Spider-Man’s Lizard Part 2: The Digital Effects
Dan: Describe the process of infusing Rhys Ifans into the Lizard.
David: I definitely am familiar with the comic book character of the Lizard through the years and he has taken many forms in the comic books. So the character definitely has humanoid characteristics. And in this case, one of the things that we were examining, both from the original design and what we needed to achieve in the movie, was how much to give him lizard qualities in his face versus human qualities in his face. We knew he was going to have to talk and emote and we would have to make him have human characteristics that you could believe in, especially when he was speaking. The structure of his mouth, for example, had to be designed in a way that he could actually pronounce words, like he was actually speaking. So you have to decide how much you’re going to go with a snout characteristic versus more human mouth characteristics.
The decision was made to keep him a little more human, so that he could be believable and less comical. I think they [the director and producers] were a little afraid that if it was a flapping snout, it would look a little too comical.
So that’s when we went to infuse some of Rhys Ifans characteristics in the Lizard. We especially worked on the areas around the brow and around and in the eyes. That’s where you read a lot of any specific character. The mouth did have some lizard characteristics to it. It could open very wide even though it was designed to speak and look somewhat lizardy, which I think was a nice hybrid between where we could have gone very human or very lizard-like. I think it was a nice balance which allowed us to put animation controls that we’ve developed over the years for humanoid characters.
Many characteristics of Rhys were brought into the Lizard. We referenced footage of Rhys and a lot of reference photography that we took to do digital doubles and to infuse the characteristics of an actor to make it look like it had realistic characteristics of lizards. Obviously, we studied lots of reference of lizards. That started with the look of lizards, the patterning of scales, the colorations, the more fine details like how translucent their skin was versus armored. How light responded on their scales, like the slight iridescence you read a lot on snake scales and some smaller lizards, not as much on the big lizards. A couple of the lizards that influenced the most were the Komodo dragon …
Dan: Yeah, I figured you’d referenced the Komodo dragon…
David: Yeah, I mean it’s a big strong lizard. And then for some of the finer details, because we wanted the scales to have a little more interesting patterning than the Komodo dragon did, we actually looked at the iguana, which is a smaller lizard, but with more interesting detail to its scale patterning.
I can’t even name the other types of lizards, but [we used] just a tremendous amount of other lizard reference, depending on what kind of characteristic we wanted to roll in. Like around the belly, we went with the whiter, lighter skin, which a lot of lizards have, as it gets softer as it rounds from the armored back to the softer flesh of the belly. So those are some of the characteristics both subtle and a little more obvious that we rolled in from the references of the look of the lizards.
Dan: What were some of the digital tools you used to create the Lizard skin?
David: Individual scales were sculpted, every individual scale on the lizard, in Zbrush and Mudbox, to be able to bring out individual detail and give a little more displacement detail than we had in the past. We were able to use vector-based displacement, which gave us some more varied surfaces than, say, a normal-based displacement, which you can only go in one direction. So in essence it was hand sculpted with a modeling sculpting tool, but obviously it was done in the computer.
We were basically painting or sculpting with the toolsets. We started with the head because that’s the most important place and we stamped out some design patterns on the rest of the lizard. But you know, every time we realized, “Well we’re going to get close to that area, we’re going to get close to that area, we’re going to get close to that area,” we just went back in and painstakingly took out any sort of procedural repetitive patterning and gave it individual detail for any given specific area that we referenced from the large library of lizard reference.
We looked at the reflectant qualities like the iridescence and how the light would transfer through thinner parts or thicker parts of the Lizard. And then, how rough it was and how wet it was. So again, for each one of those aspects time was spent testing, how far to push it, how much to include and, finally, trying to find a nice balance where nothing was too over the top.