Digital Domain's Oscar-Winning Artists Transform Madame Web's Cinematic Universe: A Dive into Their Stunning VFX and Post Visualization Work

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

With Sony Pictures' Madame Web captivating audiences worldwide, the curtain is lifted on the digital sorcery that helped shape its awe-inspiring visuals. In an exclusive interview, we explore the mesmerizing third act, where Digital Domain's virtuoso artists brought the heart of New York City to vibrant life, transcending the physical confines of the film's Boston filming locations.

Far beyond mere set design, Digital Domain's Scott Edelstein, Visual Effects Supervisor; and Hunt Dougherty, Postvisualization Supervisor shared insight into their explosive FX work electrifies the film's pulse-pounding sequences, delivering an immersive cinematic journey. As we unravel the layers of their contribution, Digital Domain graciously invites us to witness the meticulous craftsmanship that propelled Madame Web to its status as a cinematic masterpiece.

PH: Could you walk us through the process of recreating the rich environments of New York City for Madame Web, particularly focusing on how Digital Domain's team managed to seamlessly blend CGI with the Boston set footage?

Scott Edelstein: Absolutely! Our approach for recreating the vibrant atmosphere of New York City for Madame Web was a multi-step process that involved advanced planning and seamless integration of practical and digital elements. Firstly, we utilized a real-life rooftop in Boston as our primary reference point. This location provided the foundation for our rooftop setting, with extensive scanning and photography capturing every detail.

In parallel, we captured the surrounding docks, river, and shipyard to enrich our digital environment. This step ensured that our CGI elements blended with the real-world footage, and that they’d live in the same worldspace and lighting conditions. Next, we focused on integrating iconic New York City landmarks, such as the Pepsi-Cola sign and the skyline. 3D modeling and texturing techniques allowed our team to create these elements with precision, ensuring accuracy from every angle.

While the rooftop and its immediate surroundings were fully realized in 3D, we adopted a 2.5D approach for elements beyond the river. This technique blended depth with 2D elements, creating a convincing cityscape that extended the scene's scope while maintaining visual coherence.

During the live-action shoot, a significant portion of the rooftop set was constructed outdoors. To seamlessly blend practical and digital elements, we executed extensive set extensions. This involved integrating CG elements, such as explosions or fire, with the live-action footage to create an immersive rooftop battle with Ezekiel.

Throughout the process, our goal was to achieve a blend of practical and digital elements, ensuring that the audience remained fully immersed in the story. By leveraging advanced techniques and meticulous attention to detail, we were able to bring the rich environments of New York City to life in a way that felt authentic and compelling.

PH: In the third act of Madame Web, there are some visually stunning and explosive FX sequences. How did Digital Domain approach the creation of these effects to ensure they complemented the overall narrative and aesthetic of the film?

Scott Edelstein: Creating the explosive FX sequences in Madame Web's third act was a collaborative effort that required planning and integrating practical and digital effects.

We collaborated closely with the Special Effects (SPFX) team and the Director of Photography (DP) on set. Together, we ensured that we had a variety of practical elements, including fireworks, explosions, and interactive lighting, happening at safe distances behind the actors. These practical elements served as crucial reference points for our VFX work, enhancing the realism of the scene.

This allowed us to layer in new, larger, and more complex effects where it would have been too risky for even the most experienced stunt performers.

 



Throughout the sequence, we ensured that the practical effects interacted convincingly with the actors, whether it was fireworks lighting up the surrounding environment or explosions and rockets propelling someone across the room.

Credit is due to the incredible stunt team, who fearlessly performed many of these actions themselves. Our VFX team stepped in to enhance the spectacle further, seamlessly integrating CGI elements to create a truly impactful and immersive experience.

By blending practical effects with CGI in a strategic and coordinated manner, we were able to ensure that the explosive FX sequences complemented the overall narrative and aesthetic of Madame Web, enhancing the film's visual spectacle while staying true to its storytelling goals.

PH: With your experience as the VFX Supervisor for both Madame Web and Spider-Man: No Way Home, how did you approach the visual effects differently for each film, considering the unique storytelling and visual style of each?

Scott Edelstein: Each film, much like each character, possesses its own distinct style and narrative. As VFX Supervisor, our approach involves defining a visual language that aligns with the story being told.

For “Madame Web,” the visual effects were grounded more in reality, reflecting the film's tone and narrative. While there were still impressive effects, such as explosions, set extensions, and destruction, the overall aesthetic remained rooted in a sense of realism. This approach ensured that the visual effects complemented the grounded nature of Madame Web's world, with only the occasional exception.

