The bridge fight scene in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” between Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) has already become an iconic set piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and creating it was a Herculean task that wouldn’t have been possible to achieve a few years ago.
The film playing in theaters now and released by Sony Pictures featured a wealth of VFX shots mixed with in-camera action. “Shooting in Atlanta, we had didn’t have a very big section of road to work with in terms of the live-action,” explained VFX supervisor Kelly Port. “It was a bunch of cars and a cement pad in the backlot of Trilith Studios with 40-foot blue screen walls on three sides.” So, it was up to Scott Edelstein and the team at Digital Domain to recreate the real-life New York location.
Aside from Spider-Man’s Iron Spider armor and Doc Ock, the complex environment build involved a mix of real and digital pedestrians, trees and thousands of props, as well as one scene that had “probably over 30 billion rendered polygons in it,” Port said. “That’s something that wouldn’t have been possible not too long ago, just in terms of rendering power.”
A vital component of the face-off was ensuring the Doc Ock’s core physicality was maintained from his previous big-screen outing in “Spider-Man 2.” It was by good fortune that some of the animators at Digital Domain assigned to “No Way Home” had worked on director Sam Raimi’s 2004 film.
Port admitted the coincidence was fun “because when I would have an animation note about how Doc Ock walks, they’d be like, ‘Excuse me, but this is the animator who did it in the previous movie,’ so I’d stand corrected but still ask them to do the note.”
The bridge scene was one of the first to be filmed and required over 500 shots alone. It was also one of the first sequences Port and his team started work on, and one of the last they finished. It took about two years from the conceptualizing and storyboarding to completion. Part of the reason it took so long was that the scene was being reworked and manipulated.
“The order of the sequence in the movie ended up changing considerably as we shuffled around to tighten it up, make it better and more exciting,” Port said.
When Spider-Man first lands on the bride and is searching for the MIT vice-chancellor, those are real cars along the side of him — the barking dog is real, as are the kids in the car. While much of the action takes place above the New York bridge, a significant portion unfolds in the shadows below it. That caused several creative challenges with the live-action element being shot on a sparse soundstage set.
“All we had there was a pole that Doc Ock smashes Peter Parker into, and he was hung upside down with all the blood rushing to his head,” said Port, adding that Holland was “a good sport” about shooting the scene. He added that crafting the transfer of the nanotech from the Iron Spider armor onto Doc Ock’s arms was a visual reference to the Iron Man suit with the Iron Spider Armor coming on and off.
To ensure that the Iron Spider armor replicated real-world lighting conditions, Port had the art and props department fabricate a bust of Spidey in the suit, something that proved to be very useful, especially for outdoor photography.
Port described himself as a “big proponent” of having physical, live-action references for characters “because I think they’re critical to making it look real, and that’s what it’s all about.”