The latest Marvel movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming has been a huge critical and box office hit, grossing $579 million around the globe.
But you may be surprised to know Vancouver had a big part in that success, with hundreds of local visual effects (VFX) artists creating key sequences in the film.
To get an inside look at the amazing Spider-Man – and Vancouver’s visual effects industry – Daily Hive spoke to VFX artist Francis Puthanangadi.
Puthanangadi has worked on more than 50 films in the last 15 years, including Beauty and the Beast, The Avengers, X-Men:Days of Future Past, and Thor.
And then of course, there’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
“The best part about working in visual effects for movies is that none of the work will ever repeat from project to project,” said Puthanangadi by email.
“Every new project will have new concepts of creativity and its own challenges.”
First, some technicalities. Puthanangadi is a compositing supervisor at Digital Domain, leading a department of artists in the VFX team with a very specific job.
That is, to go through every frame of a shot and ensure all elements – live action footage, animated characters, and explosion effects, for example – are blended together seamlessly.
Compositors are usually some of the last people to work on a movie, often completing their painstaking work only weeks before the movie is released.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Puthanangadi’s team worked on the Staten Island ferry sequence, in which a passenger ferry is chopped in half by rogue alien technology.
In the film, we see Spider-Man try to save the day by weaving a web to hold the ferry together. Of course in reality, most of the scene was VFX.
The entire Staten Island ferry sequence features 227 shots, said Puthanangadi, and fills about 10 minutes of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
At the standard 24 still frames per second for North American movies, that meant about 14,400 frames for Puthanangadi’s team to composite.
Puthanangadi explained the sequence was particularly complicated and challenging due to the many layers of images which needed combining.
To start with, there are multiple computer generated (CG) elements in the scene, including Spider-Man, a Spider drone, the Vulture, and Iron-Man – plus the ferry, water, and fire.
Puthanangadi said it was the responsibility of Digital Domain’s animation department to make those CG characters come to life.
“The most important challenge was pre-visualizing the sequence to make the sequence more dynamic,” said Puthanangadi.
“It was absolutely stunning to see how we replaced each and every Spiderman and Vulture with CG.”
But it was the responsibility of Puthanangadi and his team of compositors to make sure those CG characters were combined properly with the other elements – which were numerous.
There were lot of simulated elements to add in, he said, including ocean, fire, smoke, webs, and, as Puthanangadi puts it, “Vulture weapon destruction elements.”
On top of that, there was also environment elements, like a background panoramic image, a highly-detailed ferry extension, and scorch marks, he said.
Finally, Puthanangadi says, there was also some live action footage filmed on set to add in, as well as a handful of green screen shots.
“Our department has to keep a close eye in matching all the fine level of details, so that the optical quality of the composite matches the original practical photography,” he said.
“If we do our job well, it should look like it was all photographed on the same day the principal photography was taken.”
Some 284 people at Digital Domain in Vancouver worked on creating the final sequence you see in the movie – including 41 compositors who put it all together.
Overall, it took a year of post-production to create the finished sequence, including six months of compositing by Puthanangadi and his team.
After all that hard work, Puthanangadi is thrilled with the results.
“I think Spider-Man himself looked really amazing. The character has so much energy and his animation was fully action packed,” he said.
“The moment when he is holding up the ferry with his webs is one shot that we were all proud of.”
“Congratulations to each and every one involved in pulling off this beautiful sequence.”