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‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’: The price of art

| Thursday, September 7, 2023

Marissa Panethiere

Alright, people, let’s start at the beginning. In 1937, Walt Disney completely revolutionized the animation industry with the release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” No one took animation seriously as an art form, and many believed this film would fail. However, this film ended up being an artistic masterpiece and a massive box office success. We have this film to thank for the existence of every feature-length animated film produced since then. “Snow White” is an indisputable masterwork of artistry, but this came at a price. As the planned release date drew nearer, the production staff had to work 10-and-a-half-hour days, six days a week, with no paid overtime.

Flash forward to 2018, and the animation industry was revolutionized again with the release of “Into the Spider-Verse.” The comic book-style animation of this film showcased the creative heights of computer-generated animation. It’s because of “Into the Spider-Verse” that we have stylized and ambitious animated films like “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” 

The highly anticipated sequel “Across the Spider-Verse” premiered in June this summer, and its animation is even more ambitious than its predecessor. “Across the Spider-Verse” moves across multiple dimensions and introduces a myriad of new Spider-People. Each dimension and each character have their own unique art style. For instance, Gwen Stacy’s dimension looks like watercolor, and the colors of her world shift with her emotions. Hobie Brown, aka Spider-Punk, is reminiscent of a ’70s punk rock poster, and parts of his costume are animated at different frame rates, emphasizing his chaotic nature. The Spot, one of the main antagonists of this film, looks unfinished with pencil lines featured in his character design. The animators put such care into every single detail of this movie, making it an absolute visual triumph. 

However, as with “Snow White,” this art came at a price. About a hundred artists left the project due to grueling work conditions, which included working 11 hours a day, seven days a week for over a year. “Snow White” and “Across the Spider-Verse” premiered almost a 100 years apart from each other, so why are animators today being treated the same way as back then? 

Four animators who left the film came forward to Vulture to talk about their experiences. According to these artists, under the management of producer Phil Lord, they were forced to constantly overhaul almost completed scenes. Usually, edits like these would be done early on during the writing and storyboarding process, but Lord would make big decisions about scenes after they were nearly finished. Amy Pascal, the former Sony Pictures Entertainment chairperson, commented in response to the complaints of artists, “If the story isn’t right, you have to keep going until it is … Welcome to making a movie.” 

Expecting animators to constantly overhaul their scenes and work 70-hour weeks shouldn’t be the norm of the industry. These animators created something incredible and should be treated with respect. Companies shouldn’t expect artists to suffer for their work. In fact, I imagine that animators would be able to flourish even more if they were able to work in less stressful conditions. 

Originally, “Beyond the Spider-Verse,” the sequel to “Across the Spider-Verse,” was announced for March 2024, but has since been delayed due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. I sincerely hope that animators begin fighting for their rights as well. I would gladly wait as long as it takes for the release of “Beyond the Spider-Verse” as long as animators are treated fairly. 

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