How Animators Gave Spider-Man a Comics-Inspired Makeover in 'Into the Spider-Verse'

SPIDER-MAN- INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Still 1 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

Since the web-slinging Spider-Man made his debut in Marvel Comics in 1962, he has appeared in everything from live-action movies to animated cartoons created for TV. But for Sony Pictures Animation's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, opening Dec. 14, the filmmakers decided to make a film that would look distinctly different from everything that has come before: Returning to basics, it would look like a comic book come to life.

Sounds simple, but it actually required developing new techniques that married classic hand-drawn animation with the latest computer-graphic methods. "In a traditional CG-rendered film, you are imitating 'reality,' but we were trying to imitate the feeling of flipping through a comic, where you get these really expressive ink drawings, but do that in a cinematic way," says Bob Persichetti, one of the directing trio that also includes Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, who labored on the $90 million production for which Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) provided the story.

The animators began with a CG rendering of each character and then started drawing on top of that. "We did this line work on the jawline and other anchor points by hand, and then we 'taught' the computer to anticipate where we would put that line in every frame — like an algorithm," Persichetti says. "Then each animator literally had 3D line work that they could draw with. We had a CG base performance, and then we would enhance it." The team also created the impression that the action is taking place at 12 drawings per second — typical of hand-drawn cartoons — rather than the smoother 24 frames per second that's associated with computer animation.

Instead of Peter Parker, who's been at the heart of the studio's recent live-action movies, Spider-Verse centers on Miles Morales, a 13-year-old boy from Brooklyn who's joined by a cast of other Spider-folk from alternate dimensions. Production designer Justin K. Thompson describes Miles as a "young gazelle with wobbly legs" and "the least confident Spider Person." Miles even starts out in a store-bought Spider-Man Halloween costume "to remind the audience that he is a child playing amongst really high stakes." Later in the film, he gets the familiar red-and-black suit and makes it his by spray-painting his own symbols on it.

As for the rest of the Spideys, Thompson says that the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir honors the tradition of comics of the early 1900s when they were printed in black and white, while Peni Parker, a female character introduced in the comics in 2014, is a throwback to manga. "My goal," says Thompson, "was to have many types of comic books represented onscreen at once, so that it felt like we were showing the diversity and greatness of comics."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.