In contrast, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” embraced a more dynamic and fast-paced visual style. The film featured larger-than-life sequences, such as Doc Ock throwing cars at Spiderman during the bridge fight or Sandman and Electro joining forces to create a giant electric storm. Our visual effects for this film leaned into these grandiose moments, enhancing the film's epic scale and spectacle.

While some techniques may have overlapped between the two films, such as the use of CGI and practical effects, the final result always needed to align with the specific storytelling and visual style of each project. By tailoring our approach to suit the unique essence of each film, we were able to create visual effects that integrated with and enhanced the overall cinematic experience.

PH: The postvis work on the rooftop sequence of Madame Web was particularly noteworthy. Could you share some insights into the challenges faced and techniques employed by your team to bring that sequence to life?

Hunt Dougherty: Creating the postvis for the rooftop sequence in “Madame Web” presented unique visual challenges, however having an open line of communication and being able to collaborate with Scott and his team proved to be incredibly useful and streamlined the process. It provided us with access to set and location photography to stitch together backgrounds reflective of what would become the final, which we normally wouldn't have access to if the final VFX were being created by an outside vendor. Additionally, some postvis elements and roto were used as temps in final comps.  

One of the primary challenges we encountered was developing the look and timing of the fireworks, while also tracking the increasing intensity of fireworks and destruction as the scene progressed. To address this we created a library of basic particle sims for projectiles, impacts and explosions that artists could easily integrate into their shots. This enabled us to quickly dial in the timing of fireworks as the scene progressed. Additionally, we employed 3D tracking techniques for more complicated camera moves, while quick shots with little to no parallax had backgrounds 2D tracked in to save time.

Another significant challenge involved developing and refining the look of the astral projection effects. We worked closely with the production team through several rounds of development. This close collaboration allowed the client to quickly iterate the look and function of the astral projections, ensuring our team's work aligned with their vision. 

In the end, the postvis team's collaboration, quick turnarounds and iterations, and attention to detail resulted in the production being extremely happy with what we delivered.

PH: Given the anticipation surrounding Madame Web, how did Digital Domain ensure that its contributions to the film lived up to the expectations of both the filmmakers and the audience, especially considering the legacy of the Spider-Man franchise?

Scott Edelstein: Digital Domain's legacy in the VFX industry spans over three decades, with a portfolio boasting over 500 films. Studios turn to us for our track record of delivering top-tier visual effects and our commitment to being collaborative, creative partners with our clients.

For “Madame Web,” the pressure was high, especially given the legacy of the Spider-Man franchise. However, there was never a doubt in our minds that we would deliver nothing short of excellence. We approached this project with the same level of dedication and innovation that has defined Digital Domain for over 30 years.

Our team's attention to detail, combined with our passion for pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling, ensured that our contributions to Madame Web not only met but exceeded the expectations of both the filmmakers and the audience.

PH: What were some of the key creative decisions made by Digital Domain's team in terms of enhancing the action-packed sequences in the third act of Madame Web, and how do you believe these decisions contributed to the overall impact of the film?

Scott Edelstein: In the third act of “Madame Web,” Digital Domain played a pivotal role in bringing the action-packed sequences to life. One of our key creative decisions involved orchestrating the destruction of a fireworks factory, the rooftop of a building, and the collapse of an iconic NYC landmark—the Pepsi Cola sign.

Throughout this process, we collaborated closely with the director and client-side VFX supervisor to build anticipation and tension, leading to the ultimate defeat of the villain and a victory for our heroes. This involved a series of creative explorations to determine the most impactful and visually stunning way to execute each event.

One key moment that exemplifies this collaborative approach was the collapse of the Pepsi-Cola sign and its interaction with Ezekiel and Cassie. We worked closely with the director to choreograph the sequence of events leading to the collapse and how the pieces of the sign would ultimately contribute to Ezekiel's defeat. Seeing Ezekiel meet his fate in a manner reminiscent of his original dream was a pivotal moment in the film, heightening the emotional stakes and underscoring the themes of destiny and redemption.

By carefully crafting these action-packed sequences and ensuring they integrate with the narrative and character arcs, we believe these creative decisions enhanced the overall impact of Madame Web. They not only delivered pulse-pounding excitement but also added depth and resonance to the story.

PH: Can you discuss any innovative or cutting-edge technologies that Digital Domain utilized in the creation of the VFX for Madame Web, and how these technologies helped to push the boundaries of visual storytelling in the film?

Scott Edelstein: While Madame Web primarily relied on traditional VFX techniques like set extensions, destruction, and explosive effects, we also had the opportunity to explore some cutting-edge technologies.

