Amazing Spider-Man 2 Exclusive: Dave Schaub Talks Getting The Physics Right

David Schaub is the Academy Award nominated animation director at Sony Pictures Imageworks. In his [...]

Amazing Spider-Man 2

David Schaub is the Academy Award nominated animation director at Sony Pictures Imageworks. In his 20 years working in the animation and visual effects industry he has worked on such films as I Am Legend, Godzilla, Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Amazing Spider-Man and, most recently, he finished work on The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In anticipation of The Amazing Spider-Man 2's opening weekend, Schaub took the time to speak to us about his work on the film, how they get the physics right in a film that so often defies them, and using comic book art to inspire visual effects. What were some things that were improved upon or done differently in Amazing Spider-Man 2, versus the first film? David Schaub: Getting the physics right is one of the key things we're focused on in animation. The last installment (The Amazing Spider-Man) set the tone for that, and achieving believable physics is something that Marc Webb was very particular about.  Bad movie physics is also one my pet peeves, so Marc and I were kindred spirit in that regard.  So often you'll find that directors and editors speed up the action during the editing phase in an attempt to create more intensity or energy, but in doing so the physics tends to fall apart.  Achieving natural physics with a super hero is a tall order.  If they're doing superhuman things, how can you possibly get the physics right? The trick is to establish what your super hero's capabilities are and for Spider-Man, he's able to sustain incredible g-forces as he swings through the city without having his arms torn out under the stress-load.  Having this super-hero capability should not give him license to break all the other physical laws of nature, and that's where the balance needs to be made.   For example, if he's swinging along and releases his web, gravity needs to take over.  After all, he's not flying, but falling and gravity needs to impose its natural effect on the character.  The first step is educating the crew and making sure that everyone is on board with the laws of natural physics.  Animators tend to come from different backgrounds and styles, so it's a matter of getting everyone on board. There's a class I teach, "Physics for Animators."  It's presented in a visual context light on the math, but directly applicable to the challenges we face on a show like this.  Our development team also wrote tools for the animators to keep the physical properties in check and serve as a guide for compensating the physics when we have to cheat. For an added physical touch, we also did a cloth simulation on his suit that not only responded to his movement, but also reacted to turbulence of the wind around him – especially during free-fall.  In past versions, the wrinkles were modelled as procedural shapes on our character rigs.  The shapes were still triggered by the movement of the character, but a real cloth simulation gave it an extra physical touch. The suit is still very form-fitting, so we used technology derived from the Lizard's form-fitting skin that wrinkled in a convincing way when applied to the tight spandex of Spider-Man's suit. One of the most iconic Spider-Man moments is seeing him swinging through the New York skyline. What were your goals when animating the web-slinging sequences and what went into achieving those goals? David Schaub: In the last film, Peter Parker was going through a process of discovery and learning to harness his new-found abilities.  This time around, he's really got it nailed and he's more of a daredevil thrill-seeker. When he leaps off a building he's falling and accelerating to the ground and shooting the web at the last possible second and having fun with it. We're also experimenting with different acrobatics and swinging maneuvers that audiences haven't seen before.  We're still very sensitive to the source material in the comic books, and that artwork is a very definitive guide for us.  We are always trying to hit those iconic poses.  However, it's important to note that we are not just striking a bunch of poses.  Each pose has a purpose and supports the action-at-hand.  To help ground the action even further, we're using a handheld camera rig, driven with motion capture technology.  The final action is being shot by a real camera operator, where the camera-man's moves are being captured as he responds to the swinging performances after the animation is complete.  It gives it that extra level of believability, as if the operator is right there in the scene with Spider-Man.  We also experimented with interesting angles that we haven't seen in these films yet – like the virtual GoPro strapped to his torso and seeing things from that first-person-view. Just from the trailers, the fight scenes look pretty intense, especially between Spider-Man and the Rhino with Spidey swinging around that manhole cover. What kind of goals did you have for animating Spider-Man's unique fighting style? David Schaub: It starts with the previz team (lead by John Patrick) working directly with Marc Webb to work out the rough blocking of the action.  Some of the scenes would be worked out in great detail, and other times a lot was left to interpretation.  In those cases Marc would turn the animation team loose to see what we could come up with. For example, in the original trailer Spider-Man had a firm grip on that manhole cover that you mentioned and swings it around in a way that wasn't very Spider-Man like. Our team of leads jumped right on that to do something much more dramatic and "in-character" for our particular hero.  Mike Beaulieu was the lead animator on that, who's also very passionate about this property with a long history as a Spider-Man fan.  His team had Spider-Man web the manhole cover instead, making for a much more dramatic moment – and a great iconic way to end the film.  Marc was thrilled with the idea – and his enthusiasm energized the crew.  From there the finessing begins, and that's the typical process in most sequences.  Our goal is to finesse the performances in such a way that literally any frame could be a snapshot from the comic book.  Another touch is the muscle animation.  As Spider-Man transitions through the moves, we need to make sure that his muscles are sculpted and behaving in a natural way.  Once again, the comic book artwork is our guide.  There are very distinct muscle shapes in the comics that we want to emulate in the animation.  Sometimes we run into a problem where the muscles don't render as expected in the final lit environment, and in those cases we work with the lighting team to assure that highlights of the muscle toplogy is being picked up in the specular areas of the final image.  It often comes down to re-animating the muscles to support specific lighting conditions.  Our goal is to assure that you can stop the action at any point and have that frame be worthy of a movie-poster in itself. Check back later today for more from Dave Schaub as he explains how the villains transformed during the design process.