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This Pinoy FX artist took on the new Spider-Verse: ‘It blew my mind.’

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 22, 2023 5:00 am Updated May 25, 2023 7:02 pm

If you recently rewatched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to prepare for the coming sequel (Across the Spider-Verse, coming out May 31), you already know that it was a game-changer, in terms of animation potential. It’s an ever-expanding explosion of wit, head-spinning action, and striking visual styles that owes as much to graffiti and computer art as to the original Marvel Comics look.

The word “fresh” came up most when watching this animated Spidey entry. Part of that freshness came down to a humble former Hewlett-Packard IT guy from Quezon City who somehow got bit by the animation bug and found himself working on the first Spider-Verse and the sequel. He’s Aldo Scarella, a Sony Imageworks FX artist now based in Vancouver who specializes in rain and motion streak effects, and he answered a few queries about the sequel.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Hi, Aldo. Was there pressure to make this sequel even “bigger and fresher”?

ALDO SCARELLA: When I first joined the team (of about 1,000 animators, designers and FX artists), I was honestly thinking “Great! We get to see the next chapter in the lives of these incredible characters.” I had a lot of hope for a new story but no special expectation for the visuals. I would have been happy with the same art style, especially since the first movie was so visually groundbreaking. But after joining the team, it soon became clear that not only was the story being pushed forward, but all the visuals as well. I was astounded. It blew my mind. Personally, I did feel pressure to help their amazing, ambitious vision come to life, in my own small way.

Pinoy FX artist Aldo Scarella holding the Oscar and Golden Globe awarded to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for Best Animated Feature in 2019.

How did you get connected with the sequel? What was the process?

I was just finishing up working on The Sea Beast when the opportunity came for me to jump onto Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Like a lot of my teammates, I was also lucky enough to work on the first Spider-Verse movie, so I guess it was a natural fit for us to join the second film in the trilogy.

I’ve grown to realize that real life begins outside your comfort zone. Taking that chance to push yourself beyond your limits will allow you, as a Filipino creative, with your unique history, life experience and artistic voice, to paint your life outside lines.

How much did you rely on the look of the Spider-Man 2099 comics when developing possible visual effects?

From an FX department perspective, we needed to make sure whatever we came up with matched, or added to, the existing aesthetic and didn’t clash with it. From the watercolors in Gwen’s world, to the ink in Mumbattan, to architectural renderings, and even manga, there were definitely a lot of styles we had to match.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse promises to up the visuals and dazzle on every level.

What new tricks did you discover in bringing the comic book to life onscreen?

A specific example would be to make sure a setup I made for the rain hits and motion streaks could be easily handed off so that another artist can take it and apply it onto a different shot with ease. I had to make sure it not only made sense to me but to anyone else who would use it.

You specialize in environmental effects, rain, motion streaks. What makes you so good at this? Did you add your own Pinoy “flavor” (if possible) to the look?

Any artistic talent I possess is all because of all the manggang hilaw with bagoong I snacked on as a child.

You’ve talked about going from IT work that was financially stable, to something more challenging and maybe risky. Why is it important for you—and maybe all Filipino creatives—to take that chance and push further?

I’ve grown to realize that real life begins outside your comfort zone. Taking that chance to push yourself beyond your limits will allow you, as a Filipino creative, with your unique history, life experience and artistic voice, to paint your life outside lines. I think I probably first had the dream of working in the movie industry when I was in sixth grade. I was living in Vancouver at the time. We had to make a presentation about salmon. I chose to make a short film explaining the life cycle of salmon but with a Star Trek theme. It was utterly ridiculous, but I had such a fun time doing it, and remember thinking It would be great if this was my job.

Any dream project ideas you are pitching now to Sony that you can share with us?

Maybe a movie about some salmon that is the captain of a spaceship, hurtling across the galaxy!

You work at Sony Imageworks in Vancouver now. Is there a strong Filipino community of animators and creatives there?

There are definitely a good number of Filipinos working at Sony, and animation tends to be the largest department in any studio!

What words of advice do you have for young Filipino artists considering a path in animation?

I guess I’d tell any young Filipino artist dreaming of working in this industry that it’s not impossible. There were Filipinos in all types of roles, from animators, lighters, FX, compositors, etc., in each of the six studios I’ve worked at. If you are passionate enough to learn the tools of this industry better than 95 percent of everyone else, and you can communicate well, and have a positive attitude in the face of high-stress situations, then you will stand out, get hired, and never run out of work.

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse comes out May 31.