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HomeColumnsDirector SeriesDirector Series: Sam Raimi/Spider-Man 3

Director Series: Sam Raimi/Spider-Man 3

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Director Sam Raimi hasbeen Spider-Man’s caretaker for more than half a decade. With Spider-Man 3, Raimi onceagain had to cross technological barriers to take his vision from imaginationto screen. And—as the director plainly states—none of it could have happenedwithout a fearless, creative crew at his side.

Below the Line: The Spider-Man movies you’ve directed have always includedamazing effects. In Spider-Man 3 one of the highlight sequences shows thetransformation of Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) into Sandman. Would you call the creation of this character effectsanimation or character animation or a blend of the two?

SamRaimi: I think it’sprobably both things. It was a process of creating the grains of sand poolingand rolling together as elements until such a time as they come together andbecome elements of a human form, and I guess at that point they becomecharacter animation. It’s both working together until a natural substancebecomes a human being. But so many people contributed to every aspect of thatsequence, from my storyboard artist, who helped me to envision how I wanted thesand to stream together, to my character artists, who were able to do sketchesof what he could look like pulling himself up from the earth, to sculptors, tomy costume designer James Acheson. He (Acheson) made sculptures of the Sandmanpulling himself up from the earth, which suggested ideas that I loved. Therewas a lot of negative space in those sculptures and it really reminded me of ahollowed-out sandcastle. Scott Stokdyk, my visual-effects supervisor, helped me shootsand tests with (cinematographer) Bill Pope. I shot a lot of sand tests. For Scott to be ableto manipulate the sand, I had to shoot a lot of tests so they could study itand see how it moved and how it stacked and how it flowed. Then I designed somestoryboards of effects, basically so we could all experiment with having theartists at Sony Pictures Imageworks create these grains of sand in the computer andmanipulate them by the hundreds of thousands to see if they could pull theseshots off. Scott Stokdyk was instrumental in pulling it off, along with ouranimation director, Spencer Cook. After I’d taken it from one team to another—fromthe storyboard artists to the sculptors and designers—it was primarily SpencerCook who helped me develop the sequence at that point.

BTL: When you first envisionedall the things the Sandman character would do—from emerging kind of like aliving sand sculpture, to flowing away with water or wind in later scenes—werethere software and effects tools available to you that would make these thingshappen or did you have to develop these tools for the film?

Raimi: We had to make them. Wehad to write software to create the grains themselves and then Scott Stokdykand the other members of the visual-effects team had to write software tomanipulate the sand. Then they had to connect everything so it would worktogether.

BTL: Did you realize many ofthe tools would have to be created when you wrote this character and the scenesfor him?

Raimi: This time I did. Whenmy brother (Ivan Raimi) and I wrote that sequence of himpulling himself up and the sand flowing around him into pools and into hillsand into shapes and outlines, I did have an idea—probably the best idea of allthe three Spider-Manfilms—as to the amount of work that would be required. It wasn’t that I knewhow we were going to do it, but I knew I was working with artists that weregoing to be capable of doing it at some point.

BTL: How much did Sandmanevolve from the original vision you and your brother wrote down in the pages ofthe script to what we see on screen and how did the artists and crafts peoplewho worked with you influence that vision?

Raimi: After it was written, my brother and I had about aone-and-a-half page description of what it would be. We then shot reference formy storyboard artists of Thomas Haden Church,with a video camera, performing the whole scene—the human part of the scene.And I used that to help me and my storyboard artist, Christopher Glass, describe parts of the scene. We started with just rough sketches andimages, and he came up with beautiful things. All of these artists contributedto this performance of Sandman and this moving sculpture that you see onscreen. It was an evolving thing. What I had hoped to see in the sequence whereSandman emerges from the sand—from the first frame to the last frame—was asculpture taking place from a rough-hewn creature to a finely sculpted man inthe very last frame, and all the different things between those two things. Sowe had to determine all of its different states. The sketch artist showed mewhere he might be in each stage—from what came just after he started to emergefrom the sand to what he
might be right before he was fully the Sandman.

