Amazing Spider-Man 2: Designing Electro

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For the look of Electro, Marc Webb chose to go in a different direction from portrayed in the comics. KNB EFX Group was brought on to develop the special effects make-up for the character and Sony Pictures Imageworks added the visual effects layers that brought Electro to life. KNB EFX Group’s Greg Nicotero spearheaded the design and Academy Award® winning special effects make-up artist Howard Berger finalized the look in tests prior to production, and then served as on-set make-up artists for both Foxx and the Electro stunt double.

To create the make-up, KNB did a series of life casts and body scans of Jamie Foxx, from which they created positives to then build three-dimensional sculptures. From there, the artists explored several possible designs and took direction from Webb. “It ended up being 21 individual silicone pieces that we glued to Jamie and his double Clay Fontenot every day,” Berger says. “It was pretty involved, but I wanted to keep this quality of the skin.”

Electro has visible veins on luminescent blue skin, through which electricity, rather than blood, appears to course, while his eyes are glowing white irises.

A key element in the design of Electro for Berger was to ensure that the make-up did not hinder the performance of Jamie Foxx, with whom KNB had worked on Django Unchained and Ray. “I wanted to make sure that Jamie was able to do what he needed to do, that it didn’t inhibit his performance in any way,” says Berger. “We sculpted everything thin enough so that if Jamie furrowed, you really saw the furrow. Even though it’s this blue guy with these crazy lenses, you look at him and you know it’s Jamie.”

At Webb’s direction, Berger also worked closely with Sony Pictures Imageworks Visual Effects Supervisor Jerome Chen, whose work would add the electricity effect to Electro’s final look. “We studied clouds on the horizon and lightning storms that occur within clouds,” says Webb. “You see baffled light, that magical, ethereal quality. I think it’s really provocative.”

“I knew that by working with Jerome, the combination of the two of us could really make this something different, not your normal blue guy,” adds Berger. “On top of our design and Imageworks’ visual effects, Jamie Foxx created a pretty amazing character that’s never been seen before.”

“Marc always said, ‘He needs to glow,’” says Chen. “At Marc’s direction, we started to look at research imagery of electrical phenomena. Almost by accident, we found an image of a skull with a flashlight attached to it – there was a glow coming from inside of it. And that’s what we started to explore – the electricity isn’t just on the surface of his skin, but actually inside of him – it’s become his blood. He’s an electrical entity, encased in flesh. The electricity is inside his skin, filtering its light onto the surface of the skin.”

As inspiration, the visual effects team at Sony Pictures Imageworks looked to the skies. “At Marc’s direction, we’re referencing nighttime thunderstorms,” says digital effects supervisor David Alexander Smith. “You can look up during one of those storms and see it’s mostly clouds, but sometimes the whole sky will light up, or a bolt or an arc will come through. That was our inspiration. We combined that with the neurological network inside the human body – that became our internal illumination network that carries the electrical charges. So, it starts in Electro’s forehead – there’s an electric storm going on in there – and we spread that throughout his body. It’s a really impressive look, and combined with Jamie Foxx’s performance, it really makes the character something special.”

“That blue just blew everybody’s mind, the way they captured it,” agrees Jamie Foxx. “So once I got into the blue, even my voice changed – I figured Electro’s vocal cords had been burned.”

In the end, it took a year for approximately 150 artists to bring this element of the character to the screen.

The filmmakers wanted the first reveal of Electro – in Times Square – to feel real. “He stumbles into Times Square in a hoodie and baggy pants – and it had to look like the light was coming off of his body,” says Tolmach. “We did it largely practically – we built lights into the hoodie, but the way they cast the light onto his face, it looked light the light was coming from him. It was an amazing thing to do.”

Later, Electro steals one of the skintight black uniforms from his guards at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane. It was a choice that came about through a long process of investigation. “Deb’s costumes have a mythology to them,” says Tolmach. “You have to understand why a character would wear that costume; it has to have authenticity and believability and credibility. We all love the look of Electro in the comic books, but there’s no real-world applicability to that costume. So the question that Deb asked was, what would he do? What are the storytelling options? Well, what are the people wearing at Ravencroft? What would you wear if you were working around someone who was electrically charged? How would you protect yourself?” The costume came from these questions and others.

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