Stunt co-ordinator Andy Armstrong and Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield, tell us how they created the real-life web slinging in The Amazing Spider-Man.
For The Amazing Spider-Man, out 13 July, director Marc Webb wanted actor Andrew Garfield and the film’s stuntmen to do Spidey’s signature web slinging for real. Figuring out just how to pull that off fell to stunt co-ordinator Andy Armstrong, who has overseen action in Galaxy Quest, Thor and many other films. His solution: put the actors in the air with customisable, one-of-a-kind rig systems.
Before he built anything, Armstrong had to perfect the physics. How would someone whose DNA is laced with a spider’s actually move? To get the answer, Armstrong shot video of a gymnast performing on the high bars and slowed it down to examine each beat. “If you look at the early CG Spider-Man, you’ll see that the character swings down at the same speed as he goes through the bottom of the curve, and then he swings up again,” Armstrong says. “In reality, the gymnast is driving himself down with his feet and he pulls this enormous force at the bottom of the arc. Then he slows until, at the top of the swing, he’s absolutely weightless. And then he starts the next swing.”
To build the actual rigs, Armstrong’s team used aluminium trusses — “like you’d see at a rock-and-roll stage,” he says — to create the basic structure. On the centre track was a pulley that ran wire between an electronic winch on the ground and the back of specially designed harnesses the actors wore. The actor would jump off a crane to start the swing, and when he reached the bottom of the pendulum, an operator would move the pulley forward 15 metres just as the actor began to swing upward, allowing a new swing to start. (The wires would be erased in postproduction.)
“You never know that these things are going to work before you use them,” Armstrong says. Luckily, the rig performed exactly as it was designed. “It’s almost like cracking a whip where it goes along, stops, goes along, stops, goes along, stops,” he says. “We did that two or three times.” At the bottom of each swing, Spider-man was going 64 km/h and pulling over 3 g’s.
Filmmakers used the system in many locations: one track, built under a bridge in New York City, was 55 metres long. Armstrong also built a rig that makes it look as though Spider-Man is swinging through traffic. “It’s just a sort of mad, scatter-brained idea — I was thinking if we could hang him off a truck and we could swing him while we’re driving forward, it would give the illusion of these giant swings at speed,” Armstrong says. His crew mocked up a rig, attached it to the back of a pickup truck, and did a video test. It looked good enough to build a real rig, which Armstrong put on a fire truck (chosen for its smooth transmission) that the team found in Michigan. “We could drive through traffic and he would swing from left to right with assistance from people on the truck, who pulled so that he could pendulum all the way out till he was horizontal on both sides,” Armstrong says. “He’d go over cars or run along on the side of a truck. And then we could take it all at traffic speed. It was just sensational, it was a fantastic illusion.”
Garfield used almost every rig employed on the film — a feat that required him to work extensively with a physical trainer and the stunt team. “I got no special treatment,” Garfield says. “[Andy] pushed me. There were things that I was scared about, and he told me to go beyond what you think you can do because you might surprise yourself. It’s so nice to be able to look at the movie and feel ownership because of Andy’s trust of me and his encouragement of me.”
Armstrong says he’s delighted by the finished product. “A lot of kids have grown up with video games and CG characters,” he says. “There’s still something much more exciting about seeing a real human do something that we’d all love to do if we had the ability.” Garfield certainly felt that way. “That physical sensation I’ve wanted to do since I was 3 years old… I got to live that for a second,” he says. “And I’m eternally grateful to everyone for allowing me to.”
Still, Emma Stone, who plays Spidey’s love interest, Gwen Stacy, had a bit of a different take. “[The swinging] was awesome!” she says. “Other than the bruising, I loved it. Harnesses bruise. Yikes.”