Xuenou > Movies > ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Directors Talk Raising the Bar and Creating Spider-Punk – Exclusive Interview
‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Directors Talk Raising the Bar and Creating Spider-Punk – Exclusive Interview
'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' Directors Talk Raising the Bar and Creating Spider-Punk – Exclusive Interview,The directors of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse break down the film's family themes and insane animation style of Spider-Punk.

‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Directors Talk Raising the Bar and Creating Spider-Punk – Exclusive Interview

1Following up the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with a sequel filled to the brim with even more Spider-People, aspects of the multiverse that now bleed across multiple media franchises, and larger stakes without drowning out lead character Miles Morales from his own story seemed like an impossible task. Against all odds, Sony Pictures Animation has done just that with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, with it also being sold as “part one” of a massive finale no less! Across the Spider-Verse directors Justin K. Thompson, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Kemp Powers carry the baton over from the first film’s directing trio Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, and Peter Ramsey. Meanwhile, executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller now pen the script together alongside writer David Callaham.

It goes without saying that the far-out and rule-breaking visuals on display make this sequel yet another landmark achievement for Western animation. However, when we sat down with Across the Spider-Verse directors Justin K. Thompson, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Kemp Powers for an exclusive interview, the trio made sure to distinguish how the film’s insane visuals always come in service of the story instead of it being vice versa. Our story kicks off with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) struggling to balance his heroic role as Brooklyn’s full-time, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man with his personal life. Each time the web-slinger needs to use his powers for good he strays further away from his father Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and mother Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Vélez), which is ironic considering Miles’ dad is about to get promoted to police captain and works directly with Spider-Man without knowing it’s really his son behind the mask.

This back-and-forth routine of juggling responsibilities comes to a halt for Miles when Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) unexpectedly re-enters his life. Spider-Gwen is now part of an elite Spider Society made up of an endless number of Spider-People from across the multiverse, but only the best of the best are allowed to join. Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), otherwise known as Spider-Man 2099, leads this society in order to prevent the multiverse from collapsing within itself. This is where Miles comes in, because little does he know but his very existence is about to threaten the fate of the multiverse. It’s at this part of the story where Spider-Man variants like Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), and Scarlet Spider (Andy Samberg) are allowed to shine. We can’t also count out the fan-favorite Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) who now returns as a dad!

When you throw in a new soon-to-be powerful villain in The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse sounds like too good of a movie to be true. Luckily, we were able to sit down with the three directors who led this enormous feat and find out how they raised the bar again for Hollywood animation, especially with the complex animation of Spider-Punk alone. Justin K. Thompson is best known for being an Emmy-winning production designer who worked on Into the Spider-Verse while Joaquim Dos Santos has gained notoriety for his work as a storyboard artist and director on hit shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Justice League Unlimited. Kemp Powers, on the other hand, gained fame a few years ago for co-directing Pixar’s Soul. With all three names currently in the middle of directing Beyond the Spider-Verse, it’s safe to say that the Spider-Verse saga is in good hands.

Exclusive Interview with directors Justin K Thompson, Joaquim Dos Santos, & Kemp Powers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Into the Spider-Verse was such a landmark event in animation, and in the years since other big-budget animated productions have taken clear inspiration from its style. What kind of pressure does that create when you’re making the sequel then? Across the Spider-Verse raises the bar both emotionally and visually so I have to congratulate you three for basically doing the impossible.

Justin K. Thompson: Thank you for saying that. I think it just gives us more permission, honestly, to do even cooler things and to try things that are even more different. I think we’re at the leading edge [of animation], and we do think of ourselves as the leading edge. Everybody can copy us all they want. But, for us, it was like, “Yeah, we did that! Now let’s do the next thing, right? What would excite us now?”

Joaquim Dos Santos: Yeah and, you know, don’t let the art get ahead of the story. Let the story dictate the art. Our story has so many dips, turns, zigs, and zags, so it lends itself to these techniques better.

Miles Morales in his Spider-Man costume without wearing a mask shoots his webs with both hands as he rides on top of a futuristic silver colored speeding train in the sky in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.
‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ courtesy of Sony Pictures

Kemp Powers: One of the things that excited everyone on this team was that none of us wanted to do what was already done in the first film. We really did want to just do things that were completely different.

