When you can do anything in VFX, it's challenging to do something fresh and exciting. Here are five new things the VFX artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks (www.imageworks.com) — and other assisting VFX houses — did to make The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a must-see movie.
1) Shot on Film
Sounds quaint right, since film is dead? The first The Amazing Spider-man was shot in with dual Red Epics, so what gives? Sony Pictures Imageworks and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 lead VFX supervisor Jerome Chen says, “There’s there seems to be a renaissance of movies that are going back to film; Star Wars being the most notable one.” Chen says that there’s a more “organic” feeling of film that makes people look better. “The effects sequences feel more accessible, more real.” There’s a visual language to movies shot on film that audiences are used to. He notes, “Some of these movies that come out (shot) on digital appear too clean, or they feel different, which may subconsciously detach you from the storytelling.”
2) Cool New Shots
Chen says that in this version, they allowed the camera to follow Spidey swinging through the city for much longer than they did in the last movie. Right after the main title sequence “we definitely, deliberately let the camera follow his actions for much longer periods to make it less ‘cutty’ and also that really helped the stereo experience.” At the climax of the movie, there’s a fight scene between Spider-Man and Electro at the power plant. “We try to follow as much action as possible without cutting away.”
There's also new camera angles and points of view. They even did a shot that looks like he has a GoPro camera strapped to his chest.
Imageworks used real camera operators for the “virtual” cinematography that was done in the CGI world. In standard CG animation, the camera is animated using keyframes to control the movement, which can look a little too deliberate and synthetic. When an actual cameraman is filming a subject, describes Chen, “it's not perfect, (the cameraman) doesn't track the object perfectly. There's a little bit of waver, and we want those types of imperfections in the image to make it feel like we really did shoot it.”
3) The Villains
The three new villains are mini VFX powerhouses, The mech suit for Paul Giamatti and the slider for Dane DeHaann’s Goblin (Harry Osborne) took months to nail down, but Electro, played by Jamie Fox, breaks some serious new ground in design and compositing.
Every single character required development of new CG technologies explains Chen. “Electro needed several levels of digital enhancement to make him appear to have energy roiling inside of him. So it was not just a simple end treatment, or adding veins. We actually had to develop technology to make it appear that this light was emanating through the layers of his flesh.
“The Goblin would have to fly around on a CG glider that needed to feel like it was reacting to his every body movement in order to steer it. And then the Rhino is a human operating a giant mechanized suit which (is) a full CG creation with a live-action Paul Giamatti placed into the cockpit.”
4) Kicking Ass in the Uncanny Valley
Okay we all know that Spidey is CG when he flies through the buildings, but my brain is telling me otherwise. The fabric bunches and flutters on Spiderman's suit as he's plummeting to the ground, and it’s all CG!
Chen says that’s partly because there's a lot more detail in everything they built in the virtual world. “What's interesting about this suit is that it's a little looser, and the fabric is a little thinner, than in the other Spider-Man movies.” By building a full cloth simulation the audience can actually see in the little folds when the cloth ripples on the costume.
The big deal is they created major new animation techniques to incorporate true physics and gravity into a calculation of Spider-Man's movements. According to Chen, “An animator frames him flying through the city landing and leaping. We check this movement against a real simulation of what an object would actually do relative to gravity. Spider-Man is superhuman. He has super strength. He can jump quicker, he can react quicker, he can withstand an enormous amount of torque and G-forces, but he can't defy the law of gravity. So his rate of fall, and that type of thing, was incorporated to make sure that he would fall properly.
“We would examine the animation from multiple angles,” continues Chen. “Not just the few of the camera that the viewer's seeing, but we would look at the orthographic views of his motion to make sure that it felt proper, and we're not doing any cheats. Being very cautious of physics, and coupling that with creative license to allow him to do superhuman feats, really helped ground the motion, so that — yes, he's doing Spider-Man motion, but he still feels like he's obeying gravity and wind resistance.”
5) Fresh Environments
In many cases the new city environments that you see Spidey swinging through are all digital.
When you watch the New York Times Square battle everything — that entire environment, with all those Jumbotrons — that's all computer graphics (CG) with an immense amount of detail. The skyscraper windows have window blinds.
In the end battle there are two environments: the Oscorp power plant and the clock tower. Ninety percent of that is all CG. So you're watching CG characters fight in a CG environment. Chen says excitedly that allows you to “choreograph a huge spectacle of movement.
“It's a next-generation power plant designed by Oscorp,” describes Chen. “A very small part of this was built physically. The clock tower, the interior of it that's a very complicated world of gears and internal structure of the clock tower. But because of the size of it, much of it is a CG construction. The main point is that the technology of creating bigger environments allows our heroes and villains to fight and be able to stage really exciting battles.”