Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippe
Visual Effects Supervisor: Steve "Spaz" Williams

Visual Effects Produced by:


[credits not complete]

Nominated for one 1997 VFX HQ Awards: Best Shot (Clown Transformation).

Mark Dippe, one of the primary players of the CGI revolution at ILM, makes his directorial debut in SPAWN, based on the popular comic book title. Visual effects were helmed by Dippe's longtime CG partner, Steve "Spaz" Williams, and the wonderful makeup and animatronic creatures were created by KNB EFX Group.

SPAWN's visual effects range from the wildly original to the mundane and cliche--from the highly photorealistic to the almost laughably fake. There are many issues to be explored with SPAWN's visual effects, especially since the core group of filmmakers have extensive visual effects experience. It has been widely publicized that the visual effects shot count exploded from 77 shots to over 400, while the film was already in production. Many new shots were ordered because of the positive response the film received from preview screenings, as well.

The result of all of this tinkering and late additions is a film that contains some brilliant visual effects, alongside shots that make audiences cringe, almost forcing audience members to yell at the theatre screen, "Fake!"

Industrial Light & Magic handled the lion's share of the visual effects for SPAWN, tackling many of the film's most difficult sequences. Spawn's red, flowing cape was handled by ILM in many shots, as well as all of Violator's sequences and some of Spawn's transformations, as well.

©1998 New Line Cinema

Nominated for Best Shot in the 1997 VFX HQ Awards, this stunning shot produced by ILM depicts Clown going through some amazing transformations.

One of ILM's shots is the dramatic entrance of Spawn, who literally crashes a party by dropping through a glass ceiling of a museum. He floats to the ground using his cape to slow him down. This shot was handled by ILM with their usual flair. ILM supervisors Christopher Hery and Habib Zargarpour guided their teams to model, animate and render realistic looking robes, as well as a CG Spawn and CG glass elements. The sequence, however, was tainted with a poor decision to extend the scene. The shot, originally conceived as one long shot as Spawn crashes through the ceiling and lands on the ground, was not only chopped up for reaction shots, but the fx shot was cut away to itself. In the middle of the sequence, the film cuts to a blowup of the original rendered effects shot. The resulting blowup is quite distracting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the sharpness and noise level changes are jarringly obvious to see--the 'new' shot is fuzzy and full of noise. Secondly, audiences have become accustomed to cutaways of shots at different perspectives. In this case, the new shot is from the exact same 'camera' as the wide shot, which is a no-no in traditional narrative-style editing.

©1998 New Line Cinema

This particular shot, executed by ILM, is one of the finest of the film, mainly because of the mezmerizing animation of Spawn's red cape. Interestingly, the single action was split up into three shots, one of which is actually a blowup of the original footage. As a result, the 'zoomed in' image is fuzzy and full of noise.

This phenomenon occurs once again in a later scene in SPAWN. Just after Violator appears, he marches toward an arch and destroys it with a swift whip of an arm. The shot, once again designes as one long, wide shot, opens with a blowup of the wide shot... then cuts to the wide shot. For the second time, an effects shot's believability is sacrificed in favor of extending the scene, or simply for the sake of adding shots.

The transition between Clown to Violator is one of the film's brightest points. In a dramatic revolving camera motion, the camera revolves around Clown as various parts of his body transform into Violator. The combination of CG animation and 3D morphing make this shot one of the most memorable of the film. Violator was animated by hand, without the aid of any motion-capture of stop-motion input device. Special touches to the Violator that enhance its presence include the realistic saliva, and its wonderful textures.

©1998 New Line Cinema

Spawn himself goes through a terrific series of tranformations, usually executed using CG animation. Various chains, hooks and knives appear on Spawn's body, all of which were match-moved with great care. The finest instance of match-moving is just as Spawn pulls his arm back to punch Wynn (Martin Sheen), and as his fist remains near his head, various spikes appear on his fist. In three long shots, with Michael Jai White's hand roving all over the frame, the knives actually appear as though they are attached to his fist.

As Spawn uses his armor for the first time in the graveyard sequence, the animation and textures are brilliant, but the complicated camera move was not precisely matched-moved to the 3D elements.

