Spider-Man: Far From Home is the biggest web-slinging movie of all time, officially being the first Spidey-based property to make over $1 billion worldwide. Being that Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) served as the big bad for the film, it had its fair share of visual effects from beginning to end. Recently, we sat down with Industrial Light and Magic's Julian Foddy, one of the visual effects supervisors on Far From Home.
In total, Foddy and his team worked on three main shots in the film — the opening charity bit involving the Tony Stark-made Iron Spider suit, the closing bits with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and MJ (Zendaya) swinging through Manhattan, and a third chunk involving a restaurant battle which didn't make its way into the theatrical release.
Keep scrolling to see what Foddy had to say about upgrading the Iron Spider suit, influences from Sam Raimi's trilogy, and more!
ComicBook.com: One of the things that actually kicks the movie off that you guys were involved with was this charity event, right?
Julian Foddy: Yes.
In the initial teaser trailer, Peter's wearing his blue and red spider suit but in the final cut, he's wearing his Iron Spider suit. Was it always planned for him to wear the Iron Spider suit, and it just wasn't available at the time of the trailer release or why was that inserted at a later time?
Well, there's actually a more strategic reason for that which was that, well to a certain extent, yes, our Iron Spider suit was still in the development at the time that very early teaser trailer was released.
It was actually more of a conscious decision by Marvel, because if we had shown that Spider-Man had the Iron Spider suit on Earth in the teaser trailer, don't forget the teaser trailer came out before the release of Avengers: Endgame, it would have given away the reveal that he actually comes back to life or survives the whole Infinity War and Endgame blip.
Whereas I think prior to the release of Endgame, the timeline of whereabouts in the whole timeline Far From Home sat was ambiguous, so it was a conscious decision not to give that away as a reveal that he survives and makes it back to earth and has the Iron Spider suit in his possession.
Speaking of the Iron Spider suit, one shot that really comes to mind is when Peter and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) are talking. You get this really nice closeup shot of Peter and you can see this texture, this almost Captain America-like scale in the blues of this suit.
When it comes to the Iron Spider suit, is that an asset that's a model that can transfer from vendor to vendor? Or with this one, which features new textures, was this built from the ground up for the film?
Well, how it worked was that at the start of the project, we received two models from the client, from Marvel. One was the Framestore model from Infinity War and one was the Weta model from Infinity War. I'm not entirely sure which of those would be the original source model, because the base geometry was the same on both, but they had been ever so slightly adapted to suit various sequences, and the were some subtle differences in the topology.
We did do some additional modeling work, just to add a little bit of extra detail because I think in Infinity War, where the suit had been used before, it was mainly really in action sequences. There weren't a huge amount of lingering closeups on Peter wearing the suit and as you know, the charity event, it's almost very much a drama sequence with some visual effects added, rather than being an action sequence. Lots of two shots, head and shoulders close-ups, very simple camera moves. So, not a lot of motion blur.
So we really wanted to add in an extra level of detail that includes both the model and the textures. That carbon fiber-type specular response, which you mentioned there, that was something that, it was actually there in the textures that we ingested, but we tweaked the shade so it's likely to get more out of that. It was something that Marvel responded to very well was to, "We massage the look development to make the suit feel like it was even more beaten up and scratched than you saw in the first time in Infinity War." Just to suggest that Peter has had this suit for a while and he's been through a few battles and it's picked up some damage along the way.
Did you have an opportunity to pitch Marvel new suit ideas? I mean we get the red and black suit eventually, right? There's the Iron Spider suit involved. Was there ever a time where the floor was open, that you can pitch your own ideas?
Well, not so much for the actual design of the suit, although we did bring some of our own ideas to the nanotech with how the mask flicks on and off. Because again, in Infinity War, that was a very quick event, just happening over a couple of frames. There are a few times in our sequence that it's ]a slightly more leisurely reveal. I think perhaps in Infinity War, it happens at about three or four frames. In some of our shots, it takes around 15 to 16 frames. So, we redesigned things a little bit. I looked at references of electronic circuit boards and we adopted some of that. Kind of how this wet solder would creep along with the circuitry of a computer motherboard.
