Spawn: About The Production

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Spawn is a scarred warrior and fearless, dark hero with the skills of an assassin, the weaponry of an extraterrestrial army, and the supernatural ability to transform himself into an extraordinary arsenal of shapes and textures.

Based on the #1 best-selling comic book created by maverick artist Todd McFarlane, this action-adventure thriller features the latest achievements in special effects wizardry from the Academy AwardÆ-winning team at Industrial Light + Magic (ILM). Scheduled for release by New Line Cinema on August 1, 1997, Spawn is directed by ILM veteran Mark DippÈ (pronounced Dip-pay) and stars Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, Theresa Randle and Nicol Williamson. Clint Goldman serves as producer, and Steve "Spaz" Williams is visual effects supervisor.

Five years after being murdered by corrupt colleagues in a covert government agency, Al Simmons (MICHAEL JAI WHITE) makes a Faustian pact with the devil so that he can be resurrected to see his beloved wife Wanda (THERESA RANDLE) one last time. In exchange for his return to Earth, Simmons agrees to lead Hell's Army in the destruction of mankind.

Before he was assassinated, Simmons was a one-man army and the ultimate operative. But nothing compares to the chameleon-like powers given to him by his new malevolent master. As he begins to discover and exercise his extraordinary new strengths, he is approached by two mysterious figures who direct him to use his talents to serve two very different agendas. Cogliostro (NICOL WILLIAMSON) encourages Spawn to fight the devil and reign as a true champion for humankind, while Clown (JOHN LEGUIZAMO), a corpulent waddling wanderer with a scatological sense of humor, prods Spawn to lead the Armageddon.

To help insure that Spawn completes his pact with the devil, Clown turns to the nefarious government agent Jason Wynn (MARTIN SHEEN). The epitome of a greed-driven powermonger, Wynn is the man behind Simmon's assassination and the focus of Spawn's obsessive revenge.

Wynn, who is hoping to gain control of the world, has strategically planted bombs containing ultra-deadly Heat-16 in major metropolitan cities across the globe. But through an ingenious double-cross, Clown has convinced Wynn that his only insurance policy against Spawn's wrath is to wire the bombs to a triggering device that will detonate if Wynn's heartbeat ever stops. With this fiendishly cruel twist, the vitality of the human race beats in the pulse of a man who is marked for certain death by an immortal and unstoppable assassin, hell bent on revenge.

Making his directorial debut on Spawn is MARK DIPP, who was instrumental in creating Academy AwardÆ-winning special effects for Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. Written by ALAN McELROY, the film is produced by CLINT GOLDMAN and features visual effects by STEVE WILLIAMS.


In 1992, Todd McFarlane, one of the most creative and celebrated young comic book artists in the business, quit his job at comic giant Marvel. Teaming with other Marvel colleagues, the group formed their own company, and one year later, McFarlane's creation "Spawn" became America's best-selling comic book, consistently outselling chapters of "X-Men," "Batman," "Spiderman" and "Superman."

The first issue of "Spawn," which launched one of the first African American comic book heroes, sold an unprecedented 1.7 million copies. To date, the franchise has sold more than 100 million books worldwide in over 34 countries in 13 different languages. McFarlane Toys, the eponymous company responsible for creating action figures based on the immensely popular comic series, was voted the #1 toy line in 1994 and 1995 by Tomart's Action Figure Digest. In addition, a group of industry analysts recently cited McFarlane Toys as the fastest growing company in the industry, beating out such heavyweights as Mattel, Trendmasters and Hasbro.

A spectacular and auspicious franchise by any standard, "Spawn" is literally a cottage industry, which in May, 1997 gave birth to its latest offspring, a well-received HBO animated series. "Spawn's" popularity is due in no small part to the intensity and complexity of its continuing storyline. No happy endings, no gallant rescues, no simple tales of good and evil. It is, as one writer noted, a "morality play amid the blood and gore of severed arteries. Not that different, really, than Shakespeare, except the words are easier to digest, and you don't need Cliffs' Notes."

