ILM, Framestore, Imageworks VFX, Luma Pictures, Image Engine, Rising Sun Pictures & Scanline VFX worked on VFX for Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Method Studios was tapped to bring Spider-Man to life in the speedboat sequence where he rides with Nick Fury through the twisting Venice Canals. Method’s artists diligently completed full digital suit replacements for Spider-Man, working with an existing digital asset from Method’s work on the previous ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming.’ Animators paid special attention to sculpting out different muscle groups to make the contours of the suit pop in the dim moonlight sequence. The Method team also made subtle enhancements to the lighting, and to the background environment through digital matte paintings.
Framestore delivered 140 VFX shots in eight weeks for the movie. Framestore was in the unique position of being encouraged to come up with original and inventive ideas to show Mysterio’s menacing power play. VFX Supervisor Alexis Wajsbrot, who has previously worked on Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok, jumped at the chance to be creatively involved in the sequence. The team began by brainstorming references from other films, creating storyboards and then concept artwork to put Spider-Man in various unsettling situations.
Wajsbrot worked closely with Framestore Art Director Jonathan Opgenhaffen and a team of concept artists to demonstrate ideas. ‘It was a process to find the visual and aesthetic style’ notes Opgenhaffen, ‘but once we got there we were able to generate ideas and sequences, almost like an animatic, which the client could absorb and then came back to us with their thoughts.’ The team delivered ‘rapid prototypes’ to help communicate ideas with Janek and the team at Marvel Studios quickly for their feedback. ‘We used all kinds of tricks’ explains Alexis Wajsbrot, ‘we modelled as much as possible in 2D and using a 2.5d projection technique and as much stock footage as possible to turn around concepts efficiently.’
The sequence begins with Peter visiting what he believes to be the S.H.I.E.L.D. office in Berlin but is actually a construction yard which has been augmented by Mysterio’s drones. Mysterio is a master of creating intricate real-time experiences using a sophisticated Virtual Reality set-up, an intriguing concept for Framestore to sink their teeth into considering their own history in designing immersive experiences. Peter is thrown into a series of conjured illusions aimed to panic him; a school hallway stretches endlessly into the dark, with horror movie-style flickering lights. A terrified MJ falls out of reach, from the top of a stylised Eiffel Tower. Spider-Man is pulled into a disorientating hyperlapse effect towards a miniature version of Aunt May’s house. Reflections of Spider-Man in shards of glass come alive and attack. Spider-Man and Mysterio engage in combat with a backdrop of the Valley of the Fallen; a graveyard with looming statues of the fallen heroes from Endgame. A zombified Iron Man pulls his way out of his grave with a head that’s half skull, half helmet. Spider-Man is trapped in a snow globe featuring the New York skyline, held by a giant Mysterio. Spider-Man moves seamlessly between the scenes, occasionally breaking back out into the real world before sinking even deeper into his nightmare.
The design of the sequence was key; eerie green smoke, created by FX in Houdini, seeps into each environment which was further stylised to emphasise a feeling of unease. ‘Things were slightly askew’, says Opgenhaffen. ‘We made things look off-kilter, with a forced perspective.’ Zombie Iron Man was also a design challenge, with the team concepting him from scratch, ‘you can imagine how important it was to get this part of the sequence right’, says Wajsbrot. ‘Tony Stark is a pivotal character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also one who had an extremely tight bond with Peter Parker. We therefore needed to make sure he not only looked cool, but that there was also a real emotional tug to this part of the sequence.’ The character needed to strike a balance between being scary, but not too sinister or gory. The Valley of the Fallen shots see Mysterio and Spider-Man engage in a battle; a complicated sequence featuring a crane from the real world punctuating the illusion. A team of in-house animators blocked the action with concepts before the VFX stage, which featured a lot of blast and destruction effects, ‘we had to completely create the environment and stage the action’ says Wajsbrot, ‘it was great from an animator’s point of view, to be able to add or remove shots to make sure the beat was as punchy as possible.’
Whilst tackling the shots in the studio, Framestore was also able to come up with creative technical solutions for the production team shooting on set. While most shots were fully-CG, allowing for the team to create what was needed in the frame, some plates were required, often when talent was involved. One example was the Eiffel Tower sequence with MJ (Zendaya). The team blocked the animation ahead of the shoot, with a CG version of MJ. They pre-lit the scene, with precise lighting information for the position of the moon and the bright lights from the Eiffel Tower, and rendered it before passing to production. This meant that what was shot on-set was the very plate material needed by the team at Framestore, ‘It was a great example of how the VFX department can help to drive the shoot’ explains Wajsbrot. ‘It couldn’t have been done with the time we had otherwise.’
When Spider-Man breaks in and out of the illusionary world, we see a blue, twinkley, FX-driven transition dubbed the ‘B.A.R.F’ effect, which is based on the transition used by Iron Man in a scene from Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War. Director John Watts wanted the illusions to reveal the real world in a creative way, so the transitions move slowly and reveal objects in the environment piece by piece. Framestore’s FX team helped to drive the voxelization process in 3D before passing to the comp team to create the final look in Nuke.
