The harrowing reality behind the magic of the Spider-Verse

In the world of animated films, “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” is making waves as a leading contender for the title of 2023’s summer blockbuster. Despite facing tough competition from “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny,” the Sony-produced sequel is already enjoying significant success at the box office. With a budget of $100 million, the film has raked in an impressive $506.7 million worldwide. It’s no wonder Sony is feeling confident about its planned release of the trilogy’s conclusion, “Beyond The Spider-Verse,” in March 2024.

However, there seems to be a different story behind the scenes. Reports from Vulture shed light on the unsatisfactory working conditions that animators experienced while working on “Across The Spider-Verse.” Multiple animators spoke out about their grueling schedules, including seven-day work weeks and eleven-hour days. Producer Phil Lord’s management style, in particular, was criticized for causing unnecessary rework and delays.

According to Vulture, up to 100 artists left the project due to Lord’s constant revisions and interference with the directorial team’s approved sequences. Lord’s struggle to visualize 3-D storyboards was highlighted as a challenge, as his inability to envision the final product led to extensive changes during the layout stage. This constant tinkering led to significant production delays, with animators being idle for three to six months in 2022. Originally planned for an April 2022 release, “Across The Spider-Verse” was repeatedly postponed before settling on June 2, 2023.

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Vulture interviewed several animators who worked on the film, all of whom expressed frustration with the arduous production schedule and Lord’s demanding approach. One artist, Stephen, noted that Lord never seemed satisfied or committed to final decisions, causing uncertainty throughout the process. Another artist, Charlie, echoed these sentiments and claimed that Lord’s reputation made many hesitant to work with him again. Charlie also stated that Lord’s dual role as producer and director hindered the usual checks and balances, as there was no one to push back against his constant changes.

The Vulture report also highlighted the vulnerable position of the animators working on “Across The Spider-Verse.” Some relocated to Vancouver, Canada, for the project, only to find themselves waiting for work while struggling with financial insecurity. According to Eliott, animators were underpaid, relying on overtime to cover their cost of living. These conditions created a contentious and demoralizing work environment.

While Vulture reached out to Lord, the directors, and the studio for comment, they declined to provide any statements. However, Sony Pictures Entertainment head Amy Pascal acknowledged the extensive changes made during the film’s production. She mentioned that over a thousand VFX artists worked on the sequel, and it was not surprising that a portion of them left due to the long production timeline. Michelle Grady, the Executive Vice-President and GM of Sony Pictures Imageworks, added that revising and making adjustments is a normal part of the creative process.

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The troubling working conditions experienced by the animators on “Across The Spider-Verse” are part of a broader pattern in the VFX industry. Similar stories of overworked animators emerged from Marvel Studios and DC productions, suggesting a systemic issue that needs addressing. The well-being of workers should take precedence over meeting release deadlines. The question remains, what will it take to bring about the necessary culture change in the industry?

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