From the Set: The Crew of The Dark Knight Rises


The Dark Knight Returns FX supervisor Chris Corbould is now on movie number four with Nolan, having first joined up for Batman Begins and before that being the special effects supervisor for the James Bond 007 movies going back to GoldenEye in 1995. He was mainly on-hand that day to deal with the explosions that would be set off at Heinz Field

The film’s pre-production process and its challenges

“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. He gave me Christmas to think it over and then I started in January and we went through the whole process, going to the locations. We started shooting in England in mid-May, so that’s a sort of time-scale for me. Starting with pencil and a pad for four-and-a-half months, five months. 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. There was a lot of intense meetings going on about storyline and what we could do and how we could change things and do bigger effects. It was a very, very intense period and generally shorter than what we’re used to, like ‘Batman Begins,’ when we had eight months where we were building the tumblers. Probably the Batpod was a bit shorter, seven 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 color of the black – I never knew there were so many shades of black. The Batmobile was like four different shades and to me, they all looked black but he saw something different in them. So he’s very meticulous in every single vehicle, gadget, costume. He’s very very intimate with that.”

Refining their process after “Inception” and “The Dark Knight”

“Chris knew it was going to be easier for him, so 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. 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’s got a plan and then he’ll call me over and say, ‘Do you think we can do a couple of explosions right now?’ 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 a basic plan but then the plan starts evolving and becoming much, much bigger. Happens 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, you know, 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 method we’re going to use. I don’t like to just rush into something, I like to keep thinking it, mulling it over, talking to Chris about it and then a month, two months before we shoot it, you know, we look 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, we’re thinking it over and changing it and tweaking things, I don’t want, generally I don’t want to 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.

Whether ‘Inception’ was important to stop-gap before returning to Batman

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

The different Tumblers for the movie

“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 its funky little cannon on the top, the other and it is another one which has a different device on it. 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. 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.”

Talking about ‘The Bat’ while also keeping it a secret:

“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.”

Creating the scale of FX for “Dark Knight Rises”

“We start filming and then 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. 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.”

How much CG will be used

“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, and 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.”

Shooting a movie set during winter in the summer

“We shot some scenes at the Carnegie Melon 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 scene which is where we snow it up a lot more specifically in Pittsburgh. It’s quite tricky, it’s a hundred degrees and 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. We’re putting steam out that’s on the streets 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.”

Transitioning from Chicago to Pittsburgh

“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, you know, 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.”

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