How Animators Turned a Comic Book World into the “Spider-Verse”

Taking on the task of creating an animated universe is not an easy burden to bear, especially with a recognizable franchise such as Spider-Man. Dive into how the movie’s creators took notes from Jack Kirby and other comic book legends to bring the Spider-Verse to life.

If you have had the opportunity to check out the newest installment of Sony’s favorite superhero, Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, you may know that it is by far one of the most comic-faithful movies ever put to screen. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably seen its accolades. It won both the Golden Globe and Academy award for Best Animated Feature. Either way, it’s an incredible visual spectacle that had people running back to the theater to watch it again.

So what is it about this movie that made it so special? Was it the script, or original characters? Well, those obviously contributed a whole lot to the quality of the film. But, the true shining gem of this movie is its animation style. No other movie comes close to matching its level of immersive attention to detail in the comic book realm. So how did they pull it off?

Danny Dimian, Visual Effects Supervisor, and Josh Beveridge, Head of Character Animation, recently sat down with WIRED to discuss what decisions they made to create such an amazing tribute to the Spider-Man comic book franchise.

The Kirby Dots

Kirby Dots, named after famed Marvel comic book artist Jack Kirby, are the small, colored dots that show action. Much of this movie’s animation is full of these small dots, especially in the particle accelerator scenes.

This shows energy without having to use small particulates to simulate energy beams, like many have done with CGI in the past. These dots really keep the “comic” feel intact within the movie.

The Kirby Dots also come into play with the use of the ubiquitous “POW” markers that come into frame with physical action. Comic books like to show action with verbiage creatively illustrated beside the drawing to let the reader know what kind of action is being conveyed.

When you have a limited medium such as illustration, you have to work around your limitations. The animators of Spider-Verse made the choice to include “POW” markers in their project. So, it feels like a comic book come to life.

Creative Use of “Printing Error” Depth

One stand-out trait of comic books is the lack of motion blur or camera depth. That’s because in most illustrations, it’s pretty hard to convincingly draw motion blur. This is especially true in a field such as comics, which historically had very short turnaround times for publication. Spider-Verse‘s animators decided to avoid motion blur and camera depth entirely, but still wanted a way to showcase the focus of a shot. So, they took inspiration from old comic books and an “error” that became a trademark in comic book art styles: “printing error” dots. Back when comics were cheaply printed, they were layered with a series of colored dots that created a final, full color product. Sometimes, those dots would be printed off-center, giving the comic these gritty, shifted color palettes that we immediately associate with comics today.

Spider-Verse animators used these dots to shift focus, completely avoiding the need for simulated camera focus and motion blur. On some shots, you can see these dots used to separate foreground from background, or to attract attention to the focus of the shot. This choice to avoid motion blur subsequently gave the film a unique trait. Every frame is clear, crisp, and something you would see in an analog comic on of the shelf.

Animating on the 2’s

Figuring out how to bring motion to a comic book world can be a difficult task. When working with a subject coming from a non-moving medium, you have to find creative ways to incorporate animation without it seeming too fluid. That’s why all the character motion in Spider-Verse is animated “on the 2’s.” What this means is that the character’s movements don’t follow the 24fps rule that most animated movies follow. Instead they move only 12 frames per second, while the background moves at the conventional 24fps.

This gives the character movement a jumpy, Pop-Art feel, almost like they are skipping through a 3D world in a 2D way. It somehow just feels like how a comic book would look like if it had animation inside of it.

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