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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

Creating The Villain
Chen and his team also oversaw the CG creation of the Lizard, the villain of The Amazing Spider-Man and the most complex character ever built at Imageworks. "He's such an iconic villain from the comic books," says Chen. "And there have been so many variations - our departure point started with a beautiful sculpt done at Legacy. Our Lizard was almost nine feet tall, muscular and powerful, with a sweeping tail. The face is humanoid, which was important to provide us with a connection to the human Dr. Connors, as performed by Rhys Ifans."

New animation and rendering technology was developed at Imageworks in order to create the incredible detail of the Lizard's scales and the movement of his muscles beneath the skin. "Marc wanted the Lizard's skin to have loose folds - like a Komodo Dragon - but still feel the power of the muscles moving beneath them," remarks Chen. His team spent months researching lizards, studying HD footage taken during museum and zoo trips, even to a local pet store specializing in reptiles.

Of course, the VFX team also had to ground the character in reality so that he would fit in with the rest of the film. "I was taught that the key to making an animated character believable is that the audience has to see that this character is thinking," says Chen. "And our access point was Rhys Ifans. When he's in Lizard mode, what's his thought process? What would his performance be like?"

To achieve that, the filmmakers worked with Ifans to get videotape reference for the animators. "Marc directed Rhys during the key emotive moments when the Lizard was on screen. Though the Lizard rarely speaks in the film, there are many moments where we have to read his eyes and his expression." The video reference provided powerful inspiration for Imageworks' animators as they articulated the CG Lizard's moments of subtle facial performance.

But the Lizard - as one of Spider-Man's most formidable enemies - has plenty of moments in the film where he is not so subtle. The movement style of the Lizard's physicality during the action scenes took many weeks for the animators to discover and led to a variety of techniques employed throughout the film.

One such technique involved the use of a stuntman - dressed in black to help his digital "removal" during the post process - posing as a stand-in for the Lizard during a key action sequence at Peter Parker's high school. To fully convey the illusion that Spider-Man is grappling and being tossed around by a nine-foot-tall mutated Lizard, the stuntman (who was almost seven feet tall himself!) would grapple with Andrew Garfield. Later, the stuntman was removed and the CG Lizard animated to have motion that coincided with Garfield's movements. The meshing of the real physics of the actor and the CG animation of the Lizard create a visceral illusion of Peter Parker fighting for his life.

Chen oversaw the work by the team at Pixomondo who were responsible for turning Ifans into an amputee. "Rhys wore a green sleeve to help us track where we would have to paint out his arm and paint in the background," says the VFX supervisor. Painting out the arm was the easy part - but making the small details look right was much more challenging. "For example, when the arm is removed, does the sleeve hang right and move properly against the remnant of the arm?" he says. "The fact that he's missing an arm has a huge impact on your impression of the character. It's why he goes to great lengths to pursue his creation of the serum, and why he continues to take it, even though he's losing his soul to it. It has to look right."

In addition to the CG character work, Imageworks was also required to create the daunting illusion of the city in which these characters must interact. There are two major full-CG environments in the film: a long stretch of Sixth Avenue leading up to the OsCorp Tower, and another on the roof of the OsCorp Tower itself. Both environments are the stages for the high points of the film, where Spider-Man swings through the glittering nighttime canyons of Manhattan en route to his climactic battle with the Lizard.

The Sixth Avenue environment is an extremely detailed CG construct involving hundreds of digital cars and pedestrians, plus dozens of complex buildings with elaborate room interiors - some even with flickering televisions. All these details were combined to create the illusion of a living city that Spider-Man swings through.

The OsCorp Tower roof serves as the background for Spider-Man's final battle with the Lizard, and is one of the most complicated sequences in the film in terms of visual effects. After an extensive pre-visualization process which allowed Marc Webb to tightly design the action in terms of both fight choreography and virtual camera work, the scene was turned over for final CG animation and rendering/compositing. Dozens of full CG shots are intercut with live action photography of Andrew Garfield and Denis Leary in a gripping action sequence.

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