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LOS ANGELES, USA – It takes an international village to make an animated movie like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Czar Ryan Ompad, born in Davao and raised in Cebu, is one of the talented artisans working behind the scenes for the follow-up to the acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).
The University of San Carlos alumnus, who is based in Vancouver, Canada, is a 3D modeler in the sequel, which sees the return of voice cast members including Shameik Moore (Miles Morales/Spider-Man), Filipino-American Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman), Jake Johnson (Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man), Oscar Isaac (Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099), and Brian Tyree Henry (Jefferson Davis).
Megged by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, Across the Spider-Verse also stars Issa Rae, Andy Samberg, Daniel Kaluuya, and Jason Schwartzman. Phil Lord, who cowrote the original, is back but this time with Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham.
As someone who loved the first installment, I got excited about the sequel when I saw extended footage at the CinemaCon in Las Vegas last month. The groundbreaking visuals are again present but there’s an even deeper emotional impact in a scene between Shameik and Hailee’s iconic characters.
I chatted with Czar, who lived in the Philippines for 17 years until he and his family immigrated to Canada, via Zoom. The following excerpts were edited for brevity and clarity.
For the benefit of my readers, what exactly does a 3D modeler do in a movie like ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?’ In the movie, you did the 3D modeling for the Guggenheim Museum, for example. In layman or simple terms, what exactly did that involve?
We are the ones who are responsible for creating 3D models to be used in other departments such as texturing, rigging, and animation.
We create the starting look of the environment like props or characters, and pretty much build the set and create the characters but within 3D. I think the easiest way to explain it is it’s like AutoCAD in architecture, but for movies.
Your favorite scene in the film involves the bike entrance, because you modeled Jessica Drew’s (Issa Rae) motorcycle. Describe the work you did to model the bike. How long did it take?
There’s a lot that I really like about the movie, but what stands out to me specifically was that scene, because I think it was the epic entrance of a new character in the film. The bike took me a while to finish because they wanted to make a lot of revisions to the concept.
They wanted a different look, not just like a bike you see in the city or something like that, but more unique. I started working on the bike from May till July 2021. I did most of the work but another artist finished it out because I was working on a different project.
And speaking of that scene, the environment of that shot was based on the real Guggenheim Museum in New York. And I’m telling you, that scene is really epic. You will see how the team really did a great job of synchronizing all the looks from different worlds coming in and out.
And then there’s also a lot of destruction and this and that. And I would say it’s really nice and epic. And also, shout out to Leon Enriquez. He’s also a Filipino artist whom I work with.
He modeled one of the most complicated and intricate characters in the movie. His name is Vulture, so watch for that.
How did you land the job for ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?‘
It was quite surprising to me. I really didn’t expect it to happen because I was just a student. I went to Vancouver Film School. After that, I took a break for a little bit, went back to Calgary with my family, and then worked there in customer service.
After that, I applied at Sony. I’ve been working for Sony for four years. They gave me a lot of projects until I got Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
As an artist, can you comment on the groundbreaking visual appeal of the Spider-Verse movies, in which there is intentionally more emphasis on the design and style rather than realism?
The team really did a great job of creating the most unique look in an animated movie. I haven’t seen anything like this before. And I remember in our meetings – we call them rounds – every day, different departments show their ideas, how they are going to tackle a certain shot from a tactical standpoint.
It wasn’t easy as a 3D modeler because it’s not just 3D modeling in one style. Instead, we were modeling in different styles from different worlds.
We have to keep that in mind. If we do not, it’s basically going to be hectic because it’s really all over the place. So, we were trying to be mindful of how we were going to tackle, which technique we should be doing. So yeah, I think it’s really groundbreaking in how we execute our skills as artists.
Without giving away spoilers, why do you think ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ will be another visual treat for moviegoers?
One hundred percent, story-wise, it’s really for all audiences. I would really recommend watching the movie specifically in big-screen theaters. It’s not your typical story. There’s a lot of twists and turns and you’ll be surprised by what the team has prepared for you guys to watch.
As an artist but more as a moviegoer, can you recount your reaction when you first saw ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse?‘
To be honest…when I went to work for Sony, that was the first time I ever heard of the movie. It was really cool because I didn’t expect it to be a new style, technical stuff and this and that.
