I was lucky enough to continue as part of his physical effects team under John Evans for For Your Eyes Only. The next dynasty in Special Effects was under the auspices of John Richardson, with whom I worked for on View to a Kill, Living Daylight and Licence to Kill. During this period I formed a working friendship with Barbara Broccoli, who together with Michael Wilson were becoming prominent producers with Cubby at the helm. Finally, I achieved my ultimate goal and became Special Effects Supervisor on Goldeneye right through to Casino Royale. During those eleven films, I shared many experiences with the “Bond family” and consider myself privileged to have been part of it.
So how has your job on the Bond series evolved since joining the series?
As I have just mentioned, my first involvement with Bond was on Spy Who Loved Me but Special Effects as a craft has grown immensely over the last 15 years which was contradictory to what we thought would happen with the advent of CGI. At one stage, we all thought CGI would take over our role and leave us obsolete. In effect, it propelled us forward with great momentum as we were required to liaise with CGI effects on films never achievable before. On Goldeneye, my Special Effects crew consisted of approximately 40 technicians whereas on Die Another Day we were running at about 120 technicians, partly due to Bond policy of trying to retain as much reality as possible. Generally our workload encompasses a wide spectrum of skills but heavy engineering involving movement and hydraulics is a massive part of our work as typified by the 100 ton sinking room on Casino Royale.
It was your idea for the tank chase in GoldenEye. How did that idea come to you?
Originally in Goldeneye, the sequence was a motorbike chase but Martin Campbell, Michael and Barbara were worried that a chase on a motorbike was probably not going to be spectacular enough. Eventually we had a round table brainstorming session where I put forward the idea of the tank. To my knowledge, a tank had never been seen chasing through the streets and once the idea was agreed, we came up with numerous events, far more than we could ever shoot, but the scope we had with this new vehicle was immense. We worked on the principle that the car being chased was governed by the restrictions of the roads whereas the tank could take short cuts like going through buildings. If we had had our way we would still be shooting the sequence today with all the ideas that were springing up. We also had great fun testing out the tanks running over cars and going through walls. I think one of the highlights with the tank was when it first appeared through the wall. Simon Crane, the stunt coordinator, wanted it to jump from a ramp through the wall to give it more height but 30 tons of steel hitting the ground from 4ft up is quite a bang as Gary Powell, the stunt driver later testified.
Do you save unused ideas from one film to use in another in a little
book or something, or just in your noggin’?
No, I don’t have a little book of unused ideas. Generally each film requires totally new concept ideas although I do have a huge library of tapes containing years of tests that I can refer to, some of which are quite amusing where things haven’t gone quite to plan.
What were the highlights of special effects that you and your team accomplished for Casino Royale?
The biggest highlight was the sinking room sequence. It was a sequence that I was concerned would look phoney if we didn’t get it right. The hydraulic interior set was enormous and highly complex with each movement controlled by computer. The set weighed in at over 100 tons and was 4 storeys high and loosely based on the Hotel Danielli in Venice, courtesy of Peter Lamont, the Production Designer. The script read that it was a sinking house but it turned into more of a sinking mansion. The whole rig lowered 19 feet into a twenty foot deep tank of water and also tilted through fifteen degrees on every axis. The water was turned into a bubbling cauldron using a bank of sixteen huge road compressors. In addition to this rig, we were responsible for building a third scale miniature of the exterior of the house which also had to sink into an exterior tank to match the interior. We spent many hours testing how each individual item of the exterior would collapse such as chimneys, balconies and even a third scale crane barge moored against the house.
Do you have that 2007 VES Award in your toilet or on your mantelpiece? If not, where is the blighter?
To be honest, I haven’t received the award yet although they did send me the engraved brass plaque to screw onto it. Hopefully it will arrive in the post someday. Actually, winning an award was a bit of a surprise as I have a wall full of different nomination certificates but was resigned to not actually winning anything.
What does “James Bond” mean to you?
James Bond has given me the opportunity to explore all my wildest ideas and witness my incredibly talented crew bringing them to life. Nothing gives me more pleasure than their utter dedication to achieving spectacular results. James Bond has given me the freedom to let these guys loose.
What were you doing a year ago today?
I was preparing to film in Venice on Casino Royale. It’s a beautiful city and one of my favourite locations.
What would you say is the most challenging part of your job? Is there one day that stands out where everything went a bit wrong?
The most challenging part of my job (apart from the creative side) is trying to make sure Special Effects crew, equipment and materials are in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we can have filming units in two or three different parts of the world and prep crews in another two or three locations. Schedules are always demanding. Another challenging item is safety. Everyone wants spectacular Special Effects, but every effect is tested again and again to make sure that it is safe, not just for artists/stuntmen, but also for the filming crew. The biggest mental challenge is getting into the head of the Director and seeing what makes him tick, what his vision is and hopefully what his dislikes are.
We generally get one or two days on every film where things don’t go quite right, usually from events thrown at us at the last moment and usually involving the silliest of things. However, we do tend to reminisce about those days for years to come and much amusement is gained from them after the event.
What do you feel you can bring from your work on other films to the
Bonds? And what from the Bonds to those other films?
The main thing I bring from Bonds to other films is a wealth of experience where they have given me the opportunity to experiment and explore new technologies as they appear on the scene.
The main thing that other films bring to Bond is that they keep my mind fresh and stop me getting formatted in the way I work when embarking on another episode in the franchise. I try to keep some variety in my choice of subject matter on the other films although high level action always seems to be the main ingredient.
Is there a moment from any of the Bonds that you have worked on that gives you the greatest satisfaction to see realised? What are the little details you’ve added to the series that you’re most proud of?
There are moments on every single Bond that have given me satisfaction to see realised.
- Goldeneye – My first Bond as overall Supervisor – Tank Chase
- Tomorrow Never Dies – Huge explosions in the opening sequence with the Bond in the jet fighter
- World Is Not Enough – Boat Chase on the Thames/ Helicopter cutting the caviar house up
- Die Another Day – Aston Martins/Jaguar Adaptations
- Casino Royale – Sinking House
I would like to think that I have been instrumental in all the action sequences in the Bond’s that I have supervised. I enjoy working closely with the Directors, Producers and Stunt Coordinators and thrive on putting forward my ideas and sometimes seeing them on screen.
What will your involvement be in Bond 22? How does it differ from your
role on Casino Royale?
My hope is that I will be doing the Special Effects and Miniature Effects again after I finish on the sequel to Batman Begins. The role I might have would be dependent on the Director they choose and his requirements from me. Fingers crossed.
Where do you think James Bond can go from here?
Bond has entered a whole new era where the characters are the main ingredient and the action is meaningful rather than being gratuitous. I also believe that Daniel has a huge amount to offer in exploring this new path. He is not only a wonderful actor but puts real effort into getting the most from our efforts. Casino Royale is a hard act to follow but I am confident the next film will surpass it.
What’s your favourite Bond-related anecdote?
There are so many anecdotes from my Bond years. We had great fun with the tanks on Goldeneye. We did a shot one day which involved the tank making a sharp turn into an alleyway. An unmanned camera was mounted on a trolley and had a line attached to it to enable it to be pulled out the way if the tank aborted the turn. Unfortunately the tank did abort and the trolley was not pulled out of the way fast enough resulting in 30 tons of metal running over this poor defenceless camera. Suffice to say, the camera was scooped up bit by bit and put in a cardboard box for inspection by the production office and insurance company.
Chris, thanks a million for taking the time to chat to us, and for playing such a large part in making Bond films so entertaining. Everyone at CBn wishes you the best of luck with Bond 22 and The Dark Knight.