Everyone knows the importance of a Bond film’s title sequence. It’s not just a list of credits; it’s a film in its own right. Ever since Maurice Binder’s work on the 1962 Dr. No titles, they have been imbued with an iconic style that is instantly recognisable. These days, keeping the tradition alive and vibrant are Rattling Stick director Daniel Kleinman, and VFX supervisor at Framestore, William Bartlett. We caught up with the pair to talk about their work on ‘Skyfall’ and to ask that most pressing of questions… who is the best Bond?
LBB> You have directed the opening titles for all James Bond films, minus ‘Quantum of Solace’, since the 1995 release of ‘Goldeneye’. Do you think there is a common thread running through your title sequences? How have they evolved under your watch?
DK> Although I treat each project separately, there is a heritage to Bond imagery. It would be insane to throw away the elements that make a Bond movie a Bond movie and not just another action picture. I like to keep true to the essence of the visual language invented by Maurice Binder [creator of the ‘Dr. No’ credits], which is recognised the world over as ‘Bond style’. However I try to update and refresh it, and add my own creative take. I like to try and add a narrative element, a bit of a hint of the story to come, the themes of the film and also stay true to the atmosphere of the main film.
LBB> You manage to create scenes that are recognisably ‘Bond’, yet contemporary and creative – how do you manage to strike the balance between creating something that draws from Bond’s heritage and keeping it fresh?
DK> It's not easy – it's a balance between invention and homage. What is easy though is to stray into cliché – although instantly recognisable, Bondian imagery is also ubiquitous. The movies have to stay ahead of the game, do things you don't expect and be reverential and iconoclastic at the same time. It's a juggling act.
LBB> Who did you work with in developing the overview of the ‘Skyfall’ titles and what was the pre-production process like?
DK> When I have read the film script, I come up with lots of ideas, sketches, tear sheets and brainstorm scribbles. Firstly I’ll pass these by producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, and director, in the case of ‘Skyfall’, Sam Mendes. There is an exchange of views, notes and input, and then I work pretty much autonomously.
Depending on time, either my storyboard artists or I draw up more detailed boards. I do an animatic and, with any luck, there is a rough demo of the title song that I can set it to. This isn't always the case though – sometimes the song comes much later.
I get more feedback and then shoot. Sam [Mendes] was very interested in what I was doing and, although he didn't come up with specific ideas, he gave good collaborative notes and feedback. When I'd shot all elements and needed to create the sequence, I edited it myself. The full special effects required the very sophisticated technology provided by Framestore. Throughout the process I welcome input from the people working with me – and a very talented bunch they are too.
LBB> Did you have the opportunity to see ‘Skyfall’ before you began work on the titles?
DK> No. With Bond titles I have to start work as the film is still being shot, so we kind of work in tandem. I do start by reading the script of the film though. Discussions with the director also take place to make sure that I'm in tune with the vibe of the film.
LBB> You had a break from the franchise for the release of ‘Quantum of Solace’. How was it being back working on James Bond?
DK> I thought the ‘Quantum of Solace’ titles were very good. The director of that movie wanted his own guys on it, as is his prerogative, but it did feel a bit like falling from a luxury cruise ship in the middle of the ocean and seeing its glittering lights steam off into the distance. I was very happy to be asked to create another sequence for ‘Skyfall’ – they are fun to do and make a nice change from shooting commercials.
LBB> Which set of James Bond titles are you proudest of and why?
DK> I have tried to do something innovative with all of them. Some bits have been more successful than others, but in overview I feel I've tried to make all the sequences different and interesting.
LBB> Finally, the biggy – who is your favourite Bond and why?
DK> That's a loaded, and cocked question. I like them all actually – they all bring nuances of difference to the role. Bond reflects the preoccupations of the times in which the films are set, so it's difficult to say one is better than another. However I do think Daniel Craig is a great, tough Bond for our times. I never heard Bob Holness's Bond so I don't count him. [Bob Holness voiced Bond in a radio-adapted 1959 version of ‘Moonraker’.]
LBB> This is the fifth collaboration between Framestore and Daniel Kleinman on the James Bond franchise. How do you go about keeping the title sequences original, yet at the same time 'typically Bond'? Is it a difficult task to fulfil?
WB> Daniel always comes up with the broad concept, which is the starting point. This is always something original so, for us, it’s easy. Having said that, we do try to add to it with our own ideas. We elaborate Daniel's drawings and descriptions as we start to mock up concept frames and movement tests. A good deal of the originality we offer into the process comes from improvements in software and computing power. For example, much of the CG work in the latest Skyfall titles could not have been done in previous ones because it simply couldn’t be rendered.
We look at all the tests with Daniel. He sifts out the bits he likes and we discard the stuff that isn’t in keeping with the overall aesthetic. We then look again at the good bits and try to come up with more variations around those ideas. Daniel steers us in the direction he wants and gradually the overall look and design emerges.
It is, in some ways quite a brutal process. Certain ideas that work really well on their own might not fit the overall sequence. Up until quite near the end of the process, we are still prepared to scrap huge amounts of work.
LBB> What were the most challenging aspects of this project?
WB> There were several aspects of the project that were very challenging. Technically the CG work was very complex. The fluid simulations and dragons are both amazing examples of what can be done by people who are both very technical and very creative. There was a lot of difficult 2D work too. Scenes like the mirror cracking and much of the overall timing were worked out in Nuke. Finally there was bringing the whole thing together aesthetically, which in some ways was the biggest challenge of all.
LBB> Did Adele's ‘Skyfall’ song play much part in Framestore's conception of the credits?
WB> Although we did not have the final mix, we did listen to the track a lot during the process. It played a very big part in terms of the movement and pace of sequences, not to mention the overall structure of the edit. One of the key features of the sequence is the constant forward movement. We paid a lot of attention to getting the pace of that to feel right with the music.
LBB> Same question as we asked Daniel, - and possibly most important: who is your favourite Bond and why?
WP> The obvious choice is between Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. Probably in terms of what I enjoy now, I think Daniel's version hits the right note.
However, as someone who was born at the beginning of the seventies, my first experiences of Bond films were watching 'Live and Let Die', 'The Man with the Golden Gun', 'The Spy Who Loved me' and 'Moonraker' on Christmas day. I remember going to the cinema with my dad to see a double bill of 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'Moonraker' when I was about 11. At that age I loved the escapism and fantasy of the stories, as well as the gadgets – especially the Lotus in 'The Spy Who Loved Me'.
As an 11-year-old boy I wasn’t really interested in Bond's vulnerable side. Although it goes against conventional wisdom, in terms of all the films I have seen, the Bond I have enjoyed most is Roger Moore.