Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has recently proved to be one of the most innovative animated features. It won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2019, breaking Disney’s decade long winning streak. The movie combined 3D Animation with a 2D Aesthetic to bring the story of Miles Morales to life. Imageworks (Sony’s VFX Studio) had to adapt and break its existing animation pipeline to deliver the film. This article breaks down the film’s intricate elements, making it a stunning watch.
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Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative producer team behind Spider-Verse embraced how the story was a re-telling of the Spider Man story. The story revolves around Miles, a thirteen-year-old boy living in Brooklyn, born to an African American dad and a Puerto Rican mother. Their home, where we first meet them, reflects the melting pot that is his family. Vibrant and Eclectic Colours are visible everywhere in his house & his neighbourhood visually reinforces the cultural diversity.
Miles comes from a very inclusive, dynamic, and warm universe, and it’s at a scale we can recognize ourselves in it and feel familiar to us. The creators also depicted Aunt May’s house in a familiar, warm & quaint manner.
However, the natural and quaint universe depicted early in the film constantly changes as we dive deeper into the Spider-Verse realm. Textures and colours keep changing as we jump from one multi-verse to another. The changes in textures and effects help to create a sense of diversity & a sense of mystery in the Multiverse. Each universe is unique and has its distinct look and feel, which keeps the viewer engaged and curious about what else might be out there.
Thus, to achieve these dynamic effects, the creators of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse had to combine several elements to create the film. This article primarily discusses how Imageworks used VFX and Non-Photorealistic Rendering to achieve the desired effect.
How was VFX used for Character Depiction and Storylines?
The film uses a unique visual style that mixes traditional hand-drawn animation with computer-generated imagery, resulting in a super-saturated, hyper-realistic world that looks unlike anything else on the screen. But this visual style is more than just a gimmick; it’s used to great effect to tell the story of Miles Morales.
Varying Frame Rates
Movies are generally shot and played back at 24 frames per second; however, the creators of Spider-Verse brought out something different. Early in the film, Miles is animated at 12 frames per second before embracing and fully learning his powers. Therefore, Miles doesn’t move as gracefully or smoothly as his web-slinging peers. Once Miles truly “becomes” Spider-Man in an epic scene, he too is animated in 24 frames per second.
A Comic Book that Moves
The filmmakers were looking to directly reference comic book panels in telling their story. Director Phil Lord said, “If you freeze any part of the movie at any time, it will look like an illustration with hand-drawn touches and all.” The film’s use of color is one of its most striking features. Every scene is awash in vibrant hues, and the different realities that Miles visits are all given their distinct color palette. This makes the film visually arresting and helps to orient the viewer and keep them oriented as the story jumps between different dimensions.
What is Non-Photorealistic Rendering?
Non-Photorealistic rendering (NPR) is a computer graphics technique for creating images that appear to be hand-drawn, painted, or inked rather than produced by traditional rendering techniques.
When you think of CGI animated films, you likely think of Pixar, with their 1995 film “Toy Story.” After Toy Story, many studios sought “the Pixar look”: exceptionally high quality, physically based, and in most cases, almost photorealistic. However, this led to animated films being homogenous or appearing similar. The creators of Spider-Verse adopted a non-photorealistic style, enabling much more control over the visuals.
Integration of Various Animation Styles
The film encompasses an incredibly diverse range of animation and visual styles for the web-slinging superheroes. We’re introduced to newer characters such as a Black & White Spider-Man Noir & a futuristic spidey heroine in Peni Parker. In addition to the usual abilities such as web shooting, spidey sense, etc, the movie also introduces us to new powers.
Spider-Gwen uses graceful ballet-type movements in her fighting, which is yet another stylistic addition to the mix. Non-Photorealistic Rendering allowed the different animation styles to be blended seamlessly and without sacrificing any of the detail or quality of the animation.
Non-Photorealistic Rendering can help to bring out the character’s emotions through line work and color. This can be seen in the scenes where Spider-Man struggles with his identity and comes to terms with his new abilities. The use of Non-Photorealistic Rendering in these scenes helps to show the internal conflict that Spider-Man is going through in a more visually impactful way.
Methods & Software used to Achieve Desired Look
Sony Pictures Imageworks were concerned with creating line work or “ink lines” based on procedural rules (for example, toon shaders) because they were ineffective in achieving the desired natural look. Machine Learning was integrated within Houdini to help speed up the artist’s productivity over the project. It provided the animators with an initial predicted result, which served as a reference point.
The Animators at Imageworks used Houdini, to realize the computer-generated imagery, but they did so in several new ways. Houdini also helped to achieve the non-photorealistic style that the creators wanted.
Imageworks looked to craft unconventional effects through Houdini, and Into the Spider-Verse had several unconventional ones like ‘glitching’ characters and buildings, a ‘multiverse’ world, etc.
According to Imagework FX Supervisor Pav Grochola, Houdini was extremely helpful because of its pre-existing toolbox approach to problem-solving & how it provides all the building blocks necessary to build the tool.
For Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, There were 177 animators working on the project at one point, and it took each artist one week to animate one second. The Animators must be credited for their incredible work on making Spider-Verse the visual treat that it was.
If you wish to use applications like Cinema 4D to create visual effects, check out Postudio. Postudio enables you to use Cinema 4D without having to worry about hardware specifications. All you require is an internet connection, and you can create online and on demand.