Spider-Man’s Lizard Part 1: The Animation
Driven mad by his relentless quest to perfect the cross-species genetic regeneration that would bring him a new arm. Dr. Curt Connor’s metamorphosis into the evil Lizard, and back into his human form, is a visually stunning and integral part of the new superhero blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man. I recently had a chance to talk with two of the main supervisors involved in creating Spider-Man’s latest adversary. In this first article, animation supervisor Dave Schaub talks about the animation process that brought the Lizard to life while in our second article [being published tomorrow], digital effects supervisor Dave Smith talks about the Lizard’s skin simulation and effects work.
Dan Sarto: Can you tell me a little bit about your role on this film, specifically your involvement with the visual development and animation of the Lizard?
Dave Schaub: Well let’s see. I joined the production sort of late in the game at a time when the volume of work kind of exploded. There was a lot of work suddenly that came about, I think in a large part, because the director [Marc Webb] was thrilled with what he was seeing and wanted to do more of it. I think, initially, he was thinking most of the stuff was all going to be done with practical effects, actors on wires and stuntman on wires, that kind of thing. And when we demonstrated what was possible, that we could actually create that kind of movement with the CG characters, with Spider-Man and the Lizard, he was just genuinely excited and realized all the things he could do.
So that’s where it opened up as far as adding more sequences, adding more shots, and then the shot count goes through the roof and that’s when I came on. Between Randy [Cook, the other animation supervisor] and myself, we divided up the work and got through this thing.
Dan: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced leading the Lizard’s animation team. I understand, for example, no mo-cap was used and that you made extensive use of reference materials.
Dave: Well, Rhys [Ifans] played Dr. Connors and he transforms into the Lizard. So everything we did with close up work on the Lizard was all done looking at specific reference that they shot of Rhys. If it wasn’t something that was actually shot on set, they would go back and do pick up shots, so we would have good video reference for all of that stuff.
And as you mentioned, there wasn’t any mo-cap. Not to say we couldn’t use mo-cap. We’ve done a number of these films where we’ve gone both ways and in this case we just decided, because mo-cap tends to require a lot of cleanup, we just decided to take the artistic approach and not burden ourselves with mo-cap when we’ve got good reference to work from.
So the Lizard’s face was built with a muscle-based system and then we did MOVA facial expressions of the actor. In other words, we did a lineup of a ton of different expressions and those expressions were converted into muscle values for the face. So then we would have a huge list of expressions that the animators could choose from, that would be broken out into different regions of the face, brow region, the eyes, the cheeks, the mouth, that kind of thing.
When we dialed in an expression, we knew that we were hitting Rhys’ wheel. For example, take a squint. If we say dial-in a squint, it isn’t just a random squint that the animator is designing on the fly, it is a squint that was acquired from the MOVA session. But other then that the animation itself was keyed, but we knew that when we were setting those keys, we were actually hitting the expressions that the actor hit.
And then on top of that, we had secondary animation controls where the animator could go in and I won’t say override, but add on top of what the MOVA expression has given them.
Dan: Was there any part of the animation process that was particularly difficult?
Dave: Yeah, I would say, executing the weight of the character is always a challenge. And I think that’s another reason why the mo-cap solution wasn’t really the best choice in this case, because you get a guy in a mo-cap suit, who would come off as a guy in a big lizard suit, because it would still have the weight of a human actor. So, yeah it was really very much an artistic challenge to go in, shot by shot, keeping everybody on the same page and executing that weight and getting the believable physics for a character that scale. There wasn’t any magic bullet necessary, it’s just a matter of monitoring and making sure that everybody stayed on track and we got that weight executed in a believable way.