The film also contained a number of 'invisible' effects, including numerous wire-removals and rig and light removals. One interesting situation happens as Spawn throws a man twenty feet in the air against a dumpster. In the closeup, the stuntman was thrown backwards in the air with the aid of a flying rig, which was digitally erased in the shot. The subsequent shot is a much wider view of the action, where the man actually hits the dumpster. In this second, wider shot, the wires are quite visible. It is very interesting to note that the production was so rushed, that only one of two wire-removal shots in this sequence could be executed.

The film also contains dozens upon dozens of shots of green mist eminating from Spawn's eyes and Clown's butt, along with several other pieces of digital animation, all of which looked good and were tracked into the frame well.

©1998 New Line Cinema

Banned from the Ranch Entertainment handled these two shots involving the jet's destruction. At top, BFTR's computer graphics enhanced the "scope-vision" shot, and at bottom, a missile flies over the camera en route to the jet.

Young effects house Banned from the Ranch handled many sequences from the film, including the scope-vision shots and subsequent missile launch on Simmons' early mission. Although the smoke trails leave a lot to be desired, especially after Digital Domain's brilliant CG smoke trails created for TRUE LIES, the animation, compositing and match moving make that scene quite memorable, especially with its dramatic camera move (that follows the missile).

©1998 New Line Cinema

Banned from the Ranch provided a series of skyline shots. This particular shot featured a cloudy background that looks remarkably like cloud tank footage, but was actually executed with CG techniques.

After being riddled with bullets, Spawn's armor closes up the gaps in this remarkable CG effect, reminiscent of the classic T-1000 shots from TERMINATOR 2.

Then, we get to Hell. Santa Barbara Studios, who created some wonderful CG sequences for STAR TREK GENERATIONS as well as the CG werewolf in the upcoming AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, is responsible for the Hell sequences, which include the environment, Hell's army, and the big guy himself, Malebolgia, Spawn's creator.

The Hell sequences are comprised of bad concept design, strange animation, art and rendering decisions, the overuse of CG elements, and some root errors in compositing.

As Simmons falls into Hell, a 'camera' captures his final descent--a camera based on the surface of Hell, is aimed upward. As the character appears, the camera tilts down, following the character, just before they land on the surface of Hell. If the character isn't moving within the frame (because the camera is following him), why does the actor have a streaking motion blur attached to him? This would only occur if the camera did not tilt to follow him.

As the camera tracks horizontally from left to right, revealing the hundreds of warriors in Hell's army, it doesn't take a trained eye to see that each warrior element is actually a few seconds of footage that is being played forward and backward. The giveaway is the interruption of motion of each warrior, be it a head turn or an arm motion, that stops on a dime and reverses itself. Footage of the warriors was also used over and over again for other shots, which is also quite noticeable.

Focal depth issues apparently are not a problem in Hell, since absolutely everything in Hell is in sharp focus. Defining depth in this case is extremely difficult, since flame elements that are supposed to be in the background have a sharp focus, while the character in the foreground also has a sharp focus. This gives the sequence a cartoony feel, robbing the sequence of realism.

It is quite interesting that a detailed CG model of Malebogia was created, with its enormous mouth, pulsating tongue and sharp teeth... and didn't utter a line of dialogue. A seemingly offscreen voice bellowed his lines, while the CG Malebogia simply breathed with its mouth open. Why was this creature designed with a mouth, if he wasn't to speak? It seems quite awkward to hear a character deliver lines without seeing his mouth move.

Rhythm & Hues added some visual effects to the film, including the quick shot of Clown's eyes and tongue bugging out of his head, in an attempt to scare Cyan. Although the animation is funny and cartoonish, the final shot contained some strange horizontal noise on the CG element, which is noticeable and distracting.

SPAWN is a visually stunning film with a wide range of visual effects. The most realistic and appealing effects deal with Violator and Spawn's transformations, while the most difficult to watch deal with the Hell sequences.

Check out American Cinematographer Aug. '97 and Sept. '97.
Check out Cinefex 71.
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SPAWN Copyright ©1997 New Line Productions, Inc.

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All text Copyright © 1998 Todd Vaziri, unless otherwise noted