Action director Vic Armstrong on The Amazing Spider-Man


I got a chance to speak with Vic Armstrong last week, a legendary stunt performer and action director who’s been in the business for more than four decades. His credits include several Bond films, the first three Indiana Jones movies, the first two Superman movies, and directing the action in The Amazing Spider-Man. An updated edition of Armstrong’s memoir, The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman (Titan Books), comes out today with new content about the forthcoming Spider-Man movie.

According to Armstrong, The Amazing Spider-Man is going for greater realism with its action than the Raimi films. Specifically, there will be less reliance on CG for the action sequences. As Armstrong explains in the book:

…a good analogy for CGI would be morphine — morphine is an incredible drug if you use it for what it was intended for, used sparingly, in the right amounts. But when it’s used too much, you get addicted and it’s a killer. And that’s exactly what CGI is. More movies have been killed by CG than have been helped by it.

After the cut, Vic shares some thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man, including a sequence where Spider-Man really swings through six city blocks. Look for our full interview with Vic Armstrong later this week.

I know you worked on The Amazing Spider-Man. Is there anything you can say about your approach to directing the action sequences in that?

Yeah, we worked very closely with Marc Webb, the director, and Avi Arad, the producer, and everybody. They came to me and my brother [Andy], who’s working on it as well as another stunt coordinator, and said, “Look, we want to try and make it more about physical flying that computerized flying,” and Andy and I had been talking about that anyway, and we said absolutely, that’s how we’re going to do it. So we started rehearsing different ways of how he’s going to fly — not fly, but how he’s going to motivate his way along while hanging on to webs. We sort of equated it with Tarzan, if you like: Tarzan would grab one vine, fly diagonally away from it, sweeping down which gives him the momentum, and then at the height he would change to another vine when he’s weightless and sweep down in another direction. That propels him along. And we worked out a system for Spider-Man where he would sweep down on his downward arc, and he’d be pulling three-and-a-half Gs as he goes to the bottom of that thing, and then he gets to the top and he’s literally weightless, and then he fires another web and goes off in another direction, and repeats the same process. And that’s what we wanted to show to the audience, that weight transfer, those three-and-a-half Gs pulling on your body, straightening your legs out near the bottom, and coming to the top he bends his knees and comes off again, you know? And you see his arms straighten out. That’s what they didn’t have in the other ones, because it’s just a computer flying along, you know?

Exactly. And it looks so cartoony.

So once we’ve planned that, then you have to start working out, “Okay, how are we going to photograph this,” because he’s whoosing by at a great speed. So we developed different cranes and different flying rigs, and we actually photograph him and follow him and capture it. Each one has its own little wrinkle which you have to try and work out, which is what makes them all original.

Was there a particular action sequence in The Amazing Spider-Man that was challenging or memorable for you?

It’s one I like a lot, actually. There’s one where he flies up through New York. We shot down on 12th Avenue between 130th and 136th Street — it’s around where The Cotton Club used to be and still is. We shot it across six blocks, which was pretty sensational. We got 100 cars, and we were doing it all for real, it’s great. And you know CG’s going to enhance stuff in it, obviously, because you can’t go up 200 hundred feet — or a hundred, I suppose — in the air; you can’t light that, you know, that’s where CG helps you out and gives you the big scale. But we actually flew him six blocks. It’s just fantastic. There’s a wonderful fight in there as well between Denis Leary and the cops and Spider-Man. He does some great acrobatic moves in there, and we had some great athletes working in the fights with Andrew Garfield.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.