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Sam Raimi, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Director Part Three

The SPIDER-MAN helmer discusses the visual effects of the latest and greatest of superhero movies

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 02, 2002


Tobey Maguire stars as the lead in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN
© Sony Pictures
Parts one and two of CINESCAPE's profile on SPIDER-MAN director Sam Raimi delved into Raimi's vision for the eagerly anticipated comic book adaptation and the director's choices of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, respectively. Part three deals with the daunting visual effects challenges involved in bringing the landmark superhero movie to the screen.

Believe it or not, even the spider that bites Peter Parker in SPIDER-MAN's crucial origin sequence had to go through a rigorous audition process.

Sam Raimi directs Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in SPIDER-MAN



"Although I had seen pictures of different spiders in books, I needed to see how they moved and how I was going to photograph them," says Raimi.

Unfortunately, the spider Raimi chose still needed some cosmetic alterations courtesy of a "dress" that gave the spider more distinctive markings.

"They make this shell and they paint it and they just gently place it on over [the spider]," says Raimi. "The one I chose finally was a black widow spider. Two shots of it were CGI, and the rest of it was a live spider in a little costume. And, uh, the tough part was getting the spider to come out of its trailer."

A movie that has the money to costume a spider must be dealing with plenty of zeroes, and Raimi confirms SPIDER-MAN has the biggest budget the EVIL DEAD director has ever dealt with. Much of that went into making audiences believe that a man could swing on a web.

"How were we going to get the images of Spider-Man soaring through the air? I had no idea. I was terrified," admits Raimi. "Fortunately I had John Dykstra, who's this genius of visual effects. He can think inside and outside of the box. John said, 'Sam, I think that we can do this with full CGI, the whole Spider-Man character.' I've seen it in a lot of pictures and I've never been convinced. The biggest hurdle, I told him, was that although I see very convincing dinosaurs in CGI, we don't really know if a dinosaur really trots like a horse, so when you watch it you are like, 'I guess that's a dinosaur.' But we look at people every minute of our lives, so we know how people move. That was the terrible challenge put before John Dykstra, Sony Pictures Imageworks and a team of really great animation directors, animators and shaders that all worked there."

Spider-Man as depicted in the Sony Pictures feature film



But never fear; moviegoers do actually see Maguire in the Spider-suit as well.

"Anytime you see him as a close-up or medium shot, head-to-toe, walking, punching, rolling, it's Tobey," explains Raimi. "Even if he leaps out of frame like eight feet, or lands within frame like six feet. If he's doing like a two-story thing actually, one time it's Tobey, but the rest of that is stunt people. Then if he's roaring down the center of Manhattan at 90 miles an hour, that's one of our CG creations."

Controversy is the life's blood of fan gatherings, and the devoted will surely be nitpicking this movie for years to come. Long before anyone ever saw a frame of film, however, the project ignited a firestorm when it was revealed that Spider-Man's webbing would be a biological component rather than a manufactured one.

"Jim Cameron wrote a treatment that was going to be the basis for his movie 10 years ago," says Raimi. "One of the main ideas that stuck in this movie that Cameron came up with was that Spider-Man would have this web that came from his body, from his wrist. I think it made him more of a freak than a regular person in one respect, but in a greater respect it made him more of a person than a freak, and here's my response to that:

Tobey Maguire stars as the lead in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN



"The strength of Stan Lee's creation was that he was always a human being. I wanted to make sure that Peter was one of us. I didn't want him to be some genius who could make this mechanical contraption that nobody I know could make. And as far as being a chemical engineer and designing this web fluid that even a 3M corporation with their top geniuses couldn't make today, I don't know this person. So it's a license that I took, based on Cameron's original idea, that I thought was right. I didn't want to do anything to diminish his identifiable humanity with the average, little middle-class kid that I grew up as myself. I know that fans didn't like [the new version of the web-shooter]."

Fans may be singing a different tune when they see their hero in darkened theaters this weekend and, of course, SPIDER-MAN is only the first salvo in a major film franchise. As a matter of fact, the end of this first installment suggests that perhaps Parker might have another dilemma to face in the next movie.

"I really did want to set it up for a sequel, because when you read a Spider-Man comic book, part of the great fun is that you want it to be complete, but you want to read more about the story," Raimi explains in reference to the film's final scene. "So I tried to provide both a sense of closure and at the same time provide a desire for viewers to see what's going to happen to these characters next."

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