Editor Alan Edward Bell, A.C.E. on The Amazing Spider-Man
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Alan Edward Bell : Editor Alan Edward Bell, A.C.E. on The Amazing Spider-Man
The 3D created a bit of a learning curve because I'd never cut in 3D before. I watched the dailies in 3D to make sure there were no issues. But editing in 3D proved problematic: the eyestrain got to me, and it was forcing my cutting style into ways Marc and I were not enjoying. At first, my cuts were very languid, very slow -- and I wasn't happy with that. The difference is that in 3D, if everything is converged correctly, it creates eyestrain, so it's hard to do 2 and 3 frame edits -- which made some of the action suffer.
Based on that, Marc and I made the conscious choice to cut it in 2D, knowing we'd do the convergence after we were finished cutting, to make it more comfortable. In certain places, we decided to break the screen and have things fly into the audience. Other places, it's shallow so your brain can process information that's coming at you quickly. For example, you can make sure that the depth stays the same as the cut goes from one character to another, so your eyes don't spasm or fatigue. You can do that beautifully in Avid Version 6, which has fantastic stereo tools; but because we were on an earlier version, I wasn't able to do that while cutting.
We started out using Avid Media Composer Version 5, which supported stereo, but not refining processes such as resizes or convergence. Avid Version 6 did come out, but we couldn't upgrade in mid-stream. Once we were done with the cut, our stereographer Rob Engle did 90 percent of the convergence work on a Mistika system down the hall from the editing room. That was great, as we could see very rapidly what the final images would look like and adjust the cut accordingly if we needed to.
We always knew that certain moments would be big 3D moments. A lot of the 3D CG elements were designed to take advantage of the 3D space. For example, there's a moment where Spider-Man is flying and it was designed so the audience is traveling along with him.
But story is story: what will work in 3D will work in 2D and vice versa, and that's what is important for me. I had a blast cutting the action sequences, but in some ways that was easier than making sure character performances tracked, that you cared about them and there was real jeopardy. We wanted to be sensitive to the fact that the audience should be identifying with the main characters. That requires a relatively subtle hand, and that will play regardless of whether it's 2D or 3D. I would argue that if you play around too much with the 3D, it can ruin the connectivity between the audience and those characters as well as between the characters. I cut how the footage dictates. I don't go into it thinking I'm going to cut it one way or another. I let the footage and the director direct me.
Director Marc Webb on the set of Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man," starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Photo credit: Jaimie Trueblood
I do a lot of my own visual effects as an editor; it's how I became the editor I am. I started as an assistant editor and started doing more and more VFX and leveraged that to make myself more valuable to directors. That's been helpful even on a movie like (500) Days of Summer, which has over 250 visual effects shots in it that are performance-based, such as facial morphs. A lot of the things I do today weren't possible to do five years ago. It's almost second nature to me now.
As I mentioned, the version of Avid that we cut with did not support many stereoscopic visual effects so it was harder for me to do many of the things I routinely do in a cut. Instead of a down-and-dirty VFX temp with Avid, I had to export the material, bring it into Eyeon Fusion to composite and then re-import it. It slowed the day down. The Avid handles 3D imagery side by side and squeezed so I had to do a lot of housekeeping before I could even do the creative aspect of it. Towards the end, Jerome Chen, the VFX supervisor, had me do some simple VFX work: removing the breaths on a dead Uncle Ben or doing the split screens, and the like. But even these little things are less trivial in 3D. If it's out of register even a bit, it is painful to watch -- or just looks wrong. It took me time to get up to speed and learn how to see and correct for these issues. From an editing POV, it wasn't that much different.
Denis Leary. Need I say more?
The Amazing Spider-Man was actually edited by two teams. Originally, I wasn't available for Spider-Man because I was working on Water for Elephants. Marc was going over a list of editors and Pietro Scalia's name came up. He's a very accomplished and decorated editor. I didn't know him personally, but I knew the movies he cut. I thought, he's one of the greatest editors of all time. When Marc found out that Pietro wouldn't be able to stay throughout the movie, because he was booked for Prometheus, he thought that Pietro could start and then I'd come on. Pietro started in December and left in February, and I came in February and we had a two-week overlap. Then Pietro came back for the last two months and helped with the mix.
