In theaters on July 3, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), an outcast in high school abandoned by his parents as a boy and raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today.
Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. Peter begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to OsCorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.
The film is directed by Marc Webb, and produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad, and Matt Tolmach, with costume design by Kym Barrett. The visual effects work was overseen by Academy Award-nominated VFX supervisor Jerome Chen, who has been with Imageworks since its founding 20 years ago.
Creating a new vision for Spider-Man in the film meant creating a new vision for how he gets around: a new suit and new web-shooters. “We were trying to create a suit that looked and felt as if Peter could make it himself, and it was important for the suit to enhance the lean physique of Spider-Man, and for him to have a rather spidery quality about him,” says Barrett.
“I began with the idea that Peter Parker creates the spider costume in his computer,” explains Barrett. “Marc wanted to present an electronic world, with evidence of technology everywhere, so our Spider-Man suit needed to become part of this world. We used Garfield’s physique to determine how and where the lines flowed across the body for the suit, so the lines had geometric form from any angle.”
For the material of the suit, the filmmakers had an equally wide array of inspirations. “We looked at Winter Olympics athletes’ suits and bicyclists’ clothing as a starting point,” explains producer Avi Arad. “Lightweight, athletic, stretchy materials which Peter could use for inspiration for his suit.” They also kept in mind that the film would be shot in 3D, and the designers looked for ways to incorporate texture that would enhance the suit for 3D audiences. “We found that we could print shadows on the fabric of the suit, and that gives the suit real density and depth on the screen,” adds Barrett. Lenses for Spider-Man’s mask were made by a manufacturing company that creates sunglass lenses for the military and for NASA. Coated to reduce reflection, the lenses feature a blue-tinted optical lens with a gold hexagon mirrored pattern printed on top.
In designing the web-shooters, Barrett was inspired by wide leather watchbands which had a plastic cover that snapped over the watch to protect its face. “We thought Peter would think these were perfect,” she says. “Take out the watch and you have a great housing for the web-shooters. Snap the cover over it to hide it, and when you’re walking down the street, it just looks like you’re wearing a watch.” In the film, Peter Parker creates mechanical web-shooters in his uncle’s basement.
Chen and his team oversaw the CG creation of the Lizard, the villain of “The Amazing Spider-Man” and the most complex character ever built at Imageworks. “He’s such an iconic villain from the comic books,” says Chen. “And there have been so many variations – our departure point started with a beautiful sculpt done at Legacy. Our Lizard was almost nine feet tall, muscular and powerful, with a sweeping tail. The face is humanoid, which was important to provide us with a connection to the human Dr. Connors, as performed by Rhys Ifans.”
New animation and rendering technology was developed at Imageworks in order to create the incredible detail of the Lizard’s scales and the movement of his muscles beneath the skin. “Marc wanted the Lizard’s skin to have loose folds – like a Komodo Dragon – but still feel the power of the muscles moving beneath them,” explains Chen. The visual effects team spent months researching lizards, studying HD footage taken during museum and zoo trips, even to a local pet store specializing in reptiles.
The team also had to ground the character in reality so that he would fit in with the rest of the film. “I was taught that the key to making an animated character believable is that the audience has to see that this character is thinking,” says Chen. “And our access point was Rhys Ifans. When he’s in Lizard mode, what’s his thought process? What would his performance be like?”
To achieve that, the filmmakers worked with Ifans to get videotape reference for the animators. “Marc directed Rhys during the key emotive moments when the Lizard was on screen. Though the Lizard rarely speaks in the film, there are many moments where we have to read his eyes and his expression.” The video reference provided powerful inspiration for Imageworks’ animators as they articulated the CG Lizard’s moments of subtle facial performance.
But the Lizard – as one of Spider-Man’s most formidable enemies – has plenty of moments in the film where he is not so subtle. The movement style of the Lizard’s physicality during the action scenes took many weeks for the animators to discover and led to a variety of techniques employed throughout the film.
One such technique involved the use of a stuntman – dressed in black to help his digital “removal” during the post process – posing as a stand-in for the Lizard during a key action sequence at Peter Parker’s high school. To fully convey the illusion that Spider-Man is grappling and being tossed around by a nine-foot-tall mutated Lizard, the stuntman (who was almost seven feet tall himself) would grapple with Garfield. Later, the stuntman was removed and the CG Lizard animated to have motion that coincided with Garfield’s movements. The meshing of the real physics of the actor and the CG animation of the Lizard created a visceral illusion of Peter Parker fighting for his life.
Chen oversaw the work by the team at Pixomondo who were responsible for turning Ifans into an amputee. “Rhys wore a green sleeve to help us track where we would have to paint out his arm and paint in the background,” says Chen. Painting out the arm was the easy part – but making the small details look right was much more challenging. “For example, when the arm is removed, does the sleeve hang right and move properly against the remnant of the arm?” he says. “The fact that he’s missing an arm has a huge impact on your impression of the character. It’s why he goes to great lengths to pursue his creation of the serum, and why he continues to take it, even though he’s losing his soul to it. It has to look right.”