Currently in theaters from Sony Pictures Animation is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, featuring the voices of Shameik Moore, Liev Schriber, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, Hailee Steinfeld, and Jake Johnson.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduces Brooklyn teen Miles Morales, and the limitless possibilities of the Spider-Verse, where more than one can wear the mask.
Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into the one and only Spider-Man. When he meets Peter Parker, he soon realizes that there are many others who share his special, high-flying talents. Miles must now use his newfound skills to battle the evil Kingpin, a hulking madman who can open portals to other universes and pull different versions of Spider-Man into our world.
Shameik Moore voices Miles Morales in the film, and he is joined by Liev Schreiber as the villain Kingping, Jake Johnson as Miles’ mentor Peter Parker, Mahershala Ali Miles’ Uncle Aaron , Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’ father Jefferson, Luna Lauren Velez as Miles’ mother Rio, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, with Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy aka Spider-Gwen.
For Ramsey, this is his first film since he made his directorial debut with 2012’s Rise of the Guardians, making him the first African-American to direct a big budget animated feature. Prior to that, he had worked as a storyboard artist, production illustrator and second unit director on numerous films including Predator 2, Backdraft, Independence Day, Fight Club and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Ramsey as he spoke his involvement with the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
It’s rare, and I looked it up, to have three directors on a film. Not since the 40s and the 30s and so forth, so how did this come about for you?
Peter Ramsey: Well, actually it’s not so rare in animation to have multiple directors and that is because in animation just about every phase of production is going on at the same time. You’re editing while you’re still writing a lot of the time, you’re still story boarding, you’re animating. So that plus the fact that this was an amazingly complicated story, both technically and story-wise in the first place, it kind of demanded that we have more than one person directing. And we had areas of stuff that we specialize in, but we also had things that we all did, like we all recorded the actors, we all met with the art department and with the design departments, we all spent time in editorial, usually together, working on cuts of the film and figuring out what worked and what didn’t. We all participated in every story decision and all weighed in on what we thought worked and what we thought didn’t. It was a real full creative collaboration.
Not to say that there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, is there a specialty that you have that you brought into the picture?
Peter Ramsey: Sure, yeah. There’s things that I do. I come out of story boarding and story and animation. Also, I directed my own movie six years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I had done that one on my own, and when I say on my own I mean with the help of my team, which is almost like having additional directors sometimes. The things that I was able to bring to this movie I would say would be a lot of … visual storytelling skills, a lot of direct working with the actors. Things like camera work and staging and something that I did a lot of. Let me see, directing voice talent, a lot of story boarding and laying down the ground work for a lot of the sequences in the film. I directed some of the animation, but because I had to jump around and work on other things co-director Bob Persichetti, who was a super trained animator on most of that. Like I said, it really was kind of jumping around all of the place even though we each have different areas that we’ve kind of specialized in.
I think the thing what sells this movie and what everybody’s talking about is the storytelling. We’ve seen Spider-Man films, we know the background, so it’s almost like Shakespeare, what version are we going to get? Can they do it well? What was more challenging, the animation part of it, the story boarding, or the story itself? Trying to get enough in there so that the fans can feel that this is something new and fresh?
Peter Ramsey: It’s always about the story. It all goes back to story, no matter what the film looks like, no matter how complex it is or how flashy it is, it all gets down to are you telling a story that communicates the experience of a character that people are going to engage with? Are they going to love these characters, are they going to care what happens? Do they understand the larger context of the story and what it all means? Story is always number one and we worked really, really hard. We only really just finished this movie barely a matter of weeks ago. It takes that long, even though we had three directors, we had producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were completely creatively involved. We had an army of hundreds of people working on the different technical aspects of the film with us, and it still took right up until the last minute to tell the story. It takes a lot of work.
Just before you came on board how much of a fan were you of the Spider-Man franchise and did you know everything about this movie, at least about the characters?
Peter Ramsey: Yeah, I grew up reading Spider-Man comics. I was a big Marvel kid back in the day, so I was pretty well versed in Spider-Man. And I had kind of dipped into the Marvel comics when he hit the scene, I think it was back in 2011 I guess. And that was of course a gigantic leap in comics to take an iconic character and then re-cast them as a kid of color from a dual heritage and a whole new take on the character that was fresh and new, and yet at the same time it took all the iconic things about the character and made them even stronger. So i was fairly well rounded and when the chance came to be involved with the concept of telling Miles’ story, for me that was kind of a dream come true in this medium.
You know everybody wants to see this movie because obviously this is a Spider-Man that people can connect, obviously it’s bringing more diversity, it’s a black character. As a director who’s doing animated, can you talk about the relationship in working with the talent? How is it for you when you’re working with voice actors? Do you guys get to see them?
Peter Ramsey: Oh, yeah. Sometimes they come to the studio where we have a little recording room. A lot of times you meet them at a recording studio, and yeah we’re right there in the room with the actors. We’ve all got our little script pages, we go through it with them and we give them the context, sometimes we’ll read with them. If they want another actor to bounce off of we’ll read the lines with them. It was a dream come true. I got to work with Shameik Moore, who we cast as Miles Morales. He’s just a really brilliant, sensitive, really brought this real innocence and sweetness to the part of Miles and he’s really, really funny and super charming. We had these great actors, Mahershala Ali and Brian Tyree Henry, who are both legends, just giants. I still can’t believe I got to work with them. Lauren Velez, who plays Miles’ mom, just an incredible, incredible cast of characters. Jake Johnson, who plays Peter Parker, everybody was amazing. Yeah, we get to be in the room with them and it’s like work shopping a play.
What’s next for you and how long do you think it’ll take?
Peter Ramsey: Good question. Hopefully next for me is a vacation, man, because I have been going strong for all those years. There’s a bunch of possibilities bouncing around. There is a Netflix thing that I’m excited about that I’m attached to. I can’t really talk about it yet, but that will probably be coming to life some time in the coming year, but yeah. I’m just kind of trying to wrap my head around the fact that Spider-Man is over for now and whatever’s next is going to wait for us a little bit.