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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chris Corbould
Saturday, August 30, 2008
EDITOR'S NOTE: When I had the honor of visiting the Chicago set of THE DARK KNIGHT back in June of 2007 (CLICK HERE to read my 6-part TDK Set Visit), the interviews I did with the cast and crew took place in a big white tent that sat adjacent to the “Old Post Office.” This old building had been transformed into a mini soundstage and was the locale of several important scenes filmed for TDK -- including the famous Joker bank robbery that opens the movie. Anyway, back to that tent…
It was right next to a busy Chicago street! Consequently, the audio playback on some of my interviews, well, sucked. In fact, my interview with Chris Corbould was basically inaudible and I was not able to include it with the others from my TDK set visit. But…
I know Chris and he is a good “Friend of BOF” (FOBOF) and he agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to do another one with me for BOF. And frankly, this one’s even better because he was able to actually talk about the film! Back in Chicago, he really couldn't say anything -- you know how Chris Nolan is about keeping things on the down and low, right?
So without further adieu, here is BOF's interview withChris Corbould who was the F/X Guru on both BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT.
JETT: Chris, I figure you’ve seen THE DARK KNIGHT now. What’s your thoughts on the film?
CC: “Firstly I am astonished at the box office success of the film. I am very proud to have been associated with it. Heath was riveting whenever he was on screen, Christian lives the duel roles magnificently whilst Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman are a joy to watch. Chris Nolan is starting to worry me now that he is experimenting with what can be achieved with special effects -- what will he dream up next !”
“Congratulations to all the craft departments who worked so hard to make this film a success including the construction crews, electricians, prop departments, accounts and production/location teams who so seldom get the credit they deserve.”
JETT: Damn straight bro! Congrats to you and ALL those folks behind the camera we never see. Since you are so important to the film -- and you certainly ARE important -- and know SO much about it while working on it, are you able to enjoy it as a fan as well?
CC: “My overwhelming enjoyment was seeing the result of what my talented and loyal crew had achieved after all those months hard work. They never cease to amaze me what they are capable of. I am really proud and honoured to have them as colleagues.
Also, there is a lot of the film that is modified, refined and improved during the post-production process (especially regarding CGI) which completes the film as a piece of work rather than a string of sequences. The musical score is a huge addition which we never witness until the film's release and completely lifts the film to new levels.”
JETT: What’s your favorite part of TDK that you worked on and had a lot to do with? And regardless, what was your favorite part period?!
CC: “I really enjoyed the hospital explosion sequence. It was something I had always wanted to do and I think Chris [Nolan] somehow got the idea that I had demolished one before. I think that it wasn't until the day before we shot it that he realised it was my first one! I worked closely with Chris on this sequence.”
“Now, he was insistent that the hospital didn't fall down like the normal ‘pack of cards’ demolition. I collaborated with Doug Loiseaux of Controlled Demolition and he came up with a method of dropping the building in a wave from one side to the other. He also dropped the connecting bridge in a very clever manner. I learnt a lot from Doug and his family on that sequence and they were also good fun. The problem with the hospital sequence was when to stop. At one stage I was considering collapsing the ground underneath, having water mains rupturing and having vehicles exploding in all directions but we would still be filming it now if that was the case. This was a real team effort preparing all the different aspects making up the whole event and my floor supervisor, Peter Notley, played a major role in this. We did have one minor setback early on involving the mysterious overnight disappearance of all the windows of the building to be demolished. The art department had to rapidly order replacements for filming”
JETT: The Batpod. Chris…I LOVED IT! Was this something that was “invented” in the script and Chris Nolan said “Find a way to make this work,” or did he come to you before the script was finished and say “Can we do this?”
CC: “The Batpod was another one of those phone calls [I got] from Chris Nolan where the conversation went like this : ‘Hi Chris, I would like you to fly to Los Angeles to have a look at what Nathan [Crowley, production designer] and I have been working on.’”
