At New York Comic Con 2018, AnimeSuperhero was able to talk with the directors and cast members of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
BOB PERSICHETTI AND PETER RAMSEY, CO-DIRECTORS
ANIMESUPERHERO: I heard you guys saying at the panel that this movie has been in production for 3 years?
BOB PERSICHETTI: Pre-production and then production. We spent about a year and some change just making some tests to see if we could actually make something look that different. We spent a lot of time doing that while we were still developing the story and the script and putting up the reels but in total, from start to finish it’ll be about three years.
ANIMESUPERHERO: I remember that Brad Bird told The Incredibles crew in a story meeting, “And then Mr. Incredible sticks his fingers through his costume,” and the blood drains out of everyone’s faces and they go, “We don’t know how to do that.” Technically, that’s actually the hardest shot in The Incredibles. What kinds of stuff did you guys run into like that? Or did you find something was easier to do in CGI?
PETER RAMSEY: Easier? (Laughs)
BOB PERSICHETTI: I was just going to say that was our whole movie. “How do we do that?”
PETER RAMSEY: Exactly. When the guys at Sony Imageworks heard what we wanted to do, they had to come up with a whole new pipeline. They had to write new code, new software, all that techie stuff that I don’t really get, but they had to really come up with a whole new way to make an animated movie in order to do what we wanted to do.
BOB PERSICHETTI: Yeah, it was like sticking your fingers through the costume would be like, “Oh, we know how to do that.” (Laughs) Everything else was trying to discover it, just to see what we could do to make something look and feel like different in the textures than most of the CG animated films out there. We stripped a bunch of things out that are part of every single CG animated film and started from there, and just sort of rebuilt to try and get something that felt like our visuals look. I think they really ended up sort of supporting each other really well.
ANIMESUPERHERO: One thing I loved about the visuals is how inspired by comics they are. The characters even feel a little bit flatter. What kinds of challenges did that present, what kinds of stuff came up because of those sorts of decisions?
PETER RAMSEY: There were technical challenges we solved, but one big one was the idea of using graphic ink lines on the characters to express emotion, which you don’t see in CG films a lot. It’s obviously how comic books are drawn, so we definitely wanted it to have that hand-drawn feel. And then the other big challenge was how do we get this fresh visual approach, but not lose the emotion and not lose the relatability of the characters, because if you don’t have that, then you don’t have anything.
BOB PERSICHETTI: Yeah, if you can’t have the emotional performance of your character, then you’ve left something on the table, so it was a real balance. We have a very emotional story as well as a very action-filled story, and so we had the challenge of being able to do both. We have some really dynamic, interesting action that we felt was inspired from comic books, meaning like every frame was an incredibly dynamic, strong pose, and really felt like you were getting as much as you could out of the still image. On the flip side, we had a kid who was 13-years-old and feels a little bit lost in his world, trying to figure out how to fit in and how to connect, and he has an interesting dynamic relationship with his dad and his mom. And we have amazing voice actors that do performances that need to be supported by really good acting. So that was the biggest challenge in making sure we could achieve that stuff and still within the language of these visuals.
PETER RAMSEY: You know, honestly, it might sound like a cop-out, but I would literally say what Bob was just talking about. I feel like we successfully managed to come up with a new visual take on not just Spider-Man, but animated movies, and wed it to something that’s really as emotional and entails a real powerful, human story.
BOB PERSICHETTI: I agree, and then separately, I would say I am really very happy that, aside from the visuals and all that stuff, but when you see the movie, you’ll see there’s a lot of culture that is born out of New York. Both the music, the visuals, Marvel, of course. I’m really happy that we were able to have all those things coalesce into a really clear voice.
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ, VOICE OF RIO MORALES
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: Yeah, they just called and asked if I wanted to do it and I said, “Uh…sure! That sounds awesome.” (Laughs) Honestly, I think that initially, the plan wasn’t for Rio to be so prominent. I don’t know, but I feel like maybe that was the idea but her role just kept growing. We do see her more throughout the film, but I just fell in love with her. I fell in love with the family, I fell in love with Brian and Shameik, I just think that they’re both so wonderful. And this is the first time that I’ve met them, so it’s really speaks to just that this whole project has a life of its own, you know?
