“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the Oscar-winning 2018 animated film, shattered conventional wisdom around how animated movies could or should be made. But the groundbreaking comic book film was far from the first bold effort from Sony Pictures Animation. It wasn’t even Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s first risky film for the studio.
30 years ago, Sony Pictures Imageworks, a visual effects studio originally housed in the old TriStar building on the Sony lot, was formed. Their first assignment was doing pre-viz for the long-forgotten Bruce Willis-drives-a-police-boat thriller “Striking Distance” but 10 years later, Sony Pictures Animation was created, and SPA was given a purpose beyond visual effects for major live-action features.
Together, the two units would form a fascinating symbiosis – independent business units that function together; more intertwined than the typical client and vendor and willing to constantly one up each other, both technologically and story-wise, to create animated features unlike anything in the marketplace (before or since).
To mark the anniversaries of both Sony Pictures Imageworks (30 years) and Sony Pictures Animation (20 years), TheWrap talked to filmmakers and executives at both studios to discuss what makes them so unique, how some of their most innovative films were made and to take an exclusive peek at where the companies are headed next.
A Cloudy Beginning
Some of the first filmmakers to come through the door at Sony Pictures Animation were the team of Chris Miller and Phil Lord. “The drywall was barely up,” Lord joked.
They had been recruited because some of the executives had liked “Clone High,” a clever MTV show that lasted a single season from 2002 – 2003. (It was eventually appreciated and a new season of “Clone High” will debut next year on HBO Max.) “It was very, very early days. They were developing a ‘Hotel Transylvania’ movie and they had been trying to develop a ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ movie but had no luck.”
And it’s true, when the studio was first formed, SPA ambitiously announced a slate of feature film projects. Some of them, like “Open Season” and “Surf’s Up,” would happen. Some (an adaptation of Celtic folk ballad “Tam Lin,” a feature version of their Oscar-winning short “The ChubbChubbs”) would not.
One of the movies that they did announce initially was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” While Lord and Miller were at SPA for a more general meeting, it clicked in that the book was one of their favorites in their “parallel childhoods.”
“They called to follow up a few days after our meeting saying, ‘Well, did any of the things we talked about strike a chord with you?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, actually Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, we had a lot of ideas about ‘Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs.’ Like, ‘Oh really? Well come back and pitch us something,’” Miller said. “And we didn’t actually have any ideas. We just liked the book.”
“They said, ‘Why don’t you come back tomorrow?’” Lord remembered “And we said, ‘How about the day after tomorrow?’”
Lord and Miller stayed up all night, trying to roughly give shape to their idea. They had never written a movie before but knew what they wanted to accomplish (“one of those old Irwin Allen movies like ‘The Towering Inferno’” but with food, according to Miller) and pitched their idea enthusiastically. “And that was more or less the movie that came out six years later,” Lord said.
Even before the studio had established itself as a place where esoteric artistic voices maintain their integrity throughout the process, Lord and Miller were in awe. “I remember that when we had our first meeting, they were starting to make ‘Open Season.’ And there were Dave Feiss drawings everywhere, who’s the guy who created ‘Cow and Chicken.’ And so all the storyboards were these cracked poses that looked like Don Martin had taken over a movie,” Lord said. “And I was like, ‘I love this place where they let Dave Feiss draw a whole movie.’ It was amazing.”
During their time on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Lord and Miller were learning how to make a movie and navigate the studio system simultaneously. At one point they were removed from “Cloudy” over creative differences, only to be asked to return to the project later.
While developing the movie, they were given the go-ahead to continue, which ended up being more confusing. “I remember they kept telling us the movie was greenlit,” Lord said. “We were a year in and they were like ‘Good news, they greenlit the movie, it’s going to get made.’ We’re like, ‘Great.’ And then a year later they had this big meeting where they told us, ‘Congratulations. The movie’s greenlit.’”
As it turned out, they had simply reached the point of no return, a threshold from which Sony was uncomfortable coming back. While they clearly believed in Lord and Miller’s vision, there was still a question of what the movie was (and what made a Sony Animation movie special).
“They said, ‘Well, we determined that even if it was bad, we’ve spent so much money on it now that it would cost more money to not release it.’ We’re like, ‘Hooray, I guess? Is this where we pop the champagne or…?’” Miller said. They’d quietly crossed the rubicon.
