Game Art and Design 2O16 graduate

Alumnus Brittany Shively

What does it mean to be a superhero? Decades of comics, TV shows, and movies will tell you some are born with special powers, others with the money and dedication to protect the vulnerable. For many, a transformative experience alters their genetic makeup, gifting them with super-human abilities.

Since the introduction of the first popular superhero in the 1940s, children have pored over beat-up comic books and now webcomics, longing for the day their hand too would get bitten by a radioactive spider, or maybe they’d stumble into a stray gamma ray or two. But what if it were easier? If it didn’t have to be left to chance?

What if anyone could be a superhero?

Promotional still from movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures

They can, according to the latest addition to the Marvel Universe, Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which hit the theaters in December and quickly seized a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and the hearts of millions of viewers. 

Ringling College of Art and Design sat down with graduate Brittany Shively (Game Art & Design, ’16) who worked as a 3D Visual Development Artist on the Sony Pictures Animation team that brought this feature-length animation to life. She had a lot to say about the experience working with her amazing team, and how this movie redefined animation and the entire superhero genre.

Q. The movie was spectacular! Let me just say, congratulations. Did you ever imagine you’d be working on a Spider-Man movie?
A. No, I didn’t! You see them growing up, and they’re such a big part of your life…you’d never think you would have the chance to work on something like this. I played Spider-Man on my Sega Genesis and read the comics with my brother. That’s where I met Miles Morales in 2011. And to have the opportunity to work on his story for Marvel…well, it’s been unbelievable.

Q. Tell me a bit about your role on the film.
A. I started as a Visual Development artist creating props and environment designs for about six months. I designed weapons, like web shooters, pumpkin bombs, transforming plasma beam guns, and Uncle Aaron’s turntables. I also worked on environments, like Miles’ neighborhood and its Brooklyn brownstones.

Then I worked on previsualization and early layout, which is like computer storyboarding. We take 2D storyboards and transfer them to 3D, so we can really see what works. It’s often the first time we get to see the environment in 3D. It’s very cool.

Video game console, 3D Model and Design by Brittany Shively
Pumkin bomb designs
Pumpkin Bombs, 3D Model and Design by Brittany Shively
Turntables, 3D Model and Design by Brittany Shively

Q. So we can see your work in the neighborhood shots. What informed your environment design?
A. A few things—I actually have family in New York, so I am a little familiar. However, our directors went to Brooklyn and came back with a ton of reference photos. Not to mention lots of Google Maps Street Views.

The coolest thing for me was laying out the neighborhood. My coworker had done a lot of the design work for the brownstones, and I made them modular and mixed them up so they all look different. I handled a lot of the details that made the environment: the trees along the streets, the basketball court, and how to lay out the streets themselves. These details really bring it all together.

Q. How long did you work on the film? I read that, due to the unique animation style, animators would produce one second of animation per week!
A. One year, almost exactly. This is just one of the reasons I am so invested. Our team put our hearts and souls into this film, and we are so excited. This is also the first movie I have worked on to come out.

Q. You were actually a Game Art and Design major at Ringling College…did you always plan to work in film?
A. I have always been open to both. I have a love for animation and video games, and I am happy doing either. My passion is really for environment design, and at Sony, I found that I love animation and the freedom they give us here. It’s amazing.

Q. You started working with Sony right after graduation. Can you tell me a bit about how you started your career there?
A. I reached out like crazy in school. I was always working with Ringling College Career Services and my teachers touching up my résumé, learning how to write proper cover letters, and asking questions about interview etiquette. My junior year, I had an interview with Sony Imageworks in Vancouver, and they directed me to the animation office in Los Angeles. The following year, I had an interview with the person who is now my boss, Todd Pilger. He, Spider-Verse’s Production Designer Justin Thompson, and Marcelo Vignali have been my mentors since I started at Sony. I have learned so much from them.

Q. Many aspiring animators may think they could never have the opportunity to work on a major film like Spider-Man. What would you tell them?
A. I always hoped to work some place like this. But there is a voice in your head that tells you, “There are so many people trying to do this. There is so much competition. How could I break in?” I can only share what I did, which is work hard, take breaks, and be healthy. At Ringling College, we were taught to compare our work to that of the professionals, not to other students. So look at the best of the best work, and ask yourself how yours stacks up. And what do you need to get it there? But remember, take care of yourself—be healthy, sleep, and eat. And whatever you do, never give up.

Q. The film, while funny, entertaining, and beautifully animated, has a real, concrete message for viewers: You too can be a hero. You just have to put on the mask. Can you tell me a little about what this means to you?
A. A lot of people are under the impression that one person can’t make a difference. That one voice is too small. This movie says that you are enough. You just have to get out there and do the right thing, even if you fail along the way. Work hard and you can help make the world a better place.

And she’s right. Sometimes we feel small—just one person in a universe of billions (or perhaps more!). What difference can we make without super-blood coursing through our veins? It would be tragic to write an entire article about Spider-Man without reminding you, reader, that “with great power comes great responsibility.” The trick is remembering that that power is already yours—you just need to step up and put on the mask.

By Stephanie Lederer
Stephanie Lederer is the Editorial + PR Manager for Ringling College and Editor of CONTXT magazine.