Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Making of an Oscar Winning Animated Feature Film


MBE partnered with Sony for this story, post contains affiliate links

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

If you are as fascinated with learning about what it takes for a movie to win an Oscar at The Academy Awards as well as how the big Hollywood studios' award-winning animated movies are made, here's your chance to go inside Sony Pictures ImageWorks to discover how Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, rated PG), available on DVD and Blu-ray movie won Best Animated Feature Film this year.

Sony Pictures Animation Culver City California

Behind-the-Scenes at Sony Pictures ImageWorks

Just a few days before Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse took the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Sony Pictures invited me behind the scenes. There, on the working studio lot, we got the inside scoop on how this world class animated project was transformed from the late Stan Lee's vision into Sony's highest-grossing animated movie.

Now, thanks to Sony, you're invited to join me for a virtual insider's tour recap to meet some of the key people who made it all possible as well as to learn about and see some of the coolest innovations that went into creating this blockbuster.

Making of Oscar Winning Movie

It was an exciting, whirlwind day at Sony Studios in Culver City, California for our intimate group of influencers. The event began with meeting new and old friends on the campus' outdoor courtyard patio to mingle over breakfast. 

Among us were an eclectic bunch of kid and parent influencers -- ranging in age from about 5 years old to over 60 -- all covering entertainment from a huge swath of perspectives via our sites and media channels.

Sony Pictures Imageworks California

Follow me now as we go inside the Sony Pictures offices to where all the creative magic happens. I'm so excited to have this opportunity to show you around and introduce you to some of the talented women and men who had a hand in this Oscar-winning installment of the Spider-Man movie enterprise

Storyboards and Character Drawing

For our first stop, we visit with one of the film's story artists. Meet Denise Koyama, who prior to working on Spider-Verse, was a story board artist for Hotel Transylvania #3: Summer Vacation (2018). A seasoned veteran, her extensive credits include numerous other popular animated movies at Sony and other major studios.

Denise Koyama Sony Animation Story Board Artist

But you wouldn't know how accomplished Koyama is from her humble, engaging demeanor as she sat down to give us insight into what it was like to work on Spider-Verse

First, she tells us of wanting to draw cartoons ever since she was young girl. Then she invites us to peek over her shoulder to watch as she draws on the computer screen with a stylus, just like she did when she actually was working on the movie's artwork. All the while, she's answering our questions, sharing stories about the many hours the Art Department put into this project.

Koyama explains the purpose of storyboards, which after the script, are among the earliest stages involved in making an animated film like this. 

Drawing SpiderMan Movie Characters

She says, "After the Art Department received the 100+ page script for the movie, her team went to work. We researched comic books, made notes, studied the character' personalities as envisioned by the writers, and thought about how their facial expressions, body language and how they might move and interact with other characters before we started to draw.

"The next step was to do rough sketches for the directors to help them visualize settings, characters, and action, as well as to assist them with developing an overall feel for the movie. After the directors returned with feedback on what they liked and didn't like, along with giving us new ideas to incorporate, we went back to the drawing board. This process was repeated many times until the desired result was reached. Once the directors gave us the green light, the story boards went on to Editorial."

Miles Morales SpiderMan Into the SpiderVerse Art
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

The drawing process was intensive but necessary, she points out. For example, during storyboarding Miles Morales (voiced by millennial actor Shameik Moore) the way this character looked and behaved evolved a lot. What started as the idea of an awkward, gawky teenager, eventually morphed into this cool guy with an independent-streak and creative side who also had spunk that kids in our target audience could relate to.

"Roughing sequences requires more time the more complex a scene is, like in the battle at the collider which required 1,745 sketches for just 3 minutes of footage. In the end, the planning and hours spent on story boards made all the difference in the quality of the final product," Koyama concludes.

VFX and Accomplishing a Unique Visual Style

Next, let's pop into one of the small studio screening rooms nicknamed the "Sweat Box" to hear from VFX Supervisor Danny Dimian. Another brilliant member of the film's team, he speaks knowledgeably and enthusiastically about how his group conceived, created and executed new industry landmark special effects for Spider-Verse.

Danny Dimian VFX Supervisor Sony Animation Imageworks California
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Art over realism was the goal. The movie's special effects, such as blowups and explosions, were inspired by Japanese anime. What audiences see is the finished product, resulting from Sony breaking new ground with stylistic techniques never attempted before. Design was rooted in simulation, but hand finished by artists to create finely tuned movement in explosions which added to the story's overall artistry and realism. 

According to Dimian, this process started with scouting locations and taking lots of photos of the New York City where the movie is set, just for reference. Then artists used those images as a launching off point to paint pictures pushing the palette colors, stylizing buildings and city life. They skewed images so they felt like art, not rigid computer-generated or straight photography.

Danny Dimian Special Effects SpiderMan Into the SpiderVerse

The attention to artistic detail with special effects is apparent, for example, when we see Miles jumping off a tall building for the first time. This skyscraper point-of-view doesn't look visually like you'd expect with lots of straight lines. Instead, the high rise and everything surrounding it appear to the audience in a succession of shots as an arc when he leaps, enhancing the scenes intensity and action.

