London-based Cinesite recently completed visual effects for four sequences in the 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall. The sequences showcase the company’s environment and CG creature techniques – including the creation of the first CG creature to feature in a Bond film, a CG Komodo dragon, and three sequences on the London Underground consisting of digital environments and set extensions.
Cinesite’s visual effects supervisor Jon Neill led the work and spent time on set at Pinewood Studios and on location at Charing Cross Underground station to oversee the shoots and ensure Cinesite’s digital visual effects complemented the physical effects and stunts.
To create the first CG creature to feature in a Bond film, Neill’s team staged a shoot at London Zoo to capture footage and stills of Komodo dragons interacting. Using this reference material, Cinesite’s character animation team modeled the creature in Maya and textured it using Mudbox and Mari, before compositing it into the live-action plate using Nuke. The challenge was to ensure the creature interacted with the live-action plate and looked photoreal. CG dust and gravel that mirrored the action within the dragon’s pit were also added, while the lighting and shading had to be carefully angled to ensure the correct depth of field.
For the three sequences staged on the London Underground, comprising escalator and platform chases and catacomb destruction, Cinesite was tasked with creating digital environments and set extensions to boost the look and feel of these high-octane scenes.
The platform chase sequence features shots filmed on location in Charing Cross Underground and on set at the Pinewood 007 stage cut together. The scene follows Bond running and jumping on the back of a subway carriage. Two practical train carriages were built by production on the Pinewood 007 stage and rigged to travel down the rails. Neill’s team augmented the physical effects by extending the carriage, adding other CG carriages with passengers composited in, and compositing the train driver into the scene.
The catacomb sequence features an explosion and a dramatic train crash that was devised by Skyfall’s special effects department. Shot on the Pinewood 007 stage, a practical train was rigged to the ceiling and crashes into the scene from the corner. To enhance the look, Cinesite’s team created a digital set extension to expand the arches in the catacomb and give it a greater sense of depth. They also digitally removed the camera crew that was positioned in front of Bond as the train comes crashing down, as well as the rig the train was suspended on, and enhanced the practical dust and debris with 3D particles.
“It’s always a privilege to work on a Bond film and Skyfall marks our sixth contribution to the franchise,” said Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite. “The physical stunts and effects are what set it apart from other films and to be able to complement them with digital visual effects is a real honor.”