Special Effects Supervisor Chris Corbould Talks Topping THE DARK KNIGHT, New Vehicles, and More on the Set of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

     July 10, 2012


Last summer on the set of The Dark Knight Rises, I got to participate in a group interview with special effects supervisor Chris Corbould (who also did Batman Begins and The Dark Knight).  Here’s a few of the highlights:

  • There are three different Tumblers with various different types of gadgets and weapons on them.
  • A lot of the basic plans for the fight scenes change dramatically while filming as Chris gets new ideas for how he wants the fight to go.
  • Corbould wanted to create another Bat vehicle but was unable to do it on this movie.
  • Chris Nolan likes to combine as many physical effects into the CGI elements that he can to make it look as real as he can.
  • Much of the movie is supposed to take place in Winter in Gotham, but since the production is filming in the summer in Pittsburgh they had to dress the set in snow and steam and use lighting techniques to make it look like winter.
  • There will be at least two show-stopping effects similar to the truck-flip from The Dark Knight. One is filmed in Pittsburgh and one is filmed in Los Angeles.

Hit the jump for more.

As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview:  you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below.  The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20.

chris-corbould-the-dark-knight-risesWhat are they rigging to blow up?

Chris Corbould:  We’ve got a two-hour rig to do some explosions in the stadium, which should be a lot of fun for us and the crowd.

So tell us about that set-up out there.  There’s this kind of raised patch.

Corbould:  Yeah, I can’t really get into specifics of storylines for obvious reasons otherwise I’ll be shot.

Yeah, but the specifics of the practicalities of…

Corbould:  There’s a scene later where there’s a bit of a football game going on and for whatever reason, there’s a fairly sizeable explosion.  The raised platform is a technical part of… it’s there for a technical reason, nothing more.

Right, so it’s not like part of the ground coming out.

Corbould:  No, no.

So, why’s it like that, why does it need to be like that?

Corbould:  I can’t tell you that.  (laughs) Sorry.

That’s alright.  I don’t know how much you can answer but you told me before, I asked you about…

Corbould:  Bill, yeah?

Yeah.  Was there another vehicle that you would like to create besides the Batpod and of course the Tumbler and you said that you had, you wouldn’t tell me what it was, but you had an idea, and I’m not going to ask you what it was, I know how Chris [Nolan] is, but did you get to create that vehicle for this one?

Batman-Dark-Knight-Rises-image-Christian-BaleCorbould:  Not the one, no, but we have another stunning vehicle.

Are you breaking new ground in technology, I mean with the Batpod you, it was just a new technology a new way of vehicle motion, I mean, did you find yourself breaking new ground again in technology with this one?

Corbould:  The vehicle we’ve got in this one, we are trying to do some extraordinary things, which, probably, normally would be done a lot more with CGI.  Chris being Chris wants to try and do everything he possibly can for real, so the new vehicle, we’ll be doing some ground-breaking stuff which is probably not a great phrase but there’s some exciting, different, different effects.

Have you filmed with it yet?

Corbould:  No.

We’ve seen photos of the Tumbler being back, in their sort of, original desert camouflage colour.

Corbould:  You probably don’t know this but we’ve got three different versions of the Tumbler, each one of them is different which will become apparent as I’m sure, you’ve already seen the one on the steps, with it’s funky little cannon on the top, the other and it is another one which has a different device on it.  Sorry what was your question again?

the-dark-knight-rises-anne-hathawayBasically I know you’d said that you can’t really talk about this specifically, the specifics of the new vehicle but I’m assuming that that means you didn’t design a new Batmobile, we’re still gonna have the Tumbler?

Corbould:  Yeah, you’ve still got the Tumblers, you’ve still got the Batpod and multiples, obviously, multiple Tumblers on this one.  It’s, which is quite interesting.  It’s quite great just seeing the other day, there was a shot with all three of them trundling down the road and the growl of those engines certainly gets the adrenaline going a little bit but the new vehicle is going to be really good.

These Tumblers are, they weren’t used in the previous films?

Corbould:  They’re the same Tumblers, which we’ve modified and adapted and Chris has changed the look of some of them, changed the armaments on some of them and, you know, they’re all part of a very exciting action sequence and the climax of the film.

In The Dark Knight you saw some pretty amazing things, like flipping over the semi-truck.  Is there anything that you still haven’t figured out how exactly you’re going to do it yet for this?

Corbould:  Yeah quite a few actually (laughs)

christian-bale-the-dark-knight-rises-imageIsn’t that business as usual with Chris?

