What does it mean to be a superhero? Decades of comics, TV shows, and movies will tell you a few things about who superheroes are and what makes them special…
Some are born with special powers, others with money and the dedication to protect the vulnerable. For many, a transformative experience alters their genetic makeup, gifting them with special abilities.
Many a wide-eyed child wishes for the day their hand too will get bit by a radioactive spider or maybe they could stumble into a stray gamma ray or two. But what if becoming a superhero was easier? What if it doesn’t have to be left to chance?
What if anyone, in fact, could be a superhero?
They can, according to the latest addition to the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which launches in theaters this weekend. They just need to put on the mask.
Ringling College of Art and Design sat down with graduate Brittany Shively (Game Art & Design, ‘16) who worked as a 3D Visual Development Artist on the Sony Pictures Animation team that brought this feature-length animation to life. She had a lot to say about the experience working with her amazing team, and what this movie means to her.
Ringling College: The movie was spectacular! Let me just say, congratulations. Did you ever imagine you’d be working on a Marvel movie?
Brittany Shively: No, I didn’t! You see them growing up, and they’re such a big part of your life...you’d never think you would have the chance to work on something like this. I played Spider-Man on my Sega Genesis and read the comics with my brother. That’s where I met Miles Morales in 2011. And to have the opportunity to work on his story for Marvel...well, it’s been unbelievable.
RC: Tell me a bit about your role on the film.
BS: Well I started as a Visual Development artist creating props and environment design for about six months. I designed weapons, like web shooters, pumpkin bombs, plasma beam guns, and uncle Aaron’s turntables. And I also worked on environments, like Miles’ neighborhood and its Brooklyn brownstone buildings.
Then I worked on previsualization modeling design, which kind of like computer storyboarding. We take 2D storyboards and transfer it to 3D, so we can really see what works. It’s often the first time we get to see the environment in 3D. It’s very cool.
RC: How long did you work on the film? I read that, due to the unique animation style for this film, animators would produce one second of animation per week!
BS: One year, almost exactly. This is just one of the reasons I am so invested. Our team put our hearts and souls into this film, and we are so excited. This is also the first movie I have worked on to actually come out.
RC: Yes, you were actually a Game Art and Design major at Ringling College...did you always plan to work in film?
BS: I have always been open to both. I had a love for animation and video games, and I am happy doing either. My passion is really for environment design, and, at Sony, I found that I love animation and the freedom they give us here. It’s amazing.
RC: You started working with Sony right after graduation. Can you tell me a bit about how you started your career there?
BS: I reached out like crazy in school. I was always working with Ringling College Career Services touching up my resume, learning how to write proper cover letters, and asking questions about interview etiquette. My junior year, I had an interview with Sony Imageworks in Vancouver, and they directed me to the animation office in Los Angeles. The following year, I had an interview with the person who is now my boss, Todd Pilger. He and Spider-Verse's Production Designer Justin Thompson and Marcelo Vignali have been my mentors since I started a Sony, and I have learned so much from them.
RC: The film, while funny, entertaining, and beautifully animated, has a real, concrete message for viewers: You too can be a hero. You just have to put on the mask. Can you tell me a little about what this means to you?
BS: A lot of people are under the impression that one person can’t make a difference. That one voice is too small. This movie says that you are enough. You just have to try to get out there and do the right thing, even if you fail along the way. Work hard and you can help make the world a better place.
RC: Many aspiring animators may think they could never have the opportunity to work on a major film like Spider-Man. What would you tell them?
BS: I always hoped to work someplace like this. But there is a voice in your head that tells you “There are so many people trying to do this. There is so much competition. How could I break in?” I can only share what I did, which is work hard, take breaks, and be healthy. At Ringling College, we were taught to compare our work to that of the professionals, not to other students. So look at the best of the best work, and ask yourself how yours stacks up. And what do you need to get it there? But remember, take care of yourself -- be healthy, sleep, and eat. And whatever you do, never give up.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is now in theaters. Keep an eye out for Brittany’s pumpkin bombs and brownstones!
The full interview with Brittany will be published in the 2019 issue of CONTXT magazine, the official publication of Ringling College of Art and Design. Look for the full story this spring!