One of the greatest Spider-Man movies is up for an Oscar. On Tuesday, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was officially nominated for Best Animated Feature by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, but before the good news was even announced, Inverse caught up with one of the film’s animators to discuss some of the film’s secrets and Easter eggs that aren’t obvious, even after multiple viewings.
In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales is bit by a genetically modified spider, giving him superpowers exactly like the world’s most famous superhero, Spider-Man. So when a hole in the universe opens up and different “Spider-People” from different realities converge, it’s up to Miles to help them get back home.
Nick Kondo, an animator from Seattle and a veteran of the video games industry, was the senior character animator of Marvel/Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. While Kondo was just one of hundreds who worked on the film, his work is some of the most visible, as it was Kondo’s job (along with many others) to design how characters physically moved onscreen.
In using references that spanned the history of animation, from Japanese anime to the golden age of American cartooning, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is jam-packed with more detail than meets the eye.
East Meets West
One of the wild things about Spider-Verse, a movie that features an ensemble cast of heroes that feel like were generated by Mad Libs (even though they’re all from the comic books), is that all the heroes are animated differently. The anime-inspired Peni Parker is purposefully designed like a character from Japanese animation, while the gags-a-plenty Spider-Ham is an unofficial Looney Tunes cartoon.
While their designs were handled by different teams, “as animators, we’re thinking about these characters.” Japanese anime was referred to for both Peni’s movements as well as the film’s action scenes, no matter who was on screen.
“With Spider-Ham, I was personally looking at Roger Rabbit, old Tex Avery, golden age of animation stuff,” Kondo tells Inverse. “It does play into how many frames you’re doing.”
One little detail in particular was heavily inspired by classic cartoons. Whenever Peter Porker/Spider-Ham has to “run,” Kondo paid homage to his favorite Looney Tunes shorts by creating a scramble run where “you’ll see multiples of the feet.”
“You can see all sorts of visual tricks that we as the animators were [doing],” Kondo says, “selecting parts of the body and duplicating it to make a blur effect. On top of that there’s these circular lines I’ve drawn over the multiple legs. The animators, we were allowed to practically draw on the screen. I was playing up the old school feeling.”
“Enhancing the Feel of a Comic Book”
“One thing people have been responding to is the limited feeling of the animation,” Kondo says
“Limited” is not a bad word in this case. Rather, it refers to the distinct style by which characters move.
“In animation we terms we call it animating on twos or one,” he says. “Animation is 24 frames per second. Sometimes we’re only moving the character every two frames.”
“Twos and ones” is an animation concept previously outlined to me by the animators of the indie game sensation Cuphead, which animated “on the ones.”
“Some people describe it as a stop motion feel,” Kondo says. “Some call it enhancing the feel of a comic book. For me it feels like a throwback to traditional animation in that they used to limit the number of drawings for a number of reasons. It’s a lot harder than it looks. Even though we’re doing less frames, we’re doing motion blur. That means we have to look super closely at every single frame we’re doing. So in many cases it took a lot longer to animate even though there’s less frames of animation.”
Goblin’s Secret Cameo
Early in the film, Miles Morales meets Spider-Man in the midst of battle against his famed nemesis, Green Goblin. Unlike Willem Dafoe’s grinning mastermind, Goblin in Spider-Verse is a hulking, devilish beast.
Due to constraints with time, the animators reused Goblin’s model in a scene where Gwen Stacy shares her own origin story, which involved the Peter Parker of her reality transforming into the villain, The Lizard.
“We realized there was no time to remodel this whole character for this,” Kondo says. “So somewhere down the line it turned into a shadow projection shot.”
The team then recycled the Goblin model and “scaled parts up and down” before hiding the details in shadow silhouette.
“If you look at it not projecting on a wall the thing’s totally destroyed and busted looking,” he says, “It’s just an illusion of what’s happening. It looks like one character changing into another, when it’s just a mash together of two characters, one of them a heavily modified Goblin where I basically remodeled the silhouette after the comic book.”
It wasn’t just Goblin’s model that was recycled — it was his teeth, too.
“Even those little pieces you see where the character is disintegrating, those are repurposed teeth and scales from the goblin model that i’m just animating to look like pieces of him,” Kondo says.
All One Spider
One last bit of detail Kondo detailed was the infamous “group shot” in which the spiders hide in Miles’ dorm to avoid detection by Miles’ roommate, Ganke Lee. (Expect more Ganke in the sequel.)
“In the shot where they’re behind Miles’ roommate, hiding from Ganke,” Kondo says. “Originally in the boards they were all sort of separate and Peni was sticking on a wall.”
Not only does Peni not have wall-climbing powers, but her robot, SP//dr, was too big to just be up on the wall. But then, the film’s Head of Animation, Josh Beveridge, decided that the characters should move as one.
“We went through a number of iterations, but as we smashed them closer and figured out their legs, we realized it looked like a giant spider,” Kondo says. “So I just started pushing further into that idea. It came through iteration. It wasn’t the original idea, it wasn’t my idea, it just evolved and got pushed into that as the visual look of it emerged rom the necessity of the shot.”
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is in theaters now.