"This flexible artistic approach made it possible for us to apply different looks to things close up and far away within the same frame, which helps viewers know where to look. In this way, the audience focuses on details that matter, while things like vehicles, streets, and other city elements appear as shapes in the background," Dimian sums up.

New York City Animation Art SpiderMan Into the SpiderVerse
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Animation and Bringing Characters Alive

Finally, I'd like you to meet Josh Beveridge, animation supervisor, an accomplished pro with an impressive resume which includes animation for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and other big screen movies. What Beveridge did was pull it all together for us, giving us a comprehensive look at character development and action in the animation process.

Josh Beveridge SpiderMan SpiderVerse Animation Supervisor

Beveridge explains the hurtles about making Spider-Verse different and breaking barriers. We didn't want this movie to be too comic book nostalgic or look like the earlier Spider-Man movies. Still, line work played an important role, which presented complex problems. To solve those challenges, we hired some amazing artists who created cool pop art that we could bring to life.

"Animated charater close-ups -- the heart and soul of this film -- presented some of the biggest challenges of all," Beveridge says. "So animation artists did things like deconstructing people's eyes manually to prevent them from looking too computer perfect. Character lighting was also hand manipulated to add depth to the story's personalities. From beginning to end, extending beyond the work we did on characters to everything that needed to be animated, we gave ourselves complete permission to break the rules."

SpiderMan SpiderVerse New York City Street Art
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Granted the movie's animation did consume many hours to achieve that kind of detail, through trial and error and hard work. However, artists took advantage of machine technology learning to tackle repetitive drawing tasks and add lots of motion. This included efforts such as creatively using animation to depict a bustling city backdrop with heavy traffic, crowds walking on sidewalks and lots of activity visible to viewers through tall building windows. 

Movie Theme Lunch Break

Whew! Time for a little breather from all this learning and engaging with some great Spider-Verse movie creative minds. 

Over the years, I've been fortunate to have spent lots of time at Sony studios and one the things I always look forward to is Instagramable movie themed press events on the Southern California campus. This time the catering staff did not disappoint, creating the simple food and ambiance of a New York City diner.

SpiderMan Into the SpiderVerse Cookies Pop Cakes Egg Cream Soda

Laid out on a red and white checkered tablecloth buffet table were hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries, as well as salad and a few vegan options. Sweet treats to complete the meal featured Genuine Old-Fashioned Brooklyn Egg Cream Sodas made to order by a bar hop with Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup and the most amazing food art: giant decorated edible cookies shaped like film strips and 3D Rubik's Cubes.

The food and drinks couldn't have been more perfect, considering the entire Spider-Verse movie is set in the City, Queens, and Brooklyn. Another fun thing about the mid-day intermission was showing off my own unique "Everyone Can Wear the Mask" Spider-Verse pose at the photo booth.

Janis Brett Elspas SpiderMan Into the SpiderVerse Media Event

New Short + Bonus Content on Digital/DVD/Blu-ray

After such a filling lunch, we were energized and ready to get back to work. Work, in this case, meant screening the Bonus Content which you can now access on the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse home entertainment editions.

Producer Phil Lord, who I interviewed for MBE's Spider-Verse movie review last fall, was out sick the day of this press event. However, we did have a lively conversation after the extras screening with the other filmmakers: Lord's fellow Producer Chris Miller and Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. 

Rodney Rothman Peter Ramsey Bob Persichetti Phil Lord Chris Miller
Clockwise: Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Phil Lord, Chris Miller 
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Of particular note on the extra content included is  "Spider-Ham: Caught in a Ham," the all-new short (starring Spider-Ham, who debuted with the big screen film). This was followed by a Q&A with short Director Miguel Jiron, and Producer, David Schulenburg -- all I can tell you is that mini movie is hilarious, you must see it.

From Big Screen to Home Entertainment

Later that week on Oscar Night, it could not have been more thrilling to see Lord, Miller, Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, again. This time they were on international TV, standing on stage together to accept their well-deserved Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film of 2018. Congrats Sony Pictures!

More than 800 people worked on Spider-Verse, each contributing something valuable to the overall result which audiences enjoyed in theaters. With the home entertainment release on digital, DVD and Blu-ray -- along with all the new extras included -- families and kids can now take the fun experience and appreciation of the art of animation home. 

The best part about all the home entertainment options is the advantage of watching as many times as you like with the chance to notice something new and different each time around.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse currently is still showing in theaters. It's also now available on Digital, 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Animation.

Spider-Man Movie Super Hero Figures by Hasbro

90+ Minutes of Special Features

  • "Spider-Ham: Caught In a Ham" mini-movie
  • Tribute to STan Lee & Steve Ditko
  • The Ultimate Comics Cast
  • Spider-Verse Super-Fan Easter Egg Challenge
  • Lyrics Video
  • Filmmaker Commentary

Into the Spider-Verse

Now on Digital, DVD, Blu-ray
from Sony Pictures

Discover The Spider-Verse

Does your family love Spider-Man? Don't miss taking your kids on a free virtual Discovery Educational field trip to Discover The Spider-Verse where children can swing into action, participating in fun activities that build STEM and literacy skills.

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