James Bond’s problems tend to work themselves out a little differently than yours or mine. In the current outing of the franchise Quantum of Solace, which transports an obscure Ian Fleming short story title to a film that is now a sequel to the previous Daniel Craig installment Casino Royale, Bond finds that he “has” to go places like Austria, Italy and South America, and—civil servant car rental budgets being what they are—driving through them (at high rates of speed) in various Aston Martins, Alfa Romeos, and the like.
On these outings, of course, Bond likes to be equipped with the best gear from London headquarters. Behind the scenes was no different, except that the “gear” came in ones and zeros, and “headquarters” was Brit-based post house Double Negative.
Or rather, being Bond, several such outfits were needed, and “DNeg” once again shared digital duties with a handful of its Scepter’d Isle-based colleagues. The irony, in fact, is that while the movie underscores the mythos of Bond being a self-protected lone wolf, “it takes a village”— to quote from a putative Secretary of State—to bring that mythos to screen.
Double Negative’s FX supervisor Alex Wuttke was there early on, overseeing the opening car chase shot at Lake Garda in Italy. Wuttke actually supervised the shoot itself, covering the exteriors, the noted-by-critics inside-the-car shots, and the later digital “fixes”—removing the rigs, safety gear (it’s “mythos,” and not actual driving, remember?) as well as, yes, putting Craig’s face on that of the stunt driver. Stunt people, then, aren’t required to look like those they’re stunting for anymore. At least, not so much.
And while we told you it takes a village, Wuttke asserts that maybe it doesn’t—at least, not for everyone. “Communication with the crew during the shoot was paramount, especially during the chase sequences,” explains Wuttke. “(Second unit director) Dan Bradley likes to shoot from multiple camera positions, and generally doesn’t work from a central video village.”
In fact, he continues, “During the car chase in Italy, given how much coverage Dan wanted for car interior plates to be shot with Craig later at Pinewood, a running dialogue was essential in ensuring that we captured the relevant background plates on location. To this end, I worked extremely closely with (1st AD) Terry Madden and Dan in ensuring that we covered ourselves.”
And that wasn’t necessarily easy work: Bradley’s background runs to both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, so the high-action live action footage required a lot of careful bluescreen matching to stay consistent.
It’s all part of the feel that allows Bond to be physically spontaneous, resourceful, or operating with a dark intuition. But you can’t plan his film adventures that way. Wuttke notes that talks about the convergence of FX and stunts began early on. “Planning began around November of last year. We held initial talks with (VFX supe) Kevin Tod Haug about the Palio race sequence. Production had shot several angles around the event, and Kevin was looking for ways of reconstructing camera moves around the footage. This led us to some research into new areas of computer graphics, namely computational photography. This in turn led to us being awarded the aerial chase and skydive sequence.”
And computational photography wasn’t the only new area for Double Negative. Victor Wade, who was 2D supervisor for the film, adds that they “developed proprietary tools for dealing with the event-capture material generated for the body flight sequence.”
Dubbed “DoubleVision,” the software “recreates geometry in 3D space from calibrated pairs of images by solving the depth from camera for identifiable features.” Which, one assumes, is how you have to think of things, if you’re tasked with making realistic digital geometry to augment 2D graphics that are themselves compressed filmed images of 3D images, terrains, people, and such.
Wade also helped oversee those “awarded” additional sequences Wuttke mentioned, including a chase and fight—is there any other mode for a Bond vehicle?—in a DC3. Speaking of the imperiled plane, Wade says “the plates were all beautifully shot and it was amazing watching the aerobatics in the desert, but it was very daunting to see what they had captured,” since that raised the bar for the digital matching.
“The damage on the plane was very hard to make stick,” he continues. But (director) Marc (Forster) was really happy with the outcome. At one of the dailies session he said, ‘I just don’t know what is real anymore.’ That was the highest praise”.
And not only what’s real, but what’s “brand new,” capability-wise.
Wade adds that despite the fact that this is DNeg’s second Bond film in the series re-boot, as well, “All the material for the VFX on Quantum was exclusive to the show. None of the work DNeg completed for Casino Royale was used.”
There was, however, a nod toward some “library footage” of dust and other elements, added to the blue-screened material shot for the chase overseen by Bradley. Indeed, hammers were taken to the legendary Aston Martin, and some fresh dust thrown all over Craig; all of it provide what DNeg’s own film publicity calls “a sense of travel” to the sequence.
And really, isn’t that one of the things Bond films have always been about?