Justin K. Thompson: And I worked on [Into the Spider-Verse]!

Kemp Powers: Exactly, Justin was a production designer on the first film. One of the things that was exciting is that there were never any discussions about that being some kind of house style. No, it was the opposite of that. It was like, “This shouldn’t look like the first film.” The characters evolve and the story we’re trying to tell evolves, so the look of the film should evolve as well. If anything, these films being inspirations to others, that’s a good thing!

You know, animation changes all the time. People forget that when Toy Story first came out, no one was doing 3D animation. And then all of a sudden, everyone was doing 3D animation. It’s not a bad thing, either. But, ultimately, animation can’t save you. As visually interesting as it can be, as Joaquim is saying, it all starts with a story, man. The story has to be a strong, emotional one that connects to people. But, again, no one here wanted to do anything that was done in the first film.

Justin K. Thompson: Quite simply, we were telling a different story. We needed different visuals. We knew that from the beginning and we were absolutely committed to that.

I’m really glad you brought that up Joaquim, because one of the biggest things about Across the Spider-Verse that stood out to me was how involved and important Miles’ parents are in the story. And not just plot-wise, but the fact that they get to grow as individual characters. Again, this can be the most beautiful film ever, but that family element works so perfectly. Can you talk about pushing both of Miles’ parents deeper into the spotlight?

Joaquim Dos Santos: Look, we’ve been on both sides of that equation. I remember very clearly what it was like when I was sort of peeling myself off from the grasp that my mom was trying to keep on me and make sure that I was staying safe. I’m on the other side now. I’ve got a seven-year-old, and the other day we were walking and he pulled his hand away from me because he wanted to be with his friends and not show it. It’s a bit heartbreaking but part of the journey nonetheless. I think that relatability cuts across cultures, it cuts across everything. If we can bottle that, which we’ve tried to with this film, and have that inform every other decision that is made afterward, then you’ve got a story and characters that the masses can relate to.

Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen travel through the multiverse in orange and red colored hexagon portals in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.
‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ courtesy of Sony Pictures

Kemp Powers: We always knew that this was going to be a coming-of-age story for Miles. What made it exciting is that we wanted to make a coming-of-age story both for the kids and for the parents. Because when a kid comes of age, a parent also has to come of age in a very different way. There is a massive thing you go through as a parent when you go from raising an adolescent to a young adult. And there’s nothing more painful for a parent than when this kid who was like your best friend in the world, suddenly doesn’t want to be around you and pulls themselves away. That’s one of the most universal things that everyone has to deal with and work through, and we really wanted to represent that with both Miles and Gwen, whose stories really parallel one another.

It also doesn’t hurt that we have Jeff and Rio Morales, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Vélez, who are two of the most emotional, depth-filled actors you can find. You know, heroes aren’t all wearing costumes. I think we made that really evident with the families in a way that we hope audiences lean into and fall in love with them as much as we did. We made that clear even in the marketing when we got the trailer that’s basically Miles talking to his mom. We were really trying to say, “Guys, don’t get lost in all the costumes.” If you’re going to love this film, it’s going to be because of these family relationships. When every film has world-destroying stakes, how do you differentiate yourself? How about the stakes being: “I just need to save my dad.”

You’re exactly right.

Kemp Powers: “Choose between my dad and the world.” That’s what is emotional to me.

Joaquim Dos Santos: There’s this line that Luna [Lauren Vélez] delivers after she gives Miles her speech, and she’s sort of prepped him and got him nice looking. She just goes, “Cool, this is cool” and she then sends him on his way. I was just like, “Oh my god.” You could totally feel everything in that one line. She’s restraining these tears, giving him permission, and she’s watching him leave.

Kemp Powers: Recording that scene with Luna was really emotional, and she loved it. But she then came back to us and was like, “It feels almost authentic… she didn’t do the bendición.” And we were like, “Oh shit. we have to go back!” lt was late in the game too. Luna, during that session, got so emotionally invested. She was like, “I feel like we need to have that because I wouldn’t let my kid out the door without that moment.” So we went back and added it because we think those kinds of moments are what make people love these characters in the first place.