“If they had canceled the movie, then the blame would’ve been on the executives. But if they finished the movie and it’s bad, they can blame Chris and Phil. So they went ahead and finished,” Lord said. And, true to their word, they let Lord and Miller finish the movie on their terms.
Still, the experience ended up being a positive one for them both. “Ultimately, one thing that was really great was that it’s a studio that didn’t have a long legacy of this is how we do things here. Which is a great advantage to people like us who always want to do things differently,” Miller said. “We wanted to make a movie that looked like Muppet-y and cartoony. And at the time people were not doing that in studio animated features. The name of the game was making it as realistic as possible and making it as complicated as possible. And they were open to doing that there in a way that I don’t think any other studio would’ve been.”
Lord and Miller were told that the house style at SPA was that there was no house style. “It gave us a lot of latitude,” said Lord. They were emboldened by the chances taken by the release of “Open Season” and “Surf’s Up,” both stylistically singular movies that looked very different from each other too (“Surf’s Up” is an animated faux documentary for crying out loud). And “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a smash – it led to a sequel (released in 2013) and further established the fearlessness that SPA brings to each new project. Lord and Miller would return to SPA for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and last year’s Oscar-nominated “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.” (More on both of those later.)
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was also the first film for Pam Marsden, now head of production at Sony Pictures Animation and one of the key figures of modern animation (although she would never describe herself as such). Even after “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” the entire operation was “still in its clunky start-up feel.” There was a lot of interest in the divisions succeeding but things were just emerging, organizationally. “We were really funky in our infancy,” Marsden said.
Instead of floundering, she got to work. “I wasn’t necessarily interested in revolutionizing as much as I was interested in just having people talk to each other and understand where they stood in the world,” Marsden said. “We were never set up to have a superstructure. It was a bunch of people who would do a movie, hope for the best, and then stop. And we didn’t really understand how a production connected into a studio.”
There was also, in the early years, several leadership changes (Marsden said “at least four”) that led to more confusion and instability. “I felt like there were ways to anchor ourselves and be better communicators,” Marsden said. “It didn’t seem very hard to me. And it seems sort of essential. So we just did that.”
One of the biggest tasks at hand was solidifying the relationship between Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks. At the beginning, Marsden said, it was a little more territorial. “The people at SPA in the early days I think had a real understanding of how they wanted their studio to be. And the people at SPI had an understanding of what they wanted their studio to be. And those were not the same thing,” Marsden said. “We’ve grown together.”
A Special Relationship
Even back during the development of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Sony Pictures Animation was defiant in its lack of an in-house style. But time and time again, this question arose: what makes a SPA movie a SPA movie?
“I think a lot of us answer it the same way. But I’m going to suggest that maybe we mean it a little more, which is truly, truly filmmaker-led movies and not a studio that is run by executives,” said Kristine Belson, president of Sony Pictures Animation. “I’ve worked with a lot of studios, I’ve observed a lot of studio cultures. And when I got to Sony, we all agreed, the executives serve the filmmakers. We are here to serve them and serve their visions.”
When Belson is asked what kind of project Sony Pictures Animation looks for, she always answers the same way: “A filmmaker who’s passionate about something, who has a story they want to tell and a compelling reason why they want to tell it.”
Belson notes that before she even got to the studio, the early SPA productions played with format and style.
“These movies, which I don’t know how much people recognize, don’t look like standard, theatrical computer-generated animated movies,” Benson said. “They’re really, really pushed.”
“It’s a brilliant idea to not have a house style and it’s a key to our success or it’s absolutely our undoing,” joked Marsden.
Of course, the most important component of what makes a Sony Pictures Animated film is the relationship with Sony Pictures Imageworks. The company, which does visual effects for big movies like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” also provides the animation for almost all of the movies SPA develops. While there’s a core team in Los Angeles, most of the animators and effects artists for SPI are are in Vancouver, British Colombia.
Michael Ford, the chief technology officer for Sony Pictures Imageworks, has been at the company for 21 years. He remembers the announcement that SPA was going to be formed. “I raised my hand the first day that they announced that they were going to be making an animated movie,” Ford said. He worked on early SPA films like “Open Season,” “Surfs Up” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” and continues to work on the animated projects today.
