Years of start-from-scratch animation innovation will finally cast its web at the box office this weekend, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens in theaters. Unlike other animated movies in the Marvel pantheon, whether CGI or illustrated, Spider-Verse has adopted a completely new approach that’s different from anything that’s come before — so different, in fact, that Sony wants to patent it.
Deadline reports that Sony has applied to the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office to lock down a number of new development tricks that help bring a fresh look and feel to Miles Morales’ coming-out party. Ranging from machine learning techniques to an in-house bit of software that affords artists new ways to layer illustration effects, the creative team reportedly believes the tech they’ve come up with to get Spidey out the door deserves to stay exclusively with Sony.
The new techniques show up in the movie in a number of ways, from “retro accents such as Ben-Day dots [widely used for background shading in 1950s-vintage comics], thought balloons, panels, written sound effects and even the illusion of alignment flaws in color separation,” according to the report.
The on-screen result is a more lived-in, hand-crafted style of computer-generated animation — one capable of paying remarkably faithful tribute to the visual style of bygone comic book eras. The limited technology and cost-cutting measures of yesterday’s comics weren’t necessarily done with style in mind, but the finished products they yielded are now treasured by comics fans as instantly recognizable hallmarks of their times.
But coming up with the tech to recreate those flourishes, while merging them with modern computer animation for an entirely new look, came at a great expense of time. Animating Spider-Verse reportedly has been a painstaking and labor-intensive process, one that’s taken artists four times longer than their colleagues on other Marvel projects, who render their screen-worthy footage in conventional CGI.
But is it patent-worthy? Sony hopes so. “With the application for patent protections, Sony claims the innovations of the film go beyond stylistic originality or envelope-pushing success and qualify as a distinctly new invention,” the report explains.
One other interesting bit of fallout that could result, should Sony get what it’s asking for, is a potential lock-out of Spider-Verse’s unique look from any Disney-owned Marvel projects. If Sony patents its animation approach, will it license its tech so that Disney can use it for Black Panther, Iron Man, or any of the other heroes who don’t live on Sony’s side of the street? Or will it protect the new style as an in-house brand, one that won’t be shared across the Marvel divide?
Questions like those will partially be answered, of course, by how audiences respond to Spider-Verse’s new look, and by how well the movie does at the box office. Early projections indicate Sony has little to worry about on that front, but we’ll see firsthand soon enough: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse swings into theaters everywhere starting Friday.