When Marvel finally started using Spider-Man: No Coming HomeTrio of Spider-Men to recreate the pointing Spider-Man meme, the Spider-Man fandom had already taken matters into their own hands and cast Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock as the star of the film through unintentional comedy . Although the film’s first trailers were meant to mystify fans who didn’t yet know the multiversal specifics that would bring Molina’s Doc Ock face-to-face with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, they also ended up sparking a flurry of jokes. taking the piss from one of Spider-Man’s most serious villains.
Considering the amount of planning that goes into Marvel’s tentpole features, it might have felt like everything about No coming homeRolling out, from the immediate jump to character-edited speculation from trailers to the rise of Doc Ock memes, was part of Marvel’s grand plan. But when we recently spoke with Scott Edelstein, a VFX supervisor for Digital Domain, one of the production houses that worked on No coming homehe explained that although the studio runs a tight ship maintained with precise coordination, he and the rest of his team had very little idea of how the public would race and remix their work.
It came up in a few other conversations, and I wanted to ask you. What has been your experience since working from home became the norm for many visual effects professionals during the pandemic?
Scott Edelstein: It allowed for that work-life balance that we don’t have…it’s not the easiest thing in this industry, you know? For me personally, I was driving an hour and a half each way, so three hours of my day is sitting in the car. This setup really lets me wake up in the morning and be able to sit up at 7am with a cup of coffee and go through morning emails. By the time the team arrives, they already know what to do, and I can start getting my kids’ mornings started, and it’s really changed a lot. I just – I think it made things more efficient, and I don’t see how we could go back.
When you talk about leadership on a show, something like 80% of their day is going from meeting to meeting, running around the building talking about that stuff. When you do it all over Zoom, you’re not walking around trying to get to every different meeting room. While you’re in those Zoom meetings, you’re still working and paying attention, but you don’t always have to contribute 100% of the time.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in meetings with a lot of people where we talk about things, and things are implemented during the meeting. Before the meeting is over, things are already done, and you’ve already reviewed and approved them, whereas before, people had to go back to their desks an hour later and then get on with it, and then wait for the next meeting to show yourself.
Was it your experience with No coming home?
In part, yes. For me, part of what was cool to work on No coming home was the daily review process. Typically, in the office, we would go to the projection room, sit there, look at all the plans and talk about it, and take notes. Usually we’d be in the front row of a darkened room, and you’re there that many hours a day. The artists would do a sort of filter in the back, and their shots would come up, and you would talk about it with the laser pointer on the screen. But you never really get much face-to-face time with people that way because it’s so crowded.
With No coming homewe had probably 200 artists on the project, and what I found really cool about working from home and Zoom meetings like this is like what we’re doing right now. [gesturing towards the camera]
Like when I’m talking to an artist about a shot, I’m not in a dark room in the front row, and they’re in the back. I look at them and we discuss their work. I think that’s super cool. You can say what you want about the personal aspect of it and how it’s a creative environment and how being together helps you have that kind of back and forth. But I think there are other ways to do it, and I think the pandemic has shown us that we can do it from home.
What were some concepts about the physicality of Doc Ock that you really wanted to highlight in the bridge fight scene that might not have been so technically feasible in 2004 for Spiderman 2?
Our approach was to watch old movies because we really wanted to pay homage to them. We wanted the personality of the arms to come out the same, but we also wanted to introduce some new technology into the mix to give them more character. Because of the way movies like this are shot, sometimes we had Alfred Molina on wires, and other times he was standing on a platform lifting him up. For the most part, it ended up being that he was more comfortable standing on that platform so he didn’t just swing around. We almost always replaced him from the neck down because we had to replace all of his legs and his jacket because that long coat he’s wearing is draped or taped over things.
So we pretty much kept his head the whole time, but then you have to talk about his weight, his movements, and how you make him look like he’s not just floating. We paid a lot of attention to grounding it in a bit of reality. So he has four arms, but we had to make sure he only ever stood on one of them while he was also leaning over and holding a car, you know? The weight transfer of the way he walked had to make sense for him to feel like heavy crawling machinery.
Tell me about the internal logic you developed for how Otto interacts with his tentacles and how they move and behave.
So there are a couple of things that go into all of this. For one thing, their interior lights change color depending on who’s controlling. If you look at the old movie you kind of understand even though maybe the continuity wasn’t that strong, but in this one we really wanted to be careful. When the lights inside are red, it means his chip is fried, and therefore the weapon AI is 100% under control. Below deck, when Spider-Man takes over with the nanotech, the lights turn blue as he now controls them, much like a Bluetooth connection. And then later in the movie when the chip is fixed and Doc Ock is in control again they are white which is a nod to the original Spiderman 2 when Otto puts his arms up for the first time.
Something that Kelly Port, the general visual effects supervisor, told us after talking to Alfred on set during No coming home is that Alfred actually named the arms at the time so that he, in his own head, could give them a personality like, you know. So the top two arms were Moe and Flo, and the bottom two halves were Larry and Harry. The idea that we kind of ran with is that Moe and Flo — the two upper arms — are kind of the most planning-focused. They are the ones who really communicate with Otto because they are the smartest. You can see moments in the bridge fight where you notice them looking around and maybe talking to him or planning together what to do.
You can see some of it with Otto when everyone is gathered at Happy’s condo.
It’s a little more subtle, but yeah, you sort of see the interaction between Moe and Flo and Doc Ock. The tentacles pay attention, but also, they watch and almost make eye contact with Doc Ock. Moe and Flo follow what’s going on in the room, but Larry and Harry – the guys downstairs – are kind of just downstairs or on the floor for balance. Larry and Harry are more like muscle, and they execute the plan. They’re usually the ones who walk him around, and often when things get thrown around or run over, it’s Larry and Harry who do that kind of work.
With a project like this, where there are so many blue screens, there are so many different moving parts that all have to fit together to create a false reality. Is meme potential a factor in your creative process?
I wish I could say we’ve had time to really think about it, but when you’re there, there’s very little time, and you’re just in this little box. Our main goal is to make it all as real as possible. You have those blinders on and you try to make it look as real and as cool as possible. I think if you’re aware of anything it’s just “that move doesn’t look right” or “it doesn’t feel real” or “this character wouldn’t do that”. But as far as thinking so far in advance about what memes might come out of it, we just don’t, really.
We don’t really see the fan reaction or think about it until the thing comes out. It’s fun, though, to watch people react to trailers and come up with theories about things because you’re in it. You do these scenes and you release these trailers, and sometimes they’re not finished. Sometimes it won’t even be the same action shot that will be part of the final film. But you hear these theories about, for example, where Doc Ock got the nanotechnology. “What’s he doing with all that nanotechnology on his arms?” He obviously took it from Tony Stark. He’s gonna get so much stronger, and that’s gonna be so cool!” Meanwhile, we’re just sitting there all the time like, “No, Spider-Man is just taking over his body.”