Spinning Visual Effects for Spider-Man™ 3

September 11, 2007 12:12 am



The highly anticipated third chapter of the popular Spider-Man™ series sees Peter and Mary Jane finally together, and introduces new enemies to the series: Sandman, Venom, and Goblin. We had the opportunity to sit down with Elbert Yen, the lead texture painter on Spider-Man™ 3 at Sony Pictures Imageworks and learn some of the behind-the-scenes techniques and strategies that go into creating a mega-hit movie, including the extensive use of MAXON’s BodyPaint 3D and CINEMA 4D software.

“I've been a visual effects artist for feature films for 12 years, and a texture artist for most of that time. I got my start in the business at Boss Film Studios as a technical assistant on Multiplicity in 1995. In 1997 I joined the Viewpaint texture department at Industrial Light & Magic, where I had the good fortune to work on the visual effects for high profile films including Minority Report, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, War of the Worlds, The Perfect Storm, Terminator 3, and the Star Wars prequels. In 2005 I came aboard at Sony Pictures Imageworks to supervise texture paint on another high profile project, Spider-Man 3,” says Yen.

“As a child growing up I always loved movies and I loved to draw, but it never dawned on me when choosing a career field in my college years that there existed a profession that would allow me to indulge both passions. But shortly after graduating from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Landscape Architecture, I found my true calling when I saw visual effects artists profiled on the television show Movie Magic on The Discovery Channel. I knew immediately that it was the career for me. I'm constantly driven to make the best looking imagery for movies that I, as a movie fan, want to see.”

According to Yen, in the Imageworks pipeline the modeler provides the texture artist with a digital model complete with UV layout information. The texture artist applies all the textural detail to the model, including color, specular, bump, displacement, alpha, ambient occlusion, and a variety of control maps. Then the artist works closely with a look-development technical director (TD) to get all the texture maps and material settings so that they achieve the necessary look for that asset on the show.


Imageworks used BodyPaint 3D to texture the Spider-Man suit.


“Spider-Man 3 was my first project at Sony Pictures Imageworks, and I really enjoyed working with a new group of super-talented artists: look-development TDs, modelers, and supervisors, but above all, the texture crew. Every member of the texture team did such great work and contributed so much to the final product. It made for a very rewarding experience all around. The texture work on Spider-Man 3 encompassed an array of characters (Black-suited Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Venom, Flint Marko/Sandman, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane) vast environments (dozens of highly detailed New York skyscrapers, buildings, street and cityscapes, and an enormous subway cavern), costumes, vehicles, weapons, construction props, alien goo, even detailed individual grains of sand. For digital matte paintings, Joe DiCesare (who did double-duty on Spider-Man 3 as texture painter and matte painter), painted many sky replacements, from the stormy skies during the bell-tower sequence, to the night sky during the Peter/Harry aerial battle through the city, to the richly colored sunrise sky featured at the culmination of the climactic battle royale sequence. As a fan of the first two Spider-Man films, it was very rewarding for me to be able to contribute to the Spider-Man universe in the form of textures for new characters such as Sandman and Venom.”


Interesting effects and compelling new characters like Sandman keep
Spider-Man fans coming back for more.


Yen’s first introduction to MAXON software was when he joined Imageworks in 2005, for which MAXON’s CINEMA 4D and BodyPaint 3D are the exclusive 3D texturing and digital matte-painting applications. Imageworks artists use MAXON BodyPaint 3D and CINEMA 4D in concert with Adobe Photoshop extensively in the actual painting of textures and matte paintings. Yen explains: “I do the bulk of my texture work inside Photoshop, but others in the texture department prefer to do much of their texture painting using BodyPaint 3D’s painting tools, which feature some fantastic brush and texturing options. I really like BodyPaint 3D’s feature of loading each texture as a Photoshop document (psd), keeping discreet layers for each texture map and allowing the texture artist to paint on and map to individual layers separately. Previous methodologies I’ve had to use were to keep Photoshop master files with all my separate working layers, but to flatten them to a .tif or similar file format to map on the geometry in the 3D software. By keeping the texture maps in multi-layer psd files, BodyPaint 3D is more flexible and robust than many other 3D texturing programs I’ve tried.”


Texture artists used MAXON’s BodyPaint 3D to bring characters like Black
Suited Spider-Man to life.


Early in Spider-Man 3 production, MAXON implemented the Freeze 3D functionality, which Yen reports was the answer to his prayers. It allows the texture painter to save out essentially large screen grabs from BodyPaint 3D, do texture work in Photoshop, and map back onto the model in BodyPaint 3D. Given the options to paint on a multilayer 3D view or 2D texture map, in either BodyPaint 3D or Photoshop, the texture artists are liberated to texture their models according to their own preferred way of working.


Texture work on Spider-Man 3 included vast New York cityscapes, detailed
skyscrapers, and sizable monsters.


Regarding the process, Yen explains: “MAXON BodyPaint 3D integrates into our pipeline very well. With some custom Imageworks BodyPaint plug-ins that we have at our employ, we've been able to work very smoothly and efficiently from the initial loading in of the model, to texturing it, to publishing the maps for use down the line. Many of our largest skyscraper models, as well as the subway cavern on Spider-Man 3, utilized multi-layered texture maps as large as 8K square (8192 x 8192 pixels), really pushing the software to its limits. MAXON BodyPaint 3D, used in conjunction with Adobe Photoshop, gave us the complete tools we required for all our texture needs on Spider-Man 3.”

All supporting images are copyright Sony Pictures Imageworks, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission.

Shelby Swatek is a freelance writer based in Colorado who specializes in hightech communications. To learn more about Shelby, please visit her website at:
September 10, 2007

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Article Comments

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 11 September 2007

Spiderman 3 rocks! It's nice to see Cinema taking some terrain in big feature films. However, I would like to see it used more in characters :D

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 22 September 2007

I am always fascinated by the use of 3D programs within film productions. Thanks for this outstanding insight to the world of movie magic! Dee-Marie

LewisAdamsjrv ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 25 September 2007

Great Write-Up Ms. Swatek!!! ------------------------------------- I'm a very proud licensee of Maxon Cinema 4D R10 Studio-Bundle. I agree with 'nemirc' and 'deemarie'; and, I'm certain Cinema 4D is the be-all/end-all of high-end 3D production apps. The program and its modules are well-worth the price of the package. Have used the MacAddict's Cinema 4D 'Go' v 5.1.9, since it first came out. LewisAdamsjrv