So yes, we did have creative input into the design of how the nanotech mask forms itself and in those shots.
Got you. Now, as I understand it, Far From Home featured new webbing? Is that correct? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah. Now sadly, a lot of the work we did for additional webs only featured in the trailer. Originally when we first took the project on, we were going to be doing three main sequences for the movie. The charity event, the sequence in New York where he's swinging with MJ, and a fight in an Italian restaurant. Sadly, the restaurant fight fell out of the cut just a couple of weeks before the cut was locked.
I think I've read an interview with Jon [Watts], the director, where he'd said, "That it was fantastic sequence, but in the grand scheme of the story, it didn't really tie into the main story." So my understanding is that this restaurant fight will possibly be recently released as a feature that's on the Blu-Ray.
So that's actually where a lot of our web development went and you can actually see that in the trailer shots that were released and I think are still be used now as viral marketing. Where Spider-Man's fought some mafia goons in the Italian restaurant and we had to come up with some new solutions for webs. In Far From Home, he uses the stunning Spider-Man webs to splat people to walls, but in our restaurant fight sequence, we also had to tackle the challenge of what I termed web-cocoons which were where some of these mafia guys were caught in a hole net of web and suspended from the ceiling.
The way we shot that was done with stuntmen on wires. We were holding the pose, and then we had to do very tight match animation, including even their clothes and then come up with a solution for webs that would stick to that.
So there were two challenges, really. One was that to recreate the Homecoming look, which Janek [Sirrs] had driven for in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which was a new look to Spider-Man's webs. In that, in all of the previous movies — in the Raimi trilogy and the Amazing Spider-Man trilogy, the web conformed very much to the comic book classic spider web, the spider web pattern.
Whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Janek, the overall supervisor, had driven for a more organic random feel, which I describe sometimes as looking a little bit like there's some silly string that you spray in a can for parties. It didn't really have that classic spiderweb feel, so that was one technical challenge for us and then we had static challenge actually to recreate that.
In our search over in Houdini, we made sure that we'd got the ability to generate lots of different random patterns, which were overlaid on top of each other to give us this complexity of the look of the rubber make and feel as much run in person.
Then there were also quite a lot of technical challenges with our webs, because of some of the nature of the work that we're going to do in the restaurant side secrets. There's quite a lot of deep, the mafia goons that Spider-Man has fought in the restaurant, they ended up what I describe as web cocoons. We filmed that with stuntmen and women on wires, hanging from the ceiling. But now, lights were red so there was a challenge for bettering having to go to a person to match animation. It gets you to build up the character and animate it to my match exactly to the actor's position. Because of the nature of the work, we couldn't just match where their actual joint positions were, we had to try and get an accurate representation of all the folds of their clothing, and then stick the web surface to that.
So that was a pretty painstaking process of trial and error and iteration to get things to stick and not slip to the clothing. Then getting the web simulations to react to all the little body movements and nuances appropriately, and the web to the many thousands of curves, so it was quite a lot of technical iterations of smoothing to remove pots and flickers from the final result.
You had mentioned swinging around Manhattan with MJ (Zendaya), which is very much Raimi-esque. I mean it's the first time we've seen Spidey in Manhattan in the MCU, at least. Was there any time that you hit up the original trilogy for reference at all?
Well, we did look at the original trilogy for reference. We also wanted to do something different and myself and Janek spoke about this quite a lot. We got the feeling both that we want to try and make this feel really like he could have been shot for real.
So I think whereas in some of the previous trilogies, the big, quite outlandish camera moves, cameras following Spider-Man as he swings through buildings and under....I think there's a shot with a crane, where the cameras are following him. It follows him down through the arm of a crane. We wanted to do something that felt a little more grounded, so we designed in the shots and the camera moves in a way that could have been shot for real.
If you look at what the cameras are doing, they're quite often big and fully CG shots. The camera moves area as if it was on a techno crane, or if it was on a tripod or in one case, it's a drone. I think the beauty of why that works as a sequence is because it is half practical and half CG.
