Inside Production Design for Animation, Part Two: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' to 'The Grinch'

5:17 PM 1/2/2019

by Carolyn Giardina

This segment also includes 'Early Man,' 'Ruben Brandt, Collector' and 'The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.'

Spider-Man- Into the Spider-Verse-Publicity -H 2018
Sony Pictures

Miles Morales' city in Spider-Man: In the Spider-verse and Whoville in The Grinch are among the looks featured In the second of this two-part series examining the production design behind animated feature Oscar contenders. This portion also features Aardman's Early Man, Sony Pictures Classics' Ruben Brandt, Collector and GKIDS' The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. (Part one of the series can be found here).

  • 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'

    Created by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and following the Miles Morales/Spider-Man character, Into the Spider-Verse features a visual style that pays homage to the look and feel of comic books. This image features what production designer Justin K. Thompson describes as a "huge, inspirational moment where Miles Morales takes control of his destiny and finally becomes Spider-Man. We chose to play the shot upside down so the audience would feel Miles's change in perspective in very literal way."

    Explains Thompson, "I wanted the city to reflect the scale of the responsibility that Miles is destined to inherit, so we designed Manhattan to be daunting in its scope. I used dark blues accented with hot, saturated neon signs so it would seem somewhat opaque and less accessible to Miles. In essence, I made every choice so that it would be the opposite of the warm and familiar landscape where Miles grew up." 

    Into the Spider-Verse was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.

  • 'The Grinch'

    In this new adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Illumination's The Grinch (helmed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier) takes inspiration from the 1957 picture book of the same name, and in this picture we see the green sourpuss in the process of stealing his least-favorite holiday. "It was quite a challenge to come up with a fresh and entertaining way to show how he could conceivably visit so many houses in just one night," explains art director Colin Stimpson. "Yarrow designed some wonderfully inventive gadgets to help him with the process. It all cumulates in a lively time compressed scene, with the Grinch snatching all the presents and Christmas decorations from Whoville.”

  • 'Early Man'

    This soccer stadium exterior is designed to capture the "Bronze Age" culture in the caveman-era set Early Man, helmed by Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park. The people of this culture "are a colonial technocratic force which can live in the most hostile of environments, an inhospitable volcanic terrain contrasting heavily with the bucolic valley of the tribe. The imposing architecture takes on the iconography of the Bronzers from the horned helmets to the football motifs in the gong and shields," explains production designer Matt Perry. "Harking to the ancient architectures of Mesopotamia and Egypt, I created sloped door and window uprights. Our new architectural style then had these sloping sides carrying an arch to allow the round football motif to sit within (as seen on the royal box within the stadium)."

    Adding that "football is the religion; the stadium their church" in the film, Perry says, "The twin tower entrance nods to the original Wembley Stadium [in London] and the huge arch spanning the stadium, with its sun reflector, nods towards the more recent Wembley stadium incarnation."

    This image is from the scene, early in the film, during which caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) sees the stadium — and a soccer match — for the first time. "Our intention here is all about intimidation, a sense of impending doom and the ‘send’ that we are heading towards the brutality of a Gladiator’s Arena, the last place our Stone Age Dug should be. The statues foreshadow the challenge at the beginning of the match when we ultimately reveal it’s all about football. Once revealed one can see the football icon everywhere in the furniture, props, weaponry and mammoths."

  • 'Ruben Brandt, Collector'

    In this Hungarian animated feature, Ruben Brandt, a famous psychotherapist, is forced to steal 13 paintings from the world’s renowned museums and private collections to prevent his suffering from terrible nightmares he has as a result of subliminal messaging he received as a child.

    “The dual world of Ruben Brandt starts already with his name, created after two painters — Rubens and Rembrandt. His nightmares and his reality get along through all the film and merge together at the very end. This duality I have tried to show visually in the other scenes of the movie," explains the film’s director and production designer, Milorad Krstic.

    He cites as an example this image from a scene in thief Marina’s black-and-white flat: "Double faced Marina in a black-and-white striped shirt, sits under the paintings with the black-and-white striped couch. There are two black and white Dalmatians in the room. There are two pillars in the room, with their shadows on the wall and their reflexes on the marble floor. We see the Colosseum, behind the silky curtain. The 2,000-years-old stone monument is immobile, and the curtain is slowly moving because of a light evening breeze."

  • 'The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl'

    The style of director Masaaki Yuasa's hand-drawn feature — based on the novel of the same name by Tomihiko Morimi — is inspired by The Tatami Galaxy, which was also written by Morimi and adapted into animation by Yuasa. Both share some characters and are set in Kyoto, Japan.

    "The design of the film, while showing Kyoto as an old-fashioned town, conveys the stylish and modern parts of the city as well. Normally, it is just black and white plus one color, and I wanted to make each image scene as colorful as I could. I referred to things like Hanga prints, single-color Japanese manga, Ukiyoe and Chiyogami prints," Yuasa adds of the look.

    This image features a drinking contest between a man named Rihaku and the protagonist, only known as "the girl with black hair." Yuasa says Rihaku's room took inspiration from Morimi's original work, and references included old Chinese art and Japanese antiques. "Rihaku seemed to have a deep knowledge of new antiques, such as old manga and toys, so I also referenced shops that dealt with such things," the director says.