“The ultimate in British engineering,” Q boasts. “You must be joking,” Bond replies. “As I learned from my predecessor, Bond, I never joke about my work,” Q snaps back. “Aston Martin call it the Vanquish, we call it the Vanish. Tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see onto a light-emitting polymer skin on the opposite side.”
As Daniel Craig’s incarnation of 007 takes his final bow in No Time To Die, fans of the franchise will invariably take stock and remember his era as grittier and more realistic. These qualities are much prized because his predecessor’s swan song, 2002’s Die Another Daywas derailed by inept CGI and a gadget that many deemed to be the most ridiculous in the entire series: the infamous invisible car.
Chris Corbould, the long-running special effects supervisor on Bond and veteran of fifteen 007 films, has seen it all – his first film was 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, with its submersible Lotus – but even he reckons the Aston Martin Vanish tested the audience’s credulity to breaking point. “Where we stretched it too far was on Die Another Day and the invisible car. I wasn’t keen on that from day one. We went too far,” he later admitted.
It’s a moot point, given some of the ridiculous stuff Bond has got up to over the years. Corbould, though, is a keen adherent of practical effects, and believes that however crazy things might appear, the gadgets should have a fundamental credibility. But here’s the irony: the invisibility technology was firmly rooted in reality, and inspired by work being done by (the now defunct) Defense Evaluation and Research Agency.
Script co-writers Robert Wade and Neil Purvis had read about it while researching for the film and defended its inclusion. “When we suggested it originally we weren’t sure anyone would go for it,” Wade once told me. “The idea is that in Iceland or in the desert, when there’s not much contrast in the background, it’s invisible, but in an urban environment you’d be able to see it.” Or, as Q puts it, it’s a camouflage, not a cloaking device.
Corbould is always amused when reality catches up with Bond’s gadgety flights of fancy. And it’s already happening with the invisibility technology. BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense contractors, worked with the Swedish Defense Materiel Administration to develop a system called Adaptiv for use on its tank fleet. The vehicle was covered in hexagonal pixels; thermal cameras scanned the background against which the tank was seen from every angle then adjusted the pixels to match. Sound familiar?