Spider-Man’s Lizard Part 2: The Digital Effects
Dan: That amount of detail, just at the scale level, seems like a huge amount of work.
David: Yeah. There are only a few shots that you get really, really close to see, but you know, we built up gunk on some scales, and the occasional scale would be lifting off of the surface, so it had a flaky quality to it. Sometimes we did get up close and you can actually see those details. But I think you also feel that detail when you back up from it. The skin doesn’t get all smooth and shiny looking. The little details that are hard to see at that distance kind of help…
Dan: The overall visual look...
Dave: Yeah. They keep it really complex and so it looks more realistic, because all of our reference of real lizards had those complex details, whether you had a distance or close up view of it. So really a lot of work went into that. The other thing where the Komodo dragon reference came in a little more was in the movement, particularly how the loose, leathery skin of the larger lizards works. It’s tough skin that they have in the protected areas. It’s a little bit thin and a little more malleable in and around the jaw or in the neck and the belly area. But the outer part of the neck was more leathery and had this looseness to it, so the muscle structure and physiology underneath it could move around and still be thick and protective for his environment.
The reference studies that were very important, to help with a complexity that’s always been a challenge, is how skin slides over muscles. His movement was most important to making it feel like a lizard of that scale, all the while with his humanistic characteristics not taking over. You had some nice influences of these large lizard movements underneath that, because his physiology, his structure, except for his tail, was much more humanistic or humanoid. The muscle movement was more based on human anatomy, his biceps, his forearm muscles, his mastoids in the neck area were very human like. So it was important that we had on top of all that physiology the characteristic of the loose, leathery skin.
Dan: You mentioned Zbrush and Mudbox. Can you tell me a little bit about any special tools or systems you used? Anything new you created that was needed to capture the level of detail that you brought to this character?
David: We relied heavily on the sculpting capabilities of Mudbox. But what we created was a character that had I think 128 million polys. We can’t render that amount of geometry. It’s just too much to calculate. So we translated a lot of that into displacement. We needed to write tools where we could take advantage of that sculpting detail and be able in our shaders to render that much detail and variation in the surface of the character.
There were new shaders that we wrote to take advantage of that in our Open Shading Language that we use in Arnold. That kind of detail coupled with physically-based rendering properties that we have in Arnold give us a much truer rendering representation of reality in the digital rendering.
We upgraded the options that we have for subsurface scattering, so that we’re doing true ray traced subsurface scattering that includes both forward scattering and backscattering depending on the part or the physiology of the lizard. In some cases, for his inner gums, teeth and finger nails, we did use forward scattering techniques. For the body we were able to ray trace and include volumes within the lizard’s model. We were able to put in additional geometries that allowed us to shoot and occlude rays that are more true to the deep tissue and physiology that any creature would have, but specific to our lizard.
The other place where we included some new technologies was within the eyes. We have been developing much more physically-based geometry for the eyes, as well as how that geometry is rigged in our characters. You kind of see this theme I keep bringing up, not just using our physically based ray tracing renderer Arnold, but building stuff much more true to real physical characteristics, that real objects and creatures have, that just gives us a much truer and realistic rendering than we’ve been able to have in the past. The way the light bounces around in the eye, refracts off the surfaces, is just much more physically based in the real world and is getting us better results.
Dan: Were there any particular challenges creating a straight digital character rather than using motion-capture?
David: None of the Lizard was done with motion capture, because there was enough of a difference from the physiology of a human and what we have for the lizard both in the face and his tail. We didn’t think there was anything we would gain from motion capture. What was important was the video reference we shot specific for scenes where the lizard character was all digital. We shot video reference of Rhys Ifans doing his interpretation of how he would have performed it. That was probably the best source of inspiration for the animators.
They took that and they applied it to the new and different physiology. It’s a somewhat artistic interpretation, but driven by the directive performance of Marc Webb to Rhys Ifans and his take on the character. It’s the study of those very specific sources and also the study of some additional footage that we shot of Rhys as Dr. Connors. But I think it’s really the artistic abilities of our animators, how they’re able to bring the character to life. It doesn’t line up one-to-one specifically with an actor.
Dan: Tell me about the makeup of the team needed to tackle the Lizard.
David: Our lookdev and texture painting team, there were probably upwards of eight people that worked on the look of the character. That’s in addition to the support of our whole shader department that’s writing the technology to be able to update our renderings that we talked about. We had two guys that were focused on the rigging of the character. A lot out of our toolsets were already built, and those are supported by a development team The animation teams, there were probably 40 animators that worked with the Lizard. Not exclusively, they probably worked on Spiderman as well. Our color and lighting teams are not necessarily specific to just one part of the film.
David: I mean the lookdev teams are very specific to the character. There were eight guys that contributed to texture painting, surface quality, around the eyes, all of the details we’ve talked about earlier. That process took, before we had final lizards in shots, and that was even without some of the details we came up with afterwards, probably six-months to get a creature like that, to the state where he was being finaled. It took a while.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.