“Chris and Nathan had built a full scale model of the Batpod from bits of wood and plastic. I don't believe that Chris and Nathan had ever ridden a bike before, so therefore were not intimate with the mechanics. In some ways I think this helped them steer away from an orthodox looking machine and come up with The Batpod. We never referred to it as a bike -- always ‘The Batpod.’ Initially, I thought that I would have to keep returning to Chris with compromises on the design to enable it to work. But eventually we were very close to the original. When I returned to the UK, I got together two of my regulars (also motorbike fanatics), affectionately known as ‘Dick and Lou.’ My instructions were to put together as fast as possible a crude prototype to quickly see where the problems lie. My biggest concern was whether it would steer or not because of the huge wide tires. They quickly assembled a machine and after testing it, we were convinced we had a good chance. I then assembled a team of technicians headed by Roy Quinn to fabricate the filming bikes. We built a total of six.”
One of the most exciting moments was when Jean-Pierre Goy [The rider of The Batpod - Jett] appeared on the scene to give The Batpod a trial run. I had worked with Jean Pierre previously on a Bond film and had tremendous respect for him. He loved the bike and explored all aspects of its handling and maneuverability. I was astonished when on his first session on it -- I looked around and he was driving down the test area standing on the saddle! He admitted that The Batpod performed like no other machine he had ridden and when filming, he never rode a traditional motorbike as he maintained it affected him riding the Batpod.”
“I did have grave doubts about one aspect concerning The Batpod and it was ‘The Cape.’ I was convinced that the cape would get wrapped around the back wheel and cause big problems. I expressed my concerns to Chris [Nolan] and he saw my point and started to mull over some system of getting the cape to fold into a backpack whenever he rode the bike. However, the day came to try a Batsuit on Jean Pierre whilst riding The Batpod to see if he could see OK through the cowl, etc. The last test we did on the day was the Batcape. The Costume department had rigged clever quick releases on the cape so that if it caught in the back wheel, it would just pull away from Jean Pierre. I was astonished to see that when Jean Pierre pulled away, the wind got under the cape and it never even looked like it would get caught in the wheel and also looked totally iconic flowing behind him!
“I had to go with my tail between my legs to Chris and admit that my fears were unfounded and that it looked fantastic!”
“It was so exciting when we filmed on it for the first time in Chicago at night. As usual Chris was still tweaking things on it until we turned the cameras on.”
JETT: We all know now that CN has an aversion for CGI and likes to “keep it real.” What was the toughest thing in the film for your team to pull off that wasn’t CGI? And by the way my friend -- as a fan of film -- I’m glad that Chris feels that way!
CC: “I know it sounds silly and you will probably say ‘But you have done it many times before,‘ but some of the explosions were really tricky because of the locations Chris and Nathan chose.”
“The interior of the MCU unit was filmed in a grade listed building in the middle of London with a glass roof over the courtyard. This is not a good combination to have with explosions. We also had the same problem with the huge explosion at Battersea Power Station-- again in the heart of London and again a grade listed building. The result is many, many days testing, recording and taking air/overpressure readings culminating in pages of paperwork to put before the building owners and insurers. Damage to either building could have resulted in heavy financial costs.”
“However, both events took place and to my knowledge, everyone was happy. Incidentally, it is a very healthy relationship between Special Effects and Visual Effects these days with both departments working in harmony with each other. I worked closely with Nick Davis to ensure that we were using the correct method for the overall film rather than just banging our own gongs. I think they did a superb job.”
JETT: Chris, I absolutely LOVED (!) The Joker’s 18 wheeler turning over! What’s your thoughts about that whole sequence? How tough was it to pull off bro?
CC: “Initially, I had big doubts whether we could actually pull off this effect. Throughout prepping the film and the early days of filming, I kept trying to get Chris to compromise on the size of the truck or whether we could just flip the trailer and not the whole truck and generally trying to give us a fighting chance. Chris always just looked at me and smiled and without saying much, and wasn't convinced. In the end, I agreed with Chris that we would have one test attempt at flipping the whole semi and if we were nowhere near achieving it, we would reluctantly have do it miniature or CGI.”
