Visual effects in Spider-Man: Homecoming: An interview with Digital Domain
Aboard the Staten Island Ferry, Spider-Man tries to capture Mac Gargan. A malfunctioning weapon tears the ferry in half, but the superhero holds up the ferry together with his webs and saves the passengers. Digital Domain created the Staten Island Ferry sequence and completed a total of 229 shots for the film with the help of 282 artists. RENDERU.COM spoke to Francis Puthanangadi (Compositing Supervisor) and Eric Kimelton (VFX producer) who worked on the sequence.
RENDERU.COM: How did it feel for you to work on the project?
Francis Puthanangadi: While there are always challenges in VFX productions, working on Spider-Man: Homecoming was a very rewarding experience overall. I think Spider-Man himself turned out looking really amazing, because we played up his energy and actions with animation and incorporated facets of the physical environment with lighting and FX to make the most of every shot. Our CG supervisor, Rob Frick, kept all the CG elements in check to get the highest level of detail. The moment where he is holding up the ferry together with his webs, which we dubbed the “Iron Cross” moment, is one shot that we were all very proud of.
Images: Digital Domain
RENDERU.COM: How did you create the ferry and its destruction?
Francis Puthanangadi: The ferry destruction and stitch-up was particularly complicated and challenging due to several layers of elements. Our department had to keep a close eye on matching all the intricate level of details, including the CG characters (Spider-Man, Spider drone, Vulture, weapons, Iron-man, drone thrusters), CG assets (SI ferry, ferry vehicles, boats, air traffic assets), FX assets (ocean, fire, smoke, webs, vulture weapon destruction elements) and environment assets (background panoramic high detailed ferry extension, scorch marks), so that the optical quality of the composite matched the original practical photography.
Eric Kimelton, VFX producer: We created the ferry by first 3D scanning it with a technology called LIDAR. This essentially gave us a 3D map of the entire ferry. Our modelers, texture and lookdev artists spent months making sure it matched the real ferry.
The 3D scans we received were for an intact ferry. The most rewarding part about the ferry build was being able to figure out how to split it in half and create all the destruction (smoke, fire, sparks, scorch marks, debris, gushing water). Our entire team was instrumental in creating the “split” ferry look.
RENDERU.COM: The artists at Digital Domain had done a lot of water work in the past. Was it still challenging for them to create various water simulations for this movie?
Francis Puthanangadi: Water stimulation is always challenging, especially due to its complexity and the time involved to render them in high quality. Our FX team lead by Charles Felix Chabert did extensive look development on water dynamics, shader development and HDR lighting. At the end of the project, we ended up creating water for the majority of our shots, which included a full CG ocean, water interactions involving ferry and cars, wake, foam, spray, mist, geysers and wet passes for the ferry decks. One of the most complicated and challenging shots involved water gushing into the ferry as it gets ripped apart with cars floating in the lower deck.
RENDERU.COM: How did you create the Spider-Man suit and his web lines?
Francis Puthanangadi: The Spider-Man suit was a shared asset with another VFX studio. They were responsible for the original look development of the newest Spider-Man design. We inherited the model and textures from them. During Spider-Man’s look development phase, we created an extensive muscle simulation system. We also increased the texture quality/resolution. Our modeling, texturing and lighting department was playing musical chairs with this for a while. Once we had all the necessary components out of lighting, our compositing team just added the final magic touches.
Eric Kimelton, VFX producer: For Spider-Man’s webs, we had a team of FX artists testing and simulating different types of webs. A story point in the movie is that Spider-Man has several different types of webs at his disposal; splitter webs, web grenades, ricochet webs, etc. Our team had to conceptualize how these webs behaved differently than the webs people are used to seeing in other Spider-Man movies. Of course, the idea of the types of webs was driven by the creatives at Marvel Studios, but we were given the task of coming up with what they looked like.
There is a portion of our sequence where Spider-Man is saving the Staten Island Ferry from splitting in half, and to do so, he uses these different types of webs to hold it together. There was one shot in particular where he shoots grenade webs that connect from one side of the ferry to the other, all while he weaves in and out of the ferry decks to stitch it together.
RENDERU.COM: What was the most difficult in handling rigging and animation of Spider-Man and Vulture?
Francis Puthanangadi: The greatest challenge was previsualizing the sequence to make it more dynamic. This was pulled off by our amazing animation department, headed by our Animation Director - Phil Cramer. It was absolutely stunning to see how we replaced each and every Spider-Man and Vulture with a CG version. From my department’s point of view, the main challenge was making all of the CG elements look photo-real. These included Spider-Man, Vulture, Iron-Man, the ferry and water.
RENDERU.COM: How long did you work on the project?
Francis Puthanangadi: Once the project entered the production stage, it took twelve months to finish. However, my composting department was actively working on the project for about six months up until a few weeks before the release date of the movie (July 7th, 2017). The last week of our project, we were mostly wrapping up our full stereo CG shots.