Rising Sun Pictures delivered more than 100 visual effects shots. The studio’s work included a memorable holographic sequence that reveals one of the film’s biggest mysteries: the origins of The Elementals, four monstrous creatures from a parallel universe with the ability to control fire, earth, water and wind.
Directed by Jon Watts, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and its story is set in the aftermath of Marvel Studios’ mega-hit from earlier this year, Avengers: Endgame. Grieving over the death of Tony Stark, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) sets off on a European vacation, but his plans change when he meets spymaster Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the enigmatic Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who warn him of new threat to planet Earth. The film’s cast also includes Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau and Jacob Batalon. RSP worked under the direction of Watts, production VFX supervisor Janek Sirrs and VFX producer Cyndi Ochs.
Although Spider-Man: Far From Home marks RSP’s first involvement in the Spider-Man franchise, the studio was able to draw on its experience on other Marvel Studios films including Captain Marvel and Thor: Ragnarok. “Captain Marvel also had several complicated hologram effects, and we built on that,” notes RSP executive producer Gill Howe. “Marvel Studios has high expectations and distinct creative sensibilities. To meet them you need to be agile and have a strong pipeline. We earned our stripes on Captain Marvel and Thor: Ragnarok. That helped a lot with this film.”
RSP’s most complex work for Spider-Man: Far From Home involved a scene set in Quentin Beck’s subterranean bunker in Venice, Italy, where he invites Spider-Man and Fury to explain the existential danger posed by the Elementals. Beck plays a hologram depicting the creatures’ origin in a parallel dimension, their involvement in Earth’s distant past and their role in the destruction of his home planet.
RSP’s team created visuals for the scene to match the story told by Beck. In it, the extradimensional Elementals are shown as having emerged from black holes. To bring that to life, artists drew inspiration from the latest scientific hypotheses regarding the appearance and behavior of black holes, as well as previous depictions of the phenomena in Marvel films. “Visualising black holes was immensely challenging, both creatively and in terms of rendering it out,” says RSP VFX supervisor Tom Wood. “We combined the latest theories from physics—how black holes distort light and time—and brought that into the dynamism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We also had to consider what audiences expect from black holes. The design process involved a delicate balance.”
The hologram goes on to depict the Elementals as having a hidden role in Earth’s past, connecting them with pagan gods associated with fire, earth, water and wind. For that sequence, artists studied ancient statuary and totems. “We did extensive research into deities associated with the primal elements,” recalls CG Supervisor Ryan Kirby. “Our CG department created elements based on artifacts from Japan, Hawaii and other parts of the world.”
The studio’s 2D department was tasked with added effects, compositing live action and CG elements, and finalising the sequence. “With elements being generated by layout, FX, look dev, lighting and comp, it was essential to keep everyone involved in the process on the same page,” notes Head of 2D Jess Burnheim. “If there was a change made in one department, it had a knock-on effect with everyone else. Everyone supporting the creative vision was key.”
The sequence ends with Beck’s planet being consumed in fire. All this imagery had to be further processed to give it the ephemeral look of a hologram. In the context of the scene, the hologram is projected from a large table with Beck, Fury and Spider-Man standing alongside. In many shots, the actors can be glimpsed behind and through the holographic display. “We used volumetric renders to make the imagery appear to hang in space,” explains Wood. “The table itself presented a further challenge. It was essentially a lightbox that lit the faces of the actors. We had to get rid of that light, dim it or add layers to it so that it conformed to changes in the hologram.”
The hologram also had to align with holographic systems depicted in other Marvel films. “We’ve previously seen Tony Stark’s hologram technology and Guardians of the Galaxy technology,” explains Wood. “Additionally, as this film takes place post-Endgame, we had to account for its technology. Our hologram needed to be consistent with them, while adding something interesting and new.”
Other work included the scene where Fury makes his first appearance, also surprising Peter Parker by turning up out of nowhere in his bathroom while he is brushing his teeth. The studio’s compositing team integrated a tranquilizer dart that Fury uses to quiet Ned as well as several holograms that Fury watches on a portable display. The compositing department did extensive work on a scene set in front of a massive fireplacein an old building in Venice that involved split screens and clean-up. For a night-time scene with Peter Parker looking out at the city of Prague, the team created a CG character of Mysterio flying and added a digital urban landscape.
“The high volume complex work that we have been creating over the past few years has produced a robust pipeline, this is underpinned by our effective forecasting and scheduling.” says Howe. “We assign teams even before the work comes in through the door. We know what volume to expect and what skillsets are required, and that gives us flexibility to react quickly to changes and additional requests.”
Throughout its eight months of work on the project, RSP remained in close contact with the production team and other visual effects vendors as shots developed and its workload evolved. “It was seamless,” notes VFX producer Arwen Munro. “Janek Sirrs, Cyndi Ochs, associate VFX producer Bryan Searing, VFX coordinator Val Andino and the rest of the production team were awesome. We’re especially proud of the hologram sequence, from initial pre-vis through to delivery, the team created inspirational work, resulting in a sequence that is vital to the story.”