The good folks at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment gave us an opportunity to attend a behind-the-scenes press day event for the release of the The Amazing Spider-Man back in November 1st. Guests included director Marc Webb, visual effects supervisor Jerome Chen, additional animation supervisor David Schaub, and 3D visual effects supervisor Rob Engle. When I arrived at the Hyatt Regency in Century City, I had some time before our mini-press conference with Marc Webb and the visual effects team. So I had options of going to the conference room and trying out the Spider-Man second screen experience or taking my picture with Spider-Man. Can anyone guess where I went to first? Oh yeah, me and the ol’ webslinger go back. Waaaay back. Next up, I checked out the conference room with the second-screen app demo was taking place. Inside I got to see the table full of the peanut butter spider cookies that you can find the recipe for within every The Amazing Spider-Man Blu-rays.
After going through the awful experience of the Avengers second-screen I must admit I was a bit skeptical that I would use this at all. Turns out that the developers of The Avengers second screen app are a completely different company than the ones that built the Spider-Man second screen app. What they showed is a much more functional app than what I was presented with The Avengers. Don’t get me wrong, the functionality is the same, but this feels more thought-out. The second-screen app is only available on tablets, and I was told this decision was made to give the user a better experience than you would using your phone or laptop. I agree, as having the second screen app on anything but your tablet isn’t going to be the same.
There are two interactive modes in the second screen app, timeline mode and production mode. In timeline mode, the app syncs with the Blu-ray disc, allowing scene-specific trivia, featurettes, storyboards, interviews, and other content to scroll across your tablet in time with the movie. In production mode, users can explore even more content that goes deeper into the making of the film by diving into the various areas of the production process including filmmakers, story, design, cast, locations, and stunts, among others. When the app syncs with the Blu-ray disc, you can use a cool feature called “websling” where you can sling selected content from your tablet to your TV to watch it in HD. Soon enough it became time to start the press conference.
Opening with a joke, it became apparent that Marc Webb is one charismatic, energetic guy. He seems like the everday guy that you chill at a bar, drink a few beers, and watch the game with. When everything settled down, the first question was asked:
What was the best part about doing the special features for the DVD?
Marc Webb talked about how important it is to have great special features and a great commentary. He talked about how much he learned about the language and process about directing a film by listening to the commentary and watching the behind-the-scenes footage done by other directors. “We spent a lot of time together perfecting the DVD to make it as exciting and as informative as possible.” He said.
Next, he called on Chris, my fellow NR writer, asking him what his question was. Webb knew he didn’t have a question but he wanted him to make up a question. So I decided to ask him a question in Chris’ stead:
Considering The Amazing Spider-Man was your first big film, how did the visual effects differ between The Amazing Spider-Man and (500) Days of Summer?
Marc mentioned how there were actually a lot of visual effects in (500) Days of Summer with the split screens and animated sequences. He talked about how the visual effects guys (Jerome Chen, David Schaub, and Rob Engle) became his team and his go-to guys. They could advise him and create sequences in a way he thought was cool. He talked about the relationship he has with Jerome Chen, and how much of a fun, positive relationship it is. Jerome Chen then joked, “Except when he hits me.” As everyone in the room laughed, Marc Webb joked back, “He’s not supposed to make eye contact, that was the rule that we established very early.” You could tell that these guys really got along with each other while working on Spider-Man.
Everybody in that panel joined in the joke. All joking aside, Jerome Chen talked about how his job was to take the imagery that was in Webb’s head and put it onto the screen (Note: As long as it was within budget). Marc Webb then talked about Rob Engle, the 3D visual effects supervisor. He spoke how great and how complex the task was in creating a stereoscopic universe that felt authentic, legitimate, real, and big and how wonderful an ally Rob is. Finally, he talked about David Schaub who brought so much life and nuance to the movements of the Lizard and Spider-Man.
Because of the way special effects are done nowadays, with the kind of work done throughout the production of the film. How tricky is it to know in advance that this scene is going to stay in the movie and work should be done on this scene and have it locked when you’re trying to build the picture?
Marc Webb replied by saying how long the process was for visual effects work to get done (Chen commented that it takes around 3 days for a frame in the movie). “It just knowing your script as well as possible and committing to sequences and decisions early on.” Webb said. Chen talked about how you have to do what’s best for the movie. “Sometimes you may have an elaborate sequence and you cut the whole thing together, but you know what we have to shorten it. It’s a really cool sequence by itself but you watch it and we have to cut it in half.” He said. “Even if you may have worked on it for sometime and finish it to a certain degree, but you always have to do what’s best for the entire picture.”
