In the end, faking it which is, after all, a spys finest skill turned out to be the crews most reliable strategy. And what better showcase for cinematic subterfuge than a triptych of bravura chase-and-escape sequences? Die Another Day features a spectacular hovercraft race, Bonds Aston Martin vs. a Jaguar driven by henchman Zao (Rick Yune) on a frozen Icelandic lake, and a helicopter soaring out of a Russian planes cargo bay in midair.
To coordinate 007s extensive airborne gymnastics, the producers enlisted 25-year aerial-coordination veteran Mike Woodley. His advice led to significant adjustments of the scripts aircraft scenes, not least of which was the opening hovercraft chase. "They were looking for Caspian Sea Skimmers at first, which are cranoplanes that fly 50 feet above the water and take about four miles to turn," explains Woodley. "But hovercrafts can spin on their own axis, so I suggested that to Vic instead."
Armstrong approved, and he and Taylor took the action unit out to the Aldershott tank testing grounds near Pinewood to film the sequence. To prepare for inevitable crashes, Woodley procured two giant "mothercraft" vehicles, as well as four smaller hovercrafts, while Taylor mounted his camera on a Toyota ATV and undercranked it to cover the action. Midway into the ensuing demolition derby, however, it became clear that the hovercraft fleet would not be stout enough to complete the sequence without reinforcements. "They work fine on water and ice, but Vics guys found that they were very difficult to drive on land," Woodley says. "One of the stuntmen said to me, I fly planes, I drive trains and I ride horses, so dont worry about this. And 10 minutes later he came back and said, I see what you mean." The production ultimately destroyed 18 hovercrafts; an in-house production line was initiated to keep up with the demand.
Taylors ATV created its own problems for the camera crew. "The hovercrafts were skimming over the terrain on a cushion of air, whereas we were on wheels, skidding and bouncing over a muddy tank field," Taylor says. He used C- and E-series anamorphic lenses, which are less bulky than their Primo counterparts, as well as a laser rangefinder to maintain focus. For critical frame stability, Taylor employed a newer camera mount called a Stab-C, which provides gyrostabilized control over three axes of motion. "It was pretty amazing, considering the amount of movement there was," he says of the mount. "We were able to do close-ups of Pierce driving the hovercraft with a 450mm lens and still keep our framing."
Just as integral to creating dynamic coverage of the scene was Emmanuel Previnaires FlyingCam system. The unit, which specializes in close-range aerial cinematography, houses a proprietary, gyro-stabilized Super 35mm camera on a miniature, radio-controlled helicopter. A FlyingCam fitted with a 200' magazine weighs just 30 pounds, and because it supports very wide lenses it can shoot as close as 10' from its subject.
Armstrong, who professes to "absolutely love this piece of equipment," had the FlyingCam capture high-speed coverage of the chase as well as aerial close-ups. Previnaire supervised the action while camera operator Phillipe Piron and pilot Bruno Ziegler executed Armstrongs moves. One move involved swooping low between two hovercrafts as they zigzagged through a live minefield. "Vic rigged bombs in the ground that would pop up six feet in the air and then explode," Previnaire recalls. "We took the FlyingCam right through the smoke of the detonations with no problem." Piron and Ziegler, jogging behind the action to ensure a precise flight path, set their lens at hyperfocal distance to ensure maximum sharpness amid the chaos.
On a frozen lake near Hofn, Iceland, Taylor and Armstrong prepared the prelude to the ice-palace car chase. On hand were four Astons and four Jags (all converted to four-wheel drive), as well as a custom-built, lightweight ATV for the camera. Taylor recalls, "The ice was a good foot thick, but we had flotation devices rigged to the camera vehicle just to be safe though I imagine it wouldve sunk like a stone if it had broken through, with us along with it!"
"The whole chase was finished in two weeks, as we were blessed with fantastic weather," Armstrong says. The crew used its standard package of four cameras shooting simultaneously. To ensure a sufficiently dangerous-looking duel, the cars tires were only partially fitted with winter safety studs. Taylor occasionally narrowed his shutters to 90 and 45 degrees to add crispness to the skidding vehicles, and he even mounted a camera near the rear wheel wells "because those studs actually looked pretty cool chewing through the ice."
The films climax occurs on a Russian cargo plane in which Bond and Jinx are stowaways. Woodley procured a Russian Antonov-124 cargo jet to use for practical shooting though not without some 007-style complications. "Three or four days before we were due to film on the plane, the Russian Mafia seized it," he says. "I had to get another on short notice from the Ukraine, and as they dont like the Russians, they thought it was great fun: they sent one with the registration number UR007. I had a few sleepless nights and a lot of sweating, but thats the sort of thing I do."
The intrepid aerial coordinator also recommended some logistical adjustments to way the scene had been scripted. "The original idea was to have the heroes escape through the nose of the plane on a rope, which was being dangled from the back of a transport helicopter," he explains. "The problem with that idea is that at 200 miles per hour, if you were to open a window and put your hand out, your arm would be broken straight off.
"We were already on the Russian plane, and I suggested that the escape heli come out the back," he continues. "Everyone thought that was impossible because the tail rotor would come off, so I thought we could move forward into the 21st century and have a totally different helicopter that doesnt have a tail rotor."
The crew hired one of the state-of-the-art aircraft from McDonnell/Boeing and staged the scene in an oversized mockup of the Antonov cargo bay. Tattersall filmed the helicopter flying out of the stage, and the scene was later married to footage of the helicopter pulling out of a midair dive. The only thing left to create was the Antonovs takeoff at Kents Manston freight airport.
Once again, the crew faced a rigging time crunch. The Antonov had to be towed onto the runway and readied for takeoff, while the runway itself required supplemental lighting. "We had to wait until the last plane had landed before we began," Knight says. "We had to rig 500 Par cans along the runway to simulate the lights. I had a gang of guys all ready to go with the lamps marked with tape on trucks, and when I said Go, one gang put 250 on one side and another gang did the other side. By the time they got the plane hooked up to the tow vehicle and got the cameras on the runway, our guys were just about ready to light it up. David was very pleased with our military operation."