On March 15, students, alumni, and even a local high school group filled the Plato auditorium to capacity for a presentation by DigiPen graduate Nick Kondo on the making of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. “This is way more people than I was expecting!” Kondo told the crowd to a sea of laughs.
The on-campus Spider-Man event was something of a homecoming for the animator, who earned his own degree in 3D animation from DigiPen in 2003 and then returned over a decade later as an animation professor himself, all before getting recruited by Sony Pictures Animation to work on the now Oscar Award-winning film. Kondo’s smartphone video clip of the rapturous Sony Animation team, captured in the moments immediately after Spider-Man was announced as the Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature Film, elicited wild applause and cheers from the gathered DigiPen crowd as well.
During his presentation, Kondo outlined his own unique journey from his childhood dreams to DigiPen to working on Into the Spider-Verse — later diving into some of the technical animation tricks that gave Spider-Man its unique visual style and breaking down some of the scenes he personally worked on from the film.
Kondo served as a senior animator on the roughly 180-person Vancouver-based animation crew, and his specific team specialized in what he called the film’s “more emotional” scenes. Kondo, a father of four young children (all of whom were in attendance at the speech), spoke about how one of the keys to unlocking his own potential as an animator was in fact, an emotional one.
“Once I started to change my approach to coming up with ideas — from, ‘Hmm, maybe this situation will be funny or resonant,’ to just looking at what I already knew or felt about things — my animation resonated with more people,” Kondo told the crowd.
It’s an approach he put to use when animating his self-proclaimed favorite character from the film, Miles Morales’ kindhearted police officer dad, Jefferson. Although Kondo animated much more technically complicated scenes in the film, like the now iconic shot showing the six main heroes squished together as they crawl along a dorm room ceiling, Kondo says it was a fairly simple shot that earned him the most recognition and kudos from his colleagues in the industry. After a funny sequence in the film where Jefferson eggs Miles into saying “I love you” in front of his peers after dropping him off at school, Kondo animated a brief shot where Jefferson, smiling, says, “That’s a copy,” into his squad car loudspeaker to his embarrassed son.
“I think I identified with Jefferson a lot since our parenting styles are similar,” Kondo said. “I just tried to imagine how I would be with my kids in that situation and put it into that scene. Like, ‘We’re playing this game and you can’t lose, because I love you so much no matter what — but also, I totally win and we both know it.’” Rather than making Jefferson grumpy over his son’s reluctance to say “I love you,” Kondo gave the character a coy, loving smile, a choice that many moviegoers and animation industry professionals said spoke to them in a special way.
In his closing remarks, Kondo reminded students that achieving your dreams isn’t always a straightforward path. Although Kondo always dreamed of working on a movie as a child, his first application to work on one, 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, was rejected. That event, he says, led him to a 15-year career in the game industry instead, but it didn’t mean he gave up on his initial goal. “Just keep trying,” Kondo told the crowd. “Keep going, and remember to always stick to your original dream and the spark that made you want to get into this in the first place.”