Autophagy is a physiological process for the recycling and degradation of cellular materials. Forming the autophagosome from the phagophore, a cup-shaped double-membrane vesicle, is a critical step in autophagy. The origin of the cup shape of the phagophore is poorly understood. In yeast, fusion of a small number of Atg9-containing vesicles is considered a key step in autophagosome biogenesis, aided by Atg1 complexes (ULK1 in mammals) localized at the preautophagosomal structure (PAS). In particular, the S-shaped Atg17-Atg31-Atg29 subcomplex of Atg1 is critical for phagophore nucleation at the PAS. To study this process, we simulated membrane remodeling processes in the presence and absence of membrane associated Atg17. We show that at least three vesicles need to fuse to induce the phagophore shape, consistent with experimental observations. However, fusion alone is not sufficient. Interactions with 34-nm long, S-shaped Atg17 complexes are required to overcome a substantial kinetic barrier in the transition to the cup-shaped phagophore. Our finding rationalizes the recruitment of Atg17 complexes to the yeast PAS, and their unusual shape. In control simulations without Atg17, with weakly binding Atg17, or with straight instead of S-shaped Atg17, the membrane shape transition did not occur. We confirm the critical role of Atg17-membrane interactions experimentally by showing that mutations of putative membrane interaction sites result in reduction or loss of autophagic activity in yeast. Fusion of a small number of vesicles followed by Atg17-guided membrane shape-remodeling thus emerges as a viable route to phagophore formation.