I did crudeanimation with my animation team to roughly estimate what the movements wouldbe at each stage.

Then I broughtSpencer Cook aboard to refine it, all the while keeping my artistic team inplace to keep doing refined sketches to show Spencer and to show the coloristsand the animatic artists at SPI what the creature is supposed to look like atdifferent stages. Sometimes we’d overlook something and we’d have to go backand remind them of an illustration we’d done.

We only had arough version of Spencer’s animatic, and I went back to another artist and wehad him draw it one more time, because a few changes had been made at Spencer’ssuggestion and at the suggestion of Spencer’s artists. Again, I worked withpeople in design and art to do really detailed key artwork. I showed him eachframe of what we were doing. And the key artwork showed very detailed things inthe sand from how we wanted it to move to how we wanted it to crumble aroundSandman.

We gave that keyartwork back to SPI and we refined it still more. Other artists at SPIcontributed in so many ways, from shading to coloring and putting together theairborne sand in the final scenes with Sandman. It really is a sequence thathundreds of people contributed to.

So many peoplewere involved with that. We had the composer (ChristopherYoung), along with myself and theeditor, Bob Murawski, looking over the scene and the sequence stillneeded editing. Bob helped me prepare all the shots and get the right flow forthe sequence. Then Young got into the piece and he composed somethingbeautiful, and he gave it a soul that I wanted it to have when Flint Markorealizes he’s just this thing now and not really a person. It was a beautifulpiece and that guided the pacing and the editing and the animation and the flowof everything that happened. So everything fed off of everything else.

It really was verymuch a team effort to pull off this sequence.

BTL: The sequence is full of thematic details. There’s amoment when —after turning into Sandman —Flint Marko tries to pick up a mementogiven to him by his daughter and he can’t do it. It seemed like you reallywanted to be sure the effects moved the story along.

Raimi: That’s absolutely right. You want things like thatmoment where he tries to pick up something from his daughter to mean somethingin terms of the rest of the movie. In this case, he’s realizing he can nolonger help his daughter, so hopefully the audience is feeling something andnot just watching an incredible effect.

BTL: There’s also a moment at the end of the film whereFlint Marko is forgiven by Peter Parker for killing his uncle and then Flint morphs into Sandmanin a sense and blows away as a kind of sand or dust cloud. How was that ideadeveloped?

Raimi: Flint Marko had been suffering this guilt foraccidentally killing Peter’s uncle. There was really a great deal of remorse,and it was really done as an accident and for the benefit of another—howeverstupid of a thing it was—and it was not done to be mean. Basically, when Peterstops being a proud person, he opens his heart to understand others. Throughthat understanding comes the ability to recognize similarities in others andforgive others because we’re all no better or worse than one another.

I feel that theSandman is released from a terrible plague of guilt that is tormenting him, andI also feel that Peter Parker even more than Sandman is released of this weightof hatred and vengeance that weighs upon those who feel the need to punishothers.

And that’s thelesson for the kids who go to see the film. This hero had been a hero in thepast two pictures because he has been an avenger of criminals in the past, buta better place for him to grow to is to be that person who doesn’t hold himselfabove others. He’s someone who has learned to forgive. So that was a veryimportant theme for the picture, and that moment where the Sandman blows awayis supposed to be that moment where they’re both released from the things thathave been weighing on them.

I originally justhad Sandman moving off after being forgiven, but it was really Thomas Haden Church who suggested thatSandman just blow away and we all loved that idea so we did it. So it really isall about collaboration with everyone on a film and that’s what makes it great.

BTL: Do you feel that overall you succeeded in creatingthe movie you wanted to make with Spider-Man 3?

Raimi: I just wanted to deliver a message that was worthy of the admiration ofthe kids who go to see the film. When they go to see Spider-Man and he puts onthat outfit, there’s a kind of automatic admiration that happens, and we’ve gotto work to earn that admiration and justify it. So I want people to feel I’vebeen responsible with their kids’ admiration and feel I was responsible withtheir patronage—that they paid to see something worthwhile.

Written by Karen Idelson

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