Ultimately, the real experts are the legions of fans plunking down $1.95 every month to see where their superhero of choice will take them. By 1993, McFarlane had received several offers from Hollywood to bring his creation to the big screen. While working on a design project at Industrial Light + Magic, McFarlane met Mark DippÈ, Clint Goldman and Steve Williams, all expatriates of the famed effects house. He was impressed with the three digital wizards, and a friendship immediately blossomed. McFarlane even gave the talented triad cameos in an early issue (Spawn #14) of the comic. "I get a thrill talking to behind-the-scenes guys," says McFarlane. "They are the guys who really make things work."

When negotiations for Spawn fell through at Columbia Pictures, Goldman (who was overseeing visual effects on New Line's The Mask) and DippÈ suggested taking the pitch to New Line Cinema's President of Production Michael DeLuca. Young and unconventional, DeLuca is well-known in the entertainment industry as an avid comic book fan.

"Actually, Mike knew about Spawn when nobody else did, because it was brand new," DippÈ recalls. "He said, 'Spawn?!' That's the hottest comic book around.' He knew even then, before most people had heard of the book; so in that sense, he was really with us."

Famously reluctant to give control of his creation to anyone, McFarlane relaxed into a relationship with Goldman, DippÈ, Williams and New Line Cinema. McFarlane recalls, "It wasn't just about making a movie -- it was about making the right movie. I felt if I went with a big studio, big directors and big actors, I was going to get lost in the shuffle. I needed people whom I could trust with my ideas, and I felt like I could trust these guys."

The story became a screenplay through the efforts of DippÈ and Alan McElroy, who has also scripted much of the HBO animated series and the first installment of McFarlane's new Spawn incarnation, Curse of Spawn. McElroy appealed to McFarlane because he seemed to implicitly understand Spawn's emotional complexity.

"I loved that Spawn is a guy who is steeped in all this darkness, but also has a lightness to him. He went to Hell and back, and he has all these dark powers, but within his soul is a moral core. He won't be forced to do things that go against what he believes in, no matter what. The fact that he is surrounded and consumed by darkness, yet he fights it and turns it to his advantage, really intrigued me," says McElroy.

As the project moved onto New Line's development fast track, Goldman, DippÈ and Williams became full-fledged first-time filmmakers, each taking on various responsibilities but all working together as they had for years at ILM, to bring Spawn to the screen.

In a denim jacket, shorts and a baseball cap permanently attached to his head, producer Clint Goldman is as adept at explaining the history of and possibilities for visual effects in the film industry, as he is at describing the popularity and uniqueness of Spawn. He is consistently congenial, steadfastly positive and determinedly optimistic about the course they have set for this singularly remarkable property.

"For less than half the budget of the other summer movies, we're making a first-class motion picture with a better or equal quality of visual effects. We pulled it off because we are all well aware of the possibilities and knew how to make the most of it," says Goldman. "We know where the technological ceiling is, and we're pushing it just as far as it makes sense."

Goldman muses that by the time Spawn opens in the United States, "Our post-production budget will be as much as our production budget. We shot principal photography for 63 days, but the bulk of the what the audience will remember was all completed in post."

With 375 visual effects shots and 21 companies working worldwide to complete digitally enhanced tasks for the film, Spawn has twice as many shots as movies with two or three times its budget. Given this gargantuan endeavor, coordination of the effects has taken center stage in this production.

One of the principal men responsible for coordinating the plethora of visual daredeviltry is Steve Williams, an iconoclastic Canadian known as "Spaz" to his friends. It's difficult to imagine that Williams, who shows up to work with his signature bicycle cap on a closely shaven head, torn blue jeans, ripped white T-shirt and black leather motorcycle boots, began his career as an animator working on the cuddly animated series "Care Bears."

Williams began familiarizing himself with computer graphics as early as 1978. "My old man was in computers," he explains. A decade later, he met DippÈ at ILM, and the two worked closely together on James Cameron's water snake for The Abyss, T2's T-1000 and Jurassic Park's T-Rex, developing techniques and technology that would transform the field of visual effects.

"We came up with the innovations and art, but we weren't allowed to put our ultimate signature on our work," Williams says. "With Spawn, I have finally placed my digital actors in a play that I like, that I have some real involvement with. From day one, we have controlled the stage and shaped it every step of the way."

For months prior to the start of principal photography, Williams was hard at work at ILM building the digital creatures that populate Spawn and designing animation for the film. Once shooting began, he continued his work from San Rafael, making weekly trips to Los Angeles to direct the bulk of the second unit photography.

