How “Spider-Verse” forced animation to evolve

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Non-photorealistic rendering has opened up an alternative to the ubiquitous โ€œPixar look.โ€

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

After Toy Story, almost all animation studios wanted to follow in Pixarโ€™s successful footsteps, straight down to their style. Many studios sought out โ€œThe Pixar Lookโ€: extremely high quality, physically based, and in some cases almost photorealistic.

Itโ€™s an appealing approach that remains popular at the box office โ€” 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 โ€œnon-photorealistic rendering.โ€

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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