Ford said that the relationship between the two studios is a true partnership, built both on storytelling goals and the desire for the studios to be “leveling up every time we made a movie.” It’s a relationship that goes beyond the client/vendor set-up elsewhere (although, it should be noted, that SPI has been employed by other studios for animated features, like Netflix’s recent, terrific “The Sea Beast”).
“There was no challenge too big,” Ford said. “We’re used to solving really hard problems, specifically coming from the VFX side, that I think propelled some of the decision making of like, Yeah, we can just make anything we want.” With “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” it was a conscious decision on the Imageworks side to “break everything in terms of those looks.”
“That building of that relationship really helped cement the ability or the fortitude to be able to push through something that is that challenging,” Ford said.
“It is a unique relationship. And we even have a hard time sometimes describing it. We have this very amazing difference where we’re not completely vertically integrated,” said Michelle Grady, EVP and general manager of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “What we do have is a real moment of handoff between the two entities. We have so much interaction and so much collaboration with them on both sides — on the development side as well as the production side — that we call ourselves sister companies. We create their very high-end CG features with them, but then we’ve got this whole service side as well. That’s what makes Imageworks different.”
As to how the relationship between SPA and SPI has evolved over 20 years, Ford said there’s always been a “level of support” for the production and storytelling side, but learning how to juggle multiple projects at once was key: “I also think we’ve grown individually as companies, in terms of maturing and our ability to do more than one project at a time. So scaling is one of the things that’s happened. And just that shorthand as well, knowing how to make a movie together just becomes a lot easier after you’ve made about 10 of them.”
“We benefit a lot by having partners that also are fed by this sort of I can do anything energy,” Marsden said.
King of Transylvania
Genndy Tartakovsky was already a force of nature by the time he got to Sony Pictures Animation.
Tartakovsky was coming off of his TV series “Sym-Bionic Titan,” which was canceled after a single season at Cartoon Network, and was already known for shows like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack.” (He also was, infamously, courted by George Lucas to run the animation side of Lucasfilm.) When he got to Sony, Tartakovsky met with the then-executive team at SPA (he thinks this was around the beginning 2010) and pitched them an idea for “Fixed” – an R-rated, traditionally animated comedy about dogs who are about to get neutered. When leadership at the studio changed, they balked at the idea of an R-rated movie. But they asked if he could look at some of the things that the studio had in development, including a project that was proving damnably difficult to get right – “Hotel Transylvania.”
“I was the sixth director on. They just fired the directors that were there,” Tartakovsky said. “And I looked at it and I thought, Yeah, I could do something with this. And the next day, I came in with a bunch of ideas. I saw it is a big broad comedy, because they already had Adam Sandler. And they loved it.”
At the time Tartakovsky pitched his take on the material they were developing another version of the script (according to Tartakovsky it was a straightforward romantic comedy at that point), but once he got the screenplay, he started reworking it. It resulted in the first “Hotel Transylvania,” which had its own unique style of exaggerated, physical animation and some truly lovable characters. (“It was hard enough selling the cartoony look,” Tartakovsky said.)
The first “Hotel Transylvania” grossed over $350 million at the box office and would go on to spawn a franchise that now includes four feature films (the last movie, released earlier this year on Prime Video, was written and produced by Tartakovsky) and a television series that ran for 52 episodes, along with video games, short films and theme park attractions. In total, franchise has grossed $1.3 billion worldwide.
And while Tartakovsky worked on several other projects for the studio, including a big-screen adaptation of “Popeye” that ultimately didn’t go forward and a PG-13-rated action epic called “Black Knight,” he kept returning to an earlier idea: “Fixed.”
“It felt like it was dead,” Tartakovsky admitted. “When you think back to 2010/2011 adult animation is in a totally different place than it is now. It’s quite different. For us to do an R-rated feature back then was way beyond its days. It didn’t feel like there was any movement on it.”
But after many false starts and other projects utilizing his time, “Fixed” is actually in production. Like, right now.
Sony Pictures Animation has partnered with Renegade Animation, a Glendale, California-based studio co-founded by Darrell Van Critters, a veteran of Warner Bros. Animation and Disney Animation (he was the original director on what would eventually become “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”), to finally bring Tartakovsky’s passion project to life.
