When the Sony Pictures Imageworks special-effects team got the screenplay for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, they quickly realized that with great box-office comes even greater responsibility for technical wizardry. The scope of the sequel was much bigger than Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot, and in contrast to the numerous night action sequences that dominated the first film, the new movie would extensively showcase Spider-Man slinging through New York in broad daylight, an entirely new set of creative challenges. “For some of the shots of Spider-Man swinging through the city [in sunlight], the computer could take 40 hours to render one frame of the city of New York,” says Jerome Chen, the film’s visual-effects supervisor. “And there’s 24 frames for one second.”
New York, it turns out, might be the most high-maintenance character in the entire Spider-Man franchise — mostly because it has to be entirely digitally re-created. Times Square, which hosts the first big smackdown between Spider-Man and Electro, took a team of more than 50 artists an entire year to build (and that’s not counting the characters’ effects work in that scene). “I told the team, ‘You’re going to be working on this thing for a whole year, it’s going to be really, really hard, and if you do it right, nobody will know that you did it,'” says Chen. “And they were into that.”
Obviously, a CG Times Square was necessary because Sony couldn’t just destroy Times Square — but they did ask the city to shut it down for two weeks so they could “maybe drop a car or two,” says Chen. The city generously gave them one night, which amounted to four hours of shooting, time enough just to capture Electro walking into the Square. Everything else would have to be re-created on a giant Long Island green-screen stage, where a Duffy Square set was built, and inside powerful computers.
If you’ve seen the film, you can’t help but be amazed by the precision of the faux Times Square, from the neon signage to the Tkts Broadway tickets stand. Everything is exactly as it is. Well, almost everything. Here’s a clue of one Times Square landmark that didn’t make it into the movie.
“The Father Duffy statue is actually not in the movie,” says Chen. “Marc wanted it removed because it always got in the way of where he wanted to put the camera between Electro and Spider-Man. So we actually didn’t build that — and another little statue that’s closer to the stands — on the set.”
Spider-Man faces a trio of antagonists in the movie, and each villain — Electro, Green Goblin, and Rhino — presented unique challenges and required a unique set of CG solutions. Paul Giamatti’s Rhino appears only briefly at the end of the film, but the character’s suit was as important to the effects team as anything else in the movie. “The artists are fanboys and fangirls themselves, and there’s just this thing about mechanical robots that everyone loves, coming from Pacific Rim to Rhino to Transformers,” says Chen. “So they put a lot of detail into it — rivets, even down to messy weld points — and if you study it, every piece looks like it’s from a different vehicle. They wanted it to look like Paul Giamatti’s character was given a base version of this mechanical suit put together out of surplus Soviet-era military gear that OsCorp had sold back in the ’80s and he went ahead and customized it himself. So the head looks kind of unfinished, like he drew it on a piece of toilet paper and then had someone weld it together.”
Giamatti never actually wore the suit. In fact, it only exists in Sony’s computers; a prototype was never built. But the actor did mount a primitive Rhino cart and film the scenes on Park Avenue with Andrew Garfield, so that they could interact and have the proper eyelines.
You might notice that the scaled-down Rhino contraption has a mysterious helper standing behind him in the clip below — a gray-faced minion if you will.
“Those are special-effects technicians who push the cart along,” says Chen, with a chuckle. “We said to just wear gray unobtrusive clothing, so you don’t stand out, and they decided to put on Phantom of the Opera masks and paint them gray. It was hilarious. They thought it would make them less obvious, but that’s all anybody looked at.”
It’s easy to paint over the minions, and some of Imageworks’ finest work isn’t building CG replicas of New York but simply slightly massaging the characters to make them seem more real. For example, one of the relatively minor changes to Spider-Man’s costume was making it seem a little looser on Garfield. “This gives you wrinkles and lets us give a little bit of ripple in the folds when he’s falling through the sky,” says Chen. “It’s very subtle, but people seem to feel like it’s more real, like there’s really a person underneath that suit.”
That just might be the most important special effect of all.
Re-creating Times Square:
Bringing Rhino to Life: