In the faraway, long-forgotten time when we actually enjoyed the entertainment we paid to watch, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse web-swung onto movie screens to wide acclaim. And a lot of that love went to its amazing animation, which somehow combined a unique comic book style with such realistic character behavior that you wouldn't be surprised to find out that they pushed Daniel Day-Lewis through that cartoon window in the Take On Me video and had him play all the parts.
Sony Pictures Releasing
Now, if you ever wondered how animators create such amazing body language, you're in luck, because one of the movie's artists will gladly show you all the hard work she put into bringing the Spider-Folk to life. Hard work that that only looks like she's on the couch sloppily eating fast food.
Emma Shih published a video showcasing the reference shots she created to animate her parts of Into The Spider-Verse. Shih acts out all the scenes herself in order to observe the exact body language of, say, a teenager realizing his mentor is going to get him killed.
Of course, animators haven't always had the luxury of recording themselves on their phones. Reference work has been used by artists to portray any human figure more complex than stick figures hunting mammoths (with a few disastrous exceptions). Traditionally, animators still do it in the same way classic painters did to create their superheroes (i.e. Greek gods): by observing hired models in various poses. Though back then, those models were often prostitutes, as they're a lot easier to convince that to accurately capture Athena, you had to take off your underwear.
But practicing your artistic mo-cap by looking at your own kisser is older than you might expect. Back in the day, Disney animators often had mirrors installed on their drawing tables in which they could mug to their heart's content, putting their crazy eyes and wrinkled faces into whatever adorable animal they were making for the Mouse. Though it was slightly more entertaining to let those lazy voice actors pick up some of the slack as well.
Of course, even an artist's understanding of human expressions has its limits, which is why the Into The Spider-Verse animators were probably immensely relieved to find that Nicolas Cage's Spider-Man Noir wasn't allowed to take off his mask.
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