FXguide: Bond’s Boldest Adventure Yet – Skyfall

When Komodos attack Back from the dead and tracking his Turkey attacker, Bond heads to Shanghai, and then onto a casino in Macau. Upon leaving the casino, Bond is stopped by security and ends up in a fight amongst a pit of Komodo dragons, who eventually take down one of his assailants. In a homage to the crocodile scene in Live and Let Die, Bond escapes by leaping off one of the Komodo’s backs to safety.

Cinesite created an early test for the Komodo dragons before being awarded the scene. “For reference we went up to London Zoo to look at Komodos,” recalls Cinesite visual effects supervisor Jon Neill. “One was hand-reared so it was quite friendly. Another one was a female born in the wild, and so was not tame like the other one. We took lots of close-up hi-res stills of its body and head, eyes, feet. For the animation reference, we set up three HD cameras on the female and we sync’d them to shoot her eating mice.”

The Komodo model was built using Maya, Mudbox and Mari, with an incredibly high resolution displacement map required for the leathery skin. “We actually had the problem initially of our dragon being too detailed,” admits Neill, “so we made a dirt pass to cover his underbelly – it really covered up all the texture and made it a browny and gray. We also sourced real scars on real Komodos and replicated those.”

Animation proved challenging for the Cinesite team. “The interesting thing about Komodos is that they don’t move much,” notes Neill. “When you see them they just sit there for a long time, and wander across, so it was hard to get subtleties in there. But this was not about the Komodos – this was about the scene. You see them in the shadows, a tongue coming out, and crawling out of the shadows. Roger Deakins likes to light things with silhouettes and rim lights, and that really suited us and the sequence. The pit was actually all candle lit and had banks of candles in each corner.”

Final shot.

In the sequence, a Komodo slowly moves in on Bond’s attacker before grabbing his ankle and dragging him away. Cinesite had to match dust interaction from the on set gravel and fuller’s earth mix as the dragon takes the ankle. “We also did tests of saliva that Komodo’s use to usually poison their prey and wait for it die,” says Neill. “But we couldn’t have the Komodo biting him and then waiting for days – it wouldn’t be very exciting!”

For Bond’s escape, Daniel Craig jumped onto a green ramp that would later be replaced with a CG Komodo. “The problem,” says Neill, “was that it was a static ramp and he’s supposed to be jumping along a running Komodo. So we had to warp Bond’s leg to make it look like it was traveling with the Komodo as it moved.”

Into the Underground

The explosion

The explosion

The mastermind behind much of the film’s mayhem is revealed to be Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who is brought to London but ultimately escapes into the London Underground. Here, Cinesite carried out wire and rig removal work for an escalator stunt, set extensions for a chase through the Tube tunnels, and augmentations for a explosion set off by Silva and an actual train crashing through a tunnel roof.

For the explosion shot – where Silva is confronted by Bond within the catacombs of the Underground – production filmed at Pinewood Studios. “Daniel Craig was actually in the same set when the bomb went off – it was only 20 feet behind him,” says Jon Neill. “Roger Deakins had ten Alexas in there filming, two in the ceiling, one in the floor and the rest positioned behind arches. There was also a hand-held camera right in front of Daniel, so what we had to do was remove any camera views and replace Bond’s legs and all the ground below Roger Deakins and the crew.”

Cinesite also dealt with light interaction and the set’s wet floor, plus wires seen pulling off part of the roof to reveal a hole. The explosion is followed by a Tube train crashing straight through the gap, realized as a full-scale effect rigged by Chris Corbould’s team. The train was hung from inverted rails, ripping through the false ceiling. Ultimately, Cinesite removed the connected brackets, aided in dust interaction and placed Craig into the scenes.

The final explosion and crash.

“There was a big discussion about green or gray screens being used for the shot,” says Neill. “Roger Deakins is not keen about the contamination in the lighting, so we decided to just do roto. Luckily, Bond has short hair and it’s a fast sequence. Also if we put any kind of screen in there we would have been in the way of the ten cameras and have blocked one of the shots. We needed the freedom offered by roto. We didn’t have to light a greenscreen and we had Bond in the right lighting.”

Cinesite also added in a driver to the train – shot separately against green which was much easier to re-create to match the cab lighting – and also tracked in an ‘Out of Service’ message on the train to denote the lack of passengers. “We also filmed some elements of throwing bricks at camera against greenscreen, just in case we needed to cover any specific bricks and we used it on some of the shots,” adds Neill. “But the practical stunt was fantastic. There was a 30 minute countdown – it was like being at NASA!”