ANIMESUPERHERO: By that, I assume that means you guys weren’t able to record together. I know a lot of times, movie schedules don’t work out that way.
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: We didn’t, it was all separate.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Was that something you were expecting, or did that surprise you?
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: I had no idea what to expect, nothing, so everything was fine with me. I was like, “Oh, so this is how this goes? Awesome! That’s how you do this? Sure, why not?” So to see it all come together so cohesively and look so stunning is just truly a phenomenal surprise.
ANIMESUPERHERO: There are a lot of actors who find it challenging to be recording in a booth to nobody, because you don’t get to react to anybody. How did you compensate for that kind of thing that as an actor?
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: Well, it’s just a different medium in that you don’t see the person. When I was working, Peter directed me, and hearing his voice…it’s a different thing that you respond to, do you know? So I’m responding to the sound of his voice. And all the intonations and everything that that implies. It awakened a totally different muscle, which I found fascinating and really enjoyable, to really not think about my physical form in any way, and just really focus on communication.
ANIMESUPERHERO: As you mentioned on the panel, you’re Newyorican, and Rio’s background pops up even in the first 35-minutes of the movie. Did you ever tweak something or adjust something from the script because it felt more authentic to you? Where you were saying, “You know what, can I try it like this?”
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: I have to say that they just let me go. It was like, “What do you want to say here?” A lot of the Spanish was ad-libbed. It was like, “Well, how would you say this?” So it was complete collaboration, which was really phenomenal. Sometimes, when you give people that much free reign, it’s like, “Wait, what’s happening here?” It took me a second to make the adjustment to, “Yeah, you can actually bring this to life completely.” I was given that free reign, which was amazing. Amazing.
ANIMESUPERHERO: It’s also a great thing because you can truly represent. I’m big about representation.
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: Absolutely. It’s authentic, right? And sometimes you are stuck, and I will never do something that feels inauthentic. I’ll fight to the end. But I didn’t have to do that with this, at all. It was just, “This is what she says, this is how she would say it,” and they were like, “Awesome! Go ahead. Give us a view.”
ANIMESUPERHERO: Is there anything else going on with you that you want to plug?
LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: The First Purge is now on Blu-ray and I was in that. That was so much fun, so if you haven’t seen The Purge, you should see it because it’s very relevant and important and speaks to a lot of what’s going on today. But you know, I just want to plug this movie that’s on Amazon now, it’s called America Adrift and it deals with the opioid epidemic. I think it’s really an important movie.
JAKE JOHNSON, VOICE OF PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN
JAKE JOHNSON: I got an e-mail from Phil Lord saying he and Chris were writing a piece and they were interested in me playing Peter Parker, but I would need to audition for it. And he said, “But it could be really great,” so I said “100%” Then I got the script and just went in the booth, I think 2 or 3 times, had to meet with a bunch of executives and talk about how I saw Peter, and then a few months later I got the job.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Were you a Spider-Man fan before?
JAKE JOHNSON: I am. I’m not a fanatic, but I am a fan.
ANIMESUPERHERO: How do you deal with that? All of a sudden, you have to play a character that you know.
JAKE JOHNSON: Well, honestly, my security blanket on this is Phil Lord and Chris Miller, because I believe they’re the most talented guys in the game right now and I love the way they make things. I loved The LEGO Movie, I loved their minds, so I knew that Peter Parker was in good hands as long as they liked my performance. So it wasn’t a job I would go in with demands or my thoughts. It was more that I would go until they said they were happy. So if they’re happy, if Bob and Peter and Rodney Rothman are happy, I know that I’m in a good zone.
ANIMESUPERHERO: I understand that you guys didn’t get to record together very much.
JAKE JOHNSON: Shameik and I got a couple of times together. Early on, when we were first playing the characters to help figure out the dynamic, so we were able to improvise and do scenes, and goof around.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Did anything from those kinds of sessions actually make their way into the movie?
JAKE JOHNSON: That’s more of a question for the directors, because I don’t know. Honestly, over the last 2 years, I’ve done every scene in this movie 10 to 20 times, so I don’t know any more where it came from, but they would know more.
