Spider-Man: No Way Home swung into theaters and instantly captured the imaginations and the hearts of generations of Spider-man fans. The film was cloaked in secrecy and came with spectacular expectations. Spoiler alert: it delivered times three. Action. Drama. Heart. Fans old and new all had different aspects they appreciated. The glue that held it all together besides some Amazing performances had to be the visual effects.
The ‘Verse! sat down with three members of the Academy Award-nominated VFX team behind the visual effects, Kelly Port (production VFX supervisor), Chris Waegner (VFX supervisor: Sony Picture Imageworks), Scott Edelstein (VFX supervisor: Digital Domain). Their artistry took us into a multiverse, revived multiple characters from two decades worth of Spider-man films, and delivered wall to wall jaw dropping visual effects, both those you could not miss and some so expertly handled you probably did not notice them (aka invisible effects.)
Be sure to listen to the conversation (below) in its entirety it covers their careers, the secrets of the film, who is each of their favorite Spider-Man and much more than found here. Below are some excerpts from our conversation. The audio interview is not only an interesting conversation that unveils some of the secrets of their work, it is also a lot of fun. Fans of film, visual effects, Spider-man, technology and so much more will enjoy it. By the time you are done you will certainly appreciate the film and hard work of hundreds of visual effects artists even more.
The team spoke with us about what films or filmmakers’ work inspired them into business as kids. We then turned the tables to ask them how it feels to influence the next generation of filmmakers and dreamers.
Kelly Port: That’s such a special question because you just gave me chills thinking about that. It would be such an honor to be involved in a film where I gave some kid the exact same inspiration that I felt as a kid. For them to say: ‘Whoa how did they do that? I want to do that.’ That’s super rewarding and wonderful.
Scott Edelstein: When we’re in the middle of it, heads down, blinders on making the movie, you really don’t have an understanding of the impact it’s going to have. As soon as it goes out into the world, you take a look around and realize people are going crazy. They’re standing up and cheering in the theaters. That’s never something I anticipated. Watching it happen is so cool.”
The volume and range of the visual effects in Spider-Man: No Way Home is quite impressive. While fans will quickly point out the trippy sequence between Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Doctor Strange) or Doc Ock’s car-tossing robotic arms that have a mind of their own, the depth of the visual effects goes much deeper.
Kelly Port: Basically 95% of the movie has some kind of visual effect. A lot of them are very invisible effects. What we mean by that is that you don’t necessarily know there are effects: a subtle de-aging on Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina for example. Some shots because of scheduling reasons or take changes or preferred performances in one take vs another. It could just be an in-camera shot of MJ and Peter just talking. Well I like that take of Tom Holland, but I like that other take of—so you end up doing a weird split screen and changing those performances. There’s one shot Scott and his team did in Happy’s condo’s kitchen where literally nobody was there. We didn’t shoot the plate of the kitchen because it was the wrong angle. Every single person was either digital or from a blue screen that was shot later individually. That was a full Frankenstein kind of shot, but it just looks like four or five people standing in a room together. Like of course that’s not a visual effects shot, but it’s actually a huge one.”
A good example with Jamie Foxx – at the end we had some interactive light on him but we had to time our electrical effects to coincide with the practical lighting effects but then we also had to create stuff that was closer to him like lightning bolts coming right off of him that should be lighting up his lower chin or jaw. A lot of times his face is CG or augmented on top of the live-action. You don’t even know that. Even though his face was shot or photographed, it’s fully CG sometimes.
Scott Edelstein: We would track his face and render a CG version of him with all the interactive lighting and then we would peel out just the pieces that are interactive lighting and put them on top of his real face, so it has that real subsurface scatter of the light. It wouldn’t look like you were just overexposing a plate, or flat or so it doesn’t look right. Like Kelly’s saying, pieces of his face were CG and you would never know.
Chris Waegner: The invisible effects thing too, that’s where we, as artists – if people don’t know that it’s digital, then we’ve kinda gotten away with it. We’ve done it to a level where people don’t notice. Because there’s nothing worse than sitting in a film and having that moment or that shot come up that kinda pulls the audience out of it, even for a split second.”
After all the work is done and turned in, there is one true test for the visual effects teams, how the audience responds to their work and the film.
Kelly Port: That is the most exciting thing for me in the whole world. I went on Friday of opening weekend with my kids. I’ve seen the movie like, 100 times by now. If you count the individual sequences, thousands of times. So I know it almost like the back of my hand…So when I’m seeing it I’m like, ‘okay here it comes.’ But to get to see, and you hear the people talking about it…the fans are really vocal in these audiences. And I think they – this is such a great movie to see with a live audience in a big theater.
Scott Edelstein: I’ve never gone to a show where people dress up. But the first weekend or even second weekend, people are literally in Spiderman spandex costumes running around the theater. Kids are running around the theater screaming and jumping out of their seats, especially when the alternate Spidermen show up. Everyone goes nuts! It’s been out there for like a month or so and everybody’s talked about it and still you see it. The visual of it happening, it gets you so excited.
As fans now know, there was not one Spider-Man, but three in No Way Home, with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield joining Tom Holland combining three iterations into one film. The VFX team spoke about what it was like working with three different Spider-men and the challenges it created.
Kelly Port: I remember the day that they first showed up on set and the crew just got as giddy as anybody as you can imagine, seeing the three of them together. I remember seeing Jon (director Jon Watts) sit down and everyone kinda cleared the stage, set a pretty distant perimeter in the middle of this big stage. And he had this little chair with a little desk and his laptop showing the three guys the pre-vis of the end battle sequence and this is kind of when they’re on the scaffolding and trying to make a game plan for how to get the villains. And it was just really cool. There was this nice fun energy on set. We knew that’s not something you see everyday. It was a really special moment.
Chris Waegner: In the third act, the sequence takes place at night so there’s not a lot of room to hide. Their suits, even though they’re different, they’re still tonally very similar at night or under scaffolding lighting, so what we did was we had the animation team—Rich Smith was our animation director—we got everybody together to think very early on. Kelly and Jon were having the same thoughts. How do we distinguish these three? We explored things, like maybe we could tear a suit or do these different things, but at the end of the day, the artists got together, we studied previous films. Each one of the Spiderman actors has their own style and idiosyncrasies they brought to their version of Spiderman. Whether it’s a pose or how they shoot their webs, whatever they do, we built this library of clips. When we were putting the shots together, we would look and say this would be a great moment to put Andrew into this iconic pose from the end of this movie, or this would be a great moment for Tobey and how he shoots webs to shoot webs in this style based on this previous clip from another movie.
All three of the guys were extremely appreciative of their teams of hundreds of visual artists who helped bring the effects to life. I guess one thing Spider-Man: No Way Home taught us is that its always best to work with a good team. We wish them all the best this Oscar season!
(Listen to the complete interview for more insights into the making of the blockbuster film. Also be sure to subscribe to The’ Verse! for more fascinating industry interviews, reviews, commentary, news and insights.