At Sony Pictures Animation’s big Annecy 2022 presentation, directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson shared stunning work-in-process visual development, finished animation, previously untold story lines, and cool new characters from one of the most anticipated sequels in modern animation history… to the raucous festival crowd’s delight!
Annecy 2022 kicked off in great fashion today, with huge crowds and even huger (is that proper usage here?) reveals. Arguable one of the biggest and most important sessions of the entire festival delivered the goods in all its web-slinging, Spidey-sensing glory, as directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson shared work-in-process story lines, visual development, finished animation, and cool new characters from their highly anticipated, hyperbole inducing, extravaganza in the making, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Including a new villain shared below.
Initially scheduled for an October 7, 2022 release, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, to our collective frown, was pushed to June 2, 2023. My guess, after witnessing key visual development today, is there just weren’t enough pixels available for the Sony Pictures Imageworks artists to work their magic with (what with all the shortages of stuff these days).
Sigh. Cut me some slack.
The sequel to its 2018 Oscar-winning animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was also recently renamed, following the decision to remove “Part One” from the title. In addition, its in-the-works follow-up - the also recently renamed (now minus Part Two) Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse - now has an official theatrical release date as well, scheduled to open March 29, 2024.
In a Bonlieu theater packed with screaming animation fans, as introduced by Kevin Noel, SVP Production at Sony Pictures Animation, the Annecy presentation wasted no time sharing the goods… and good goods they were. Without further hyperbole because it’s just too hot in Annecy for much in the way of humor, here’s what we learned…
Gwen Stacy's World – We saw a first look at the look of Earth 65, the universe where we catch up with Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy, once again voiced by Hailee Steinfeld. The look of this world is entirely unique from the world of Miles Morales, which we got to know well in the first film. Heavily inspired by Gwen's original comic books, the filmmaking team has worked with the artists at Imageworks to develop new, custom techniques to apply a watercolor look and feel to Gwen's world. The environment also serves as a "mood ring," physically changing its appearance to reflect the shifting emotions of our hero, Gwen Stacy.
Spider-Man 2099 - We get to see Miguel O'Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099 (who made a very brief appearance in the coda of the first film), make a dramatic entrance while Gwen is fighting The Vulture at the Guggenheim before the confrontation with her father. He's a more feral, intimidating, futuristic version of Spider-Man who will play a much bigger role in this film. Voiced by Oscar Isaac, he's a scientist from the future who has developed a way to travel across the Spider-Verse. Design-wise, he's inspired by the look of the original Spider-Man 2099 comics; the studio brought on comic book artist Rick Leonardi to help adapt the character's design for the screen. Some of his physical attributes include unbridled strength, claws for gripping walls, a giant laser web, and a wing suit that gives him the ability to fly.
Jessica Drew - We also get to see an all-new character, Jessica Drew, voiced by Issa Rae. The original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew is a fan favorite - an incredibly confident woman managing the superhero life on her own terms - kicking ass as Spider-Woman while expecting a new addition to her Spider-family in a few short months (Gwen Stacy immediately takes a liking to her impressive new Spider-friend... throughout the film she becomes sort of a mentor to Gwen). At one point, after witnessing her completely bad-ass entry on a motorcycle in The Vulture fight, Gwen even says in awe, “Would you adopt me?”
Artistically, the studio brought on comic book artist Brian Stelfreeze, whose unique sensibilities have inspired our artists (led by production designer Patrick O'Keefe) to differentiate her look from the other spiders.
Catching up with Miles - Miles Morales is one of the main reasons why the first film was so successful. Miles Morales will once again be the heart and soul of this film. Shameik Moore returns to voice Morales. Some time has passed, and he's now a little older (15 years old), and he has been busy struggling to balance his duties between his home life, school and saving the city, all while keeping his identity secret from his parents. Thanks to Aunt May, he's got a new upgraded suit, which bears a new Spider-Man symbol, too. We get a sense of his struggle to balance all his responsibilities via a clip in which he's meeting with his school's guidance counselor with his parents, Jeff and Rio. But while they're meeting, he feels his Spidey-sense tingling, but we don't see what he is responding to in the clip. As it turns out, the reason for his alarm is...
The film’s villain… The Spot! - The Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is a lesser-known character from the Spider-Man rogues' gallery, with a superpower that really excited the filmmaking team. His entire body is covered with little interdimensional portals that can send him anywhere he wants to go. This simple power alone provided an endless and exciting opportunity for exploration, animation, and storytelling for the team behind the film. From a look perspective, his spots look like living ink that has spilled or spattered onto a comic artist's drawing. The character himself will start out looking like an unfinished rough drawing - complete with blue construction lines, evoking a comic book artist's rough drawing before the work goes to the inker, pencil shading, brushwork, and a shadow ink wash - and his look will evolve over the course of the film as the character itself evolves. Ultimately, Miles will try to stop Spot from developing his abilities, becoming the most powerful enemy he has ever faced.
The film is written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham. Mark your calendars for June 2, 2023.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.