Corbould:  Yes, it is.  It’s, as I said before, it’s .  .  .  we start filming and then really, the film starts developing, and all the way through, Chris and I are throwing ideas at each other, so probably some of the final ideas haven’t even come to fruition yet or we’re batting ideas around, you know, we’ve got the end.  I’m never actually looking at the schedule, I’ve never actually had a schedule which has been so crammed full of special effects, we shot in England, we did some exciting aerial stuff in England and once we got to Pittsburgh, every single day there is something big going on and it’s quite relentless right the way through to November.

So is it like doing a Bond film?

Corbould: (laughs) Similar, similar, yeah.  They’re both demanding, Chris is incredibly demanding.

It seem like you’re shooting more daytime scenes, at least in some of the pictures we saw, does that provide more challenges, going into a shoot like that?

Corbould:  Not really, I’m a great big fan of working days, I’m not nocturnal personally and I was really pleased to see that Batman actually got out during the day.  And to me, actually adds a great look, seeing batman out in the daylight, it’s a total different look, you know, there are scenes at night, but, you know, I think the end sequence is all Batman during the day and it adds a whole new element to it.

dark-knight-rises-movie-image-tom-hardyEmma [Thomas] mentioned that the film takes place mostly in the winter and one thing we didn’t really get chance to ask her, is there a lot of fake snow? Is it snow in Gotham City at all?

Corbould:  Yes there is, yeah, it’s lots and lots of it.

But have you shot scenes with it?

Corbould:  We shot some scenes at the Carnegie Mellon Institute the other day where we put a lot of falling snow in the air, put dress snow around the set and that was sort of a lightweight dusting, a bit later on, we have an extensive snow scenes, where we snow it up a lot more specifically in Pittsburgh, it’s quite tricky, you know, hundred degrees or something, trying to, you know, I feel sorry for the poor actors who’ve got to have great big coats on, they’re sweltering, we have to use every cheat in the book, you know, we’re putting steam out that’s on the streets, you know, to give that cold feel and I’m sure Wally Pfister will play around with the lighting to make it look that cold light, it’s all part of the job really.

You’re not gonna give Batman skates like he had in Batman & Robin are you?

Corbould:  Oh no, no, skis? Batskis? No, I’m joking, I’m joking.

How much pre-production time do you particularly get on a movie, how much did you get on this one? And what was the most challenging pre-production aspect of this film?

Corbould:  It’s all .  .  .  I started this in January and I first had a meeting with Chris in November at his house and we roughly talked through the script, you know, he gave me Christmas to think it over and then I started in January.  And we went through the whole process, the script process, going to reccing the locations, we started shooting in England in, I think, mid-May, so that’s a sort of time-scale for me, starting with pencil and a pad and what’s that, four and a half months, five months.

What was the most challenging aspect of this film’s pre-production?

the-dark-knight-rises-christian-bale-michael-caineCorbould:  I think getting all our heads round the fact that we had to top the Dark Knight, and .  .  .  getting all the creative juices flowing, to format this film so I hope we’ve got a great film for everybody to see and they won’t be disappointed.  You know, there’s a lot of intense meetings going on about storyline and what we could do and how we could change it, how we can change things and change effects, do bigger effects.  It’s a very, very intense period and generally shorter than what we’re used to, like Batman Begins when we were building the Tumblers, I think we had, sort of, 8 months where we were building the Tumblers.  Probably the Batpod was a bit shorter, 7 months.  Chris is very into his machines, he knows every single bit of them, he’s designed it with the Batpod and the Batmobile, he gave us a little model this big and what we’ve built is almost identical to these little plastic models every step of the way, whether it be the size of the tires, the colour of the black, you know, I never knew there were so many shades of black, the Batmobile was like four different shades and I mean, to me, they all looked black but he saw something different in them.  So he’s very meticulous in every single vehicle, gadget, you know, costume, he’s very, very intimate with that.

Are there any aspects of this job that were refined on the previous films that were easier this time round or is it all just really difficult?

Corbould:  No, if Chris knew it was going to be easier for him, he changed it to make it harder.  He hates the thought of somebody having an easy ride, he’s forever throwing curveballs.  We went to Carnegie Mellon the other day and originally it was going to be a bit of a punch-up on the steps and before we knew it, the Tumbler was driving up the steps and we were doing explosions and that’s typically him, he thinks on the hoof, you turn up, he’s got a plan and then he’ll call me over and say, “Do you think we could do a couple of explosions up there?” and I’m like, “Oh no.  First let me go and check with the owners of the building. ” And that’s the process, he’s always thinking all the time, he goes in there with like a basic plan, but then the plan starts evolving and becoming much, much bigger.

the-dark-knight-rises-tom-hardy-bane-imageBane, in the comics, he’s very larger than life and all that, clearly, Tom Hardy is regular-sized guy, is there gonna be any sort of augmentation of his size, or height or anything?

