The VFX of ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’

On May 2, 2014, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 stretches across movie screens with excited fanfare. I know it’s an assumption, with people being loyal to the Sam Raimi incarnation (sans Spider-Man 3), but with the success of the first The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s hard to go wrong with another Spider-Man movie with the same crew. But wait, some of you are highly skeptical! Have more than one villain in a movie can highly complicate the narrative, much like what happened when Raimi threw in Venom aside from having Sandman. Let’s give this film a show, Reactorites! We can’t fully base our views purely on another director’s handling of a multi-villain movie.
IMG_0617But I’m not here to defend a movie we have not all seen yet. Nerd Reactor was invited to get a feel for the Visual Effects (VFX) for the new movie, where the heads of the effects department showcased clips and images depicting their work. David Schaub, Animation Supervisor, spoke of how “animation dictates design,” so if the design did not look appealing when it was being animated, it needed to be adjusted. Amidst the design process, they used actual props to anchor the lightning. From personal experience, without proper lighting, the entire composition would be distracting and lose the immersion of any set.

IMG_0616The crew further elaborated on the importance of physics. To those experienced with VFX and seeing various movies with VFX, we are at a point in our culture where we can figure out where the wiring and harnesses go for stuntwork. Similarly, those in animation have a great sense of natural motion and physics. Taking these elements into account, David Schaub understood that any physics flaws in the animation would stand out. They used stuntmen to create guidelines for physics flows, a model to be used for the animators. The shifting of weight and the compression of the body through the movement are key aspects that would deliver realism versus artificial articulation.

IMG_0614While it is easier to determine the animation flow for Spider-Man, given that the character is affected by gravity, Electro was more of a challenge. Using a backyard pool recording of movement in a swimming pool, they depicted Electro’s movement through space as though it were in water. They touched on the emphasis using real-world physics in their compositions, ensuring that whatever mass the character or their clothing possessed, it would be reflected in the movement and design over time and conditions. For instance, the wrinkles in Spider-Man’s outfit which fluttered as he is free-falling.

IMG_0611What also helped in rendering full Computer Generated (CG) shots, was the capability of emulating camera angles that were not possible in actuality. They used viewpoint capturing to emulate actual camera movement, much like having a handheld camera. To accomplish this, they rendered a scene, then had a cameraman operate a rig that responded with gyroscopic sensors to capture actual perspective movement. This is similar to what they did for Ender’s Game, during the Mouse Game puzzle sequence.

IMG_0615David Smith, digital effects supervisor, carried on discussing a bit of what was used to create Electro’s power effects. He spoke of the aspects of Electro’s energy being inspired by neurons and electrical storms, and how Electro’s mood shifts electrical patterns and colors. There were various layers for each scene with Jamie Fox, removing the make-up and compositing various digital layers in what would make him the living energy being, Electro. Each scene of Electro is a blend of CG effects, with Jamie Fox being used to reinforce the sequence. And with a team of 8 specialists working on the effects development, it took 6 months to finalize the effects that would be used throughout production.

Amazing SpiderMan 2-01When it came to Electro’s energy bolt power, the team drew upon various references. Tesla arcs, plasma, Jacob’s Ladders, lightning, transformer disconnects, and electrical discharges. They emphasized that each energy bolt would have a distinct animation. And with each animation, it would have a detailed phase in its delivery: pre-arc, bolt, and burn-off (to name a few of the stages). And if you noticed the soft hues of this energy display, they wanted to emulate sea-life (particularly sea eels) as a model to color the bolts, due to Electro’s origin. For Electro’s teleportation, which they call “e-materialization,” they emulated ionized gases which coalesced into physical material.

IMG_0618The highlight of this development, which deeply impressed me, was the Time Square sequence in the film. They recorded the sequence in a massive lot, with immense greenscreens that were maneuvered by steam shovels to allow for emulation of Time Square. You might wonder, “Why not just film in Time Square?” Due to what the scene required, the amount of devastation and how much interference filming would incur, it would be highly disruptive to New York’s infrastructure. So what was their solution? They built Time Square digitally!

Amazing SpiderMan 2-03Using various cameras and still photos by Columbia Pictures, these references helped the designers model and light the region. Permits were acquired to cyberscan the location. Permission for advertising partners were acquired. And altogether massive amounts of geometry are now able to be rendered. While they had models and files of New York buildings in their digital archives, they found that Time Square in 2012 was very different to how it is today. Fortunately it was easy to have those older files to accelerate their work. When you see the movie, the entire block of where Electro and Spider-Man confront each other in Time Square, is mostly CG. And truth be told, it was very convincing!

Amazing SpiderMan 2-00The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes to theaters on May 2, 2014.

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