One particularly notable innovation is our Machine Learning Cloth System (ML Cloth), which we implemented for our digital doubles, specifically for Ezekiel's character. Initially developed for Blue Beetle, this system revolutionized our cloth effects workflow. ML Cloth allows us to generate realistic cloth simulations quickly and efficiently, eliminating the need to simulate each shot individually. Seamlessly integrating into our animator's toolkit, it provides live-deforming cloth simulations directly within the viewport, greatly enhancing artist feedback and streamlining our cloth simulation workflow. 

Additionally, we've recently introduced the next leap forward in our facial capture technology, Masquerade3. This facial capture system no longer requires markers. While we didn't utilize it in Madame Web, Masquerade3 represents a significant advancement in facial animation. It captures the most subtle facial expressions with improved accuracy and stability, offers faster capture-to-reconstruction times, now includes gaze estimation, and has streamlined our workflows considerably. I believe Masquerade3 has the potential to redefine facial capture and elevate the realism of visual storytelling in future projects.

Embracing such innovative technologies enables us at Digital Domain to push the boundaries of visual storytelling. It enhances immersion and authenticity in our films while optimizing production workflows. These advancements underscore our dedication to remaining at the forefront of VFX innovation, ensuring that our work continues to set new standards in the industry.

PH: In your opinion, what sets Digital Domain apart when it comes to delivering high-quality VFX for blockbuster films like Madame Web, and how do you ensure that the team's creative vision aligns with the director's vision for the project?

Scott Edelstein: In my view, what truly sets Digital Domain apart is the exceptional talent and dedication of our team members, coupled with the unwavering support from our facility and ownership to foster a collaborative environment with our clients. At the end of the day, the entire VFX community shares a common goal: to create exceptional art that enhances storytelling.

Across the globe, there are incredibly talented individuals who are deeply passionate about their craft. At Digital Domain, we attract top-tier talent for the same reason studios seek to collaborate with us: our proven track record of delivering high-quality visual effects on time and budget. Our team's collective expertise and creative ingenuity enable us to tackle even the most complex challenges with confidence.

When it comes to aligning our creative vision with the director's vision for a project like “Madame Web,” communication and collaboration are paramount. We work closely with the director and other key stakeholders to ensure that our creative decisions and technical solutions complement and enhance the film. By fostering open dialogue and a collaborative spirit, we are able to translate the director's vision into visual effects that elevate the film. 

ProductionHUB ProductionHUB Logo

Related Blog Posts
Building Tension Through Silence: Ramsey Avery on Designing ‘No One Will Save You’
Building Tension Through Silence: Ramsey Avery on Designing ‘No One Will Save You’
Published on Friday, June 14, 2024
Balancing Surrealism and Emotion: Autumn Dea Discusses Her Work on 'Bleeding Love'
Balancing Surrealism and Emotion: Autumn Dea Discusses Her Work on 'Bleeding Love'
In an exclusive interview, Autumn Dea, the editor behind the new drama "Bleeding Love," shares insights into her meticulous editing process. The film, which hit theaters on February 16, stars Ewan McGregor and his daughter Clara McGregor, and follows a father-daughter duo on a turbulent road trip aimed at reconciliation. Autumn expertly navigates the film's surrealism, humor, and intense emotional beats, ensuring that the complex relationship arc between the estranged pair is both believable and moving. By thoughtfully framing their interactions, particularly shifting from isolated shots in the first act to more unified compositions in the second act, Autumn masterfully illustrates their journey from division to connection.
Published on Friday, June 14, 2024
'We Grown Now' Editor Stephanie Filo on Bringing Chicago's Cabrini-Green to Life
'We Grown Now' Editor Stephanie Filo on Bringing Chicago's Cabrini-Green to Life
In an exclusive interview, Emmy-winning editor Stephanie Filo delves into her latest work on Minhal Baig’s poignant coming-of-age film, We Grown Now, now in theaters. The film, set in the Chicago Cabrini-Green public housing complex during the summer of 1992, follows the journey of two best friends, Eric and Malik, and features standout performances from Lil Rel Howery and Jurnee Smollett. Filo’s lyrical editing earned her a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award, adding to her impressive list of accolades, including a historic run at the 2023 Emmys. As the first picture editor to be nominated for three different shows in a single year and the first Black female editor to achieve this feat, Filo’s versatility and talent are unmistakable. Her work on We Grown Now captures a sense of childlike innocence and immerses viewers in a nostalgic and heartfelt exploration of friendship and resilience amidst hardship.
Published on Monday, June 10, 2024

Comments

There are no comments on this blog post.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.