By Isabella Green
Spoilers ahead for ‘Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse and Arcane: League of Legends
I am sure that we have all heard of 2018’s ‘Into The Spider-verse.’ Commonly awarded five-star reviews and a 97% score on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’, calling it a popular movie would be a huge understatement. However, as an artist, I would like to discuss the gorgeous ripple effects that the film has had on the animation industry nearly five years after the original with the sequel ‘Across The Spider-Verse’ having released only a month ago at the time of writing.
Why ‘Into The Spider-verse’ was created
Marvel and Sony have always had a rocky relationship when it comes to Spiderman. After selling the rights to the character in 1998 when they were struggling for money and doubtful of the MCU’s future success. The deal was that Sony would pay Marvel seven billion dollars, Marvel would gain 5% of the earnings of all movies and half of the profits from merchandise. To retain these rights, Sony would need to produce a Spider-man film once in a certain amount of years. While how many years is still speculated, many people agree that it is around five years.
It had been four years since Sony’s previous Spiderman film ‘The Amazing Spider-man 2’ and Sony was likely getting desperate. Seeing as retelling the same origin story was getting less and less interesting as time went on, they went in a more creative route and drew inspiration from the Spider-verse event in the comics series. Though a now very obscure storyline, Sony’s animation team saw potential in the idea. And so Spider-verse was born.
‘Into The Spider-verse’ was announced in April 2015. Though many dismissed it at first for being not only animated but also following Miles Morales, a character many people disliked as spider-man for not being the original Peter Parker, the first teaser trailer showed it was going to be something special, something fresh, something new.
What Made ‘Into The Spider-verse’s Animation Special?
So, let’s get back to the point of this article: the history of animation and Spider-verse. The film features a gorgeous mix of the traditional comic book art styles and more common 3D animation styles. Merging styles like this allowed for the film to be a breath of fresh air for the animation industry. With split-screen moments resembling comic, classic text bubbles and the blend of different animation styles the film was unlike anything that came before it. Given the film’s story of merging dimensions this choice makes sense.
Some standouts include: Peni Parker, who is drawn in a traditional anime art style; Spider-ham who uses the art style of old cartoons, even floating on good smells and stubbornly defying gravity and Spider-noir, who is drawn in black and white to mimic the live-action spy movies he is based on.
How Arcane advanced things further
Releasing three years after Into the Spider-verse, Arcane premiered in November 2021. The adaptation of the frightening online video game ‘League of Legends’ set out to make every frame of it look like a painting and it delivered. The show utilises 3D animation with 2D digital painting on top used to add shading and particle effects such as water and fire are fully done in 2D. The show makes no attempt to hide the detail and the brush strokes that add to its beauty but also feel no need to emphasis them, making it feel as if the concept art that has always been tauntingly more gorgeous than the actual product has finally come to its beautiful life. The show uses colours beautifully, bathing the safest parts of its underground city Zaun in warmer tones to create a more inviting atmosphere and much cooler tones to create a more threatening atmosphere in the unsafe sections. The surface city Piltover, which thrives, literally burying the issues of Zaun beneath it, is painted in lighter, more washed-out colours to show how it is ‘clean’, moral, and pure compared to the city it calls immoral and dangerous.
Across the Spider-verse and the future
And here we are now, in 2023. At the time of writing ‘Across the Spider-verse’ was only released a month ago. Considering the sad news coming out about the unjust treatment of animators who worked on the movie I am considering just scrapping this article and writing about something else instead. But, regardless of whether or not it shows in the article’s quality this took a lot of time to write and draft and I have a deadline. So let’s talk about the future of animation, AI art and how on earth this quality could be sustainable.
A lot of people have suggested AI art as a way to reduce the extreme workload that many artists and animators face. While well-intentioned, this likely would not help or would at least need a lot of re-working before this could be used. AI art is a messy subject, not just because of those nightmarish faces that haunt our dreams, but because of the ethics of it all. For AI to be able to create art, it has to be trained on thousands of images. Most of these have been taken non-consensually from artists who have posted their artwork online, hoping to share it with other or receive criticism. This may not seem like a problem, everyone takes inspiration from something, but a human can’t make an exact replica of a drawing. We need to re-train AI on art used willingly or else companies would be sued by artists whose work was unintentionally copied by the AI.
nb ‘Across the Spider-verse’ took around four years to release. Some scenes were reported as having taken all of that time to create. This isn’t a huge concern, as animation happens on a pipeline, each episode of a cartoon takes a team around a year to create. But shows like ‘The Owl House’ definitely didn’t take decades to release or create. Teams work on different parts of animation, different scenes, special effects, storyboards so that they don’t have to spend obscene amounts of time creating a show that looks decent. Why should people have to waste their lives on slaving away to create a film that they’ll probably never get to enjoy watching, only to instantly start working on a sequel? So, we have two options if we want people to have decent hours: we can have films take decades to complete or we can hire more people. We need more people to animate. If we’re going to fundamentally change the way animation works we’re going to need to be ready to make changes on how we treat animators, and on how many we’re going to need for major projects.