“We’re doing a 2D animated rated-R movie. That is the golden ring that we’ve been after since we were in our early 20s,” Tartakovsky said. “We would never think. And on top of that, it’s well-animated.” Tartakovsky said he was looking at scenes that evoked Disney’s classic “Lady and the Tramp” (while maintaining that the level of animation isn’t quite to Disney because nothing is.) “There’s feelings of that in there,” Tartakovsky said.
In describing “Fixed,” Tartakovsky said: “It’s raunchy but it’s got character and it’s cartoony. And it’s got heart. The humor isn’t pop culture humor. That’s the biggest thing. There’s no Kardashian jokes. There’s none of that. It’s all character humor. That’s what makes it much more unique and stand out. It feels like nothing else.”
While “Fixed” doesn’t have a release date yet, it’s close enough for Tartakovsky. “I’m beyond excited about it. It’s 12 years in the making,” Tartakovsky said. And the only place he could have made it was Sony Pictures Animation.
Into the Spider-Verse
One of the watershed moments in the history of Sony Pictures Animation was the release of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” in 2018. A critical darling, it would go on to gross nearly $400 million worldwide and win the Best Animated Feature Oscar in an insanely crowded year. And more importantly, the movie, with its mixture of animation styles and complete willingness to push the envelope both visually and with its go-for-broke storytelling, felt like something genuinely new amidst a sea of the same-old, same-old.
The fact that it was housed inside a widely known intellectual property made it bolder and more subversive.
“I don’t think we could have made ‘Spider-Verse’ at any other studio, not just because Sony has the rights to Spider-Man,” said Chris Miller, who produced alongside Phil Lord (who also wrote the screenplay). “I think there are a lot of gatekeepers in animation about this is what works and what doesn’t work and this is the way we do things and this is what audiences want to see.”
Miller remembered that in the early days of Sony Pictures Animation, they “spent a ton of money” and hired NRG, “a global insights and strategy firm” (according to their website). Sony was looking into what makes for a successful animated movie in an attempt to “crack the code.”
“And the big thing that the research found was that newness and innovation was driving the marketplace. People wanted to see something they hadn’t seen before, be in a world they haven’t experienced before,” Miller said. “If you’re just trying to imitate a thing that everyone else is doing, it’s not going to be something that audiences want to pay to bring their whole family to see. But if it’s something that they feel like they can’t see anywhere else and they’ve never seen anywhere else, then that’s something that they want. We’re like, Great, this is perfect for us. And they’ve really leaned in and I think now it’s been their brand to be pushing the envelope and they’re really fully embracing it.”
In his review for the New York Times, critic A.O. Scott perfectly summed up what made “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” so special: “The characters feel liberated by animation, and the audience will, too. Old-style graphic techniques commingle with digital wizardry. Wiggly lines indicate the tingling of spider senses, while electronic bursts signal the presence of interdimensional static. The rules of visual coherence are tested and ultimately upheld, while the laws of physics are flouted with sublime bravado.”
The thing about innovation, too, is that it’s infectious.
After wrapping “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” with their talented directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, Lord and Miller kept running into a young filmmaker named Mike Rianda who was working on his first feature. (Rianda was a veteran of Disney’s hugely influential animated series “Gravity Falls.”) “We passed each other in the hallways a few times. We’d look into Mike’s office and go, ‘Oh yeah, that is about as messy as our office was when we worked here.’ It turned out it was the same office on the same floor,” Lord said.
Lord and Miller watched an early version of what would eventually become “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which also reminded them of their first attempts at “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” – extremely funny but not without its rough edges. At the urging of former SPA exec Mike Moon (now at Illumination after a stint at Netflix), Lord and Miller met with Rianda.
“We hung out with Mike, who we loved, and we pulled him aside and said, ‘Listen man, just be sure you really want us to come onto this. Because if we do come on, this movie’s going to get worse for about a year and then it will get better. We’ll take it apart and put it back together again with you. Are you sure you want that?’” Lord said.
“It was very clear from hanging out with Mike that he was a kindred spirit as far as a maniac who was very passionate and very brilliant and cared a lot about making his film as great as it could be, and not someone who was just going to show up at 10 and leave at five and slide down the dinosaur and punch the clock and go home,” Miller said. “It seemed like a great match and it totally was.”
