Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's Japanese Animators Share Their Experiences
posted on by Kim Morrissy
Four Japanese animators who worked on the 2018 CG animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shared their experiences on the production with the Japanese magazine CG World. The animators discussed the cultural differences between American and Japanese animation productions, the anime inspirations for Spider-Verse, what they believe Japanese animators can learn from Spider-Verse, and more.
Yuko Ikeda said that working on Spider-Verse expanded her outlook as an animator. Depicting Miles's father was a challenge for her because he is a black man, and Ikeda could not use her own expressions as reference. So she had to study various films and video clips to understand how people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds move. "In order to create animation that people from around the world can easily understand and enjoy, you have to study not just technique but the cultural background so that you can create convincing expressions and movements."
Takuro Togo, who was worked on a number of anime productions including Knights of Sidonia and Show by Rock, amusingly said that he came to America thinking that he would be doing animation frame-by-frame ("on ones") instead of animation every other frame ("on twos") which is typical in Japan. But Spider-Verse is generally animated on twos. He ended up creating shots in a very similar way to his work on anime. However, one notable difference is that key animators in Japan draw the layouts, but this is not the case overseas. Togo said that he would have liked to get more creative freedom with the direction of the shots he was assigned.
Another major difference that Togo pointed out is that each individual cut took much longer to create compared to Japanese productions. It is usually possible to create two or three shots a day in Japan, but for Spider-Verse, even a short sequence would take a week, while long action shots would take up to a month. However, because each shot in the film is packed with so much detail, a week did not feel like a very long time. A cut that was less than one second took three weeks due to the number of retakes.
Ikeda chimed in to say that because the animators had to apply the ink line effects themselves, it disrupted the schedule more often than would be the case for a normal animation.
Kentaro Komiya and Ryo Wakasugi both said that although they had worked on animation in Japan, they had only ever worked on full CG productions, so Spider-Verse was their first time animating on twos. Komiya mentioned that the animators had the freedom to choose whether to animate their parts on ones or twos, and they could switch it up whenever they liked to suit what they were trying to convey. If a movement looked choppy when animated on twos, they could switch to ones. "As long as it looks cool, it's allowed," he said.
Komiya made proxy models for each of the characters, which Wakasugi said that he personally made use of. The CG World interviewer observed that in Japan it's common to use models that are easy to handle, because the priority is on getting the work done quickly and efficiently in order to keep up with the tight schedules. However, the animators on Spider-Verse were given a lot more flexibility, which allowed them to experiment with tools and models and share their know-how across the entire team.
Wakasugi pointed out another difference between Japanese productions and Spider-Verse: there were no character reference sheets or other materials for the poses and models. The only binding principle was "do what looks cool." So Wakasugi learned the most from watching the other animators on the production at work.
The atmosphere of the office was very laid-back as well. Togo said that the animators held desk decoration contests, where everyone would decorate their desks with things reminiscent of Spider-Man and put fan art on the walls. One person started it, and everyone else got swept in it eventually. "Everyone was playing around in one sense. The fact that everyone went about their playing really seriously was a good thing. It made us all more motivated." Also, instead of having their work reviewed once every two weeks, they were reviewed every day. Komiya said, "Every day felt like a deadline."
To wrap up the interview, Wakasugi said, "Spider-Verse had nine Japanese people working on it. I feel like it's quite rare to have so many Japanese people on a foreign production like this. So I want this to be encouragement to Japanese creators: you can do it too."
Thanks to Callum for the news tip.
Source: CG World