With production commencing in London in November 2020, and the pandemic causing shooting delays and restricting travel, the film was eventually shot almost entirely on the lot. Pre-pandemic, the plan was to shoot the Gargantos scenes in Philadelphia, but when travel restrictions and lockdowns started spreading across the globe, production on designer Charles Wood had to design a New York street on the backlot of Longcross Studios in London, where the Hong Kong streets were built for the first film. Four blocks of New York streets, 50 feet in length, were built to cope with the demands of the special effects that would befit the damage a giant octopus like Gargantos would inflict on the streets.
It was an epic build. “The tricky part is building a set that is as authentic as you can make it, because in post they are going to have to composite onto our set,” says Wood. “New York is a city that has so much history to it. It is so interesting visually. There are so many layers that it was quite a thing for us, as an illusion, to recreate New York. The quality of what we have created is down to a brilliant crew. They have worked really hard to be authentic, whether it’s in the design, the plaster work, it all needs to come together.”
With the set built, a unit was then sent to the real New York to shoot plates to be added in post to create that skyscraper skyline. For the composites to work, the set had to be totally authentic. Think of it as a foundation. If the foundation is faulty, the building won’t hold up. “Everything within camera has to hold its own, and whatever the team does, it’s a really good building block for the VFX unit,” says Wood.
The New York unit was sent images of the set and briefed to find buildings and cityscapes that could be integrated with the New York sent back in the U.K. “We referenced actual buildings in New York and recreated them on set, so that when the two elements come together it will be a good match,” explains Wood. “So, while you might be able to identify a building from the movie, don’t go looking for a street.” The same goes for Bleecker Street, which interestingly has been relocated from Greenwich Village to a more commercial area. “We wanted to connect it to a more vibrant part of the city, and it’s only because we had to build the New York set that we were able to do that. Now we can connect this busier world directly to the Sanctum.” What was originally intended to be used to film one scene ended up as the basis for filming multiple scenes set in multiple universes. “When we first decided to build the set, it only had one purpose, and that was to fight Gargantos,” says Wood.“……because of Covid and because of the development of the script, three different stories and three different environments needed to come from this one place.”
Because production was changing among three different universes, the production design team did not have me to physically change the street set to make it look different, so they used devices like snow, signage and costumes to differentiate among the three. In one universe, there are even floating cars… “Ah, the famous floating cars!” laughs Wood. “That’s been in the artwork for quite a while now. It’s an image we’ve always liked in this upside-down world that we enter into. Originally it was going to be done as a post VFX effect, but Chris Corbould and his brilliant team said they could hang the cars on cranes, so that’s what we decided to do. And we got some great effects from it. So, it’s really there to set up this strange, unnerving, unsettling world.”
Director Sam Raimi sums up, “It’s one thing to world-build, but it’s another to universe-build. It was a tremendous and exciting challenge, and took teams of really great artists. Could these teams of artists and I make the audience believe that they’re taking a journey through multiple universes?”