The Sony Pictures Animation-produced “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” carried forward the restless experimentation of “Into the Spider-Verse,” creating something that felt hand-made and wholly unique (a new program created by Sony Pictures Imageworks imitated brushstrokes on background objects, for example), while gently pushing on the boundaries of what is acceptable in an all-ages animated movie, like having one of the main characters be openly gay.
When the global pandemic caused a disruption in the release pipeline, Sony pivoted and sold the movie to Netflix. At the time it was Netflix’s most watched animated feature ever.
And just as “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” took its cues from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” so have other movies outside of the Sony sphere – things like DreamWorks’ “The Bad Guys” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” feature an exaggerated art style and animation that plays with frame rates and staging, and Disney’s upcoming “Wish” applies a similar, hand-painted approach to the visuals. With one movie, the entire industry was disrupted in the best possible way.
But back to the Spider-Verse.
While preparing this article, this reporter visited Sony Pictures Animation and saw a few minutes of the sequel “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (due out June 2023) that had been previewed earlier in the year at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
Most of the footage was of a sequence set in the Guggenheim. One of the new spider-people, Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae) is on a motorcycle, battling the Vulture (voiced by The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone). Instead of being the traditional Vulture, he comes from a universe inspired by Renaissance-era Italy. His art style is like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The entire sequence is fast-paced and mind-blowing. I was introduced to the new villain, The Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), whose body is dotted with interdimensional portals.
Lord and Miller are back for more web-slinging action as both producers and writers. And while a new team of extremely talented filmmakers (Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson) are leading the charge, the filmmakers from the first film (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman) are returning as executive producers and have been helping out on these new films (there’s a third coming in 2024). Persichetti in particular has been instrumental in guiding the new filmmakers. It takes a village to make a multiverse after all.
“The things that we’re doing in this new Spider-Verse movie are breaking the pipelines all over again. But everyone’s excited about it and not just terrified,” Miller said.
“It’s definitely more insane,” Lord said. “We finally made some people nervous. I feel like we’ve done our job.”
When it comes to the sequels, Lord and Miller know that they have got their hands full. For the first movie, it was pretty much an unknown quantity. Now there’s an expectation to be met – and exceeded.
“There’s a lot of pressure on these films because you want the movie to deliver an engaging story and an emotional journey. You also want it to be all the things that people are hoping for but then also you need it to be something that people didn’t even know that they wanted,” Miller said.
“Because the whole idea of these movies is we’re showing you something you’ve never seen before. And if we just did a fun mild story that felt like the first movie, I think it would be a bit disappointing. You want to feel like you’re seeing visuals that you’ve never experienced before. To do all of those things and do them in a way that’s engaging and satisfying is a big challenge but it’s also part of the reason why we do these things. That’s the goal, just to make you laugh and cry and experience something that you’ve never experienced before.” No pressure.
Beyond the Spider-Verse: Elvis, K-Pop and Ghostbusters
But as we embark on the next phase of Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks, what is around the corner?
Well, 2023 has a pair of exciting original series from the company. This reporter saw a sizzle for “Agent King,” an upcoming, adults-only animated series for Netflix that imagines Elvis as an undercover CIA agent. He shoots people in the head and his pet chimpanzee snorts lines of cocaine. (It should be noted that Priscilla and the entire estate have wholeheartedly endorsed the project) The “Agent King” art style is graphic and 2D, with animation handled by Titmouse, and Elvis’ costumes were designed by John Varvatos (yes seriously).
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is “Young Love,” a series based on Sony Animation’s Oscar-winning short film “Hair Love” (coming to HBO Max). Co-director and writer Matthew A. Cherry returns to serve as showrunner and the animation is being handled by Canadian studio Atomic Cartoons. The footage was sweet and is very much in keeping with the vibe of the original animated short.
As for feature films, one of the most anticipated is “K-Pop: Demon Hunters.” Announced in Spring 2021 and officially described as a “musical action adventure that follows the story of a world-renowned K-Pop girl group, as they balance their lives in the spotlight with their secret identities as bad-ass demon hunters, set against a colorful backdrop of fashion, food, style and the most popular music movement of this generation,” the project is directed by veteran story artist Maggie Kang and Chris Appelhans, who wrote and directed Sony’s 2021 film “Wish Dragon.”
