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DFX Artist David Smith Discusses Realism in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hits theaters today, and its offerings are not unlike those of the summertime arrival of an ice cream truck. Marc Webb’s second installment in his reboot of Marvel’s Spidey franchise is candy color coated from head to toe; every square inch fittingly saturated in reds, blues and other glowing hues, pairing pop culture convention with sensory confection. But while the film is a far cry from the art house ambitions of Christopher Nolan’s dystopian Batman trilogy, it’s commendably mindful of audiences’ increasing insistence on a healthy dose of realistic heft in its universe, whose comic book-styled scenarios are otherwise embraced as implausible.

David Smith, Head of Digital Effects on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and an Academy Award-nominee for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, spoke with Diabolique about the crucial role of DFX in AMS2 and his work on superhero films throughout his storied career. During one part of our conversation, he gauges the expectations associated with the superhero genre, and audiences’ criteria for buying into the fictional worlds it presents.

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Check out Smith’s comments below:

DIABOLIQUE: Aside from The Amazing Spider-Man and now its sequel, you’ve also worked on Batman & Robin and Green Lantern. Now we have Marvel and DC’s studios churning out cinematic adaptations non-stop and enlisting massive talent. We’re in a golden age of the superhero movie. Having been in the middle of the action and seen it happen gradually over time, how would you characterize the evolution of the superhero genre?

DAVID SMITH: It’s definitely interesting. Having worked on some of those before we entered into the “golden age,” I think there were some mistakes made in those early versions. I think people wanted stuff that was a little more grounded.

People allow themselves to suspend the disbelief of a superhero’s powers if it’s something that feels more real to them. That’s why you go to the movies — to see it not in comic book form, but something that you can grasp, and something where you enter that world, and it’s something you believe in. I think that’s what we’re always striving for, and that’s what, in the development we’ve done over the years, we’ve arrived at: something more “physically correct.”

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It’s not just holding onto actors’ performances while we transform these crazy shots, but also being able to achieve a level of realism, with the technology that we have, in the environments. Now, we’re able to physically and accurately light these scenes. For our Times Square, we placed lights in the environment where lights are in Times Square. As you can imagine, there are hundreds of digital billboards that have moving footage on them. Those were rendered as actual lights, lighting up the scene. Little tiny lights that surround a traditional Broadway show were placed about, and rendered physically and accurately, so it looks more real. In this case, one other piece of technology, which helped us out on this one — especially with the bolts that Electro throws, his plasma light effects… We were able to turn any object into a light. So, if he throws a bolt, rather than trying to fake it by putting lights at the end of the bolt, we were able to turn the bolt geometry itself into a light, so that it actually lights the cracks and crevasses that it reaches into brightly, and gives off the right properties of light.

From the Digital FX standpoint, the maturing of these superhero movies is that things are more physically accurate. We’re able to capture the images of the comic books, but make it feel real for the audience. I keep wondering if it’s over-saturated [laughs], but it seems like people love that combination.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens nationwide wide today. The full interview with David Smith on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will appear in issue 21 of Diabolique, on stands and available to download on all compatible tablet devices this month.
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About Max Weinstein

Max Weinstein is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of DIABOLIQUE, and his words have appeared online and in print in CINEASTE, FANGORIA, MOVIEMAKER, VICE, THE WEEK, and more. In 2015, he received the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Writer of the Year and was nominated for a Rondo for Best Article. Follow Max on Facebook (/maxlweinstein) and Twitter (@maxlweinstein).

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