Vancouver animation team the ‘heart’ of new ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

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The animation team behind the new movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” knew it had to be different.

“I think we all knew that the first question we’d be asked out of the gate is why are we making another ‘Spider-Man?”‘ said Joshua Beveridge, head of character animation at Sony Pictures Imageworks, with a laugh.

“We wanted that to be visually obvious, because there’s all kinds of things you can do in animation you can’t do in any other medium.”

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After six live-action movies in 15 years featuring the webbed crusader, the team felt the new offering needed to look completely unique. A fresh animation style also suited the story, which centres on Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teen of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage who gets bitten by a radioactive spider.

The animators, largely based in Vancouver, ultimately came up with a creative technique that is drawing praise. They used computer-generated animation to craft an esthetic that looks like a mixture of traditional hand-drawn animation and CG, even figuring out a way to do hand-drawn line work on top of three-dimensional characters.

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“We’re just aesthetically combining that mixed-media feel,” he said. “I think a lot of the ingredients we used have existed in other places, but this combination is new.”

Beveridge, 36, is based in Culver City, Calif., but the majority of the 180-person animation team on this film worked out of Vancouver, he said.

“That’s where the muscle and the heart is. That’s where the whole team is. That’s where the movie was actually made,” he said.

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Vancouver is booming as a graphics hotspot with about 60 animation and visual effects studios. It helps that the city is diverse, has strong art schools and is an attractive place to live, said Beveridge.

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The movie pushes boundaries with its content as well as its style. Based on comic book characters created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, the film follows Morales as he develops superpowers including camouflage, sticking to objects and incredible hearing.

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But when criminal mastermind Kingpin develops a nuclear supercollider that opens up a portal to other universes, different versions of Spider-Man are pulled into Morales’s world. An older Peter Parker appears alongside a number of new spider-heroes, including anime-inspired Peni Parker.

Beveridge said there are dramatic moments in the story that help elevate animated movies as a genre.

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“Animation’s always been somewhat relegated to the kiddie table, in feeling like it’s a movie just for kids, and because Spider-Man transcends that expectation – he’s someone that more people are just aware of to begin with – we got to make our performances slightly more mature, and make it even more for everyone.”

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The film won rave reviews ahead of its release on Friday. Beveridge said he’s relieved after feeling nervous about how it would be received.

“We knew we were taking risks. We wanted something different and when you’re living with those decisions for so long in secret, you end up having doubts that you’re living with as well,” he said.

“One of the lessons I’m walking away with after completing this project is: In art, if you’re living in fear, that probably means you’re onto something.”

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