Pietro started on the movie with four or five assistants. I kept all those and brought another one on, so there were quite a few people working on the movie. Somewhere in the middle, my friend Mike McCusker came on and helped on the director's cut. Mike ended up on the film for about six months and did a fantastic job. It's funny, you get a movie like (500) Days that is shot in less than a month, and then Spider-Man that's shot over three to four months, and the director still has only 10 weeks to come up with his or her cut. It doesn't matter if it's a $5 million or $250 million movie. Spider-Man had so much footage with two units running simultaneously two or three camera each, so the amount of footage was daunting. It was great to have Mike there; he was very helpful working through the mass of footage and shaping the film. It was also nice to have Pietro come back because he could see it with a fresh eye after we'd been working on it for a year and a half.
The biggest challenge for me working on this movie was that it felt like there was so much on the line. Spider-Man is such an important character to so many people -- and I wanted to do right by them. It was amazing the kind of things that people were writing on the Internet just based on Comic-Con; they clearly knew little about the movie, but there was so much noise out there that it was very obvious how important this film was for the Spider-Man fans.
Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in a tender moment.
Also, The Amazing Spider-Man has a huge studio machine behind it. We had support from everyone, and that was great.
Staying fresh and seeing the movie with new eyes every time was challenging. We were reviewing it over and over again for almost one-and-a-half years, often judging sequences before they were complete. Some of these action sequences were simple animatics, so I could tell the action is going to be cool, but it looked like a cartoon. You watch this with sound effects and hope it'll look good but you don't know until you're down to the wire because it takes so long. As an editor, you can become concerned and lose perspective if you aren't careful.
Sony Imageworks did an amazing job on the VFX especially when you realize that so much of the movie came in in the last month. Fortunately for us, Jerome Chen had a great team working for him so not only were they able to give us early animatics, but he was able to consult with us. He took ideas that Marc Webb and the pre-vis artists came up with and turned them into 3D pre-vis sequences. I would cut and recut those and I ended up with a huge library of different pre-vis sequences. I would sometimes cobble them together to create new sequences that they wanted to look at and get the pre-vis artist to fill the holes and throw in a title card about what Spider-Man or Lizard was doing. Then we'd build off of that. Mostly, at those stages, I would be experimenting to see if the sequence is going to work in its entirety. Jerome had his office right behind mine and he's very collaborative and had great ideas.
Peter Parker synthesizes his "web" fluid.
And here, Spider-Man's web fluid in action. Courtesy of CTMG./ImageMagick
I cut The Amazing Spider-Man with Avid on a Mac, but I've always been somewhat platform agnostic. One of my earliest computers was a Commodore 64 and I've always owned several Macs and Windows systems. I tend to be leaning towards Windows more these days however. I'm not a big 3D animator, but I use Cinema 4D and iClone to do some pre-vis work. A good example of that is when the beer bottle is placed onto Peter Parker's forehead, and we see this drip go down the bottle onto the bridge of his nose. It wasn't originally shot that way. There was always going to be a beer bottle, but pushing into the extreme close-up of the drip was an idea that I explored using Cinema 4D and Fusion. Fusion runs on Windows or Linux only and Cinema 4D is much more responsive running in Windows not to mention iClone, another piece of software I use often to whip up quick previs shots only runs on Windows.
Rhys Ifans portrays Dr. Curt Connors, who sends his message to the world.
Dr. Curt Connors is a tragic figure seeking to not only regenerate his own amputated limb, but to make humanity at large more perfect. Here, he is struggling for his own life.
It's too bad that Apple seems to have forgotten the needs of the professional user in favor of telephones. I'll keep buying Mac laptops for the home because they're super-thin and lightweight. But I'm looking for desktops that work really well, and laptops that replace desktops. You can buy a Windows gaming machine and it blows away any Apple laptop. It may be huge and weigh tons, but for my software, it's really good. I need lots of RAM. My laptop has 32 GB of RAM and there is no Mac version of that.
Going into The Amazing Spider-Man, I knew it was one of the biggest movies of my career. What I learned was whether it's a huge movie or a small movie, the thing that makes films great are pretty much the same: good story and great character connectivity. Action scenes are actually the easier part to make exciting, despite the large amount of footage. But plot, characters, pacing are the same whether the film is big or small.
I went into the film with an open mind and I knew it would be hard. We did work 16-hour days, seven days a week month after month. Fortunately there's always a light at the end of the tunnel with a release date. Collaboration on a movie like this is what I really found rewarding. Expectations were high, of course, but overall I think everyone was pleased. I'm very proud of the movie...and incredibly happy to have been a part of it.
Thanks also to Debra Kaufman for coordination and additional editing on this piece.
All images photo credit by Jaimie Trueblood, courtesy and ©2012 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc, unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved.
Title image: Spider-Man VFX Final Frames produced by ImageWorks, Courtesy of CTMG./ImageMagick.