"This is the first time we merged literally every technique we've employed in the last eight years. That's everything and the kitchen sink," says Williams. "But, the story still comes first. There are so many films out there with good computer graphics, many of which we developed, which are overused or abused. The real challenge is to make the effects serve the story. The story is what's important. We're using our knowledge of visual effects to bring that story to the screen."

All three filmmakers are adamant about not placing the virtual cart before the horse. Warns Williams, "What's happened too much is that people have made films which are basically driven by effects, with little or no attention to story. You know, tornado porn. You don't have mood, you have thrill rides."

While Mark DippÈ served as a supervisor and consultant of visual effects and computer animation on numerous features, he had never directed a movie. However, he brought more than technological expertise to his position.

Theresa Randle fondly describes DippÈ as "extremely reserved and Zen-like." In the middle of the often overwhelming demands placed on a film director, DippÈ managed to maintain an unusual degree of equanimity. "I was very impressed with him," says actor Martin Sheen. "He doesn't get riled or upset, even with such a big enterprise. It amazed me." Clint Goldman, his long-time friend and colleague, notes another reason why DippÈ was able to so gracefully make the transition to director: "He is a genius, a modern day renaissance man. He thrives at tackling problems he has not yet encountered."

"Spawn is the classic ambiguous hero," says the 39-year-old DippÈ, who also has a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, studied music, pursued interests in multi-media performance, art and film, and once swore he would never work in Hollywood.

The film's look echoes the shadowy palette of the comic book. DippÈ, who was drawn to the comic's drama of darkness, recalls, "I liked the macabre, Dante-esque aspects of the Spawn story, as well as Todd's amazing visual illustrations. I wanted the atmosphere to be dark and mysterious, a no-man's land, somewhere between Heaven and Hell, where a few good people are cast away for a variety of reasons."

He adds, "When I began work on the script, the thing that struck me was this line that runs throughout the comic: 'life is cruel, and the good guys don't always win.' It reflects, among other things, the influences of Dante, Greek Mythology and the Bible. The world isn't simple. These guys from Hell are nasty, but the good guys, like angry gods, may strike you down, too."

Production designer Philip Harrison (The Relic, Mississippi Burning) created this murky world. Interpreting such a popular comic book for the screen was a formidable task, even for this veteran artist. "Designing a movie is always a challenge, but Spawn was even more so, as I had to put a very successful comic book with a very devoted following into three-dimensional form," Harrison explains.

As in the comic book, Harrison relied on a dark palette, but he tailored the setting to the characters. For instance, the evil Jason Wynn's foreboding, high-tech office was sleek and severe, with hard, blatant angles accented in glossy black and chrome. Spawn's environment was more obscure, a nihilistic place full of shadows and fear. A futuristic nightmare, it featured a Byzantine bunker of crumbling alleys and decaying buildings, overlooked by the expansive roof of a rundown Gothic cathedral turned street mission in the advanced stages of disrepair. What appeared on screen as one decrepit city was, in fact, various sets, locations and digital alchemy.

But it is these weighty themes that capture the attention of teenagers the world round. "It's typical teen angst; nobody likes me, no one understands me," jokes DippÈ, the Alaskan native, with his long bushy hair loosely bound in a ponytail.

DippÈ was also struck by the book's distinctive look. Dubbed "America's hottest comic book artist," McFarlane is credited with resurrecting Marvel super hero, Spiderman, before he jumped ship to pursue his own unique vision.

While DippÈ, Williams and Goldman were at the forefront of the revolution in digital graphics, McFarlane's illustrations were radically reorganizing the way people would look at comic books.

The Spawn comic features incredibly visual, almost three-dimensional, computer-driven color work. Coupled with the kinetic, mutating forms and the distinctive looks of several Spawn protagonists, the series seems a natural for motion pictures. Specifically, Spawn is endowed with a living suit; as Cogliostro explains to him in the screenplay, "Your armor has trillions of neural connections. It is a living extension of your own instincts, instantly translating your thoughts into physical reality...."