Corbould:  I’m not really party to that.  Chris shoots these things, these sequences, and when you see the final, in the film, he always does something to them.  I’ve heard no conversations about any changes of things like that but who knows? When he gets in the editing suite then it all starts happening again.

Do you have a couple of show-stoppers in this film? Like the truck scene or the hospital scene in the dark knight?

Corbould:  Yes, there’s a couple.

Are we seeing one of them today? Is this one of them?

Corbould:  No, this is everyday occurrences.

Is there one in particular you’re looking forward to specifically?

Corbould:  Er… yeah, there’s two actually, I’m looking forward to.  Yeah.

the-dark-knight-rises-football-fieldHave you shot them yet?

Corbould:  No we haven’t, and I don’t know how we’re going to do them yet.  (laughs) I can’t even tell you.

Are you filming these in Pittsburgh? These particular shots?

Corbould:  One of them in Pittsburgh and the other one will be in Los Angeles.

So when you say you don’t know how you’re going to do them, what’s your process in figuring out how you’re going to do them?

Corbould:  A lot with a film of this intensity, special effects wise.  At the moment my focus is on Pittsburgh and getting everything done in Pittsburgh, when we get to start getting .  .  .  I’ve obviously got guys thinking about it and we’re throwing ideas around but we haven’t, there’s a couple of things we haven’t settled on the definite methodology we’re going to use.  I don’t like to just rush into something, I like to keep thinking it, milling it over, talking to Chris about it and then a month, two months before we shoot it, you know, we lock into how we’re going to do it, with Chris’s agreement, with my input and then might get the team working on it and then we move forward with it.  Chris is a great one and as I said before, of thinking it over and changing it and tweaking things, I don’t want, generally I don’t go straight into building something and then he changes it, I want to allow it time to develop and then build something that I know is 90% right.

Chris, he’s a hands-on guy.  But nowadays you have CGI comes in more and more, but when do you decide if you’ll do practical this time or do CGI?

the-dark-knight-rises-morgan-freemanCorbould:  If, Chris will always prefer to do it practically, that’s his mantra, then you get into logistics, there are things that I can’t do for money reasons, safety reasons, budget reasons, there are things that I physically can’t do.  So that’s when the CGI thing comes in.  but he will always try and get us to provide elements for the CGI people to use, so it’s not totally created in computer but it’s a mixture of what we’ve done to enhance what is put into the scene, he’s a firm believer in doing things for real, he believes he gets better performances from his actors and thespians, you know, if there’s something going on then that’s the way he’s always been and he seems to be sticking by it.

He seems to be known as a very strong character, very physical, is there anything you’re doing practically, like with breakaways or something that show us, that will show the audience how strong Bain is?

Corbould:  There are certain things during the film where he’s not a superhero but he’s very, very strong, there are certain parts of the film where this strength is shown in particular ways.

You mentioned multiple Tumblers and stuff like that, the first batman had the race across rooftops and then there was the car sequence, the armoured car sequence.  Is there a car chase sequence in this movie that’s going to be even more sort of destructive?

Corbould:  Yes is the answer.  Yes.

dark-knight-rises-movie-image-anne-hathawayAnd how much of Pittsburgh are you going to have to shut down?

Corbould:  Pittsburgh is going to feature heavily in that over the next few weeks.

Is there a lot of vertical stuff, I mean, I’m thinking Catwoman is a burglar or a cat burglar originally, so is there a lot of high up, vertical action scenes?

Corbould:  We’re shooting in New York for a reason, that gives you a clue.

Yep, good, excellent.

Corbould:  So, yes there is some, you know, Chris likes his height.  He likes to see big cities.  You know, he likes to show Gotham in its entirety, so yes, there is some very high shots.

How’s the transition from Pittsburgh to Chicago? How’s Pittsburgh been regarding moving over here?

Corbould:  I think there’s a lot of similarities between Chicago and Pittsburgh, the people are really, really friendly, they make our life a lot easier, they’ve been very accommodating, I don’t know how I’d react to somebody throwing a load of fake snow all over my windowsills and doorstep but they’ve been very accommodating, just like the people of Chicago were and it’s a very film friendly city I must say.

the-dark-knight-rises-imax-posterDoes the architecture fit within the whole mythology of it?

Corbould:  I think within the story it does.  Yeah.

Taking a break and doing Inception between the two films helps spur anything creatively? Do you think it, like, helped to re-energise the juices to come back and make a film like this?

Corbould:  Definitely, I think I would have struggled to go from Dark Knight straight into this.  It was very refreshing to do inception, you know, because it was such an original story and he wrote a great story that gave me a lot of scope to, you know, show my craft off for what it was and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I had a great time on it.

Will you be working on the next Bond film?

Corbould:  Quite possibly.  (laughs)

For more from our The Dark Knight Rises set visit:

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