The goal for most Marvel movies is to take all the insanity that happens in a comic book panel and use computers to make it look like it’s inhabiting a real world with prestige actors and Chris Hemsworth. But for the new computer-animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (out December 14), about the collision of a bunch of Spider-Men from alternate universes, the filmmakers did the opposite: They wanted the look and feel of a classic comic book—which meant creating a new approach to computer animation, which had become too slick for their purposes.
The team, led by visual effects supervisor Danny Dimian, started by taking cues from old, rudimentary printing processes. They limited their colour palette and used an inker’s technique called half-toning, in which dots and patterns of colour in different sizes convey shade and light.
The next step was to take out the smoothing modern animation software adds to make computer-generated scenes look like they were shot with a camera. In its place, they used drawing techniques like wavy lines and smeared colours to indicate motion. In some cases, they purposely slowed down frames, replicating the slight delay typical of stop-motion and anime.
But that still wasn’t enough. “When we looked at what made comic books so interesting, it was how the illustrators used lines on faces for the extra emotion,” Dimian said. In a movie like Toy Story, Woody is built out of geometric shapes that have volume—he’s supposed to be a real, solid thing. Comics don’t work that way. So the team wrote new software to render the faces in Spider-Man with linework that’s animated separately as if drawn by a comic-book artist.
The result? The other Marvel movies are movies about comic-book characters; this movie is a comic book that moves. In fact, Dimian says that if you pause the movie at any frame you’ll see a complete, illustrated comic-book panel. Check it out in theatres now.