"The first thing I noticed was Todd's strong graphic style," recalls DippÈ. "I remember going into the comic book store and asking 'Where's Spawn?' And the guy goes, 'right over there.' I went to the shelf, and they had three or four issues out which looked totally different than all the other comic books. I was really struck by that. And even though Spawn costs less, it had the same high-quality look of more expensive comics."

Adapting any property for the screen, whether it be a short story, play or novel, always presents filmmakers with a unique set of challenges and obstacles. Spawn was no exception. "The physical forms in the comic book -- Spawn, Violator and Malebolgia -- are exaggerated. In a single glance, you can see the characters spill out over the page in a cacophony of line and color," explains DippÈ. "However, real people in make-up can only be distorted so far."

That understanding is the foundation of the digital revolution. In an age where filmmaking has become more and more reliant on digitally enhanced characters and environments, those who have worked behind-the-scenes developing, creating and supervising visual effects are quickly becoming Hollywood's hottest content providers.

"Because of our experience and creative background, New Line really allowed us to expand the magnitude of what we're doing. They saw what Spawn could be, they believed in the project and they believed in us. To take a chance on first-time filmmakers and all this digital technology was really risky," comments Goldman.

"But every single dollar we spent on visual effects is up there on the screen. From the very beginning to the very end, the entire movie is digitally enhanced. Every single transition, every single opportunity to do something using digital tools, to enrich the experience of moviegoers, is in this film."

In order to make the new Summer release date and include all the dazzling digital shots, DippÈ and Goldman hired 21 different effects houses, stationed all over the world, from San Francisco and Tokyo to Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Toronto. Each firm brought different strengths to the film and represented the variety of effects artists that the filmmakers had worked with over the years.

For those of us who don't spend our lives in virtual worlds creating dinosaurs and water snakes, the amount of distortion possible on physical forms, (i.e. actors), can sometimes come as a shock. Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo spent several hours every day sitting quietly while creature effects magicians from KNB dusted, lacquered, painted and glued carefully sculpted latex pieces on their faces, heads and necks.

While Michael Jai White spent many days and nights on set in a full latex suit, sweltering under hot lights and enduring endless questions about how uncomfortable he was and what exactly he did when he itched, John Leguizamo became a completely different being before the eyes of the cast and crew.

With his hair slicked down, a latex cowl glued over his head, his face painted (with a mixture of acrylic paint and prosaid adhesive) and airbrushed, Leguizamo was dumped into a 20-pound fat suit with foam latex hands -- rendering the spry, caustic comedian virtually unrecognizable. That is, until he opened his mouth.

Howard Berger, the "B" in KNB, explains, "We were a little skeptical at first because he's a little guy and we were going to have to build up so much rubber it was bound to be tough on him. It can get scary because it really inhibits your movement. But we had forgotten who we were dealing with. John made the character that much better because he's such a great performer. The whole thing comes alive with him, and it's really exciting to watch."

For the three Silicon Valley musketeers who have spent the bulk of their careers transposing the unimaginable into a reality, the experience of working with actual props and actors was complicated and sometimes frustrating. "There were limitations with props, costumes and animatronic creatures," Williams explains. "Because they are physical forms, you have to constantly ask, 'How is it going to move? How will it react to the environment? Can it actually grab something?' With computer animation, you can avoid a lot of these limitations."

Adds DippÈ : "If you were to replace John and Michael with computer-animated characters, we never could have gotten the dynamic performances without spending years and years of work and who knows how much money. And even then, it probably wouldn't have been a true representation of how a human would actually move or behave. You can't replace actors."

Michael Jai White, a trained martial artist who has spent years bringing his mind and body into careful and well-practiced focus, brought the same grace and physical stamina he first demonstrated in his critically acclaimed performance as Michael Tyson to the demanding role of Spawn.

Executive producer Alan Blomquist comments on the daily challenge White faced. "He obviously had the hardest task because he's the lead and the title character, and everybody is coming in with an image of Spawn from the comic. He faced the same dilemma Michael Keaton faced in Batman or Peter Weller in Robocop. That is, he had to find a way to still act in spite of the suit."

"Michael has a very dynamic presence and a tremendous dramatic range," says DippÈ. "There's an element of Spawn in Michael -- a bit of the tortured soul."

