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Spiderman NAB

NAB 2019: ‘Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse’ from Sketch to Oscar

I saw the film Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse earlier this year, because I had some time to kill. I was incredibly surprised, because the story and animation blew me away. At the annual meetup of the National Association of Broadcasters — The NAB Show — held April 6-11, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV, I was able to listen to the creative team that so impressed me.

The session “Editing Inside the Spider Verse” brought together Oscar winning director Peter Ramsey, editor Robert Fisher, Jr., and first assistant editor Sarah Cole to discuss their creative process. Carolyn Giardina, Contributing Editor, Tech, at The Hollywood Reporter, moderated the session.

Spiderman NAB
Carolyn Giardina, Editor at The Hollywood Reporter, and Director Peter Ramsey

The discussion illuminated not only aspects of this film, but how different the animation process is from live-action film making.

The Story

Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse, which won the Oscar for best animated feature, tells the story of young-teen Miles Morales, who’s bitten by that atomic spider and gets Spidy powers. As he deals with his new situation, he interacts with five other Spidies from different dimensions.

The cross-dimensional confusion is caused by the Green Goblin, who doesn’t care how much destruction and chaos he creates in pursuit of his personal goal.

The Process

Like live-action, the animation process often begins with a storyboard – a series of rough sketches of how the director expects the shots to look. Unlike live-action, the storyboard is much more important in animation, becoming part of the editing process.

The panel showed variations on different sequences: first, just rough sketches, then with more advanced animation. They then showed how they were able to go back and completely rework the scene, something extremely expensive to do with live actors, until they were satisfied with it.

A crucial scene occurs when Miles decides to try out his super hero powers for the first time.

Assistant editor Cole said that much of the development revolved around the character-arc of Miles. Editor Fisher said, “At first Miles was not a likeable character.”

Director Ramsey said, “We were not feeling identification in this scene. The empathy was not there. Then we realized that the problem was a couple of scenes earlier.”

Spiderman NAB
Assistant editor Sarah Cole and Editor Robert Fisher, Jr., discuss the editing process

Cole pointed out, “By being able to go through so many iterations we could try a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”

Fisher said, “Showing almost everything from the characters point-of-view or over his shoulder, works very well to communicate what’s in the character’s mind.”

Cole added, “This brings the audience into the story.”

Fisher said that it was a two-year process from the initial storyboard to the final cut.

Ramsey explained, “Each time we went through the storyboards we thought of it as a writing pass. Everything you see on the screen is the result of a debate.”

The Cast and Animation

Other fun aspects of this film come from recognizable voices and clever animation. Miles’ voice comes from Shameik Moore (The Get Down, Incredible Crew). Other voices come from Lily Tomlin, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Oscar Isaac, Stan Lee, and Nicolas Cage.

Spiderman NAB
Storyboard image used to develop the plot and action

The animation adds to the fun because each of the Spiderman characters is animated in a different style. The world is drawn in a photo-realistic animation style, but, for example, the Japanese anime Spidy remains in anime style. My favorite variation on this was the Nicolas Cage 1930s Noir Spiderman. He not only is drawn in black-and-white but he can only see in black-and-white. This creates a problem for him when somebody gives him a Rubik’s Cube.

Find Out More

You can find out how to see Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse at the film’s website .

To learn about The National Association of Broadcasters, which aims at enabling broadcasters to serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and flourish in the digital age, click here: https://www.nab.org/.

(Photos by the author)

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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