|Amazing Spider-Man 2: Training, Stunts & Action|
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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicks off in high gear, with Peter Parker having mastered his skills as Spider-Man. “He’s a virtuoso at being Spider-Man,” says Webb. “He’s whipping through the air, flying toward us. There’s a really vibrant wish fulfillment going on there – we want to give the audience, and especially kids, that feeling of what it’s like to fly through the air. We spent a lot of time trying to perfect that sense of flight with the stuntmen and the animators – there’s something thrilling about this kid, jumping off the tops of buildings and flying through the air with an enormous amount of velocity… and having a blast doing it.”
To help bring innovative and memorable action sequences to the screen, the filmmakers returned to the Armstrong Action Team, the renowned family of stunt coordinators who had also designed and created the stunts for The Amazing Spider-Man.
“We tried to make the stunts very big and very real, resorting to CG only where we really thought we couldn’t do it better real,” says stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong.
The idea that that as much of the film’s action as was possible would be performed practically was a decision that came at the direction of Marc Webb, according to Matt Tolmach. “Audiences intuitively know when they are seeing something real,” he says. “We have tons of visual effects shots – Spider-Man does some things that no human being can do – but we wanted the world to have weight, believability, and gravitas. So wherever we could, doing it for real was a very big part of Marc’s vision for Spider-Man.”
A good example is one of the film’s opening sequences, as Spider-Man chases down a stolen truck full of plutonium driven by a Russian madman, Aleksei Sytsevich. “We had cameras in the street, getting run over,” says Arad. “We had a massive truck, colliding with the camera. We wanted it to feel visceral, like you were really there, like there was real danger. We had the amazing Armstrong stunt team on the backs of cars and on wires. And when you see it, you just know we did it practically, not in the computer. It feels real because it was shot real.”
“None of the action scenes is just for the sake of action,” says Arad continues. “Action drives the story, but the story is about character and conflict. For example, the opening scene isn’t only about how it’s hard to stop this crazy Russian who has hijacked a truck – though it’s that, too – it’s also about how much fun it is to be Spider-Man. As he’s flying through the canyons, we wanted to make the experience magnificent, elegant – to bring up your spirits. We found ways to make it different and interesting. And then, when he catches his man, he taunts the villain, he laughs at him, and we can laugh. You can crack up, because Spider-Man is going to pull it off.”
“We went through the city with a speeding convoy of twenty-five police cars, a SWAT truck, a huge tow truck towing an armored car, all at speed, and crashed cars out of the way,” says Armstrong. While much of the sequence was shot in Manhattan and in DUMBO, Brooklyn, the shots at highest speeds were filmed in Rochester, New York, where the historic downtown’s architecture proved an excellent match for Manhattan.
“Rochester was absolutely sensational to us,” according to Armstrong. “They let us do a huge vehicle action sequence in a big movie in a way that you can’t do in most American cities.”
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicks off with an action sequence in a G-5 jet, which was shot on the production’s Gold Coast stage using an innovative combination of technology to simulate flight in a way never before achieved.
“We built the whole interior of the G-5 airplane, and then we did something that hasn’t been done before,” says Academy Award® winner John Frazier, the film’s special effects supervisor. For the first time, the aircraft was combined with a motion base, the same technology that is used in flight simulators, and also attached to two huge rings, which could rotate the plane, as if on a rotisserie. “This is the first time where we’ve combined a motion base, which will give you the pitch and the yaw, with a roll,” explains Frazier. “As the plane is getting into turbulence, we could also roll the whole plane and turn it 360 degrees, or any degree we want.”
“Just about every shot of the fight on the plane is of actors, not stunt people,” says Armstrong. “And we did it very much with gravity on their side, so they could tip and fall, and be fighting real forces.”
The same technology was also used later in the production for a scene in which Peter Parker rolls up the wall and onto the ceiling battling to quickly remove his suit before his Aunt May enters his bedroom. For this scene, the entire bedroom set was held by the two massive rings, around which the room would rotate.
During filming, Andrew Garfield remained mainly upright as the room and camera turned 360 degrees, using the same technique as the famous Fred Astaire sequence from the film Royal Wedding, in which Astaire danced on the walls and ceiling.
“We’re doing a very different take on that, where Spider-Man can, using his Spidey powers, kind of stumble around the ceiling, so he can go all the way, three-sixty, around the room,” says Armstrong, who also worked closely with his co-stunt coordinator and son James Armstrong.
Early discussions with director Marc Webb led Andy Armstrong to study stunts from the early days of cinema for inspiration. “Marc and I, and Andrew Garfield too, are all fans of vintage physical action that was done all in camera,” says Armstrong. “We copied a move – size and frame, and footstep for footstep – from Buster Keaton, where he grabs a moving car.”
Moviegoers will recognize the famous move from a 1920s comedy short when, in an escape, Keaton grabs the back of a moving car and is whisked out of view, flying almost horizontal out of frame. “I studied it frame by frame, and realized how he did it, and emulated that exactly as he did it,” says Armstrong.
“Andy Armstrong has a such a huge affinity for Keaton,” adds Andrew Garfield. “We wanted to hark back to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin with the physicality and the physical comedy of Spider-Man in this film – we wanted to capture his playfulness and pleasure.”
“There are a couple of slapstick things where Andrew himself does a Spider-Man swing but slams into a wall and sort of slides down it, which sounds like nothing but is very tough to do,” adds Armstrong. “You need a very physical actor that can do that, and in that one he’s as Peter Parker, so there’s no trick. It’s really Andrew doing it.”
To pull it off required Garfield to begin a strict training and nutritional regimen that began weeks before the cameras rolled and continued throughout the production.
“My trainer, Armando Alarcon, is one of my favorite people in the world,” says Garfield. “He’s a very gentle, powerful taskmaster, and a passionate person about health and fitness. The regimen was pretty intense – it has to be, I’m practically naked in a Spandex suit – so I’m very thankful for Armando. I couldn’t do it with anyone else. It’s a really intimate relationship with your personal trainer.”
“I wanted to know how this film was going to differ from the first Amazing Spider-Man film,” says Alarcon, who reprises his role from the first film. “I learned that Peter is a little bit older –he’s not the small teen that he was in the first film. Well, to make him older, you have to mature the muscles – you have to make them thicker and denser. You can always tell the difference between a teen boy and a man – the muscle just looks different. And since he’s a superhero, we wanted to do it in a heightened way: nice wide shoulders, big thick back, but a really skinny waist.”
Alarcon says that Garfield was a willing, able, and dedicated pupil – even if he says otherwise. “Andrew will say he’s not a guy who likes to work out, or not a weights guy, but his physicality and his ability say otherwise.” And Alarcon also had a hand in making sure Garfield got the nutrition he needed to build that muscle: “We had to give him 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day – immediate sources of energy, like vegetables and simple lean meats. He sits at four to five percent body fat, so without immediate energy, his body would burn muscle. Every once in a while he would have pasta – and then he’d tease me my eating the occasional piece of cake.”
Of course, certain scenes required highly trained stuntmen. For these, the filmmakers turned to Ilram Choi and William Ray Spencer. “They’re two of my favorite people, they make me look so good,” laughs Garfield.
“Andrew feels a real ownership of Spider-Man, and he likes to push boundaries as hard as he can,” says Tolmach. “If it’s possible for him to be in the suit for a stunt, he will do it. But he has such great respect for William and Ilram, who also wore the suit; there are things they are capable of doing that Andrew can’t.”
“Between the three of us it feels like a true collaboration, because it’s never about ego, it’s always about who can do the stunt best, whether that’s me, William or Ilram,” Garfield continues. “It’s all about making sure the character is served.”