Spider-Man 3 building a CGI city.

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Nov 17, 2005
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November 29
<H4 class=TextColor1 id=subjcns!FE954C956215D053!282 style="MARGIN-BOTTOM: 0px">Creating CG Cityscapes for Spider-Man™ 3
Creating CG Cityscapes for Spider-Man™ 3

As digital effects supervisor for Spider-Man™ 3, Peter Nofz had primary responsibility for many astonishing effects including the creation of the alien symbiote, both in its sinister goo form and when it takes shape as the terrifying Venom. He also led the teams whose task it was to create believable locations for some of the most dramatic scenes in the movie.

Peter describes the process of creating CG cityscapes that can be used from any angle and in any light:

One of my favorite scenes is the alley sequence, near the very beginning of the movie, when Peter Parker is ambushed by the New Goblin. Even before we get to the alley a lot of those shots are full CG background shots, and they took a lot of work.

We needed to find buildings that looked the way Sam [Raimi, the director] wanted, and then we needed to capture them digitally from every angle. Neil Spisak, the production designer, found some in New York and even more in Los Angeles that had the kind of grungy look and that we could get access to – it turned out that acquiring those buildings digitally was more difficult than acquiring skyscrapers because you could often not get access to all sides of the building. They often were built up or butted up against a different building. If we couldn’t get access to the back or the side we would build it as a brick wall, but we tried not to waste time on buildings we couldn’t get to all sides of.

Sam also had decided that he wanted to take that fight up to a higher point than we’ve ever been in the Spider-Man movies. We had stayed inside the canyons of New York City buildings on the first two, but this time he wanted it higher up, so we would be seeing a perspective of the buildings that we hadn’t seen before – their fight was right on the skyscraper line. So we actually had to go through the buildings we had captured digitally and make sure that enough of them had nice and complete rooftops.

Then we sat down and determined how many of those buildings we needed to create the world’s longest alley. We thought it would be 15 before repetition could be perceived, but since we are able to add variation and partial changes to buildings, as it turned out we did great with 13.

Ever since the first movie, we’ve always said we were going to build real buildings, buildings that exist somewhere, rather than making up buildings. We’re not architects, so the best way of creating believable, realistic buildings is to duplicate buildings that actually exist. We therefore have a library of buildings that we already created in CG. Most of those are skyscrapers that would make up a Manhattan or Chicago-style skyline. We didn’t have anything appropriate for the alley, so we had to go acquire those buildings digitally.

To get what we needed, [computer graphics supervisor] Grant Anderson and his team went for about a week and started shooting these alley pictures. Conditions, from what I understand, were pretty difficult. They had to get access to windows and rooftops where they could shoot from, and they had to climb through bird excrement and deal with drug addicts hanging around and other unpleasant things. They were all really happy to get back to Imageworks!

For the soundstage shoot [at Sony Pictures in Culver City, California], Toby [Maguire] really did crash into the wall of a partial building and those bricks were crushed, but the surrounding buildings were added by us – until we get to the end of the sequence, when Harry loses control of the Sky Stick. That was shot on location in L.A. in the same vicinity where we acquired our buildings so it would look seamless.

For the final battle sequence, it became clear very early on that we needed to have a replica of an entire New York City block. We needed to make replicas of those buildings anyway, and we added those to our library. I would say two-thirds of the skyscrapers we built for Spider-Man 3 were actually driven by the final battle sequence because they’re visible in that block and there was no question about needing them. Then we took a couple of additional ones that happened to have nice rooftops. We needed to feel confident that we had enough buildings not only for the foreground but also for the mid-ground. For the background, Scott [Stokdyk, visual effects supervisor] got aerial shots.

That’s where the decision to build the Trump Tower came from – it has all these nooks and crannies and adornment. Several of the bank buildings we chose were also because of their nice roofs and a better appearance when viewed from higher up.

Mainly, though, Sam and Scott and several other people from the production went to New York to scout possible locations for the final battle. They had a series of possibilities, but they ended up with Chase Plaza in New York as the only place that really fit the requirements of what was needed. Scott pushed for trying to shoot as much as possible on location, which we always do, but there was no way around creating the entire block if we were to get everything Sam wanted.

All the buildings we built are replicas of whatever is really in Chase Plaza. In the past, we cherry-picked buildings for their suitability and ease of access. And here we couldn’t cherry pick, we just had to get every building, and if we couldn’t get a building – well then, we just had to build it anyway. As of 9/11 it has gotten harder to get permission to access to these buildings, too. I know that Grant had his share of problems getting into where he had to go.

In addition, Sam needed a building that was under construction. The one audiences see was truly a made-up building, it didn’t exist, and even if it had existed it would have been a dangerous place. It is also a building that is under construction from first floor up to the 150th floor, which you would never find in the real world.

Scott had always wanted to really replicate a location rather than just a building at a time. It was just one of his things that he really wanted to do. So this finally was the opportunity where he could say okay, we’re going replicate not just a bench or whatever but we’re actually going to replicate an entire city block. And to do it somewhere as exciting as New York added to the achievement.
There’s one other scene that I really like and on which Grant Anderson and [lighting lead] Andrew Nawrot did an outstanding job. It’s when we’re introduced to black-suited Spidey – he’s on the side of the skyscraper and he does a mid-air flip and you can just tell that he’s turned into a different personality. Then he kind of swoops down and all of a sudden we see him in the canyon between the buildings and he goes up again. Well, that sequence has a beginning which is completely CG, then he gets down into the street where we have a shot or two that were actually filmed, and then he swings up again to the next building and once again we’re in mostly CG-land. There was a lot of discussion about how to do that scene, but by using the best of what could be filmed and the best of CG we were able to get what Sam wanted.
How much does all of that cost, I mean damn. I wonder if there's anyone who can make a Spidey film without the use of CGI, and I wonder how it would turn out with just 100-110M to work with for the budget?
he wouldnt' be swinging around very much except for landing and what can be done on rigs and cranes as far as aerial work goes with a low low budget. villains wouldn't look as good or as believable. any of the remaining villains needs as much cgi work to be believable as the last villains have. ock wouldnt' have been half as believable without cgi or with goblin flying and his bombs exploding. sandman wouldnt' have had a chance and neither would have venom seeing as how a mask would have had to have been as advanced as a predators face mask to be real looking. scorpion chameleon kraven and mysterio might need the least amount of cgi. but vulture needs as much as goblin and lizard shoudlnt' be done in a suit except for key scenes unless it looks REALLY good. we have to believe he's a lizard after all
If they wanted to, they could easily recycle and re-use the cg cities of the sm1 and 2, cutting production costs to save money.
If they wanted to, they could easily recycle and re-use the cg cities of the sm1 and 2, cutting production costs to save money.

That is a wise idea, just so that every movie, New York doesn't look different from the past movies in which they did.
Except CGI technology improves so much from year to year. Also it would force them to work in those same areas of the city. I like the mix.
Yah, the mix is good...but, just keeping the buildings the same in some areas, would make more continuity.
you change some colors and you change a little the designe. and voila.

or rhtey could model new blocks but at least try to use some info from the last movies.

a lot of money was thrown away IMO
you change some colors and you change a little the designe. and voila.

or rhtey could model new blocks but at least try to use some info from the last movies.

a lot of money was thrown away IMO

Exactly...they could've at least kept some blocks or streets and buildings from last movies.
dude, why wasn't the alley chase that cool in the movie?
If they wanted to, they could easily recycle and re-use the cg cities of the sm1 and 2, cutting production costs to save money.

that would make alot of sense

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