Weaving Technology and Creativity for The Amazing Spider-Man

As one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time, Spider-Man enjoys a sizable and enthusiastic fan base that’s always willing to devour nearly anything Spidey throws their way. Still, there were many who were surprised when it was announced that just five years after Tobey McGuire flung his last web in Spider-Man 3, the franchise was being rebooted with a new cast and a new director at the helm.

But Spider-Man fandom is far too tantalizing for movie execs to ignore for long, so it fell to director Marc Webb and a whole new production team to give the character and his loyal fans a fresh start in the epic origin story, The Amazing Spider-Man. 

For editor Alan Edward Bell, A.C.E., and assistant editor Jennifer Vecchiarello, this project was starkly different than their previous collaboration—2011’s Water for Elephants. Dizzying special effects, quick and impactful editing, as well as the movie’s 3D format made for a different game altogether, and Bell instantly knew that collaboration would be critical to getting it right.

To meet the challenge, the team—which also included editors Michael McCusker and Pietro Scalia—relied on an array of Avid production tools, including Media Composer and Pro Tools software for picture and audio editing, as well as an Avid Unity MediaNetwork shared storage system for easy collaboration.

“We had a total of eight Media Composer stations connected to the Unity system,” explains Vecchiarello. “Each station included an Avid Nitris DX I/O box and either a Marshall 3D monitor, or 2D monitors with converter boxes. Alan had two 27-inch Apple monitors and a Doremi box connected to an Optima HD projector.”

“Avid makes it so simple to have multiple editing systems connected and to share projects with the team,” adds Bell. “Working with Media Composer and the Unity is amazing in this regard. It makes working together almost mindless from an editor’s standpoint, and creatively, that’s tremendously liberating.”

 

Finding footage on the fly with ScriptSync

Productions on the scale of The Amazing Spider-Man generate massive amounts of footage. Being able to easily retrieve and review different scenes or multiple takes of a single scene is critical to delivering the perfect finished cut on time and on budget.

For Bell and Vecchiarello, ScriptSync was a huge asset in this regard, and it became the centerpiece of their own practical workflow. 

“I happen to love using ScriptSync,” explains Bell, “but I use it a little bit differently than most people. I use a ScriptSync bin for each scene in the movie, as opposed to one ScriptSync bin for the whole script. I actually have my assistant import each scene into its own specific folder. Having separate folders makes it way easier to sort and retrieve on the fly, and especially handy when the director wants to review different readings. I simply open the script and have all the lines right in front of me. Click on it and I can play the different takes immediately. I don’t lose any time trying to find that place in a clip, because I’m opening it directly from the bin.

"It’s also a lot easier on my assistant, because as scripts change she can easily locate and update the file without having to scroll through the entire script. She can even sort through off-screen dialogue to get a feel for the director’s comments. It’s a lot less cumbersome.”

 

Spidey leaps into the third dimension

The Amazing Spider-Man takes fans on a dazzling journey from rooftop to rooftop as Spidey overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles and battles unscrupulous characters from high above the streets of New York City. And this adaptation adds an extra level of stomach-tingling reality, thanks to the addition of a third dimension to the visual palette.

“Cutting in 3D presented some truly unique challenges,” remarks Bell. “So many anomalies affect your ability to view the sequence and get a clear sense of how the scene is going to play out. You tend to make cuts longer because of the unfinished aspect of the paradigm. So very early on I decided to review the dailies in 3D in order to get a sense of Mark’s vision. I’d then go back and cut the scene in 2D. In fact, most of the film was cut in 2D. We were still using Media Composer 5, so we didn’t have the benefit of the vertical alignment and inter-ocular conversions available in Media Composer 6. Next time I hope to take advantage of those features.”

 

 
 “These tools have become so powerful… I don’t have to think about how I hammer the nail—I can just be creative.”
–Alan Bell, editor

Back to the future (of editing)

As one of Hollywood’s busiest editors, Bell has had experience with numerous editing platforms and many of the trade’s most sophisticated tools. After several years away, his return to Media Composer was driven in part by new features such as ScriptSync and the Smart Tool, as well as Avid’s renewed commitment to openness.

“I’m actually a Final Cut Pro convert,” he explains. “Early in my career I worked exclusively on Avid before deciding to develop some Final Cut skills. I became intimately versed at FCP version 7. But Avid introduced Smart Tools at about the same time that Apple started taking Final Cut in a different direction, and I decided to come back to Media Composer. I love the power of the Smart Tools and the ability to simply pick things up and move them around. It’s been really easy for me to make the switch back, actually.”

“From an assistant’s perspective,” adds Vecchiarello, “Media Composer makes it really easy to move from one machine to another. It’s incredibly easy to customize settings for each user. And when files are moved around and shared, I can easily take those unique settings from machine to machine. I can’t even begin to quantify the amount of time and frustration this has saved.”

In further illustrating his enthusiasm for Media Composer, Bell highlights the ability to work with third-party applications and Avid’s ongoing evolution toward openness as a major factor. 

“I’m really enthusiastic about Avid’s new commitment to openness,” he explains. “I’m a fairly effects-heavy editor, and even more so on a project like this. And while I think that Media Composer has some really good effects tools built in, I really like being able to integrate third-party software. One of my favorites is Fusion from a company called eyeon Software. I used it extensively on Spider-Man and was able to integrate it seamlessly into my overall workflow. eyeon is now working on a plug-in for Media Composer that’s really going to streamline things for me. This is a powerful evolution in favor of Media Composer, and I can only imagine what other developers currently have in the works. It’s very exciting.”

While technology provides the tools, it’s ultimately the talent, vision, and hard work of the production teams that dictate the final result. And with the film’s success at the box office, it looks like Bell, Vecchiarello, and the rest of the crew behind The Amazing Spider-Man have delivered something truly new and exciting to the fans.

“I am super excited about this movie and I am very pleased with the way the story and characters come across,” concludes Bell. “These tools have become so powerful and second nature that I don’t have to think about how I hammer the nail—I can just be creative.”


* Photos of Alan by Matt Dames. The unit photos are by Jaimie Trueblood or Courtesy of Columbia Pictures is fine as the credit on all photos.