By Nancy Powell
Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, California played back-to-back host Secember 15, 2018 to the artistic teams of two recently-released, animated features destined for the year-end awards circuits: Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet and Sony Picture’s Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Ticket sales for both events were placed on sale to the general public at roughly the same time. But early last week, the 130 tickets allocated for Spider-Man had completely sold out. Ralph, on the other hand, was barely half full.
On a somewhat chilly Saturday morning, fans without tickets began queuing well before 9:30 A.M. outside Gallery Nucleus, hoping to score the elusive ticket. Five people were in line by 10:00. Fast forward one hour and the line wound around the corner of Monterey and Main, a mix of ticketed and non-ticketed guests.
Huge buzz has circulated about the film. Variety reported a $35-$40 million opening. Most people in line who had seen the movie called it an instant classic. With its Friday opening, the demand for limited-edition prints ($50 and $75 each) and the companion art book was brisk. When 1:00 PM finally rolled around and the store began letting waitlisters into the gallery, many made a beeline to the cashwrap to secure their purchases before heading to the main gallery for the talk and signing.
During the talk, art director Patrick O’Keefe answered the burning question, “Why another reboot of Spider-Man, besides being a cash grab?”
“It was a chance to take a new look at a new Spider-Man, a character by Brian Michael Bendis, and a new character for a new generation,” said O’Keefe. “We wanted to reevaluate how we look at comic books.”
The discussion ping ponged between O’Keefe and art director Dean Gordon, who took the time to describe the challenges and the particular stylistic techniques that brought the comic book characters to life on the big screen. While digitally-animated, the film still required considerable hand-drawn and painted frames. Luckily, visual development artists Yuhki Demers, Zac Retz, and the late-arriving Peter Chan were there to fill in the blanks on the artistic elements of the Spiderverse, from the inspired realism of Miles Morales’ cozy Brooklyn to the manga-inspired Peni Parker and the different takes on an aging Spider-man, including a noir-inspired version. As Gordon remarked, it was “taking on the old to bring in the new.”
For over an hour, the artistic team drove through a montage of images, from early conception (environment scouting, character sketches and expression sheets—“We doubled-down on Kingpin’s chin”) to the film’s final shape (animated composites of Spider-Man’s cemetery scene), with Chan illustrating the increasingly vivid freneticism of Spidey’s action sequences.
There were no particular spoilers this afternoon, leaving those who have seen the film satisfied and those yet to see it salivating to do so. O’Keefe’s biggest reveal? The sequel would revolve around Miles and Spider-Gwen.
The panel on Ralph Breaks the Internet proved informative and entertaining, particularly when each of the artists were polled on their favorite parts of the story (Mingjue Helen Chen cited the in-joke of “A Dollar Store” standing in for the Dollar store as her personal favorite). The final panel, if not well-attended, was a nice opportunity for the art team to highlight the conceptual design that guided the Ralph sequel. Of note was head of story Josie Trinidad’s and art director Matthias Lechner’s take on the companies they considered as representative of that internet experience, the not-so-subtly named “Gugle” for Google and “Amazing” for Amazon.
It was not a bad day for fans of these two animated films. In fact, it was icing on the cake.