Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse senior character animator Ere Santos broke down the unprecedented visuals in the upcoming sequel.
Santos spent just over a year working on Spider-Verse 2, ultimately leaving Sony Pictures Imageworks in September 2022 to help Walt Disney Animation Studios to open up their Vancouver-based office.
On the Sony Pictures side, the Across the Spider-Verse team has been very vocal about the visual identity of the film, previously saying this is something that can only "really happen in animation."
And Santos agrees as the animator offered up an explainer on the movie's ground-breaking visuals.
A Look at Spider-Verse 2's Visuals
In an exclusive interview with The Direct's Klein Felt, senior character animator on Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Ere Santos, explained the film's unprecedented visuals.
When asked if fans were ready for the film's visual style, Santos said "Hell no. People are not ready." He prefaced that he didn't want to be "too grandiose," but "the expectation, at least for the visuals, cannot be high enough," teasing new developments and "a lot of the same" as well:
"You can expect a lot of the same and a whole lot of different. Without being too grandiose, it is going to blow your mind. The expectation, at least for the visuals, cannot be high enough. I think it's gonna be very, very exciting."
He opined that for the animation community, this film is going to be something people "are going to be like, 'How the hell did they do that?'," with visuals on which people spend "the next 10 years framing through:"
"On the animation community, I think for certain. I think it's going to be a movie where people in the animation community are going to be like, 'How the hell did they do that? That's so exciting.' But we'll see. I hope it has the same effect as the first movie. Yeah, we'll see. I'm very very intrigued to see how people are going to receive the movie. What I've seen so far is going to be a very, very touching story with visuals that you are going to have to spend the next 10 years framing through. It's amazing. It's incredible."
Santos noted that this comes down to so much more than just "animating on twos," the practice of animating on every other frame, which is something that became iconic in the first film.
He called the whole experience "exciting," saying "every [in-movie] world essentially has its own kind of animation style:"
"Yeah, I think the pad answer is that 'Oh, it was a challenge. And you know we overcame.' But the thing is, is that it honestly really was exciting to kind of jump. Every world essentially has its own kind of animation style and we kind of had to change things up a little bit. Some things may be a frame rate thing, some things may be a push cartoony thing, or whatever. And we kind of had to maintain a specific attitude and look at well, how are we approaching it. And it's not just the thing of animating on twos."
"The wild west" was a descriptor that Santos threw around. He and the animation team were given the chance to "try whatever the heck you [wanted] to" and "[throw] stuff at the wall and [see] what sticks:"
"To be part of that development was really really exciting because it was like the wild west. You got to just be like, 'Let's try whatever the heck you want to try, and let's see what happens.' It's like throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks and then going with that. And I feel like being able to have that sort of excitement about the production is something that's very unique."
When prodded on what his favorite sequence, world, or character to work on was, the Across the Spider-Verse animator revealed "a lot of the stuff that [he] animated was very spoilery," so until the film finally hits theaters he's left going "Come on. Come on. I want to see people react to this character:"
"I would say that I'm most happy with the time that I got to develop new characters, and there's a specific character that I animated that I'm super excited to see people cosplay and people try and reenact and all that kind of stuff. So, that is super- I'm just biting my tongue for the next six months, because I'm like, 'Oh, come on, come on. Come on. Come on. I want to see people react to this character.'"
As a part of this animation work, Santos - along with a number of other Spider-Verse animators - posted reference footage online for work on the film, offering audiences a glimpse behind the animated curtain.
The character animator said filming reference is "something that's really, really important to [him]," as it helps to make characters like Miles Morales "can feel a little bit more like Miles" through the translation of an animator's experiences onto the screen:
"It's about asking what are you? What are you observing? And how are you putting that into your art? And it’s something that's really, really important to me, like, if you've ever taken a class on animation with me, you hear me say, use reference as reference, don't copy it. So essentially, I'm not Miles. I'm not, you know, I'm not Gwen. I'm not anybody. I'm actually Ere, but I'm not anybody in the movie. But what I can do is I can use my experiences, my life experiences, and things that are observed in the world to act things out. And then put it through the filter of animation and translate it into Miles. And then use that so Miles can feel a little bit more like Miles."
He mentioned that reference can make the process of animation even easier, as they can show the director on a project the reference to give "a sense of the character before [they] get to animate." It streamlines the process so that changes can be made before any animation is ever done:
What's fun is that we get to show our reference to the director and our director gets to get a sense of, of the character before we get to animate it. It allows us to kind of jump ahead a little bit too. Like animation takes a very long time. So we don't want to spend three weeks animating something on the director be like, 'Oh, actually, I want a completely different acting choice.' Well, what we can do is we spend 15 minutes or 30 minutes to an hour filming reference show the director of the record and be like, 'Okay, I like those choices, don't like those acting choices."
The Visual Language of Across the Spider-Verse
As was the case with Into the Spider-Verse, it seems that Across the Spider-Verse will, at least visually, blow some minds. That first film helped to redefine what could be done in animation, and from what Santos has told fans, the sequel could very well do the same.
What is fascinating to note about Santos' comments on the film's visuals is the idea of this "wild west" approach. Yes, Into the Spider-Verse was visually stunning and had pops of different animation styles; however, Across the Spider-Verse looks like it is going to take that concept and breath it into entire worlds.
This is a Multiverse-spanning animated epic. Instead of a character showing up in Miles' world and playing with visual styles (i.e. Spider-Ham and Peni Parker), now it is going to be entire pocket realities with specific and unique animated traits.
What Santos has described sounds like a mystifying visual feast for the eyes, and one that was fun to work on as well. This sounds to be a film that was fun to work on, and one where - just like the first - the only rule was there were no rules.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse comes to theaters on June 2, 2023.