So we did go to New York and we shot it for real. All the takeoff and landing shots are all done practically. We actually had Tom Holland and Zendaya onset in central Manhattan wearing wire rigs. They did the stunts themselves. We set up a crane outside Grand Central Station and we hoisted them up into the air. Then we had the crane again outside Madison Square Garden, and used the crane to bring them down to the ground.
Then of course, the sequences are patterned with fully CG shots of them swinging between the buildings, but that I think that's part of the reason that it works so well, is that it's a mixture of real practical stuff, photography and fully CG, which always helps to trick the eye into believing that obviously, it's completely real.
Coming out of the Raimi trilogy, there's this...now I would guess almost call it infamous scene...where Kirsten Dunst is holding onto the Spider-Man dummy and swinging through Manhattan, and her hair's blown the wrong way and which not. Can you tell us a little bit about the preparation needed to send two characters swinging through the air? I mean, are you and your team huddled around a whiteboard discussing physics?
There was a fair bit of preparation went into devising the route. The locations for the key details in that sequence changed over the course of the shoot and with every script rewrite, but the start and the endpoints always remained the same. We always knew we were going to be starting somewhere near Grand Central and we knew we were going to be finishing up at Madison Square Garden, but there were points where we were going to go through Time Square and then there was another version of the script where we actually stopped and spent a bit more time in Bryant Park.
So when we were approaching the shoot, and doing the body camera shots, where Spider-Man feels like it's got a GoPro strapped to his chest. We were very careful when we were shooting those shots to make sure that we covered ourselves for those left turns, right turns, forward swinging, backward swinging, ups and downs.
The dialogue that Zendaya utters predominantly, we filmed multiple versions of that based on left turns and right turns, which allowed it to actually get parts of planes. So whatever route ultimately we took, we would have the physics physically correct. Physics acting on her in terms of her wind direction.
Just to tell you one on how we shot those shots: so the body cam shots were filmed on a blue screen stage that we built in the parking lot of the school in Brooklyn, which doubles as Peter Parker's school and we just have little bit of downtime between two sequences that we're filming inside the school. So Tom and Zendaya both put the wire rig on. Out into the car parking lot, we hoisted them 10 feet into the air and then swung them around in various directions and we had large fans as well, to really help sell, particularly Zendaya's hair.
And as I said, shot there so that's a place that allows us the flexibility to be sending them in whatever direction we wanted to send them and keep it coherent for the story.
In terms of like you said, were we huddled around a whiteboard? We did do quite a few iterations where we just mocked it up with just a couple of spheres flying through a 3D model of Manhattan, looking at what would be the most efficient route. What route would Spider-Man take?
We wanted to do something that was cool for the audience and allowing you glimpses of Manhattan landmarks and the background. So if you look at the sequence, you'll notice you get a glimpse of the many ports, you get a flash of the Empire State Building. In fact, in one shot, you do even get a tiny hint of Time Square as we come around the corner and we just thought that was cool to really sell home to the audience that this is central Manhattan or midtown Manhattan.
Right. I think one shot in the sequence where he flies or swings through the reformed Avengers Tower. Were you given any direction on making something like that? Were you told exact specifics for that building?
Yeah. It was actually a direction from Marvel themselves, but they wanted this tall building to have replaced, what was it? The Avenger Tower, or Stark Tower. In previous movies, we've established that Tony's sold the building and the new building has gone up in its place.
I don't know whether at any point in the future what that building is. That's maybe referenced again, or whether it's just a cool skyscraper. I think that there's a building in Singapore that has this internal garden atrium a little bit like that. This was an idea that, I don't know if you've seen the movie Skyscraper, but I think that has it. There's a similar thing there and we basically used that for reference. And then Janek really liked the look of how that building had been made to look in Skyscraper, which also was ILM work.
I think both Janek and the Marvel execs were really keen to have an idea like that, just because although in the show it happens very quickly, they wanted this idea of people being halfway up a building but out in the open, and then Spider-Man whooshing by.