Pam Marsden, Head of Physical Production for Sony Pictures Animation, took center stage at Collision Conference in Toronto. Marsden held a brief 15-minute keynote in which she reflected on the success and challenges endured during the production of the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
For those unaware of Pam Marsden’s work, she began cutting her teeth in the industry during the production of Disney’s Dinosaur in 2000. She later transitioned over to Sony and began work on Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs in 2009 and it’s sequel later in 2013. Marsden now leads the production department and became an integral part of how Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse’s unique animation came to be. During the keynote, Marsden told the story of how Amy Pascal approached Phil Lord and Chris Miller with the proposal of doing an animated Spider-Man film.
Marsden also highlighted the challenges her team faced when approaching animating in “ones and twos”. The production team had set a goal of making Spider-Verse look like an authentic comic book, which was ambitious. On stage, Marsden showed an example of how animating in twos (where an image would advance every two frames as opposed to each frame) and how it would cause a stuttering effect. Thankfully, Sony Animated Pictures was able to find a solution, which attributes to how gorgeous Spider-Verse looks on screen.
Following the keynote, I sat down with Pam Marsden to get some more insight on her experiences and lessons learned during the production of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Steve: What was your reaction when the proposal and pitch of Spider-Verse came across your desk?
Pam: I’m a sucker for any Phil Lord and Chris Miller project that could ever possibly be! I knew we were going to have something special. They’re so smart and so meta and interested in hitting a sweet, emotional spot while laughing at the same time. I’m thrilled with how it worked out.
Steve: During your keynote, you brought up the challenges involved regarding “animating in twos”. What sort of timeframe did it take to troubleshoot and finally find a solution?
Pam: That was one of the smaller struggles and it is hard to give it a timeline because solving it in one stage means it would have to be addressed in another. I would say the entire filmmaking process took more than 22 months.
We really had a good experimental time––a good amount of time to figure out how we could make this movie resemble a comic book. Whether it was the certain depth of field or camera or the environments. We took a shot on an idea and it grew. It wasn’t within a timeframe where we start here and you have a solution there. It was boxed up in departments and what we were learning about the movie. What you learn in lighting comes back to camera and then the story changes. It doesn’t work in an orderly fashion, no matter how much we want it too! (Laughs)
Steve: Were there any surprising lessons you learned throughout the production of Spider-Man?
Pam: I learned that the time spent setting up a team and establishing a common language between a group that knew what their goals were is really critical. It was a very big production for us and it isn’t like a speedboat that can turn around quickly. It’s a production––and production, in general, is a behemoth where you must be careful where you move.
The whole team was so eager to learn more and to push that the reflex of “Let’s try this!” and the time to execute on this well was not as quick as we would have liked it. I think the better the team works together, the quicker that synapses can fire.
Steve: With that in mind, is there anything you are your team are eager to experiment with for the next Spider-Verse movie?
Pam: It sort of depends and it’s true for all our films––it depends on what the movie requires. This took a special, fortunate piece of brainpower to identify comic books for this movie. That was something that could help us answer all our questions. “Does this look like a comic book? Well, I don’t know, let’s try this!” To have that touchstone was wonderful to help guide us to those decisions and keep our thoughts focused to achieve our goal.
Steve: I really can’t talk about Spider-Verse without bringing up the “Leap” sequence. Are there any interesting anecdotes regarding that sequence?
Pam: The use of camera in animation was something that we knew would help us not be a normal live-action Spider-Man movie. That sequence and a lot of the camera work in act three was re-done probably 43-million times. In animation, we can have anything we want. So it’s hard to know what you want. It resulted in camera being one of our most iterative departments. There is so much freedom and the character has so many impossible, never-seen-before skills. Between those two things, there is no grounding it in reality.
A big thank you to Pam Marsden for chatting with me during Collision Conference. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is available on DVD, Bluray and 4K UHD. It will also debut on Netflix on June 26th.