Every super-hero story has a nemesis bad guy. Like Peter Parker is to a spider, this guy mixes DNA of a lizard and becomes a nine-feet tall, rather heavy and nasty piece of work. As the actor assumes certain poses and makes certain expressions, Imageworks based its ‘look’ with those of Rhys Ifans, the actor who plays Doctor Connors. “We did high rez scans of the actors playing a library of poses, which we then applied to the CG version of the lizard,” Chen says. “so when the lizard assumes the same sort of expression that Rhys did, there’d be some sort of continuity. We took lots of visual references of different kinds of lizards as well, so we knew how far the appearance could be stretched towards the human. Eventually we decided to try a mix of different lizards. There was a mix also of human skin, since this was a mix of a human and lizard.”
The performance of Rhys Ifans was instrumental in gaining the best animation for his work as the Lizard. CGSociety also spoke to David Schaub, animation supervisor at Imageworks. “Even though Rhys didn’t actually look like the lizard we tried to get a lot of that together by working with his facial expressions and the performance,” explains Schaub. “From there forward it was an artistic call because we couldn’t rely on reference or motion capture. The character was nine feet tall. If we were to MoCap that, it would look like a six foot tall guy in a lizard suit.”
In the fight between the very sleek Spider-Man and the nine foot Lizard, there was that tricky balance between the two forms. Putting those two together into hand to hand combat will bring different physical effects, like how gravity affects each protagonist individually. Mark Webb seems to have taken a few leaves out of the Ridley Scott book by introducing as many practical elements as possible. If they are all digital creations, they run the risk of looking like digital creations. As soon as Webb found we could make the digital Spider-Man emulate perfectly the moves of Andrew Garfield, the shot count spiralled up. Not only for the performances, but adding whole sequences and being able to hit the mark. The rigs used in Maya allowed complete control over musculature and simulations are run on the top of that. Then the skin itself was treated as a cloth material. A bit like Rhys was sitting inside a lizard-skin jacket, which was true to the folds and bunching that happens.
Web in a drain
On set, there was a large padded rope mesh for the actor Andrew Garfield to recline on during the filmed sequence. Afterwards, the VFX crew blacked out this thin trampoline system of wires and replaced it with a CG web, but it took a long time to figure out what would look best. Jerome Chen takes up the story. “We tried a thin fluffy, cob-webby look. It has a silver, barbed, translucent quality to it,” Chen describes. “There’s even a chromatic aberration to it, skipping from red thru to blue. There are people out there who make sculptures out of glue. Sticky, stringy glue that dries and makes the most elaborate structures. We used a lot of these sculptures as reference for the look of the strong fluffy web.” To create the animated web, Imagework animated in Maya. For the effects and particles, smoke and dust, the team used a selection of application including a Houdini system with Maya. Most of the compositing work was in NUKE and the lighting system was the open-source KATANA.
There were 15 vendors for this movie, with Pixomondo doing a huge sequence for The Amazing Spider-Man
of the CG bridge and they were using V-Ray as their renderer. The task for Imageworks was creating the technical bridges cos they did all their animation in 3ds Max. NUKE compositing strips then need to have a clear way to be sent between vendors as well.
"There are different kinds of webs seen from different viewpoints in each scene they are in. In the drain 'hideout' where there is a long web that has a broader sense of colour gradation going through it," explains Chen. "Then there are close up webs that required a lot greater detail. We had to reflect a higher level of light from the background through it. There were spots where the web hit something and would be pulled back from it and create something we called the Eiffel Tower, and each iteration of the web required a different lighting and rendering technique."
Each of these different passes had to be balanced together in the compositing stage. There were multiple passes too: Spec, Refraction, base, diffuse, high frequency, motion blur, and there was a bit of cheat because some blurs would make the web invisible, blowing all the effort by Imageworks.
Strike a pose
Some things Spider-Man does as he pounds around in the skies above Manhattan were full-screen and the Imageworks animators never thought he’d get that close. “This gave our team lots of opportunities to do things we couldn’t do otherwise, like hitting the iconic poses from the comic book,” says Schaub. “Anytime there was debate about what Spider-Man could do at any particular moment, we’d always be referring to the comic books. Spider-Man flies through the city, which would be difficult if it were Andrew or a stunt guy, and it meant we could push it a lot further.”
The finale was also tweeked solidly into a minute of animation which was full of iconic moments. With about a month to go, the team jumped into action to make Spider-Man slingshot down off a crane and swing across a rooftop, and then down an alley which sort of started off being a little like aerial parcour, which David Schaub was also referencing for a lot of the Spider-Man moves. There’s an elegant fluidity in a lot of this movement. Striking one pose and following the inertia from it, allows another pose to be attained. A lot of the swinging action is based off trampeze and ballet and what formed was animation of the hero with the camera chasing him right up close across this landscape. “We managed it by breaking the single shot into four pieces,” explains Schaub. “so that each animator had 25% of the shot. Mark wanted to add a few seconds here and there and we could do that within the context of that piece and then stitch it all back together.”