Nobody could have comprehended the levels of success that ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ would go on to accumulate. As a film, it honoured the legacy, ideologies and heroism the character of Spider-Man had imbued for the decades it has been involved in the lexicon of our popular culture. Moreover, it creates a visceral treat of animation that embraced the stylistic elements of the comic book form, while never skipping on vibrancy. When Sony announced the film after the downward trajectory of their second universe, the film sounded like a cynical approach at milking more money out of their most profitable cash cows. Instead, it showed us that regardless of your creed, age and person, anybody can wear the mask. We can all be Spider-Man.
Following an Academy Award win for Best Animated Feature, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is about to be released on all home entertainment platforms. And in celebrating its release, SWITCH was given the opportunity to speak with one of the film’s senior animators, Eddie Chew. In addition to working on ‘Spider-Verse’, his other credits include tentpoles ‘Captain America: Civil War’, ‘Star Trek Beyond’, and ‘Jurassic World’, among others. Talking to us from all the way in snowy Vancouver, Eddie ran the gauntlet on what it was like on working on such a game-changer in the superhero genre.
“This film had a visual style that was different from any other films I’ve worked on,” Chew stated when speaking of the film’s distinctive aesthetic. “We, the animators, used several 2D animation principles like designing a shot with action lines with the intention of leading the audiences’ eyes to the action, and the use of smear frames, which were used to depict one quick blur of motion in a single frame similar to old-school cartoons, for fast action to simulate real life motion-blur.”
When speaking to Chew, he mentioned that the film’s visual style was about embracing the imperfection noted in comic book artistry, and he agreed with those principles. “The original comic book source material was heavily embraced by not only directors, but by everyone on board. I think this led many of us in the studio feeling refreshed and nostalgic at the same time. We used thought bubbles, dynamic and bold graphic texts during hits and explosions, and ben-day dots, which were bled into the background. I really enjoyed incorporating the 'Spidey-sense-is-tingling' as a visual for the viewers to watch since it's so iconic to Spider-Man!”
Chew explained how the film continued this character’s layered history, of an superhero who has taken many filmic forms. “This film expands on components that Spider-Man/Peter Parker have always represented compassion and a general sense of goodwill to others, and integrates various versions of the iconic character through a diverse set of Spider-People who ultimately have the same motivation regardless of where they’re from, what they look like, or their gender.”
"With so many Spider-People in this film, it gave us the opportunity to integrate different animation styles, techniques and personalities and represented the inclusivity of different genders, races and cultures on screen."
But at his core, he and many of the animators came from a position of fandom. “I also grew up with a large collection of Spider-Man comic books, and my brother had his entire wall covered with Spider-Man and Venom posters. I can only guess, but I think everyone involved really stuck to the basic principles of the original visual material from early on, which was the comic book style. The animation was simplified too in that we used more direct and aggressive lines to create energy and motion, and cinematography that was vibrant and complex. The visual direction was all intentional.”
The seventh film to centre around our favourite wall crawler saw the introduction of many new Spider-People, each with a unique animation style to boot. “With so many Spider-People in this film, it gave us the opportunity to integrate different animation styles, techniques and personalities and represented the inclusivity of different genders, races and cultures on screen. From an animation standpoint, blending the characters and styles seamlessly certainly posed challenges, but it was also fun to switch between Spider-Ham's cartoony and rubbery animation to Peni Parker's anime style, and in the end they all required solid animation fundamentals and principles.”
Yet, for all the honouring of the past, for Eddie and the team behind ‘Spider-Verse’, an exciting future lies ahead. “An entire universe!” stated Eddie, when asked about what lies next for the Spider-Verse. “The Spider-Verse can take off in so many directions, and this film has given us the opportunity to expand even more on diversity, perhaps the greatest lesson from the film.”
While honouring the character’s extensive history, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ offered something stimulating, exciting and a message that speaks to the best of all of us. The future of the Spider-Verse looks bright, and we cannot wait to see where this film series, pushed by animators like Eddie, will take us next.