Forget Green Goblin, forget Doc Ock. Right here, right now, it's all about the Lizard, the reptilian foe at the core of "The Amazing Spider-Man." When science goes bad, brilliant amputee Doctor Curtis Connors becomes a monstrous, man-hating creature who rampages around Manhattan with the goal of remodeling humanity in his snarling, scaly image.
Who gets credit for that snarling, scaly image? Look no further than the "Amazing" visual effects team led by Jerome Chen, who spoke with MTV News all about the creation of the big-screen Lizard. Entering the "Spider-Man" reboot, Chen said that the geneticist-gone-berserk was a favorite character of his, and one of the challenges he was most looking forward to embracing. But where to start? The answer, logically enough, was with lizards.
"The process began with taking a look at what kind of lizard we wanted him to be," Chen told MTV News. "What kind of reptile is he? Is he a komodo dragon, which has a dryer look with different types of scales? Is he an iguana? Is he a chameleon? Is he some type of frog? We looked at all types of creatures."
At the outset, Chen and his team were leaning toward the komodo dragon aesthetic, because they "loved the big, hanging folds seen on those types of lizards, which we could incorporate into our Lizard." Ultimately, however, "the dry look didn't feel right" when featured in night scenes, leading the team to make Connors' reptilian alter ego "more amphibian-like, as though he mixed that DNA into his concoction."
Next, Chen wanted to add some scarring to give Lizard a more weathered look. "Even though he's a freshly grown lizard and would presumably be clean and not too dirty, we decided to ... put cracks in the skin, and put dirt on him. Those types of imperfections help make him look real," he explained. "When everything is dirtier, it looks more real. So we decided to give him scars. Yeah, he just turned into this thing a few minutes ago, but so what? Maybe he crawled through the sewers and got beat up a bit. Making him dirtier and wetter was part of our concept to help him look more convincing."
The visual effects team wasn't alone in their effort to create a convincing Lizard. They had help from Andy Armstrong and his stunt team as well, who had their work cut out for them in creating compelling battle sequences between the very real Spider-Man and the considerably more imagined reptile.
"It was a tough challenge. You don't have a conventional yardstick to measure to," Armstrong told MTV News. "How strong is this guy? What can he do? What are his weaknesses? You have to essentially build a bible of his flaws, weaknesses, how you could take him down -- and what are Spider-Man's skills, which skills are best used against the Lizard? We tried to do a lot of old-fashioned and real-life homework to make these things work."
That old-fashioned homework consisted of bringing in an Olympic-level gymnast and "a massively powerful 6-foot-10 guy" to simulate battle between Parker and Connors. "We literally made a cardboard tail [for the Lizard stuntman] and we videoed action between the two of them, to make sure the proportions were right, to see how far he could throw him, or how much he could turn in relation to the other guy," Armstrong said. "We based a lot of our action on that."
Indeed, there is a lot of action in "Amazing Spider-Man," and Lizard is involved in much of it. For Armstrong's team, the final battle on top of the Oscorp building was easily the most challenging. "You have to walk a fine line," he said. "If the Lizard's tail can smash through an antenna, can't it kill Spider-Man too?"
There to answer those questions was director Marc Webb, who Armstrong described as coming "from a virgin point of view" in terms of the film's action not an unfair observation, as Webb's only other big-screen credit as director is the largely fisticuffs-free "(500) Days of Summer." But what Webb lacked in action know-how, he more than made up for in his understanding of character.
"We'd talk a lot about, well, if Lizard can do this, can he do this? And how much compassion and how much of Connors is in the Lizard right now? There were all of those components [in play], so you're not just creating a Godzilla-like monster. There were some values in there as well," said Armstrong.
Chen agreed that seeing Ifans' humanity through Lizard's monstrosity was paramount to getting the character right. "That was mostly an animation and performance challenge, making sure that he's still a thinking character, that all of his decisions and facial expressions were still somewhat reminiscent of what Doctor Connors was doing as a human," he said. "From the technology side, we took scans of Rhys Ifans' face and had him do poses from a library of expressions: smile, get angry, that sort of thing. We took the Lizard's face and emulated those similar poses in looking at the scans of the actor. So when Lizard is curious or gets angry, he's doing the same thing the actor was doing. From a digital side, we wanted to make sure that when the Lizard's face moved, it felt more like the actor."
Whether or not Ifans shined through in the Lizard is a question best left answered by moviegoers, said Armstrong. "I hope it comes off with the Lizard," he said. "You never know how an audience will respond to that. You can be laughed at, or cheered."
"It's a hard thing to balance, because you have a movie that basically starts out in high school with teenager problems, and you wind up with a 9-foot-tall lizard," Chen agreed. "But that's the fun of these movies, right?"
Did the Lizard work for you? Let us know in the comments section below, or hit me up on Twitter @roundhoward with your thoughts!
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