James Ward has done his part to help bring the new film, "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse," to life.
Ward, a native of Michigan City, was one of the animators for the unique film, which was released Dec. 14. The animated movie was produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who film fans will recognize for their work on "21 Jump Street" and "The Lego Movie."
The artist, a senior animator for Sony, said it's been exciting to have worked on a film that's getting quite a buzz not only for its unique animation but also its engaging story line.
"It's amazing to see so many great reviews," Ward said, adding there has been much praise from critics prior to its general release. After his work on the film, Ward had the opportunity to see it before it hit the theaters.
"I personally enjoyed it. I saw it three times before it was released," he said.
The computer animation featured in the film, which makes the movie stand out for its vibrant colors, almost life-like characters and fluidity in movement, is unique in the industry.
"Knowing we've worked on something so different is great," Ward said.
"I remember seeing the tests that were done before, and it would just stop people in their tracks. The style is so fresh."
"Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" has been in the works for quite awhile, Ward said. "But I didn't start on it until January," he said.
Ward worked on the movie for eight months where he was assigned to do various "shots" featured in the movie. The shots done by the animators are then put together to form scenes. Ward said a great amount of work went into animating every shot in the movie.
"We had the biggest team we've ever had (on a movie)," Ward said. There were more than 170 animators hired to design and illustrate shots throughout the film. In the movie credits, film fans can see just how many people put their talents into it as the animators are all listed in the credits and those credits roll on and on at the movie's end.
Ward explained most of his "shot" work is basically done as a lone art at his desk. "Some shots do require multiple people to work on them," he said.
After the animators do their required shots, Ward said, lead animators, supervisors, and then the director all survey the work to give it an OK. "The director has the final say," he said.
When Ward begins his work, he'll look at storyboards of shots, check out what's been done before, look at videos of characters who have dialogue and other research to get his characters and shots just right.
"Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" tells the story of multicultural teen Miles Morales who, throughout this "inclusive" movie, learns that he and others can be Spider-Man. They can all be heroes.
"The movie really drives home the message that everyone can wear the mask," he stressed. "Kids growing up today can see themselves in these characters."
Rewarding message, rewarding work
Ward mentioned two of the shots he worked on in the movie and added they were "intense" to execute but rewarding.
"I worked on a long shot where Miles first enters the school building. He has to engage with other people, and they're not responding to him," he said. Another shot involves the character, Scorpion.
To work on Miles entering the school, Ward said it was challenging, because it involved other background characters that also had to be animated. He also shared a humorous insider fact about the work he and other artists do.
They often put people they know — family, friends, co-workers — into the background or landscape of an animated film in some way.
"I put my wife in the background at the school. And she was happy to see that," he said, laughing. Ward said the animation supervisor, employees' children and even the director can all be seen somewhere in the movie.
Ward, who is a graduate of Michigan City High School, also studied at Vincennes University and at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University), where he earned a bachelor's degree in media arts and sciences. He later studied animation in greater detail through Animation Mentor, an online school.
The artist, who turns 35 just before the holidays, has worked on a variety of movies and games through the years, including "Green Lantern," "Oz the Great and Powerful," "The Smurfs 2," "Alice Through the Looking Glass," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and others.
Ward remembers being a huge film fan from the time he was a kid.
"One of the first jobs I had was working in the Dunes Plaza (movie) Theatre. I was an usher," he said of the Michigan City venue. He said he loved it because he could "see free movies." Later, he took on other roles there and even learned to thread the film.
"I learned a lot about cinema there," he said.
The movie, "Toy Story," was really the first film that made an impact on Ward from an animation standpoint. "It was the first time I saw something like that," he said.
Ward, who currently lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he visits the Region at least twice a year — once around the holidays and then again for a family reunion in the summer. His parents, Larry Ward and Jody Presser, still live in Northwest Indiana.
The artist is married to wife, Monica, and the couple have a daughter, Tessa. Ward has a twin brother, Jeff, and an older sister, Jillian.