Spider-Verse Directors Talk Animation & Beyond the Spider-Verse Sequel


In case you didn’t know, animation directors are also auteurs. According to Yahoo Finance, the global animation market reached more than $400 billion at the end of 2023. That was up from $391 billion one year before. And yet, animated projects are not automatically covered by the WGA, are separate from the DGA, and are consistently overlooked for their filmmaking achievements.

Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, the directing trio of Sony Animation’s animated box office smash “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” tell Variety‘s Awards Circuit Podcast that there are some critically needed changes in Hollywood.

“I think it’s worth repeating: animation is a big business for the industry,” says Dos Santos. “We bring a ton to the table; without it, everybody hurts. I also want to add that doing an animated film shouldn’t be a sacrifice for the artist doing it.”

Powers adds: “I do both [writing and animation], and it’s hard to convince a writer who’s in WGA to write on an animated feature for the simple reason it doesn’t pay into their medical insurance. I hope the industry understands that animation is important to this entire cinema ecosystem. There’s been this great narrative on ‘what’s going to save movies, and when will they come back?’ The truth is that movies can never come back unless animation comes back.”

Thompson wants to see animators invited to join WGA and DGA. “It should have been from the beginning,” he says. “There are many complicated reasons why it isn’t, but at some point, the WGA, DGA, and studios must accept that. They’re also creating a barrier entry for filmmakers who would love to use this medium but won’t because of the lack of WGA and DGA representation.”

On this episode of Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast, we sit down with the directing trio of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” as they discuss their passion for the medium, what to expect from the upcoming third installment, and the needed changes Hollywood made to give animation the respect it deserves. Listen below:

Sony Pictures

“Across the Spider-Verse” takes place a year after the events of the previous film, with Miles Morales (a.k.a. Spider-Man) facing a new threat. Unfortunately, it causes him to interact with a new group of Spider-People across the multiverse.

Before “Across the Spider-Verse,” Thompson worked in various animation departments on television series such as “Star Wars: Clone Wars” and for films such as “The Emoji Movie.” Dos Santos has also worked in various animation and art departments for series such as “The Legend of Korra” and executive producing “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” directing several episodes of both.

Powers, a playwright and former journalist, garnered his first Oscar nomination for adapting his play “One Night in Miami” (2020). The same year, he co-directed Pixar’s “Soul,” which won two Academy Awards for best animated feature and original score.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was nominated for best animated feature at this year’s Oscars. However, Dos Santos was not among the listed nominees due to an Academy rule allowing only four teams to be recognized. The official nominees from “Spider-Verse” are Powers, Thompson, producing partners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and producer Amy Pascal. Two other PGA-marked producers, Avi Arad and Christina Steinberg, are outside the recognized nominees.

It’s bad enough the film was passed over in categories such as visual effects and original score, but the medium that already has difficulty garnering the proper respect from the Hollywood industry is being screwed over in its own category.

Meanwhile, also in this episode: The Roundtable discusses why this feels like an extra-long Oscar season, and we recap a fantastic Grammy awards telecast.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay, Emily Longeretta and Michael Schneider, who also produces, is your one-stop source for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives, discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines, and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

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