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The visual effects team on Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland as Spidey, had their work cut out for them. Due to the multi-verse theme of the film, they were tasked with bringing back memorable VFX-driven villains from the two previous Marc Webb-helmed Spider-Man movies that starred Andrew Garfield and three from Sam Raimi that were fronted by Tobey Maguire, including 2004’s Spider-Man 2, the last superhero movie to win an Oscar in visual effects.
That meant the return of such characters as Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman, Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Rhys Ifans’ Lizard.
The VFX team was sensitive to what would be involved in “getting all these villains and heroes back together, all in one place … and to be true to the nuances of each character,” explains VFX supervisor Kelly Port, who led the work on the film’s 2,500 VFX shots, produced at multiple effects houses including Digital Domain, Framestore and Sony’s Imageworks. “We definitely wanted to keep a consistent look, so a lot of reference was made to those previous films. It was a little bit tricky because we were able to try to get some of the assets from the previous films, but a lot of that stuff is just gone.”
In Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock had tentacles that were part puppeteered, part CG. This time around they were fully CG, though Port says his crew referenced photographs of the original puppeteer tentacles from Sony’s physical archives. “Ours are relatively consistent throughout the film and based on what’s in the Sony archives,” he explains.
Due to the nature of the story, the characters are on different timelines when they meet, meaning that some characters, including Maguire’s and Garfield’s Spideys, had aged while villains such as Doc Ock required de-aging, notes Port, who received an Oscar nomination in 2019 for his work on Avengers: Infinity War.
The de-aging, he says, was largely a compositing process that involved the use of a facial tracking system to give Molina his younger appearance: “We remove some wrinkles, tighten up some skin, things like that. It was a very time-consuming process.”
He adds that Dafoe also involved some “very minimal” de-aging work. “We would take great pains to not lose any facial detail, the high-frequency facial detail, like pores,” he says. “When you do that, it starts to look airbrushed … so we kept all the detail that was in the original photography.” Fully CG digital doubles of the villains also were made for action sequences.
No Way Home also marks the return of Haden Church’s Sandman from 2007’s Spider-Man 3. “When we were first interviewing companies to work on this film, quite a few of them had worked on Spider-Man in the past, and Sandman seems to be a collective post-traumatic stress disorder,” Port admits. “Technology has advanced quite a bit since then, but it’s still an extremely difficult process because the character is a combination of two things: character animation, but then it’s also driven by a simulation. One feeds the other, and it’s a complex simulation with millions of grains of sand, all having to interact with one another.”
He relates that they used some performance capture, “then obviously when he gets into more of the simulations side of things, the effects take over. [For instance,] ‘I want this dust cloud to go in this direction.’ ” For shots where you see the actor rather than the particles, “we were able to take alternate takes from the old film and re-project them onto a fully CG character [to get] the exact same performance and the exact same photography.”
While less evident to the audience, Port says tracking Spider-Man suits onto Holland, in cases where they needed to replace his costume with a digital suit, was time-consuming and labor-intensive. “We were able to get it done,” he notes, “but it was a little bit of a nail-biter, just because of the time that it took to really perfect that.”
This is not to say Spider-Man: No Way Home was all about character work. The movie involved several key action scenes, including the film’s climatic sequence on Liberty Island. While there was some bluescreen work, relates Port, “The entire Liberty Island, all the rest of the scaffolding, the statue, the island itself, all the construction work, trees, all the surrounding water, the distant city — that was all digital.”
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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