“If it ain’t broke, break it”



Elissa Dames , Editor

Comics and animated films have served as a source of entertainment for a very long time.  They are two of the most popular types of storytelling, especially for the younger audience. It was only a matter of time before the two were brought together.

In late 2018, the newest addition to the Spider-Man franchise, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, was released in theatres. The animated film instantly became a fan favorite due to the ability for many different people to relate to the characters. It even won the Golden Globe for best Animated Feature Film.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the producers of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, set out to “break the rules” of animation and create a film with a comic book resemblance. They hired Justin Thompson as the production designer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. They believed Thompson would be the best pick for such and ambitious look.

“As somebody obsessed with comics my whole life, I had seen films translated from comics and I always thought something got lost in the translation,” Thompson said in an interview from IndieWire. “So I thought it would be amazing to make a movie from Miles Morales’ point of view, living inside a comic book and staring out at me: those Ben-Day dots, those screentones, those offsets, the line work.”

Sony’s VFX (visual effects) supervisor, Danny Dimian talked to Thompson about how they would go about creating this new and unique visual. To achieve a brand new look, Sony had to invent a whole new visual language and alter their process.

“They wanted something they’d never seen before on screen and unique enough that they couldn’t tell how it was made,” Dimian said. “It affected every department and the motto became, ‘If it ain’t broke, break it.’”

Animated films take a long time to produce, which makes sense with the amount of work that goes into them. For an average animation film, it takes about a week for the animation team to complete four seconds of film. For Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, however, it took a week to complete only one second of film. It took so much longer because the animation team was designing an entirely new way to tell the story they wanted to tell. The technical solutions for creating the comic book look were so unique, Sony even applied for a series of patent applications.

One of Sony’s biggest innovations was creating software that allowed the “ink-line” drawing over the CG characters. They wanted it to work in a way that they could have the lines over the characters without them being anchored to the model.

“Then we had to write tools to create rigs out of those lines to be used by the animators,” Dimian said. “The geometry generated from those lines made it more immersive. For the lines that are not as expressive (on the hands or the chin over the neck), we wrote software for machine learning to automate that process for the rest of the drawings.”

In the film, Miles Morales is joined by different Spider-Men from alternate dimensions. The animators also worked to give each dimension a specific style. For example, Peni was given a distinct anime look, Spider-Ham was drawn as a classic cartoon and Spider-Man Noir lived in a world of black and white.

“We needed our own language for different animation styles, and different universes. We did two-dimensional shapes as opposed to puppets. It’s an outside in versus inside out process of thinking and that changed everything,” Joshua Beveridge, the animation director, said.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a challenging story to bring to life, but it has raised the bar for future animation films to come. The integration of comic book and film gave this movie a way to stand out from the rest of today’s animated films. It will serve as inspiration for future animation projects to try something new even though it may be hard. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will be remembered for its story, but it will go down in cinematic history for its unique and breathtaking animation design.