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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

Mark Dippé, Dennis Muren , Steve Williams

Adapting any property for the screen, whether it be a short story, play or novel, always presents filmmakers with an unique set of challenges and obstacles. "Spawn" was no exception for the team around Christophe Héry.

From Comics to Big Screen

In 1992, Todd McFarlane, one of the most creative and celebrated young comic book artists in the business, quit his job at comic giant Marvel. Teaming with other Marvel colleagues, the group formed their own company, and one year later McFarlane’s creation Spawn became America’s best-selling comic book, consistently outselling chapters of X-Men, Batman, Spiderman and Superman.

The first issue of Spawn, which launched one of the first African American comic book heroes, sold an unprecedented 1.7 million copies. To date, the franchise has sold more than 100 million books worldwide in over 34 countries in 13 different languages.

Adapting any property for the screen, whether it be a short story, play or novel, always presents filmmakers with an unique set of challenges and obstacles. Spawn was no exception. "The physical forms in the comic book - Spawn, Violator, Clown and Malebolgia - are exaggerated. In a single glance, you can see the characters spill out over the page in a cacophony of line and color," explains the director. "However, real people in make-up can only be distorted so far."

All in all, we did 85 shots, and among them 10 were shared with Santa Barbara Studios, which provided the backgrounds and composited our animation for Hell’s sequence. In the film, our work represents more than 15 minutes of footage, which is partially due to the magic of editing.

The Spawn Armor Transformations

Spawn first comes back from Hell as burnt Al Simmons. Later, in the graveyard scene, a "necroplasmic" armor emerges from his torso. Another company, KNB Effects, created a full-body make-up, but of course this suit could not be made to practically appear on Spawn. So we knew we had to tackle the task.

We toyed around with the idea that the armor could change shape and move around on Spawn’s body, while still acting as a hard protective shell. This contradiction between organic and mechanic was solved when we conceived an armor made of plates that snapped into place, conforming exactly to the parts of the body.

The Clown to Violator Transformations

One of our toughest shots was the 512-frame transformation of Clown into Violator. The change occurs during the course of a huge crane shot moving 270 degrees around the mutating Clown; as the crane finishes its descent, it tilts up to reveal Violator.

The plate consisted actually of two half-shots. They first filmed the actor Clown in his make-up for around 100 frames. Then they repositioned the camera where it started and shot a full length "clean" plate, for which they used a pole with a tennis ball on top as a target. The idea was to have us start with the first plate, dissolve into the second one, while pasting on top our computer graphic Violator. Unfortunately, the two plates did not line up at all. As a result, we could not do anything with the real Clown and ended up creating our own entirely in the computer.

Because the transformation would be seen from every angle, we could not use any morphing. So we did it all in 3D, interpolating from a computer modeled Clown to a computer modeled Violator. Later on in the movie, the reverse transformation happens. This time, the camera was static, but Clown, near the end, was coming close and delivering lines of dialog. We used most of the same techniques, except that we finally dissolved (and morphed) to the live-action Clown. A funny touch we added, was to make the hair grow during that shot.

The Cape

One of Spawn’s best known trademarks, the cape is part protective shell, part silky cloth, so it moves very gracefully and looks soft, but as McFarlane explained to us, "if the razor-sharp edges touched your arm they would cut it off." It’s a living organism, that, not unlike the armor, can emerge and retract depending on what Spawn needs. The complexity of this behavior was impossible to do with real fabrics. We had to do it digitally. We had to come up with a cape that had a personality of it’s own, but was also partially subject to the forces of gravity and wind. This required a great deal of experimentation. But we did manage to solve a lot of problems in respect to cloth animation, which by the way is an extremely difficult thing to do algorithmically.

The Goo

Not only was Violator sweating (or wet under the rain), but we thought it would be cool to see some drool and saliva coming out of him. We wanted to have mucus hanging from the beast’s mouth, armpits and elbows. But we’d rather come up with a correct 3D solution, not the usual blue screen element projected on a flat patch. That way, we could do real lighting on the computer goo and inherit motion from the parented model.

By the end of the movie, Violator melts down and disappears into the fireplace. This was an extension of the goo concept, because we turned parts of the body into a system of particle metaballs (another name for blobs or implicit surfaces), revealing them over the real Violator. These pieces dropped away, turning into green goo. They fell to the floor, darkened and ran together, blobbing up. This process was very expensive though, some frames in the shot taking many, many hours to compute.