And tortured he was. "I was sweating as soon as I was in the head piece and the suit," White explains. "It was hot, and I was itching and burning and several other things that caused me to drift. But I used the experience as a mental exercise, pitting myself against these things and concentrating on my objective. I preserved my mental and physical energy until we shot."

In an initial scene where Jason Wynn sends Al Simmons to Hell with some flammable green goo and a match, White's entire body had to be covered with cold gel and then lit on fire. The fire, however, was not the problem. White recalls, "I wasn't afraid of the fire. Before we started, I was really claustrophobic, and that's what was getting to me -- always being encased in something with no breathing room."

In fact, White remembers that by the time they got ready to shoot the explosion, he was more than ready to burn. "I welcomed the fire once they lit me up, because they'd soaked me down with this gel that they kept on ice for four days prior to application. I don't think I'd ever been so cold in my life. I was like, 'man, I'm cold; please light me on fire.'"

In typical John Leguizamo style, the actor explains the lengths to which he would go for his transformation. "I'd wrap myself in Saran Wrap every day and run, you know, around 25 miles, so when I got on the film and had to carry around all the extra weight and sweat under all this heavy make-up it wouldn't be a problem," he jokes.

The portrayal of Hades' harlequin was no small feat. Explains executive producer Alan Blomquist, "He had to act through all that make-up, false teeth, contact lenses and a heavy fat suit, and he had to squawk around for 12 hours a day pretending to be eight inches shorter than he really is. The challenges were phenomenal as opposed to coming in, saying your lines and leaving."

Effects producer Tom Peitzman explains that KNB had to create a chorus line of puppets in order to bring Violator, the gargantuan demon of terror, to life. "We used a 13-foot hydraulic puppet with full facial and arm articulation, a moving torso and the ability to pivot at the waist, and a 13-foot lab puppet, which was basically a big marionette, operated with rods and wires. Then we used an insert head for most of the close-up work, which was a bust of Violator with arms down to the elbows, articulate mandible horns which came out of the sides of the head, and a horn on top that did this telescoping, striking movement."

Among the many challenges the filmmakers faced was the creation of a forboding underworld unlike any other that has been previously depicted on film.

"Creating this environment was totally experimental," explains DippÈ. He envisioned eruptive lava bursts, sparks flying through the air, a lake of fire and a sky with clouds bursting with hot bubbles. "Brain fire," DippÈ calls it.

"This horrific environment is something people will not have seen before," says effects producer Peitzman. "They've seen a digitally enhanced Hell before, but not nothing like this. We played an entire scene in a digital space, which is pretty unusual." He explains, "We shot all the actors against blue screen, and then we merged them into a composite digital space."

People came onto the project for a range of reasons. While DippÈ, Goldman and Williams were given an opportunity to make their own film, Blomquist and Martin Sheen were encouraged to do the project by some very important people. Those counselors were Blomquist's twin sons and Sheen's oldest grandchild.

Recalls Sheen, "I was sitting in the backyard one day, and my grandson said 'So, what are you doing?' and I said, 'Well, I'm gonna do this film, Spawn, and I start real soon.' Well, he nearly fainted. He said, 'Spawn? Spawn? Spawn? The Spawn?' And I said, 'What's the big deal?' And he just looked at me and said, 'Well, it's only the most important comic book in the world.'"

"My sons happened to be huge Spawn fans, and when I got this job they told me I was doing the coolest movie. I couldn't have topped that," explains Blomquist. "I was king of the fourth grade."

MELINDA CLARKE, who plays Jessica Priest, Jason Wynn's unstoppable girl-with-a-gun, was not exactly a comic book fanatic when she got the part. "I'm ashamed to say I hadn't really heard of it before. After I auditioned, I started asking around, and the people familiar with it were the young kids I knew."

She adds, "I have a friend who has a son named Connor, a very shy boy, who would never talk to me. Then one day, I went up to him and said, 'Connor, tell me about Spawn,' and his eyes lit up, and he was off and running."

Leguizamo recalls being approached by the filmmakers. "I was in the middle of doing another movie, and these two guys come on the set with all these pictures of this clown. They're all, like, 'it'd be great to have you aboard. You could do some crazy $#%@.' I wasn't sure if they were nuts or what. Then they gave me a toy. I'm easily sold with toys."

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