‘There are still ways to be incredibly creative’: Joaquim Dos Santos to bring ‘Spider-Verse’ learnings to Australia

Joaquim Dos Santos.

The global success of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse may have opened up more possibilities for animators via its combination of computerised animation with hand-drawn 2D elements, but that doesn’t mean the industry should play it safe by sticking to known IP, according to one of its directors.

Joaquim Dos Santos made his feature directorial debut alongside Justin K. Thompson and Kemp Powers on the film, which has grossed more than US$600 million at the global box office since being released in June.

The sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was also well-received among critics, many of whom commended the creative team for bringing a fresh visual perspective to the medium.

Speaking to IF, Dos Santos said he hoped the film would be viewed through the lens of animators having the freedom to take risks, rather than just the popularity of the Spider-Man brand.

“If you think about Spider-Man, it’s one of the biggest, most recognisable IPs out there,” he said.

“We were still able to do something incredibly original within its safety net, so maybe artists will now find a way to work within those confines if studios are hedging a little bit and wanting to go IP-heavy first.

“There are still ways to be incredibly creative within those boundaries.”

Dos Santos will bring his wealth of animation knowledge to this month’s Australian Children’s Content Summit at Coffs Harbour, where he will appear in conversation with Flying Bark CEO Barbara Stephen.

Having begun his career more than 20 years ago in the television department of Sony Pictures, the Portugese-American has since gone on to direct, produce, and storyboard a range of animated television titles.

They include The Legend of Korra, for which he has won two Annie Awards and received two Daytime Emmy nominations, as well as Voltron: Legendary Defender and Avatar: The Last Airbender, where his directing was also recognised with an Annie.

Miles Morales as Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’.

Earlier this year, Dos Santos was awarded the Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Award for Best Director, and received the Creative Impact in Animation Directing Award along with Kemp and Thompson at last month’s Variety’s 10 Animators to Watch event last month.

The director and animator admitted helming Across the Spider-Verse had opened up new opportunities, noting he now had more of a voice in “rooms where he previously may not have been listened to”.

“I don’t think anything can prepare you for directing an animated feature film if you haven’t done it before,” he said.

“But when you get your sea legs under you, I think maybe other people in positions to hire or studios, see you as a bit more of a quantifiable asset that has this thing under your belt. You’re someone that knows the river you have to be willing to traverse in order to get one of these things done, so that’s been really neat.”

While there is no shortage of anticipation for the next chapter in the Spider-Verse saga, Beyond the Spider-Verse, the film is one of many at the mercy of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA industrial action, with Variety reporting at the end of last month that Sony had undated the project after previously slating for release in March 2024.

Dos Santos was philosophical about the disruption, saying that ripple effects that occurred across the industry showed how important writers and actors were to the process.

“Given the industry is evolving at such a rapid pace, [it’s important] the treatment of the players that make the content keeps pace with how we’re delivering the content,” he said.

He added there was plenty of cause for optimism in the Australian industry, which he described as a “cool, growing community” on the global stage.

“I’m working a bit now with Flying Bark and I have a bunch of people that I’ve worked with in the past who have worked with Australian studios and animators and have nothing but the best things to say about them,” he said.

“I’m sure the Australian industry hears this all the time, but my kid is absolutely obsessed with Bluey. It’s a monolithic thing you can’t avoid.”

The Australian Children’s Content Summit will be held August 29-31 and held at the Pacific Bay Resort, Bay Drive, Coffs Harbour.