Search form

CafeFX Creates Crane Disaster for Spider-Man 3

CafeFX created a vertigo-inducing crane disaster sequence for SPIDER-MAN 3, setting the stage for a classic Spidey rescue. The 46-shot sequence, along with 35 additional shots, was awarded to CafeFX by lead facility Sony Pictures Imageworks.

CafeFX integrated hundreds of animated CG elements with live action cinematography, models and miniatures, digital doubles and photographic backgrounds of New York in the hybrid production of this signature sequence, which is also seen from multiple angles and triple takes. Scott Gordon, visual effects supervisor at CafeFX, oversaw the work, along with vfx producer Richard Ivan Mann, CG supervisor Akira Orikasa and lead fx td Rif Dagher.

The scene opens as a steel beam, suspended from an out-of-control construction crane, spins toward a glass-encased skyscraper. From her photo shoot inside, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) reacts to the impending disaster and the audience sees her dawning horror in the reflection of the windows. She dives for cover as the beam slices through the space, shattering windows and shearing off support columns. The off-balance crane then swings in a wild arc and takes out the floor below, causing the floor that Gwen is on to collapse and tilt at a perilous angle.

Without anything to break her fall, Gwen slides helplessly toward the now open edge of the building, along with office furniture, desks, chairs, computers, papers, pens and pencils. She manages to snag a phone cord for a brief, heart-stopping moment, but her halt at the precipice is broken by the impact of an enormous desk. In a terrifying shot, she shifts her hold in an instant to a thin piece of metal facing from the building's exterior, which bows under her weight and slings her out over the chasm below.

The crane, meanwhile, in a violent upward pitch, carves a devastating 10-story gash in the building, sweeping Gwen from her precarious spot in an explosion of glass and debris. It is at this moment, of course, that she is rescued by Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), who uses the colliding boulder-sized chunks of concrete to ratchet up his speed until he reaches Gwen in mid-fall.

Because the scene is played out from multiple perspectives, from street level to bird's eye view, from within the office to the building's exterior, it has all the heightened reality of the frozen moment one experiences just before an accident. From a visual effects production standpoint, perfect continuity and precise timing were required in order to finesse a sequence with this level of drama and detail, in all of its many iterations.

Gordon said "The crane disaster sequence challenged us on all levels. In order for the action to work, it had to play out against the ultimate choreography, integration and interaction of countless practical and CG elements."

Photographic backgrounds, shot by Imageworks, were tiled and mapped by CafeFX onto geometry of the Manhattan cityscape throughout the sequence. A real steel beam is intercut with a CG beam; the model crane cab augmented with CG glass and a CG crane. Plates of an actual building in New York were juxtaposed with its perfect CG counterpart, only to be destroyed in a hail of procedurally animated and propagated glass, rubble and smoke, achieved with cebas Thinking Particles, which enabled artists to define the rules and conditions of particle behavior. An unreleased version of Sitrisati's Fume FX fluid system, which understood the topology changes of Thinking Particles, was used for smoke and dust elements. mental ray was used to render the CG building, crane and environment while cebas finalRender Stage-2, noted for speed and image quality, handled the office furniture, paper and debris. A myriad of unwanted reflections were removed and necessary CG ones added. Live-action plates were re-projected on CG backgrounds and miniature photography reworked and re-timed to accommodate editorial changes. CG debris slams onto the street below, impaling a CG taxicab. Months of painstaking paintwork were required to remove safety harness wires and their shadows.

Among the additional 35 shots awarded to CafeFX were backgrounds for the climactic final battle between Spider-Man and Sandman and the addition of a matte painting of the city square for the key to the city sequence. CafeFX also used Massive software to populate the large crowd that has gathered for the ceremony. Other shots crafted by CafeFX included the rivets that burst from a subway water tank; burning butter and beaten eggs in a skillet; a foggy field; eye shield extensions for the villain Venom; and tears in Sandman's eyes to enhance emotion.

Gordon observed, "We are seeing a greater trend toward the use of visual effects to heighten a dramatic moment and to provide a greater range of editorial choices."

Imagework's visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk said, "CafeFX did outstanding visual effects work on SPIDER-MAN 3 at all levels. They were able to deliver creative and beautiful visual solutions to complex shots, and work efficiently under very demanding circumstances. The crane disaster work that CafeFX did was particularly well done, with fantastic integration work of different photographic and CG elements. CafeFX also successfully collaborated with Imageworks and its pipeline on a few shared shots, giving maximum flexibility to the filmmakers."


The company's production pipeline is configured with Autodesk Maya, cebas Thinking Particles, Sitrisati Fume FX, eyeon Digital Fusion, Autodesk Combustion, Massive, Autodesk Mental Ray, cebas finalRender Stage-2, 2d3 boujou, Adobe After Effects and Apple Shake.

CafeFX Credits:

* Visual effects supervisor: Scott Gordon* Visual effects producer: Richard Ivan Mann * CG supervisor: Akira Orikasa* Lead fx td: Rif (Rifaat) Dagher* CG artists: Manuel H. Guizar, Will Nicholson, Geoff Mark* FX animators: Mike Fischer, Joe Scarr* Color & Lighting TD: John Volny* Model/Texture artists: Steve Arguello,Vlad Bina, Alexander Pouchkarev* 3D matchmoving lead: Kevin Hoppe* 3D matchmovers: Andy Byrne, Aaron Singer* Matte painter: Lei Jin* Compositing supervisor: Edwardo Mendez* Compositors: Mike Bozulich, Richard R. Reed, Robin Graham, Christopher Scott LeDoux, Jorge de los Santos* Rotoscope/2D paint artists: Lindsay M. Anderson, Chris Pint, Ruben Rodas* VFX editor: Desi R. Ortiz* VFX coordinator: Wendy Hulbert* 3D technical support: Brian "B-Op" Openshaw* Production Eexecs: Jeffrey T. Barnes, David Ebner, O.D. Welch* Exec producer: Vicki Galloway Weimer

CafeFX ( is an award-winning feature film visual effects facility offering visual effects production and supervision, CG character creation, and 3D animation. Founded in 1993 by Jeff Barnes and David Ebner, CafeFX is located in a 36,000-square-foot studio on an eight-acre campus in the heart of Santa Barbara County.

Its commercial and music video division, Santa Monica-based The Syndicate, is a creative design, branding services and digital production studio, specializing in live action direction, visual effects, animation, motion graphics and telecine.

CafeFX and The Syndicate are held by umbrella corporation the ComputerCafe Group, which has also established Sententia Ent., a long form production company. With a focus on both live action and animated projects, Sententia Ent. is poised to capitalize on years of experience in the feature film market while developing a catalog of properties utilizing the proven strengths of sister companies CafeFX and The Syndicate. Among Sententia's credits are PAN'S LABYRINTH and DANIKA.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.