How Does Spider-Man Swing Like That? The Physics Behind the Action in The Amazing Spider-Man
07.06.12 by BJSprecher
When director Marc Webb decided to take on the task of rebooting Sony's Spider-Man franchise, he said that one of the ways he felt he could "reignite interest in Spider-Man" was to depict some of the character's spider-powered abilities in a "different and new way." One of the ways Webb tried to do this was to rely less on CGI and shoot more of the stunts practically, to make the audience connect more with the action. Based on the the movie's opening numbers, it appears that Webb succeeded in his task, with moviegoers turning out in droves to experience his "naturalistic" approach to superheroics.
But, how was it actually done? How did Webb make a human being bend, twist and flip through the air like a comic book superhero with the proportionate strength, speed and reflexes of a spider? He turned to stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong (Thor) and the one-of-a-kind rig systems he created to get a web-swinging experience that is as close to the real thing as humanly possible.
Armstrong told Popular Mechanics that, before he could create a rig to make Spider-Man swing in a more realistic way, he needed to figure out was wrong with the CG web-slinging in the original movies.
If you look at the early CG Spider-Man, you'll see that the character swings down at the same speed as he goes through the bottom of the curve, and then he swings up again. In reality, the gymnast is driving himself down with his feet and he pulls this enormous force at the bottom of the arc. Then he slows until, at the top of the swing, he's absolutely weightless. And then he starts the next swing.
Armstrong and his team used aluminum trusses to build the structure of the swing rig, with a pulley that connected the actors in their specially-designed harnesses to an electronic winch on the ground. The actors would jump off of a crane to start the swing, hitting upwards of 40 m.p.h. and pulling three g's (three times the gravity of an object in free-fall), and then a pulley would be moved so that they could start swinging in a new direction.
You never know that these things are going to work before you use them. It's almost like cracking a whip where it goes along, stops, goes along, stops, goes along, stops. We did that two or three times.
Title actor Andrew Garfield actually used most of the rigs designed for the movie, which required him to work at length with a physical trainer and the stunt team. Garfield said that he was afforded "no special treatment" just because he was the star of the movie.
[Andy] pushed me. There were things that I was scared about, and he told me to go beyond what you think you can do because you might surprise yourself. It's so nice to be able to look at the movie and feel ownership because of Andy's trust of me and his encouragement of me.
That physical sensation [of swinging] I've wanted to do since I was 3 years old... I got to live that for a second. And I'm eternally grateful to everyone for allowing me to.
Check out more of the spider-swinging action in The Amazing Spider-Man in this short interview with Webb: