Gravity’s VFX Supervisor Neil Corbould – Interview – BFI Future Film Festival

Humble is not a word I often use to describe people who are at the height of their profession but for Neil Corbould, VFX Supervisor since the fantastic Fifth Element, it seems apt. This is a guy who earned an Oscar for Gladiator in 2001 and for the visually phenomenal Gravity just days ago, a collaboration with Tim Webber… then there are numerous Baftas for the likes of Day After Tomorrow, Saving Private Ryan as well as Fifth Element, yet his love for his art is still starkly apparent, eyes lighting up at the mention of his next endeavour with Ridley Scott; the biblical epic, Exodus.

The BFI Future Film Festival showcased Neil’s talent and extensive knowledge in a Q&A session after a special screening of Gravity. This particular blockbuster provided Neil with a brand new challenge as he was presented with a film concept that would go along to contain over 80% effects, and difficult ones at that. With no real “up or down” in the movie and gravity itself as the antagonist, it’s pretty fair to say some things had to be relearned and that goes some way in explaining why it took four years to go from idea to screen. Neil himself didn’t see the final product until the film’s release during the BFI London Film Festival and was “blown away and I [Neil] worked on it!” A phrase for the DVD poster if ever there was one.

My interview with Neil mostly consisted of me responding with “coooool” and “woooow” as he described his job of blowing things up, amongst other more delicate things.  Whether it was live explosions during filming as with Saving Private Ryan (“three sticks of dynamite about ten feet from Tom Hanks”), in rehearsal (“vortexes of flame… we had a flame come up from a gas bar and then we just hit it with wind, it gives you a dust devil”) or digitally creating it (“we shoot it against black so they can then pull that image off and manipulate it”) it’s all pretty damn cool. The youngsters visiting the Future Film Festival must have had somewhat the same response, so it’s not hard to see why he was asked to talk. His expert advice is bound to include the absolute necessity that comes with film-making, that being infinite attention to detail: “if you left something off, like a reflection, then you’d notice it… everything was put in [Gravity], even the camera crew at some point” – EASTER EGG ALERT.

As with many filmmakers, Neil has an interest in multiple areas of the industry other than that which he is an expert. His venture into the world of directing has just begun but his heights are set high, once the “whole Gravity shebang” is over he intends to film a story about women bare-knuckle fighters in London. (Coooool.) His visually focused mind is already scouting streets in Norwich and pulling in on his 36 years of resources to cast and create something he’s quite rightly excited about… even if there won’t be an awful lot of special effects, he admits.

“I think everyone’s got a movie in them” Neil says. Nicely put and I hope to see him encouraging people to blow things up plenty in the future, as well as doing so on the big screen.

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