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'Spidey 3' Effects Team Battled Goo, Sand

24 Sep, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

Director Sam Raimi shares behind-the-secrets about Spider-Man 3.

When dealing with something that's already completely digital, how do you push the boundaries of computer graphics for a movie?

Just listen to what Sam Raimi wants, and it tends to work itself out.

The visual effects squad behind Spider-Man 3 and the director of the international blockbuster shared their secrets behind the creation of the movie's villains, Venom and Sandman, and showed off the special features for the Oct. 30 DVD and Blu-ray Disc editions of the movie Sept. 14 at Sony Pictures' Imageworks studio.

“Even though [Spider-Man 2] was incredible, in Spider-Man 3 [Raimi] pushed us further,” said Scott Stokdyk, Imageworks visual effects supervisor, who was part of the team that won the 2004 Academy Award for achievement in visual effects for Spider-Man 2.

Stokdyk and his crew explained how they created the opening incarnation of Venom, the creepy, crawling “goo” that wraps itself around its host.

“The problem we had with goo in the beginning was nobody knew what goo should look like,” said Peter Nofz, digital effects supervisor. They started with pencil sketches, mulled over how much fluid should make up the goo, and played around digitally with its movement. It took six months to get it right, making every strand move with an evil, purposeful fluidity.

Early on, “Sam did not react very well to any of this stuff,” Nofz said of the early goo concepts. “All the little tricks we had done in the past [weren't] going to cut it.

“Ultimately, we went with something more sophisticated and smaller.”

Venom in its physical form turned out to be a bit easier. Animators started with the comic books for reference, videotaped themselves moving how the character might have moved, and then went to the computers.

Creating Sandman wasn't nearly as easy. The crew was testing the movement of real sand and its digital re-creation into a character two years before the film hit theaters. They dropped sand from different heights, shot it down a ladder and hit a stunt man with it, all before they hit the computers.

“The real challenge with this project, from the beginning, was that Sam Raimi said ‘it has to make sense; it can't be magical,’ said Jonathan Cohen, special projects computer graphics supervisor, of the birth of Sandman. Tests started with just a few grains, leading up to 300,000, “which is about a teaspoon of sand,” he said.

Eventually millions of grains of sand were digitally created and manipulated to convey the every move of actor Thomas Haden Church.

Stokdyk said that for all these special effects landmarks in Spider-Man 3, the crew feels it can top itself. “I still think there are a couple of landmarks left,” he said. “We still have 10 to 15 years of excitement ahead.”

Raimi said he couldn't be happier with the results and the effects team.

“They've got to be math wizards, they've got to be computer geniuses, and they have to understand the human heart,” he said of his crew.

“I'm glad people will be able to appreciate [the film] on Blu-ray,” he said, adding, “I hope it doesn't reveal any of the mistakes we made.”

Spider-Man 3 will be on UMD, single-disc and two-disc DVD, a two-disc Blu-ray, and in a Blu-ray collection with the first two movies. The Blu-ray and two-disc DVD options will include six hours of bonus features, including featurettes on creating Venom and Sandman.

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