At first glance, the thought of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse having multiple versions in theaters sounds revolutionary. It’s something that you don’t really see happening and it speaks to the dedication that the studio has to this project. It’s also brilliant for marketing and for getting bodies back into the studio to watch this movie again. In turn, the studio is going to make so much more money because fans will want to catch these different scenes with their own eyes. But on the flip side, it’s also a stark reminder of the working conditions that these animators went through.
According to a report by Vulture, Across the Spider-Verse was “a relentless kind of revisionism that compelled approximately 100 artists to flee the movie before its completion.” And that, instead of changes being made to the movie during its development stage, they often had to “make alterations to already-approved animated sequences.” This led to long work days, delays, and a work environment that allegedly saw some animators only staying because they knew if they left, their work would be overwritten and they would have nothing to show for the time spent on this movie.
And it’s not like animators don’t love what they do or don’t appreciate the stunning technical marvel that is Across the Spider-Verse. But when you have working conditions like this, it crushes morale. It makes you question if you even want to do this anymore or if this line of work is even sustainable. And while I want to give the benefit of the doubt that a lot of the animators maybe had a good time and that maybe this isn’t the full picture, the fact of the matter is that Hollywood has a long history of exploitation of their workers as long as it keeps investors/board members happy or helps line their pockets.
It’s the reason why the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike at the moment. It’s the reason why there are calls for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to join them in asking for better wages and contracts for the work that they do for major studios. And in connection to animation, you see adjacent fields in the gaming industry where animators are calling out studios for the grueling hours that they are forced to work to get the job done. You even see it in VFX Studios, where some of the artists have had no problem admitting that special effects sometimes look like shit because they know that if they don’t get it done, the Hollywood studios will just find someone else that will do it instead. And maybe for a cheaper price to get their name out there.
So while I love the thought of Across the Spider-Verse having multiple versions out in theaters, I can’t help but feel for the animators. This movie was already a technical marvel that pushes the boundaries of animation. And I was already worried about the working conditions to hit a specific deadline and have a specific look. Knowing that these animators were asked to probably make last-minute changes, to make these multiple versions hit theaters, makes me keenly aware that things might have been worse behind the scenes than reported.
With Across the Spider-Verse Part 2 still in the works, and everything that’s happening with the WGA and SAG right now, I hope that the animators guild (TAG) expands and gets the support it needs to better support its animators. Because the only way that you’re going to continue making stunning works of art like Across the Spider-Verse is if you have animators that don’t feel like they’re grinding themselves to the bone to get something done. Because viewers and ticket buyers aren’t like they were before. The morality of it all and how workers are treated matters. And people are going to be less likely to buy a ticket to something if they know the workers were (or possibly were) treated like shit.