‘No Time to Die’ Production Design Pays Homage to Classic James Bond Films

·7-min read

No Time to Die” doesn’t stint on one of the Bond trademarks: shooting in stunning locations across the globe. Daniel Craig’s latest and last outing as 007 moves from Matera, Italy, to Norway, Denmark and Jamaica and London.

A stunning sequence takes place in Cuba, but of course that was one location that wasn’t available. So the production team shot a few exteriors dressed as Cuba in Jamaica, then transformed the U.K’s Pinewood Studios into Havana for the rest of the scene.

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Production designer Mark Tildesley travelled to Cuba to research the architecture and details, taking note of intricately detailed building facades, the look of streets, neon signs and propaganda art.

Here he shares his journey — from coming on board back when director Danny Boyle was attached to paying homage to classic Bond films.

Building Bond’s World

A retired James Bond in his spiritual home of Jamaica - Credit: Nicola Dove
A retired James Bond in his spiritual home of Jamaica - Credit: Nicola Dove

Nicola Dove

I was attached to the version Danny Boyle was doing. (Boyle was attached to direct the film in March 2018). I was sitting with a set of ideas and a different script and took everything off the walls.

But I described the ideas to Cary when I met him and what I had done so far in case anything was useful in his journey. And he loved it.

We deconstructed a few things and recycled them, and that’s where it began. The thing is, it’s very big, but it’s also intimate. It’s family-run. I could knock on Barbara’s [Broccoli] door and get into in-depth meetings about things. It’s very precious to everyone.

Also, there’s that sense that you leap back to your feelings about those films as a child, coming on at Christmas time being allowed to stay up and watch them. There was also that idea of restaurants, cars and secret code. It was really a part of my heritage growing up.

There’s that feeling and expectation of taking people on a journey – that extraordinary opening. The mission is to make up these spaces that are going to be believable, but that they just float around in the Bond world. [In this case], it’s some magic Japanese island owned by the Russians and the testing center is now home to this.

We went back and in the story, Bond is starting his retirement. So, we tried to think about where ex-pats live and what they do. We thought about it being somewhere in Europe or the mountains. But Barbara suggested Jamaica because in terms of Bond movies because it’s one of his spiritual homes. It was super colorful and diverse and dynamic. It was tucked away from everything and continued his relationship with the ocean and sea.

We went to Ian Fleming’s house and we had a 90% Jamaican crew and hired local carpenters, and it really evolved with fusing Jamaican, Japanese and European ideas.

Building Safin’s Lair and an homage to classic Bond films

Safin’s lair is filled with homages to classic Bond films - Credit: Nicola Dove
Safin’s lair is filled with homages to classic Bond films - Credit: Nicola Dove

Nicola Dove

It’s definitely an homage to “You Only Live Twice” where the volcano opens up and that’s seen in Safin’s lair. But Cary’s heritage is Japanese, and we did have a sequence in Tokyo, but it didn’t make the film.

We kept referencing back to some of the Ken Adams stuff such as “You Only Live Twice” and “Dr. No.” We used some of the motifs such as big circular windows, and this love of this industrial brutalist concrete world.

We wanted to get the architectural scale back into the scenes and the majestic sets you’d get going into the big hall. We also looked at brutalism architecture. We played to “Goldfinger” and the angular architecture that was in the games room where he keeps the child.

I think it was in “Dr. No” that had the big circle and the spider. He found a piece of a set at the studio that was a circular thing and he had it hauled over and put onto one of the flaps, and it became one of the most iconic sets ever.

We referenced that and we also had sliding doors which was another throwback to his design.

“Moonraker” was referenced with the algae farm and poison garden.

We referenced the Faroe Islands because it was easy to use, accessible and so we did visual effects plate work for that. When he climbs up at the end to the top of the island and that missile sequence happens, that was built and dropped into the island via visual effects. Otherwise, we built the garden, tower, corridor and the big underground tank at Pinewood.

When we started to talk about the nanobots – these invisible things that infect your body — the only way we could visualize those was to start talking about them on a screen via slides.

Matera, Italy – The Perfect Town for Bond

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) drive through Matera, Italy — the perfect town to lay his past to rest. - Credit: Nicola Dove
James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) drive through Matera, Italy — the perfect town to lay his past to rest. - Credit: Nicola Dove

Nicola Dove

The Broccolis have a love affair with Italy, and it’s in most of their films. I think it has to do with their love of Italian food and people. I also happen to have a tiny place not far from Matera, so I knew about it.

It’s spectacular and is one of the oldest parts of the civilized culture in the world. It also has some amazing caves. It the 1930s there was a large TB outbreak so they closed it down. It only recently reopened in the ‘80s and so it has this timeless, almost biblical feel to it, dropped into this valley of green plains.

We were also looking at things in this sense of celebrations of renewal and forgiveness. We looked at them arriving in the town that celebrates time and moving on. He’s trying to put an end to his relationship with Vesper. It fitted together because Matera has this beautiful festival. We didn’t use much of that festival, but that burning papers at night is real. So, we were able to tie it into Italian folklore.

An Isolated Lake

Mark Tildesley found this house in the small town of Nittedal, Norway not far from Oslo. - Credit: Christopher Raphael
Mark Tildesley found this house in the small town of Nittedal, Norway not far from Oslo. - Credit: Christopher Raphael

Christopher Raphael

We were looking for this family home to be in the middle of nowhere. So, we looked in Sweden and ended up in Norway, just north of Oslo. We built that house on the lake and decided to put it in the middle of the lake. It was tricky because we didn’t get our cameras in time and the ice began to melt. So, we had to support the house on stilts to keep it standing.

We rebuilt it again in the studio – so we built that house twice. The idea was the family built it themselves out of wood.

The first time you see the house is in its original build, but when you come back to it, later with Madeleine and her daughter, it’s been painted and freshened up a bit.

Q’s Apartment

His was easy. We decided he would live near Waterloo station and was the kind of person who would walk to get to his office across the river Thames. We looked at old Victorian houses in Central London. We put him in this street that backs onto the station. You can see a railway track through his window. But his was fun to do.

He’s so professional about everything, even when he cooks it’s scientific, so we laid that out when designing his home. He has all these gadgets.

Recreating Cuba

We spent a couple of weeks journeying around Cuba which was amazing. It was amazing for us. What we were able to do was take and extrapolate all the best pieces and we picked all our favorite buildings to mash them up and build the Bond world.

It has this really rich tapestry of light and color. There’s interesting architecture too, and things aren’t swept away or haven’t been knocked down — so we looked at that.

One night we went to dinner, this old house was a restaurant and it had this staircase with a road underneath, and that was one of our key references when building Cuba.

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