I need to ask something more technical now because Spider-Punk is one of, if not the most complex character visually in the entire film. Can you three dive into the process of bringing him to life? His animation style certainly feels like one of the most ground-breaking elements of this sequel.

Justin K. Thompson: Spider-Punk is voiced amazingly by Daniel Kaluuya. From the beginning, we thought it would be so cool for Miles to meet somebody on this journey who could support his idea of “writing your own story” and who’s the antithesis of all these authority figures in Miles’ way. We looked at all the Marvel comics and found that in Spider-Punk with his punk rock nature and rejection of norms, authority, and traditional ideas. So we thought, “Let’s let his animation style represent that too, and let’s try all these crazy experiments.” It was cool because that’s kind of how punk rock zines and punk rock posters are, they’re like experimental art projects. The way a lot of punk rock art is done, they’re hand cut, pasted, drawn, glued together, and then xeroxed as well.

We just thought, “What if that was actually what the character looked like?” So we developed all these crazy technical tools. They start with this traditional animation pass, and then the tools that we developed can adapt all the different parts of him to all these different custom looks we created that are based on classic punk rock posters. And we can assign all these body parts very distinct emotional beats wherever we wanted them to appear like sudden visual changes. I think that process probably took two or three years to develop, and we really only came together like right at the end.

Spider-Punk strikes an epic pose as he prepares to shred his guitar while Spider-Gwen and Spider-Man India watch in amazement from behind in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.
‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ courtesy of Sony Pictures

Joaquim Dos Santos: The first test animation I remember was done to an interview with Daniel.

Kemp Powers: Yeah, before we cast Daniel Kaluuya, we did an animation test set to his voice in an interview. One of the interesting things about Spider-Punk is that he’s in motion even when he’s standing still. His visuals are dynamically in motion even when he’s not moving, it’s like those punk rock posters are still swapping out when he’s not in motion. But I remember that first animation test when it was just a Daniel Kaluuya interview on TV. I was like, “Well, I really hope we can get Daniel Kaluuya to voice this character because now we’re really building this thing around him” (laughs).

Joaquim Dos Santos: I will say another amazing thing before we continue is just Spider-Punk’s jacket is animated at a different frame rate oftentimes from the rest of his body. So it’s like sometimes when the perspective shifts hard enough, his jacket will just be held and then it will quickly pop to the next perspective. But his body and his head are moving at a different frame rate. That fact alone is breaking a lot of rules for an animated film.

Finally, Across the Spider-Verse was first announced with “part one” in the title as we all know. Two-part finales have increased in popularity across the last decade and cliffhanger endings have been around forever. But, without going into spoilers, what do you guys think goes into the art of making the perfect cliffhanger ending? Because the ending of your film is definitely one for the books!

Joaquim Dos Santos: For me, it’s how do you ask a strong enough question up top that you need the answer immediately? To have audiences turn around and go right back into the theater to figure out what the heck is going on and how our characters are going to handle the situation. If you’re not drawn to the characters at the beginning of the story, if we haven’t done a proper enough job of setting Miles up and making sure that all those connections are as strong as they possibly could be, then the cliffhanger isn’t as strong.

Justin K. Thompson: At the same time, we had to make sure this movie felt like a complete experience and a complete story as well. We also needed to leave enough unanswered questions that you would be compelled to come back. That balance was definitely the biggest challenge.

Kemp Powers: For me, a really good cliffhanger, leading up to it, you think you have the answer to what the character should do. But the cliffhanger introduces another question that makes that seemingly easy answer actually way more complicated. So you already know that in the next story, there’s a lot more to be figured out. Here, I think we understand exactly what Miles has to do and where he needs to go. But it’s important for the cliffhanger to say, “Wait a minute, everything we thought that he needed to do has now been complicated, endlessly more.” Therefore, you need another entire movie to get that sorted out.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse hits theaters on June 2!

Follow Managing Editor Andrew J. Salazar on Twitter: @AndrewJ626