“Spider-Verse” Team Addresses the Necessity of Creative Collaboration

Peter Ramsey

With an animated feature like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “You learn the movie in editorial — that’s when it starts talking to you,” said Peter Ramsey, the film’s co-director.

Ramsey joined lead editor Robert Fisher Jr. and assistant editor Sarah Cole for the Monday Creative Master session “Editing Inside the Spider-Verse,” presented by ACE (American Cinema Editors), as they screened material from the film and recounted how each scene reflected their collaborative approach. (“For everything you see on screen,” Ramsey said, “there was some kind of debate.”)

Editing an animated feature requires an “iterative process” as material moves from “storyboard to layout to rough animation to animation to texture … until you see the end result,” Fisher said.

Moderated by Hollywood Reporter technology editor Carolyn Giardina, the discussion focused primarily on the evolution of the film’s protagonist, Miles Medina, a Brooklyn teen who develops superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider but is reluctant to accept the challenges and responsibilities of being a superhero. Ramsey explained that they wanted to “keep it about this kid.” Even when Miles isn’t on screen, Ramsey said, the film is “following his story.”

“We knew the spirit of what we wanted to feel emotionally,” Ramsey said, but it required an ongoing collaboration to achieve it.

“We would ask ourselves, ‘Does this beat work? Does this convey the intention?’” recalled Cole, who, until the actor voices were added, voiced every female role.

Throughout the three-year period from script to initial storyboard to final delivery, Ramsey and the creative team — which included co-directors Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman, and producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — worked with Fisher and Cole to refine Miles’ character and “balance plot, character, humor and action,” Fisher said.

In an early scene in which Miles nervously attempts to “swing” from building to building in Brooklyn, for example, they wanted to “demonstrate what Miles feels,” Fisher noted. The team worked to include different camera angles — including over-the-shoulder shots and tight close-ups of Miles — to bring the audience into his emotional state. They then added overhead shots to give the audience the same sense of vertigo about the building heights that Miles was experiencing, aiming for what Ramsey called “subjectivity with the camera.”

The team experimented with different stylistic approaches and scene assemblies, including a version with an internal monologue, but opted to “show” rather than “tell” the viewer that Miles was working up the courage to swing — and doesn’t succeed. Cole summarized it as, “‘I’m going to be a superhero … or … eh … maybe not.’”

Fisher described a climactic scene in which Miles ultimately decides to become Spider-Man as a “lean-forward moment”: a suspenseful, dynamic combination of graphics, split-screens, flashbacks, music, action and, yes, swinging, that builds to a crescendo.

“This is why I do what I do,” Fisher said after the sequence was screened. “It gave me such joy to put together the pieces.”