Because my colleagues at that time were saying, “You should watch Into the Spider-Verse.” It (Across the Spider-Verse) is a really new treat for you guys. It’s not your typical animated movie.
What was your first memory of the character Spider-Man? Were you fond of reading comics when you were growing up?
When I was growing up, yes. Because it was back in the day. My dad is a salesman. He has to go to different far places and then every time he goes back home, he rents a CD from Video City. It’s a video rental place, like Blockbuster in the US.
So, he rents out this Spider-Man movie. I don’t remember but it was like, The Punisher Versus Spider-Man animated movie, and they were fighting and stuff. So, I was really introduced to comics as well as animation.
Can you elaborate on this experience you had with your brother involving the ‘muzzle flash effect’?
So back in the day, we had a computer. It’s not the best but it does the job. And he (his brother) has this video project for school where they wanted it to look a little bit cool, realistic, and dramatic as well. So, they added a muzzle flash effect frame by frame, using, I think, Movie Maker.
And then after that, YouTube was booming as well on tutorials and visual effects. I was 11 years old at the time when Transformers came out. And it was the movie that really pushed me to do VFX work, like learning After Effects, Sony Vegas Pro.
And I was making this Rasengan effect from Naruto. Later on, after that year, Iron Man came out. That’s when I really wanted to do VFX.
I wanted to do 3D modeling, this and that. So, that’s how it really pushed me to create this kind of artwork, to show people that I can do it.
You grew up in Cebu. Share with us your memories of growing up there, especially as a kid with artistic inclinations.
Actually, I was born in Davao and grew up in Cebu. I’d say it was pretty chill living there. We have our own family compound, on the paternal side, and we play music. We shoot movies and short films back in the day, shooting muzzle flash and stuff.
When I went to college, that’s when it really made me interested in doing some visual effects stuff, like After Effects, 3ds Max, ZBrush, those kinds of stuff. And also, I did edits of debuts, birthdays, and weddings. I was really into it when I was in college as well.
Have you been back to Cebu or the Philippines? If you have, what do you enjoy most about visiting the Philippines?
The last time I was in Cebu was in 2015. I should probably visit if I have a chance. I look forward to the food foremost, and after that, the beaches. And pretty much I’m just curious what it looks like right now.
Who are the artists and illustrators, including Filipinos, who inspired and influenced you and why?
It was my brother and dad actually at first, when I was a kid. My brother had these notebooks full of drawings of robots.
My dad used to draw my assignments when I was a kid. “Hey Dad, can you make my drawing assignments in school?” and this and that. And then he’s like, “Okay, cool.”
After that, growing up, I just got into it. I just kept on drawing, drawing, and drawing. One Filipino artist that I was inspired by, doing 3D models, was Leon Enriquez.
I was blessed that I was able to work with him because he’s a really nice guy. I think he’s one of the pioneers in the Philippines in creating the first animated movie. I forgot what it’s called.
And then also artists like Kim Jung Gi, Terada Katsuya, Marco Plouffe, and a lot more artists, actually.
What are the other aspects of animation that you would like to explore?
I would really love to explore more on CFX – character effects. CFX is basically simulating cloth and hair using the computer. We just do shot work where it has to look good, it has to look like hair, it has to look like how it should be in a frame.
I wanted to explore that, just because of how interesting it is in terms of different ways to approach things in artwork as well.
Can you talk about your other film credits?
There’s a lot but most of my work is with Sony. I’ve also worked on Over the Moon on Netflix and The Mitchells vs the Machines. I’ve worked not just in animation but in VFX, Ant-Man and the recently shown Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.
And what are your next projects?
I’m not really allowed to say anything about it yet, but currently, we’re working on an animated movie.
I think you would also love it because it’s also a different style that we’re trying to create. It’s just around the corner and you’re going to watch it soon.
Ten years from now, how do you see yourself in your career?
Hopefully, I’ll be able to learn and understand more about my industry, because right now, I’m not working as a 3D modeling artist but instead in CFX. But in my free time, I do 3D modeling and post my stuff.
Also, I’m doing 3D printing in my free time as well. So hopefully, I will be able to learn more about character effects. This is a different world than 3D modeling. I am also showing what I can in my art as well as in social media and art websites like ArtStation. – Rappler.com
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