The next question was for Rob Engle, the 3D Visual Effects Supervisor.
What kind of challenges did you have in taking the 3D seen in theaters, and putting that on the 3D Blu-ray? Was there any extra work done?
Rob mentioned that as work was being done on the 3D, the thought of the transfer to the smaller screen was in their minds throughout production. The great part, he said, was that the movie was shot in 3D so that helped add the sense of realism to the movie.
How did you (Marc Webb) strike the balance between a heavy visual effects movie and the humanistic side of the story?
Marc said that the most important part was investing in the characters early on in the film. There wasn’t a ton of action right off the bat, and they tried to keep it as human as possible. Once you become invested in the characters, then the action emerges and the 3D builds out. He gave the example of the Peter saving Jack from the bridge, and Webb mentioned how there was a spectacle to it but at the same time it had an emotional and metaphorical side to it.
Have you ever thought about shooting at a higher frame rate for the next installment of Spider-Man, ala Peter Jackson?
The guys joked about it, joking that they should do it at 128 frames per second or to the point where you can’t see the image anymore. After all that, Marc Webb cleared his throat and said, “No.” He mentioned how he wasn’t putting it off. He says, “I think it’s really exciting what James Cameron and Peter Jackson are doing, are experimenting. They’re pushing things forward, and I think it’s awesome and we should encourage it.”
To the visual effects people, what was the working relationship like with Jerome and David working on the visual effects and eventually getting Rob to turn the visual effects into 3D?
Jerome Chen started by stating that, “We tried to speak to Rob as little as possible.” In all seriousness, he mentioned how they started looking at the 3D as early as possible. They talked about how they looked at the dailies in 3D as much as possible. “If it’s shot in 3D, it was easier, but if it’s a CG shot we have the ability to look at it as quickly as possible. The key is to look at all the CGI with a sense of depth to it when it comes to creative decisions.” Rob Engle added that it’s important how the shots are going to play with depth, and how it’s going to feel in 3D. David Schaub mentioned that the workflow of animating isn’t different from the usual, the animators just has to be aware of the 3D. Lastly, Marc Webb chimed in that when he was studying 3D, he came up with the 3 V’s of 3D: Vertigo, Velocity, and Volume. “Vertigo that’s when you look at the side of the building and that’s something that comes out in 3D in a certain way. You can imitate it in 2D, but it’s a different feeling. And velocity, that feeling of moving really fast through an environment. That’s what that crane sequence is about, and that very last shot in the movie.” He said. “And volume, we added a lot of dust elements and dust particles in the laboratory and when the Ganali device goes off to create a sense of space, and to accentuate that sense of space. It helps the experience become more immersive.”
Do you (Marc Webb) have a preference with how you present 3D, whether he prefers to immerse the audience in 3D or if he prefers the gimmicky 3D where something comes at you?
In response, Marc Webb said he prefers to have depth in there, but he mentioned how Avi Arad, the producer of Spider-Man, tells him constantly to “have it come out at you.” Differing philosophies in the same camp, for sure. To Webb, he doesn’t want the user to be thinking about the 3D. “I want the sensation and the feeling to be there. I if it becomes too in your face, it pulls you out of the story and it becomes a gimmick.” To counter-balance all that, he talked about the he very last shot of the movie. They wanted to push the 3D as much as possible to give the audience “one last fun 3D moment.” All that said, he said that they were very careful not to push it too far throughout the movie.
With all the research you’ve done with Spider-Man, what is your favorite characters, all of you?
Marc Webb coyly said he liked Electro and he also is fascinated by the different incarnations of Norman Osborn and Harry. He also mentions that Mary Jane and Gwen are interesting to him. Jerome Chen said that The Lizard is his favorite character just by the fact that they spent a year and a half working on him, as the other supervisors agreed with Chen.
Lastly, you knew after Marc Webb coyly mentioned Electro that someone had to ask this question:
Is it true that Jamie Foxx might be in the next Spider-Man?
Marc Webb, again in a coy fashion, said that he thinks Jamie Foxx is “electrifying”, and afterward gave a very taunted laugh. All kidding aside, he mentions how Jamie Foxx is one of the most brilliant actors today, a great character actor, and he would love one day to work with him.
After that, the press conference was finished and the event was over as well. The Amazing Spider-Man comes out this Friday on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, Blu-ray 3D combo pack, DVD, and a limited edition gift set with a collectible Spider-Man and Lizard figurines. Check out my 3D Blu-ray review here and also check out the second-screen app trailer below! The Amazing Spider-Man second screen app is available for free from Google Play on Sony tablets and from the App Store on iPads.