We Seem To Have Entered The Post-Into The Spider-Verse Phase Of Animation, And That's Great

For years, it felt like mainstream animation was getting a little stale. Sure, you got your occasional attempt at something unique that pays tribute to hand-drawn animation, but those were almost always made for adults. They were niche. Thankfully, following the incredible success of Sony's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," animation studios are seemingly willing to get a little more experimental in their styles. "Into the Spider-Verse" brilliantly blended 2D and 3D animation styles, played with character frame rates, and implemented a variety of cartoon and comic book-inspired textures instead of focusing entirely on realism. Now, it looks like more and more projects are following Spidey and integrating divergent animation styles to create hybrid 2D and 3D worlds that look refreshingly unique. 

Dreamworks Animation released the trailer for their latest movie, "The Bad Guys," and it's a cartoony breath of fresh air compared to something like the stale copy-and-paste repetition of some other big kids' flicks coming down the pipeline. Compare the silly, vibrant energy of "The Bad Guys" to something like "Sing 2," and you'll start to see what I mean.

Thank You, Into the Spider-Verse

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is the perfect comic book movie — no hyperbole. Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman took Phil Lord and Rothman's script and created the movie that comes the closest to replicating the magic of reading your favorite comic book. The movie plays fast and loose with its animation, combining a variety of styles to create something wholly unique. Just look at the still above, where Spidey is rendered in fairly traditional 3D CGI, the background looks like it was drawn on paper, and there are bright, 2D surprise lines coming off of Peter's head. This mixture of styles and textures not only makes the image pop, but it creates a whole aesthetic that carries throughout the movie and sucks viewers into its world. 

"Into the Spider-Verse" completely changed the game when it came to animation in the 21st century. The filmmakers had to come up with new technology to help them create line-art over 3-D models, and apply halftone and other comic book textures. They even developed a way to use 2D animation tricks like drawing at 12 frames per second instead of 24. These innovations made "Into the Spider-Verse" feel wholly unique while still maintaining its comic book roots. 

Let Animation Be Imaginative

Since "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," we've been blessed with some other delightful experiments in animation, ranging from family fare like Netflix's "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" to entertainment purely for adults like "Beastars" or "Arcane." Each blends the kind of 3D animation we've grown accustomed to with other forms of animation. In "Mitchells vs. the Machines," the main character is an artist whose inner thoughts are hand-drawn across the screen. In "Beastars," the characters are animated using 3-D technology, but have been given 2-D textures to render them more like traditional anime characters. "Arcane" blends the techniques, with a computer-generated world and characters that appear almost as if they've been rendered in oil paint. 

The artistry involved in making these digital creations look and feel as "flawed" as traditional mediums is immense. There's a lot of love and care that goes into this kind of animation, which requires more hands-on involvement and therefore feels more connected to the artists themselves. With many of the CGI animated features of the past, it can often feel like the creators are simply moving digital objects around an imaginary sound stage, tweaking assets but never starting from scratch. It's cost and time-effective to animate that way, but the end results can feels flat and lifeless. 

Taking Animation Back to Where it Began

One of my favorite things in this world is to watch older animation, the kind where you can still see the pencil lines on some frames. These tiny imperfections are a reminder of the artistic efforts behind these incredible creations. There's something about the way movies like "Into the Spider-Verse" and "Mitchells vs. the Machines" have tapped into that understanding of art as imperfect that makes them feel more authentic than their perfectly polished peers. So many animated films have been trying to replicate a version of reality for so long that they forgot about the artistry inherent in animation. 

Even though these newer films are using computer-generated animation, their playfulness with the medium harkens back to the days when animation was a new art and studios were figuring out how to bring still images to life. The trailer for "The Bad Guys" is full of life and energy, and that's a step in the right direction. We live in a post-"Into the Spider-Verse" world, and that hopefully means a new era of animation, and we'll all be the better for it.