JAKE JOHNSON: Yeah, I’m doing a show right now that Chris and Phil are producing and written by a guy named Ben Hoffman. It’s called Hoops, and we just sold it to Netflix. It’s a really funny show about a down-and-out basketball coach in Kentucky who is trying to coach his high-school kids, so I’m doing that, which is a lot of fun.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Do you find you have to make adjustments doing voiceover vs. on-camera work?
JAKE JOHNSON: I actually prefer voiceover, because you get to avoid all the things about being on-camera like waiting for lighting and how you look and your hair and makeup and how the clothes fit your body, which is a lot of stuff which I personally don’t care much about. A voiceover booth is that you have the material and you have to deliver it and make scenes work, and when you’re done it’s over. So I’m like, “Ooh, I really like just my voice and my tone” as opposed to my face and my look.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Anything else going on that you want to plug?
JAKE JOHNSON: No, I think Hoops is kind of it. I’m writing something with Damon Wayans, Jr, and I hope we get the good news that we get to shoot it.
SHAMEIK MOORE, VOICE OF MILES MORALES/SPIDER-MAN
SHAMEIK MOORE: I think he’s just coming from inside of me. Originally, Miles was more insecure, how they were playing it or wanted me to play it. The more I started doing the lines, the directors liked when I sounded confident and it felt like that was more Miles and my voice than playing it more insecure.
ANIMESUPERHERO: There’s definitely parts in the preview where he’s more insecure, though.
SHAMEIK MOORE: More insecure, yeah.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Those are some of the funnier bits in the preview. Is this your first voiceover role?
SHAMEIK MOORE: This is the first one on this scale. I did an animated Christmas film before, when I was like 15, which was maybe 5 minutes, but it was still getting my feet wet?
ANIMESUPERHERO: How do you compare working on camera vs. on voiceover? What kind of adjustments do you find you have to make as an actor to give the performance?
SHAMEIK MOORE: Well, I love being in front of the camera. I don’t think that’s replaceable, but doing this job has been fun because it’s for Miles Morales and the animation is absolutely beautiful. The people that I’m working with are amazing at what they do and the writing is awesome. The difference in the process is that I would have maybe three sessions one week, and I don’t go back for another two months, and then we got another three sessions, and then I might not see them for three more months. Being on set of a film or a show, and you’re there every day until it’s done, you know what I mean? Staying in character, putting on the clothes, and taking the time to connect with the other actors eye-to-eye and selling the shots. Also, you know, the difference is is in voiceover, we’re saying the same lines over and over, and sometimes we’ll come back later and be doing the same scene that’s been adjusted. On set, you’re also doing the lines over and over, but the camera is moving, so you’re shooting with the camera right here in front, and then they set it up to the left, and that takes an hour, and then it takes another hour to set it up behind you, and you’re doing the same scene for like half the day. So all of it takes work, but it’s just a different process.
SHAMEIK MOORE: With Brian Tyree Henry, too. That’s pretty much it.
ANIMESUPERHERO: It seems that kind of chemistry between the characters between you and your dad and you and Peter that happens in the preview is hard to do when you’re not face-to-face.
SHAMEIK MOORE: Totally.
ANIMESUPERHERO: How do you adjust to that when you’re not working with another actor, who’s not in the booth?
SHAMEIK MOORE: You know, I’ve been blessed with…I don’t know, being able to tap into something. Even if it’s on camera. Like I’m talking to Jaden in a scene for The Get Down, but Jaden isn’t on set, so I’m talking to the red tape next to the camera and I’m doing the scene. You’d never know he’s not there, or you know? I never did recording with Mahershala Ali, but the scenes I’ve seen with Uncle Aaron sounded like we were next to each other, too, so they do a great job. I’m talking to the directors, who read the lines with me, and I just do what I’m going to do no matter who I’m talking to.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Anything else you want to plug?
SHAMEIK MOORE: Totally. I have I’m about to start a job in music videos, directed by myself. And I have a movie called Cut Throat City coming out top of next year. It’s a film about Hurricane Katrina, before and after Hurricane Katrina, where we have to start robbing casinos to survive, essentially. I’m excited!
Special thanks to the PR team at Sony Pictures Animation for all their work in making the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse panel and press line a success. All panel and press-line photos in this article by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is coming to theaters on December 14, 2018.