“I again called on the expertise of ‘Dick and Lou’ who rose to the challenge and started fabricating the biggest nitrogen cannon I have ever seen. Also much time was spent putting steel into the stunt driver’s cab to ensure his safety. Then came the day of reckoning and we took the truck down to the test site and prepared for the event. After filling the system with nitrogen, we rolled the camcorders and signaled for the truck to move off. It gathered speed and when it reached the designated spot and Jim -- the stunt driver -- hit the cannon button and the truck sailed majestically into the air and straight over onto its roof. It was a thing of beauty!”
“I showed Chris the footage next day and had to endure the ‘I told you so’ comments but he was right, it looked awesome!”
“However, feeling pleased with ourselves, Chris threw the next curved ball in deciding that he wanted to film the truck on LaSalle St. right in the banking district of Chicago. The street was quite narrow and seemed to get narrower every time I visited it! Also, the whole street was peppered with manhole covers servicing utilities and underground bank vaults. After consultation with local engineers, there was only two 50ft patches of road where we could do the shot.”
“The night arrived to do the shot and must admit to not getting much sleep the day before. I had reoccurring nightmares involving lots of broken glass and trailer units embedded in bank frontage.”
“The moment came and we set the truck off-- I looked away and just listened. I heard the nitrogen piston fire and then silence as it arced over. Then there was a crash followed by loud applause and I knew then that we had pulled it off and looked back round. to see the wreckage. I slept well the next day!”
JETT: Chris, Christian Bale told me last Summer [During the 2007 Set Visit - Jett] in Chicago that he WAS going to ride The Batpod! He then told me this Summer in LA [When I visited with him at the TDK press junket - Jett] that he didn’t. How tough was it to actually ride that thing? Did you get on it (Laughs).
CC: “It was fairly easy to get on The Batpod and travel slowly forwards in a straight line. It was a very different beast when you started to accelerate, turn and generally throw it around!“
“Jean Pierre was adamant he wanted to get the best out it and rehearsed constantly even to the point of jumping it. However this proved particularly uncomfortable as his riding position meant that when landing a large part of the force was transferred to his chest and generally winded him -- or as Jean Pierre told me personally that he was very reluctant to have a go at that again! I did get on it and traveled very slowly but quickly realised that I should leave this to the professional!”
JETT: The Tumbler was blown up in TDK thus giving us the Batpod. If there is another Bat-Film[Bang, Bang, BANG!], would you like to see it return, or would you like to see a new Batmobile?
CC: “I think if The Batmobile were to return, it maybe should be another one of Applied Sciences’ research and development vehicles totally different to The Tumbler and probably with different applications and abilities. However I am sure the Director will have strong ideas about this!”
JETT: Chris, besides The Tumbler/Batmobile and The Batpod, would you like to see another Bat-vehicle in the next one? Nathan (Crowley) told me he wanted to see some sort of a “Bat-Boat.”
CC: “How about a Bat-Tank, Bat-Submarine, Bat-F1, or a Bat-GoCart? Or even a Bat-Surfboard, Bat-Tractor, or Bat-Jet? (Laughs)?”
“I do have a strong idea what vehicle I would like to experiment with, but I am keeping that to myself in case I am asked to do another BATMAN film. The vehicles are fun aspects of special effects when they have to do weird and spectacular things. One thing I will fight for is to make sure that we have a vehicle that we can achieve in reality to perform and achieve like we did with The Batmobile.”
JETT: And finally -- and Chris, it’s an honor to be able to call you a "Friend of BOF" -- what are you working on now? BOND I assume. And what’s up next for you?
CC: “I have just finished QUANTAM OF SOLICE -- the new ‘James Bond Film’ and I am having a rest and recharging my batteries. I did TDK and BOND back to back and I think my crew and myself need some breathing space. I am also spending quality time riding my Spanish horse in the woods away from the mayhem and enjoying time with my wife and children.”
JETT: Chris, you ARE the man and THANK YOU for being a FOBOF (“Friend Of Batman On Film”)! And tell Nolan Jett says “Bang, BANG, BANG!”