By Andrew Jenck
This is Part 1 of a miniseries discussing different elements of the 2018 film Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Verse’s animation has been talked about to death. There are multiple videos breaking down the frames, how it was created, how the themes were made, etc. My favorite one is by Houston Productions 1 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCb2lnGW8M0. However, there is one attribute that hasn’t been made to the film: it is one of the few films to actually utilize CGI animation. Toy Story, the first fully computer generated movie, became the standard for Pixar as the studio pushed the boundaries of the new medium. Plastic, glass, cloth, and rubber were now visible textures; something that couldn’t be accomplished with hand drawn animation. Unfortunately, other studios took the wrong approach and have since tried to give everything added details, but not fully embracing the CGI. If you compare Buzz Lightyear in his usual 3D model next to a 2D model of him, you’ll notice how all the textures are lost and he looks more like any other animated character, rather than a toy. Gru from Despicable Me however still has the same general features in both forms, only with a slight amount of texture in the skin and cloth of his clothes.
This is a pet peeve of mine where studios have abandoned the more personal touch of hand-drawn animation, only to continue to use the same general designs just coated in CGI. I’m not saying they look bad or they’re poorly animated. I’m just disappointed that we now have an industry that does not push the boundaries of the technology at its disposal.
This (finally) brings us to Spider-Verse. You may be saying that a film meant to look and feel like a living comic book would be more suited to 2D animation, but here’s the thing: comic book illustrations are meant to be static. The Spider-Man and X-Men animated series of the 90s attempted to capture the look of the source material, only to look stiff and awkward. Hence, to make a living comic book that flows seamlessly, you have to make a sort of hybrid of the two animation styles, which is exactly what the filmmakers did. The animators knew exactly how to communicate the visual language of comics; not just from having panels or shots that look like splash pages, but also filling in the blanks. The film runs at twelve frames per second as opposed to the usual twenty-four frames while your brain fills in the gaps. Comics also do this with by having panels of key scenes to give the reader a general sense of what happens between those panels.
They draw over the CGI models, giving them a 2D outline. The faces themselves reflect the more expressive nature of 2D characters. A technique called half-toning was used for shadowing in which dots were overlaid on the character models to create colors and gradients, most notably seen with Spider-Man Noir’s black and white color scheme. Head of character animation Josh Beverage tasked the team to not emulate reality and not overly animate it. All of this couldn’t have been done solely with hand-drawn animation. It also couldn’t be done solely with CGI. This is one of the underlying reasons why Spider-Verse’s animation is so unique: it pays respect to both of the two mediums, taking the best elements of both mediums and working off of their own strengths to make it unique.