While audiences clearly enjoyed Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, working on the film was reportedly a different and frustrating experience.
In the wake of Spider-Verse 2's release, a number of Sony Animation VFX artists have spoken out about the film's working conditions, particularly under Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's Phil Lord - half of the Hollywood collaborating duo, Lord and Miller.
Spider-Verse 2's Troubling Working Conditions Explained
As reported by Vulture, those who worked on Sony Animation's blockbuster hit, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, described the demanding and unsustainable conditions for the film's VFX artists.
Reportedly, several individuals who worked on the film, ranging from experienced artists to production executives, claimed Spider-Verse 2 involved relentless revisionism, leading to approximately 100 artists leaving the project.
Four of these individuals, who requested to remain anonymous, described how writer and producer Phil Lord seemed unable to conceptualize 3-D animation during early development, opting to edit fully rendered work.
The issue is that these sorts of editing changes usually take place during the planning and storyboarding phases of a film, not once the animated scenes are already approved and rendered.
Having to change completed scenes so late in the process created delays across the board. And, while Spider-Verse 2's 2022 release date was reportedly pushed to June 2023 due to the pandemic, these four crew members have a different story.
Allegedly, animators hired in the Spring of 2021 had little to do for three to six months as Phil Lord reworked the sequel during the layout stage or when the initial 3D storyboards were created.
This led to crew members having to put in more than a year of 11-hour work days, 7 days a week to make up for lost time, as well as having to revise their work as many as five times during the final rendering stage.
In addition, Lord, who's described as "forceful" and wanted final approval on every film sequence, overshadowed Across the Spider-Verse's directing trio consisting of Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, and Kemp Powers.
But while Phil Lord was constantly involved, Chris Miller was often MIA throughout the production.
Sony's Amy Pascal Responds to Spider-Verse 2 Allegations
In the wake of these claims, Sony Pictures executives have disputed allegations, particularly those related to Phil Lord's style.
Among them is Amy Pascal, who not only produced both Spider-Verse movies but also the latest live-action Spider-Man films, and who stated "over a thousand" artists worked on Across the Spider-Verse.
With so many working on the film, having a hundred depart isn't surprising as, she admits, the animated sequel required major changes both in terms of story and visuals.
In her response, she commented that "If the story isn't right, you have to keep going until it is:"
“One of the things about animation that makes it such a wonderful thing to work on is that you get to keep going until the story is right. If the story isn’t right, you have to keep going until it is.”
As for those who struggled with the demands required by changing rendering sequences, Pascal said, “I guess, welcome to making a movie.”
Prior to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse's completion, Vulture spoke with a veteran animator working on the film who shared Phil Lord "is still rewriting stuff," despite nearing the set end date for animation.
This animator also claimed that "Sony has been fighting with him on this for the whole movie," referring to Lord's handling of the production as "delusional," "nuts," and "another level of craziness:"
"Animation is finishing Friday. Completely. No animator is going to put a key down anymore. And Phil is still rewriting stuff. Sony has been fighting with him on this for the whole movie. I don’t know if he’s delusional. It’s really nuts. I’ve worked on projects where things are rewritten — even late in production. But this is another level of craziness."
Amy Pascal has also denied this supposed conflict between the studio and Phil Lord throughout all phases of the filmmaking process.
Spider-Verse 2 Conditions a Chronic Industry Problem?
Anyone who has seen Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse surely recognized the amount of work and skill required by its animators.
Not only did Spider-Verse 2 raise the bar in terms of animation, but the film's artistry and how certain visuals were pulled off have been just as talked about as the plot itself.
Therefore, learning of the demands placed on the film's animators isn't a complete surprise.
What is, however, is what appears to be Phil Lord's lack of understanding of the animating process and the persistent tension between him, the studio, and the VFX team.
In all fairness, the allegations made stemmed from a group of individuals with their own unique experiences. However, the problem is their stories have been heard before and in other corners of the industry.
For instance, Marvel Studios received similar backlash in recent months due to familiar complaints related to timing, incomplete scripts, and productions changing "their mind three more times."
It seems that as VFX becomes more commonplace within the industry, VFX artists are viewed as equally standard and possibly expendable, likely due to those in power having no understanding of how it's accomplished.
Now, as for Phil Lord, it's true that he has experience in animation, such as in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie.
Whether he still has no grasp on the experience of a day-to-day animator - or was faced with similar demands from a different source - is unknown.
Regardless, this news has already tainted the glowing praise for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and is sure to raise the question of the real-life costs for success heading into 2024's Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is playing in theaters now.