When director Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) met with Marvel for the first time about “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” they told him to infuse the reboot with an ’80s John Hughes high school rite of passage focus. Watts was already there: “Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” were his touchstones.
“Those were the movies we grew up on,” Watts said. “I remember that age and you’re just constantly screwing up. You don’t know what to do yet, and you don’t know where you fit into the world.”
Capturing the Hughes Vibe
With the decidedly younger Tom Holland making his rough-and-tumble Spidey debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” Watts had a valuable head start with “Homecoming.” This brainy teenage version of the superhero finds himself way in over his head, ditching class, canceling dates, and fumbling his way as a crime fighter. It truly was like channeling the late Hughes. Watts even took the lead in helping to design the visual effects.
“I got in there with a virtual camera in Maya and designed the sequences like they felt part of the film,” Watts said. “And then I made them, even though they were made by thousands of collaborators.”
This included choreographing an homage to the famous “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” chase, where he averts getting caught skipping school. Only here Spidey frantically races through the neighborhood after baddies (courtesy of VFX by Method). “He’s just constantly making a mess of things. And to add a level of superheroes to that, it gets that much worse,” Watts said.
Suiting up in Stark Style
In keeping with the comics, Peter Parker steps up from his homemade suit and wears a high-tech suit built by his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). “Stark doesn’t have any powers but he likes bells and whistles,” said Watts. “It’s a fun device to play with. We sat around and brainstormed what the suit could do.”
It’s got webgliders, a GPS, a chest-mounted spider drone, and a heater (courtesy of VFX studio Method). Except Parker gets into trouble when he dismantles the training wheels. “Tom created this fully-formed physicality for Spider-Man that worked when he was in the suit and out of it,” Watts said. “It was so great that it was almost a problem for us to always have a stuntman do something because if it wasn’t Tom, you’d know. So the way that I dealt with that was we did a ton of motion-capture. So that it’s always Tom driving the performance.”
Back to the Homemade Suit
So when Stark takes away the suit, Parker’s stuck with his homemade suit (hoodie and sweat pants). That’s where Sony Pictures Imageworks stepped in. The homemade suit is not skin tight, the web shooters are low-tech and so is the high shield on his face to see his irises. For better cloth believability, they used a CG design tool called Marvelous Designer.
“We tried to make him look out of control, wagon wheeling his arms around,” said Imageworks visual effects supervisor Theo Bialek.
As for the web-shooting, Imageworks stuck to the basic design Industrial Light & Magic created for “Civil War” only with a few new wrinkles. “We did hand-animation using the same tools from the previous films with a good sense of weight,” Bialek said.
The Vulture Suits Up
Michael Keaton’s Vulture, a scavenger arms dealer in alien tech, is a lot more sympathetic than previous “Spider-Man” supervillains. He loses his construction job and blames Stark, and goes out of control, but never loses sight of his working class roots.
“I thought if Peter’s the regular guy, ground level superhero, what does the ground level supervillain look like?,” said Watts. “So that was my entry-point for Vulture. And, with Keaton, he got Beetlejuice, Batman, and Birdman rolled into one.
Like Spidey, Vulture has two winged suits — a regular and amped up version. Imageworks made the super suit for the thrilling plane heist (sticking Spidey in the engine) and the climactic fight on Coney Island. “We talked about his suit as a vehicle and you had to respect the speed and the weight,” Watts said.
“The exoskeleton and wings are different,” said Bialek. “The second suit is amped up on stereoids with larger wing span.”
“You need to understand where the villain’s coming from,” said Watts. “He’s got his own agenda. I thought it would be cool to have someone who’s not trying to take over the world. I have a tendency to check out when the stakes are too high in a movie.”