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Sony Imageworks Gets Electrified Over Cutting-Edge ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’ VFX (VIDEOS)

Sony Imageworks Gets Electrified Over Cutting-Edge 'Amazing Spider-Man 2' VFX (VIDEOS)

The “Spider-Man” franchise serves as a good barometer for assessing the recent VFX evolution of Sony Pictures Imageworks. In “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” though, it’s about the power to energize Electro (Jamie Foxx), thanks to advancements in lighting (using the 3D application Katana) and rendering through ray-tracing along with a more efficient workflow that empowers the artists.

“It’s more intimate in that it explores the relationship between Gwen [Emma Stone] and Peter [Andrew Garfield],” admits Jerome Chen, Sony’s senior VFX supervisor. “It’s a superhero that has to juggle his personal life with the weight of trying to be a hero. And he’s also searching for some sort of meaning about why his parents abandoned him. Marc [Webb] says it’s the classic hero’s journey but he’s trying to find his own identity in the process.”

This identity crisis is at the core of director Webb’s more personal vision for this Spidey reboot. “Realistically, anybody whose parents disappeared in a very urgent or chaotic manner when he was six or seven-years-old, that’s going to have a huge emotional impact. And that moment is more definitive than even the spider bite. It defined the character and the movie in a very specific way for me.””

In fact, Peter’s orphan story was very Dickensian for him and he finds the whole notion of these kids having a generosity of spirit, yet also a distrust for the world around them, very provocative.

As far as VFX and 3-D, they weren’t such a huge leap for Webb, who cut his teeth on music videos before jumping into “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Amazing “Spider-Man.” “The action scenes just tend to be more physical obstacles, but not always. I worked several months on all that stuff with previs from Proof and that was really fun to do because of the exploration process and some of my friends of the last few years are previs artists and so I knew about that. The other thing is that Andy Armstrong, who is our stunt coordinator, put a real emphasis in the first part of the movie about doing the stunts practically, which usually makes the scope smaller but it enforces a certain physical dimension or physical language, which I thought was really helpful to inform the animation in the second-half of the movie.”

And it’s all about the climactic Times Square showdown in the second-half. Imageworks built a virtual Times Square as the battleground where Electro shows off his dazzling light show. “We created a storm of electricity within Electro’s skin to visualize his rage,” Chen explains. “To help integrate our CG characters into live-action, they take HDRI imagery and feed it into the Arnold renderer, which is the ray-tracing software.”

“We had to do Electro’s skin [which is blue and resembles the electric eels that nearly destroy him]. Then his energy effects. There are a wide variety and we put an E in front of everything. He fires an E-bolt. Then when it hits something, there’s residual glow of electricity. We call that the E-netting. And if he lifts something, then the bolt looks different. If he fires a quick bolt, it has one look, but if he fires a different way, it continues. There were a dozen different types of bolts.”

Mesh lighting, a new piece of tech, came in handy. You can take any piece of geometry, such as the bolt itself and, through simulation, turn it into a light source and branch it out in different shapes and it casts appropriate lights and shadows. You no longer have to cheat and comp it in. You can make materials look right and put in the correct detail. It’s all about letting the artists be creative and iterative and no longer worrying about how tech is going to achieve the desired effect.

Meanwhile, Spidey’s level of performance continues to improve with better animation. The way he swings from point A to point B is that he’ll kick off a building or sling a web to shorten his arc. His suit is also different. For instance, he sports the larger eye shield that’s more in keeping with the comic. The suit design is closer to the Marvel comic as well. “Marc likes the blue to be darker and the red to be vibrant. And there are two different looks for night and day,” Chen continues.

But for animation supervisor David Schaub, the physics have to be believable. “He can’t defy gravity. He can get hurt. We even make it seem like he has a camera strapped to his chest in a couple of shots. Marc liked it and it leaves open the potential to do more in the next one.”

Then there’s the “over-hand scramble” when chasing Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan). Even when he’s swinging, he’s still climbing to keep up but still needs to go through his pendulum arc.

“Making it more efficient is latest advance in VFX,” remarks digital VFX supervisor Dave Smith. “We have a team now that is dealing with geometry and when I ask for more detail, they can put it in the pipe…to make the shot believable and visually arresting.”

“Part of what technology has done is to allow the artist to do more and work faster and create more realistic images because the hardware and software are more advanced now,” Chen concludes. “What we’re seeing in all the movies, the level of artistry is magnificent. The hurdle is really just the imagination now.”

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