"No Time to Die" Breaks The James Bond VFX Oscar Nomination Drought
SFX supervisor Chris Corbould
SFX supervisor Chris Corbould reflects on the Bond franchise, gears up for a new directorial chapter in his career

Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould has a James Bond lineage capped by a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination this year for No Time to Die (MGM), marking the first such nod for a Bond film since 1980 when Moonraker turned the trick. Though he was far down the effects food chain some 40-plus years ago, Corbould had the distinction of working on Moonraker as well.

Moonraker was just the second Bond film for Corbould, the first being The Spy Who Loved Me. He’s worked on every single Bond movie since right through to No Time to Die--except for Octopussy which he couldn’t take on due to a scheduling conflict. In total, Corbould’s filmography includes 15 James Bond features.

Corbould’s bond with Bond is just one of a couple profoundly deep connections he has to the effects community--the other being familial. His uncle, Colin Chilvers, won a Special Achievement Academy Award for visual effects on Superman in 1979. And Corbould’s two younger brothers also are part of the effects fraternity. All three Corbould brothers in fact have made shortlists for the VFX Oscar.

While Academy Award nominations are not an exact science, there’s some informed conjecture as to what in part has been behind the long drought for Bond films which are inherently great action spectacles with ambitious effects artistry. But over the years, superhero and CG fare have become the marquee attraction in the effects sphere with special, practical, in-camera, real-time effects--such as stunts, real vehicles, pyrotechnics and the like, which are 007 staples--taking a bit of a backseat. 

For Corbould, No Time to Die--directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga--reflects a mesh which he regards as most gratifying: special practical effects and visual effects, including CG, working in tandem to tell a story. The effects remain invisible, bringing the narrative and characters to the fore. There are assorted examples of this coming together of special and visual effects in No Time to Die. One such instance came in the Norwegian chase sequence in the forest as real ramps were deployed in the terrain to make the cars leap through the air. The ramps were later digitally removed by a team under the aegis of visual effects supervisor Charlie Noble, underscoring the seamless collaboration between SFX and VFX. Corbould noted that he greatly valued the spirit of collaboration and teamwork he enjoyed with Noble. In other words, VFX and SFX working in concert starts at the top.

The brutal off-road chase, though, while brilliant, did not detract from the pathos of the moment as Bond’s young daughter was a passenger in one of the vehicles. Corbould noted that he, Noble and their teams were mindful of that emotional context, careful not to lose it even in the throes of a visually stirring and captivating chase sequence.

The same was very much true for the climactic end of the film--replete with fired missiles, higher tech weaponry and explosions. Still, Corbould and his effects compatriots kept that destruction short--with Bond doing nothing in the face of his pending demise. The priority, Corbould explained, was to have nothing detract from a telling, brave, emotional moment.

Other varied sequences also contributed to the VFX Oscar nod for No Time to Die--such as the sinking trawler scene which was shot in an enormous underwater rig created by Corbould to convey a real sense of peril and the all-too-real prospect of Bond drowning.

While No Time to Die marks Corbould’s first Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination for a Bond Film, it is not his first such Academy nod. Corbould thus far has six career Visual Effects Oscar nominations. Corbould was a key part of the winning team on Inception in 2011. And he was also nominated for The Dark Knight in 2009, Star Wars: Episode VII--The Force Awakens in 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII--The Last Jedi in 2018, and Christopher Robin in 2019. 

The Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination for No Time to Die, as the Bond movie franchise marks its 60th anniversary, is particularly special for Corbould--not just because it’s been 40-plus years since Moonraker but also because this latest Bond film marks the end of Daniel Craig’s reign as agent 007. “I’ve watched Daniel grow from film to film, with electric, unbelievable performances,” said Corbould. “The entire crew wanted to do justice to Daniel’s reign as Bond. We didn’t want our work to detract from the character, the storyline, especially in honor of Daniel.”

While No Time to Die marked the end for Craig as Bond, it too might also turn out to be Corbould’s last lead special effects gig for the franchise. Corbould has since served as SFX supervisor on Marvel’s Dr. Strange sequel but plans after 40-plus years to now focus on directing. He has served as second unit director over the years on such films as Christopher Robin, Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and The Rhythm Section. While he will still be available to occasionally consult on SFX, Corbould’s priority will be second unit and main unit directing.

As for lasting memories from No Time to Die, Corbould noted that it was the first major film to hit the theaters as the pandemic lockdown eased. To hear the cheering, clapping and laughter was particularly moving for Corbould who expressed appreciation for the studio and producers holding firm for the movie to debut in theaters. Corbould affirmed it would have been “criminal” for the film not to be shown in cinemas.

This is the 16th and final installment of this year’s The Road To Oscar series of feature stories. SHOOT will next cover the 94th Oscars to be held on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood and televised live on ABC at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT and in more than 200 territories worldwide.

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