“I create things and develop things that I want to see. And I personally want to see really cool women doing some badass stuff. And I grew up with musicals,” Kang said. “I think animation is an experience. And I think we’ve kind of lost that over the years, because we have so much just coming out, that it should be a spectacle. I am drawn to stories that have really deep themes. And I think that’s why a movie like ‘Spider-Verse’ was so successful in our business, because it kind of put animation into a different demographic. It was exciting to see that a studio was willing to do that.” (She also notes that the partnership with Sony Music only helps her big K-Pop musical.)
As with most Sony productions, Kang and Appelhans are looking to push the envelope. “That’s been a real challenge for us. Without giving a lot away, there’s still things to play with design and animation style and timing,” Kang said, noting that in terms of the production pipeline, they’ll be coming out some time after the third ‘Spider-Verse’ movie, which is set for 2024. “We’re going to pull from a lot of 2D references but do the 3D version of it.” They aren’t just inspired by the 2D references; they want to do the same things but in CG, which “changes things a lot.”
“There’s a lot of different things that you can work with. We’re just being inspired by just a lot of art that’s already in Asian culture and specifically Korean culture and tried to put it into the 3D language and bring it to screen,” Kang said.
Earlier this year, on Ghostbusters Day (naturally), a new animated feature was announced that will be directed by “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” filmmaker Jennifer Kluska alongside fellow filmmaker Chris Prynoski and set in an all-new animated world. (“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” veterans Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan are producing this new animated feature.)
Kluska said that her introduction to “Ghostbusters” came in the form of “The Real Ghostbusters,” the animated spin-off series that ran for a whopping 140 episodes from 1986 to 1991. “It feels sort of very right and fitting to come back to ‘Ghostbusters’ in an animated form. It feels like so many ‘Ghostbusters’ fans come from that space as well,” Kluska said. “And that gives you this bigger, weirder stage to play upon. And I think we want to obviously do something very new and different, as we always do but we know that there are so many ‘Ghostbusters’ fans who just are waiting to see this franchise animated again.”
As for what this untitled “Ghostbusters” will look and feel like, Kluska was both cagey and direct. (It’s very clear she ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost.) “By design this is going to be different. I think all of the films that Sony does are very consciously stylistically and tonally different and more and more also visually,” Kluska said. “The technology and the artistry pushes the medium and we are going to be looking for our own approach that’s going to be a very specific link to the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise, to the world of supernatural and to the telling of ghost stories.”
And time and time again in conversations for this story, people brought up how much they love Guillermo Martinez, who was the head of story on “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” and the mystery movie he is developing for Sony Pictures Animation.
“He’s got the whole package. He’s funny, he’s kind, but he’s passionate and he’s full of amazing ideas and he can visualize them and visualize them quickly,” Chris Miller said. “I mean the guy’s a super talent.”
“Ever since I got here there’s been this belief of let’s make this a little bit different. They really care about that. It’s been exciting and welcoming and supportive,” Martinez said. “The fact that they’re allowing us to do certain things with the project I’m developing. In other places I felt like I needed to be careful. But here I feel like an artist. If I fail it’s mostly on me. It’s exciting to see where this goes. It’s right up my alley in terms of tone.”
While he can’t talk about what his project is, Martinez referenced how different the movies in the development slate are and how that frees him up too. “It pushes you to do more challenging things artistically but if the project doesn’t require crazy art, then you don’t have to,” Martinez said. He’s also been bopping around to some of the other projects (Lord and Miller said that he will sometimes help out with jokes for the ‘Spider-Verse’ sequels). “It keeps that muscle working for me,” Martinez said.
What feels very true about this new crop of films is that they are carrying on the spirit of the early Sony Pictures Animated features; they are idiosyncratic and one-of-a-kind, molded to fit the needs of whatever the movie is, not laddering up to corporate priorities of existing as a cog in a larger synergistic machine.
“One of the things that’s pretty consistent with a lot of these movies is they feel like they were authored by a person and not a company,” Lord said. “And the distinctive voices of Mike and us and Genndy and Jill [Culton] and on and on, those voices come through, you really feel it. And it doesn’t feel like a committee of people made the movie. Even though these movies are made by committee. That’s just the way animation works. But they all feel like they each have a distinct voice.”
Or, as Pam Marsden put it: “I think there’s some degree of, for all of us, that we’re here for the adventure. As hard and crazy as their projects are, it’s an adventure.”