This year's animation Oscar winner combines art styles that are as diverse as the multiple universes its heroes and villains come from. Here we take a peek inside their creation.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the much-deserved winner of 2019's Academy Award for Best Animated Film, trumping even the much-loved Incredibles 2 and Isle of Dogs. What makes it truly special is that it's a film that could only really exist as an animation – as its characters bring the aesthetic (and physics) of their respective universes with them into a world that's very much like our own.
On one level, this is driven by the introduction of characters from literally different universes. Over the course of the film, 'our' world's protege-ish Spider-Man Miles Morales meets a failing, grittier Peter B Parker, Gwen Stacy's Spider-Woman, the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir, the anime-inspired Peni Parker and the Looney Tunes-esque Peter Porker.
Each is represented in a visual style in keeping with their form, and the aesthetics of the comics from which they are drawn (yep, even Peter Porker was once a real comicbook). Each is modelled, animated, lit and rendered in completely different ways – and somehow the film manages to maintain a visual coherence despite these competing aesthetics, which is to its credit.
The difference looks of the various spider-people also serves a practical purpose, as one of the film's art directors Dave Bleich noted in a talk at THU last year. With up to six spider-characters on-screen at once – plus other characters – their different looks enables you to always know which is where and what they are doing.
Speaking to the film's production designer Justin Thompson last week – who had just picked up an Annie Award for his work on the film – the multi-layer aesthetic extends beyond (and before) the appearance of six Spideys. It also expresses Miles progression from a boy to a hero, tying into the coming-of-age themes that permeate most Spider-Man origin stories.
This story begins at home, in Brooklyn, where Justin describes everything as really small.
"All the buildings are small and they have these warm tones to them: the house that he lives, the neighbourhood he belongs to and the colours you see. It's very eclectic and there are lot of different textures everywhere – it's sort of a celebration of the life and the neighbourhood that he comes from. It's a very believable scale."
Once Miles is bitten by a spider with ravey, neon green/orange/blue highlights like something designed by Cyberdog, things begin to change. He then meets – and fights – the Green Goblin and this is where realistic presentation is replaced by something more representational of how characters feel in particular situations.
"This is really his first introduction to the superhero world," says Justin. "Immediately the scale gets bigger. I kept thinking, 'What would it feel like if you were a 13-year-old boy and you saw this larger-than-life scene taking place in front of you?’
"Because it's an animated film, it gave us even more licence to show that from the character's point of view, and I thought it would be cool to have a 22-foot goblin and really bring home the idea that suddenly he's thrust into a larger world – and the scale of it was suddenly daunting and overwhelming for him. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger as the film goes – but every time he goes back home (below), we’re reminded of that small scale that he comes from and that real, eclectic home in Brooklyn that he's trying to protect."
My full interview with Justin will be published shortly, but in the meantime, here are a couple of behind-the-scenes clips that give you more insight into the creative process behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – kicking off with one produced for 2018's Adobe Max conference.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.will be available in the UK digitally on April 6 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on April 22. In the US, it's out digitally tomorrow (February 26) and on disc on March 19th.