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Patenting their Newfangled Spider-man : Sony

What’s being called as the greatest animation film of all time, the new spider-man movie is definitely setting new standards in Hollywood Town. In fact, the movie visuals are so extraordinary that Sony actually went forward and filed a patent, protecting the animation process and technologies used to produce Spider-Man : Into the Spider-Verse. The film’s distinctive visual achievement brings back the storytelling that was depicted in Vintage Marvel Comics.

The movie showcases the use of various old school animation techniques including Ben-Day dots, thought balloons, panels, written sound effects and deliberate alignment flaws in color separation. This whole concept of using retro style animation looks like a fusion of 3D , stop motion and 2D making it look as if the comic book came alive.

It didn’t take long for its filmmakers to realize that the movie’s potential exceeded beyond normal limits, marking its innovations as special and distinctly inventive. The filing cites a half-dozen specific components of the process, however they made no comment on the patent application, or its contents.

The film’s directors (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman) see this project as an opportunity to open the floodgates for better, more creative styles of animation, setting aside the predominant CG animation for once. The intent for using this particular style they explain, was to constitute the impression of hand drawn art and its textures into the finished product.

Every frame in the movie finds a computer generated image as its origin, which is followed by an overlay of hand drawn art. This has its own set of challenges, with each frame coming out unique, giving rise to imperfections. But that was the point. The whole idea to make it look choppy was to create an impression like you’re flipping through comic book pages. The conventional CGI that accounts to a digitally clean and more precise output could have never achieved that.

Needless to say, Sony put in a lot of effort putting this project together. For the hand drawn aspirations of the Spider-verse to see the day of light, a new visual language had to be created, following the animation and lighting pipeline rebuilt from scratch. Moreover, it was a cumbersome process. Most animated projects today would require a week’s worth of labor to produce 4 seconds of screen action. For Spider-verse it was more like a week of work for every single second. The film’s shot count (number of shots the camera takes during the total length of the film) is also two- to three-times the number found in other animated releases.

Now it’s all up to the USPTO to figure out whether the effort put into engineering this project was an innovative one or not. Here’s a summary of the Sony patent application’s claim:

Unique rendering and compositing technologies that can artistically modify the smooth shading of a surface via “stylized quantization.” Those technologies can add specific patterned-controls over the break-up of light hitting skin and also integrate half-tone dots and hatched lines (called “Screentones”).

Sony also shed some light over the technology used to make the Spider-Verse. The company describe an Ink-line software that allows an artist to draw on the character surface irrespective of the underlying geometry - something close to illustration techniques. The hand-drawn lines of the character faces are converted to geometry and then rigged for animation control.

The patent filing further discusses a machine learning component which facilitates the process as an automated function that predicts the position of lines on the next frame. The extrapolated lines gives animators an advantage for fine-tuning the lines.

The application also cited “stylized abstractions of reality” constructed with shading tools that create the illusion of depth on a flat surface, the emulation of interior volumes of buildings and illustrated graphic reflections. Other than that the application points to some artist-friendly lighting tools that interactively light-up large sections of buildings while maintaining crisp, hard shadows.

Despite the great response for the most part, there were some viewers who felt differently. This new approach of combining the traditional animation with the current digital form, just didn’t do it for some people. While some people appreciated the idea of adding fewer in-betweens in the animation which gives it the stylized look, others hated this approach. They stated, that despite the stunning visuals, the FPS of characters seemed annoyingly low, which just took away from the movie. Well, seeing the movie’s success at the box office, a few negative reviews don’t account to much significance. Already being considered as the best animation movie of the year, Spider-Verse alongside its cast and crew is all set for for a plausible winning spree in the coming Golden Globes and Academy Awards.

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