From PH to the ‘Spider-Verse’: Artist Ronald Samson on his ‘date’ with Hollywood
If you loved the Oscar-winning 2018 animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as much as we did, you’re in for a bigger and bolder treat when its sequel, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” begins its theatrical run in the Philippines on Wednesday.
Don’t take our word for it. Take it from the film’s lighting and compositing artist Ronald Samson, who dished in an email interview with Inquirer Entertainment early this week that the eagerly anticipated second installment in the Spider-Verse trilogy is “crazier.”
He explained, “As fun and entertaining as the first film was, this sequel will show more visually stunning, action-packed scenes. It levels up exponentially while extending the limits of creativity in animation and effects.”
Ronald isn’t just paying us lip service—he knows whereof he speaks. In fact, his immensely impressive body of work also boasts titles like “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” “The Avengers,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Matrix Reloaded,” “Maleficent,” “Furious 7,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Into the Spider-Verse.” Eat your hearts out, fanboys!
But long before Ronald booked his date with Hollywood, he got his feet wet by way of his early exposure to art and animation, including Tony Y. Reyes’ “Enteng Kabisote: Okay Ka Fairy Ko” and Erik Matti’s “Gagamboy.”
The fact that the seasoned artist is a homegrown Pinoy who’s now based in Canada makes Ronald’s terrific feat all the more sweet and inspiring.
“I was born in Santa Cruz, Manila, but I grew up in Quezon City,” he told us when we asked about his Filipino roots. “Both my mother and father were Bicolanos, and I grew up in a family compound with Bicolano relatives, where I picked up a bit of our dialect. My spouse and I left for Singapore in 2006, started a family there, then eventually migrated to Vancouver, Canada, in 2012.”
To give the “uninitiated” an idea as to how lighting or compositing makes a great story come to life, Ronald explained, “The idea behind the process is that it gives the scene the color, lighting and ambience that complement the story and its characters. My job as a lighting and compositing artist is the final stop in the animation process.
“So pretty much, I would collect all the different elements from other departments to create images that will hopefully evoke an emotional reaction from viewers.”
That’s easier said than done, of course. Working on “Across the Spider-Verse” was a gargantuan task that required Ronald’s gimlet-eyed focus and dedication to his craft.
In the animated film directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson and distributed by Columbia Pictures, the story picks up a few months after the first movie ended. After reuniting with Gwen Stacy, Brooklyn’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man suddenly finds himself catapulted across the Multiverse.
On this dimension-skipping adventure, Spider-Man aka Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) crosses paths with the Spider Society, a team of Spider-People tasked with protecting the Multiverse’s very existence. But when the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles finds himself pitted against the other Spiders and must set out on his own to save the people he loves the most.
The Spider-People Miles encounters include Gwen Stacy aka Spider-Woman of Earth-65 (Fil-Am Hailee Steinfeld), Miguel O’Hara aka Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), new dad Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Hobie Brown aka Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), Pavitr Prabhakar aka Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), Ben Reilly aka the multijointed Scarlet Spider and, yes, even Spider-Cat.
Of the many exciting iterations of Spider-Man in “Across the Spider-Verse,” which version is Ronald’s favorite?
“I would say that I’m still a fan of the original Spider-Man, Peter B. Parker,” he shared. “I grew up reading and collecting his comic books when I was a kid. I would put all my comic books in a briefcase and walk around with it like a treasure.
“In fact, my seventh birthday was a Spider-Man-themed party, which included birthday cakes, balloons and all that. He was my favorite because he was an underdog. Moreover, he was one of the first young superheroes depicted as a student that I could relate to at the time.”
Our Q&A with Ronald:
Those are a lot of huge titles in your body of work. Which are your favorites?
The “Star Wars: Clone Wars” series is definitely one of my favorites because I’m a huge “Star Wars” fanatic, so becoming a part of that universe as an artist was an honor. I was also lucky enough to have met and talked to George Lucas and Dave Filoni during the production.
“The Matrix” was also a memorable movie for me as it was the first mainstream Hollywood film that I worked on overseas, not to mention that the motion-capture technology that the project used was very advanced at the time.
Another personal favorite is the Oscar-award winning movie “Rango,” which was also considered groundbreaking during its time, as it depicted both realism and a cartoony gritty Western feel. It was equally memorable for me because it was my first born’s first-ever movie that he watched on the big screen.
In a nutshell, how did you end up doing all those splashy Hollywood productions?
It took a lot of learning and persistence through the years on my part, as well as a great deal of creative expression to stand out in a pool of talented artists. Self-confidence in pursuing my dream job in my dream studio has always pushed me towards taking on different opportunities.
You grew up loving animation with your brothers. What was it about animation that captured your imagination?
Watching cartoons was our bonding time when we were young. We would normally get deep into the storylines and into character that we would reenact some of the cartoon scenes that we saw.
This transported us to different worlds while we role-played. We had a brotherly promise to never stop watching cartoons, even into adulthood—and I think we kept that promise.
Who were your favorite superheroes growing up?
Other than Spider-Man, I’ve always loved Wolverine because of his fearless nature, as well as his brave and strong character. As a child, these were the qualities that you aspired to have. Besides, who wouldn’t want to have regenerative powers and cool indestructible claws?
We’d love to see the Metal Men eventually come to life in a movie. In your case, which other superheroes would you like to see on the big screen?
I’d like to see some of the traditional cartoon heroes that I used to watch reimagined into more advanced, high-quality, computer-generated versions. It would be great to see Inhumanoids, Visionaries and the more popular Thundercats on the big screen in full-feature animation.
Why is animation better suited for “Into the Spider-Verse” and “Across the Spider-Verse” than live action?
I can only guess, but it probably is the best medium for such an intensely creative film.
Between live action and animation, which do you find more challenging and satisfying?
I have always been interested in live-action productions, which have their own obstacles especially in making computer-graphic elements blend inconspicuously well with reality. I will always pick animation over live action though, because you can have more creative freedom in animation.
Your body of work also includes “Enteng Kabisote: Okay Ka Fairy Ko” and “Gagamboy.” How did you end up doing them?
We were a group of friends from a local animation studio who were invited to work on “Enteng Kabisote,” and were looking for more animation work exposure. We did the movie’s computer graphics almost entirely during graveyard hours, but it was fun attending Tony Reyes’ sets and working on that hilarious movie.
For “Gagamboy,” I was an artist working for Imagineers, together with Miki Ramos, Ciso Santiago and Angel Banayos, who were all pioneers in the Philippine CG industry, which handled part of the postproduction for the movie.
What do you think sets Filipino artists apart from others?
Filipinos have a very colorful history, which overflows in any form of our creativity, whether in dancing, singing or the visual arts. Most important of all, our being matiyaga (persistent hard work), combined with our innate artistic abilities, always produce extraordinary creations and performances.