An Exclusive Interview with the Animators Behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a cinematic comic book. The expressive movements, the whimsical costumes, and the saturated colors feel like opening a newly printed copy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The movie’s roots in nostalgia paired with its innovative animation techniques create an unconventional approach to animated movies and the superhero genre.

The Academy Award-winning movie follows Miles Morales’s origin story in becoming Spider-Man. Parallel to this, spider-people from other dimensions help Miles save Brooklyn to find their way back home.

The movie’s animation aimed to look like a vivid moving comic book, blending both 2D and 3D styles to spin a new take on the well-known hero. Animators were encouraged to blend hand-drawn and digital techniques to give the movie its pop-art look.

I had a chance to talk to some of the animators of the film, and here is my interview with them found exclusively on The All Around. 

 

Some Background Info

While some major animation studios shifted away from more-traditional two-dimensional animated films, such as Disney in 2013, Sony Animation used modern technology to redevelop a classic style. Emmy Award winner and Character stylist on the film, Andy Bialk, states:

“I prefer 2D animation.  There’s a warmth & organic nature to 2D films similar to the textured, analog sound of a vinyl record vs a crisp, cold sound of digital.”

 

Locally, animation studios are using new and inventive styles to set themselves apart from the crowd and to enhance the viewer experience. Norristown’s own Cinevore Studios is currently in development with major networks and streaming companies on an animated show project called Mars Rover that blends 2D and 3D styles.

“The technology has evolved,” said Stephanie Yuhas, writer and producer at Cinevore Studios, and co-creator of the project. “Someone sat there and modeled a character. … If you do your job really well, it’s not noticed.”

An animator’s job, especially in a film like Into the Spider-Verse, can take years to perfect. The film itself took 4 years to complete with over 140 animators working weeks on end for one scene.

Into the Spider-Verse focuses on different forms of characters and dimensions. Because of this, animators were tasked to not only create unique and inventive worlds for Miles’s universe, but five other universes for each Spider-Person in the mix. To do this, animators harnessed a variety of techniques. Some of which are hand drawn burst cards, enhancing emotion through color, print-like texturing, graphics lighting, expressive character features, intricate set detailing, and whimsical character design.

 

How did the Animators achieve the look?

To create that iconic comic-book texture seen in the film, animator Robh Ruppel used digital techniques for a vintage look. He states:

“We purchased a set of halftone brushes that, used sparingly, gave the artwork a screen printed look. This was an homage to how the comics were originally printed. Then the artists at Imageworks figured out how to make that work in the 3-dimensional space.”

 

 

Andy Bialk, character stylist on the movie, was also encouraged to create characters that paid homage to their original form:

“I referenced comic books for the costume designs as well as the look, feel & personality of the characters… The pressure was so much greater because we were expected to create something as good or better than all of the previous live-action Spider-Man films.  We also pushed ourselves to create a film that was visually unique compared to anything we’ve seen before in animation.”

 

Yuhki Demers, Visual Developer on the film, helped design sets to create a cartoonish yet homey world:

“In order for spaces to be believable and relatable, you have to find those tiny details that make a space real, like the tiny bit of garbage bag that hangs between the edge of the bin and the lid… I think the fun comes by exaggerating some of those elements of messiness and overdoing it a tiny bit.”

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The first set I designed for the film, and one of the first sets we turned over. This set was based on some initial designs from @albertomielgo who’s gorgeous brilliant artwork set the tone for the entire film and gave us permission to do things radically different . This one was tough because along with being one of the first things I did on the film it also served to set the tone of the final look. Along with @zacretz classroom designs these sets had to really cement the style of the film as much as possible. Working these sets in tandem, zac and I would bounce ideas on how to do things off each other. I’d see something really cool that he was doing and added it to my design and he’d like something I was doing and put it in his. It was a crazy fast process, but I think the energy and freshness helped us more than we knew at the time. All of this under the guidance of our masterful leader @shinypinkbottle really made this something special and amazing to work on. Also @chancetherapper graciously let us use his likeness in this film so I was so glad we got to keep that up. . . . #spidermanintothespiderverse #spiderman #milesmorales #setdesign #visualdevelopment #ganke #visionacademy #marvel #sonypicturesanimation #sony #spiderverse #digitalpainting #adobephotoshop

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Even the lighting on this film was used to create the comic-book style. Seonna Hong, a lighting designer for the film, stated: 

“This movie was innovative in that we were using real-world lighting rules juxtaposed with the graphic look of comic books which I love.”

Animator Yashar Kassai was tasked with creating a cinematic look for classic zany characters. He stated:

“Okay, I’ve got this beautiful 3D model… now how do I simplify this and make it really look like a moving comic book?” Spider-Noir is only two tones, grimy, and isn’t affected by real-world light. Peni Parker is pure anime so I had to research traditional anime painting techniques.”

Many animators on the film were tasked with fusing traditional and modern styles into the movie. Demers’s Peni Parker animation referenced traditional manga comics to exaggerate Peni’s expressions and movements. He also referenced hand-drawn animation for Spider-Ham’s design, specifically, Disney’s 1950s Pigs is Pigs.

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Goodbye 2018! I have so much more artwork to post but wanted to end the year with a bang. One of the many, but probably most complicated, burst cards I had to do for the film. Most of the burst cards on the film were heavily influenced by western classic comics, but I figured Peni Parker’s busts would be more like classic manga. Most of this was on 2’s with the camera shake on 1’s. This assignment nearly broke me as I’ve never animated traditionally so I had a lot to learn and figure out in very little time. Thankfully @joshuabeveridge and his incredibly talented team gave a wonderful place to start with their initial pass on this animation. . . #spidermanintothespiderverse #spiderman #marvel #sony #sonypicturesanimation #visualdevelopment #animation #traditionalanimation #photoshop

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With the widespread fan complaints about Marvel and DC movies not capturing the color grading of their films, Into the Spider-Verse uses vivid colors to swing that complaint around. Animators on the film were encouraged to use every color on the spectrum to represent emotion in the characters.  Animator Yashar Kassai states:

“Animation is more sophisticated now and so is the use of color in animation…They allow a character to represent a story theme without needing to say a word. In Spider-Man, Brooklyn is painted in warm colors while Manhattan is the opposite. Brooklyn is Mile’s home…”

Animator Robh Ruppel similarly states:

“If the shapes and values are believable, the colors can be more exaggerated.”

The early days of Spider-Man comics were filled with colorful panels, expressive movements and detailed line-art. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse harnessed the creativity of the early comics and translated it to in a cinematic form. Like moving from comic book to big screen, dimension to dimension, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse reopened a lost world of possibilities for innovative animation.

 

We’d like to thank Andy Bialk, Robh Ruppel, Yashar Kassai, Seonna Hong, and Yuhki Demers for talking to us about Into the Spider-Verse!  

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