How ILM was able to draw upon previous New York VFX material for ‘Far From Home’s’ web-swinging finale

‘At ILM we’ve done a CG version of New York many times before.’

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The end sequence of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home sees Spider-Man (Tom Holland) take MJ (Zendaya) on a dazzling web-slinging tour of New York City.

The shots were handled by ILM, which was able to re-purpose some of its extensive photographic reference, photogrammetry and panoramas shot in NYC for The Avengers.

ILM visual effects supervisor Julian Foddy and CG supervisor Steve Ellis break down for befores & afters how these Far From Home shots, which also included combining live-action with a fully digital Spider-Man, were created.

MJ and Spider-Man get ready to soar
MJ and Spider-Man get ready to soar above NYC’s skyscrapers.

Julian Foddy: Tom performed all of that scene in a full spider suit with the mask on and everything – he was wearing the full black and red enhanced spider suit, and this was the first time that this had been shown in public. The suit doesn’t have animated eyes and has seams which allows him to get in and out, and it creases in places where it’s not supposed to crease, and it has pads in places where you’re not supposed to see the pads. For practical reasons, he is a full CG replacement, even all those close-up shots. The textual detail of that suit is so intricate that even the black sections have got all those lines of different specularities, that getting a CG suit to line up to that pixel perfect and track all of that motion would have been nigh on impossible.

Zendaya and Tom Holland on set filming
Zendaya and Tom Holland on set filming part of the scene on wires. Source: Alamy.

Julian Foddy: And we need to give a shout out to our comp and roto teams. There’s quite a lot of over the shoulder shots, over MJ’s shoulder, onto Spider-Man. And we’re looking through her hair onto his face, and we’re all aware of what kind of a challenge that presents. So the fact that they managed to extract that hair and retain tiny soft sections of the plate, and blend that back with the CG Spider-Man underneath it is pretty fantastic.

A panorama from ILM's previous 'Avengers' work
A panorama from ILM’s previous ‘Avengers’ work.

Julian Foddy: When we first started doing the project, Janek Sirrs, the production VFX supervisor, pointed out that ILM would have this huge, huge data bank material of all the panoramas that were shot in New York for the first Avengers film. I think an ILM team spent about two months photographing thousands and thousands of panoramas all around mid-town. So that was our pre-determined approach to the sequence, and Janek was very keen that we bring all that material back out of the archives and resurrect a lot of those rendered scenes and try and re-purpose a lot of that. I think we effectively re-used an awful lot of photography, but our methodologies have changed somewhat as ILM over those years. So we ended up ultimately going for a more fully CG approach.

Steve Ellis: At ILM we’ve done a CG version of New York many times before. On The Avengers, ILM photographers shot literally thousands, and it might even be bordering on tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of unique images and thousands and thousands of panoramic spheres from all different vantage points around the city. We’ve got this wealth of data that we can draw on. As our starting position, and this is right back to when we were early and in the previs days, choosing suitable panoramas.

Having this enormous catalogue of images, it meant that when we were designing shots, we would always start with some of the photographic material and try and block out, note our moves just to make our shots or where to be straightforward. But if it was decided that we needed to do a big translating camera, the photography just provides the best reference from which to start building CG assets from. And in some cases you can just use the photography directly as projections, and depending on the camera move, it might be that also our generalist artists just chose to make a more 3D version depending on the shot.

Spider-Man zooms through a building's atrium
Spider-Man zooms through a building’s atrium in this shot.

Julian Foddy: There are quite a few shots of the Spider-Man flying on his own before he gets to MJ where Chris Lentz, our animation supervisor, just picked up the ball and ran with it and came up with these really cool shots and little stunts for Spider-Man to do. And then during the MJ and Spidey swinging, there’s a few shows there that Janek just said, ‘Oh, Jon feels like we need two or three extra shots here. See what you can come up with.’ So we’d go through the panoramas and look for shots where we could come up with a really cool looking angle in a semi-geographically correct location. Using the panoramic sphere allowed us to prototype a shot very quickly and put something cool-looking in front of the clients.

This week at befores & afters is #vfxgeekoutweek. There’s a diverse set of stories tailor-made for VFX pros, aficionados and fans.

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