How “Spider-Verse” forced animation to evolve

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Non-photorealistic rendering has opened up an alternative to the ubiquitous “Pixar look.”

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When you think of CGI animated films, you likely think of Pixar. The studio practically invented the genre with 1995’s Toy Story — the first CGI animated feature film.

After Toy Story, almost all animation studios wanted to follow in Pixar’s successful footsteps, straight down to their style. Many studios sought out “The Pixar Look”: extremely high quality, physically based, and in some cases almost photorealistic.

It’s an appealing approach that remains popular at the box office — but animated movies started looking kind of homogeneous. And while studios and independent artists tested out more stylized approaches in short films, no studio would commit to a feature-length animated movie that looked so different.

That is, until Sony Pictures/Imageworks took on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Instead of chasing the look everyone was after, the team wanted to create something visually new. They did it with “non-photorealistic rendering.”

And since Spider-Verse, non-photorealism has taken off, with almost every studio set to incorporate it in the next five years. Check out our video to learn more about how non-photorealism works.

Note: A version of this was previously published with a spelling error. The error has since been corrected.

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