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Spider-Man's Art Director on Bringing The Comic Costumes to Life on PS4

We talk to Jacinda Chew on process of translating over the many costumes of Spider-Man and his rogues gallery.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

Marvel's Spider-Man for PlayStation 4 is right around the corner. Insomniac Games has already gone gold on the title and the release is only a month away on September 7, 2018.

Marvel's Spider-Man Art Director Jacinda Chew.

The studio is crafting its own version of Peter Parker and its own look for Spider-Man and his rogues gallery. The look of the game is realistic, while carrying forward just a bit of comic book unreality. Like the many Spider-Man films, Insomniac had to take certain classic concepts into consideration when designing a new style for everyone's friendly neighborhood hero.

USgamer spoke to Spider-Man Art Director Jacinda Chew about the thought and effort that went into Insomniac's all-new Spider-Man, his city, and his enemies, the Sinister Six.

USgamer: You've done a wide variety of games with different looks. Some Spider-Man games more cartoonish, some are more realistic. How did you decide on the look and tone that you wanted for Peter and his supporting cast?

Marvel's Spider-Man Art Director Jacinda Chew: Well, one of the things I really like about the comic book versions of Spider-Man is that he really pops from the panels. That's just the nature of comics, right? You're always paying attention to the character. So if you checked out one of our trailers, The Raft and all the villains come out, even when there's a lot of chaos onscreen, you always know which characters which because they're brightly-colored. Spider-Man's brightly-colored, they always pop. So that was deliberate. So I love that about it.

The other thing is if you look at New York City for example, it's not exactly one-to-one duplication of New York City, but it's pretty close. It has a lot of personality because at the end of the day this has to be Spider-Man's New York City right? He's been a superhero for eight years, so what does it look like and how does it react to him? If you drop down to the street, you'll notice that you can interact with the citizens and they all know him by name. He can take a selfie with some of them, but the citizens also react to him when the story changes and evolves. If you read the comics you'll know that Spider-Man kind of has a hard relationship with New York. Sometimes they love him, sometimes they hate him. That's such a big part of the story that we wanted to make sure that New York City was fully-populated. You know there were options in the past where you could say, "Well there's no people in the city" and that's we could have done it, but I don't feel that this would have felt like Spider-Man if he had done that.

How long did it take you to come with a final design the in-game outfit, considering that Spider-Man's costume is rather iconic?

JC: You mean for the Advanced Suit? Oh that's a special case. That actually took I would say less than a year, but more than six months. Yeah. Somewhere in-between. I don't know exact date that it landed. I'd have to do my research, but it was one of those things that we started in one direction and then we would basically have check-in updates to the game to test it out. And then we would kind of just measure how people felt about it. And sometimes some things flew and some things didn't.

The most striking part of the suit is the White Spider. What went into that choice?

JC: Well there's a narrative reason behind that suit. I can talk a bit more about suit materials as well. I love talking about the suit. When we were thinking about reinventing a character that's already been designed many many times, there's three things to consider. One, what is classic and iconic about the original design? Two, how do we modernize it? And then three, how do we hook it into our narrative and make it relate to our story? So in the case of Spider-Man's suit we looked at early designs like the Ditko suit. The red and blue is super-iconic, I really like the spider-webbing that he had on the suit. It's really really clean. It's very readable. A lot of spacing between the webs, so we kept all that.

But in terms of modernizing the suit, we had to think about a 20-something in New York City; what is he going to be doing when he's designing to suit? So one thing you'll notice is that his red boot is not there. That's classic, but that's not there. It has actually been replaced by something that's more like a sneaker because I felt like that was something that would influence the modern 20-something.

The suit itself has a lot of paneling on it. So it actually mimics athletic wear or compression clothing. The blue parts are thinner, it's more flexible. That's what you would see on the joints to add a lot of mobility. The red is a bit thicker material and you'll see that even on his thigh. So when he's wall-running and scrapes against a building it'll give him more protection.

Then the white, you know it's on the spider, it's on his gauntlets. It's armor. There's a story reason behind that, but for us there's also a design reason. Part of that is that it pops really well in-game. I think the color works really well on the design.

Spider-Man's Velocity Suit

So the Advanced Suit is the primary look for this game. There's a whole bunch of other costumes pulled from previous Spider-Man comics. Did your team ever think to craft more of your own suits outside of the Advanced Suit?

JC: Oh, for sure. I mean if you guys saw us at Comic-Con, the Velocity Suit was announced. And there will be other suits that we haven't revealed yet. If we do design something, normally there's a narrative reason for it, but I'm super excited to showcase the rest of our suits, which cannot be talked about right now.

How difficult has it been to bring a bunch of these iconic comic outfits over? They're not necessarily all one-to-one recreations.

JC: Well it's actually really interesting, because what's cool about them is that we don't spend too much time redesigning per se, because we try to pick the suits that look best in the game. For example, you don't want something with a big cape, because it's not going to work with wall-crawling. So there's a tactical reason for the suits in the game.

But the other fun part about translating them is just imagining what they're actually made out of. Because in the comic books, if you think about it, it's 2D, it's flat colors, and for a lot of them there's no reference for what they're made out of. So for the Noir suit, you're like, "Is that a sweater, is it leather? What could it be?" We tend to just pick materials that make sense and that look cool. Sometimes we're like, "Ah, that'd be neat if it were leather." "I really like cloth." "That'd be great if it were shining or glowing." So that's the fun part about translating these into 3D, giving them this grounded, mature treatment that you wouldn't see in the comic book.

Another thing I noticed were the redesigns of the Sinister Six. The Rhino sort of splits the difference between The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the traditional look. Can you talk about some ideas behind each of those?

JC: Rhino and Scorpion are a little bit similar in that way, because I feel like they're both obviously animal related. They're a bit anthropomorphic in the comics, right? So sometimes it actually looks like they're full-on mechs or it looks like pajamas. But when we did it in our version, I wanted to make sure there was a tech and science element to it. So for both Scorpion and Rhino, [Rhino] actually has-if you look really carefully-there's a lot of black cabling and it's actually fused to his body, because there's actually skin showing underneath. That was a really important part of his design to show that "Oh, it's not like armor he just takes off." It's not like pajamas he pulls on, but there's actually a mechanical reason for it to look the way it does.

There's characters like Vulture for example, he's really interesting because he's the only one who's older. So it's fun because we can actually play with his body shape and make him look a lot smaller than all the other characters. At the same time, we had to look back to what makes him powerful, what makes him cool. The obvious thing about Vulture is he's got the wings. He's also got in the comics, you see him with that white collar; this furry collar that looks like a vulture. That was one of the things that I actually had to figure out how to modernize, because I couldn't think of a reason why he would have that, but I still want to give him some vulture characteristics. So he has the metallic, jet-propelled vulture wings, but also he's got a flight mask that's shaped like a vulture beak. That's where we get the vulture feeling and of course, he's got the bald head so he still has a silhouette of the vulture on top. So he was super cool to design as well.

A number of landmarks are also pulled from the comics. A lot of them are real, but some of them are like the Avengers Tower. How did you decide which ones you wanted to bring in?

JC: For us, we mostly pulled from the comics. Anything that we could grab from the comics, we tried and then it's basically time at that point. We tried to put as many Marvel landmarks as we could stuff into the game. I challenge the players to find them all. I'm like dying to tell everybody what all the easter eggs are, but there's so many I couldn't even name them all.

So your Spider-Man is going to be in the comics. How do you feel about that transition?

JC: That was unbelievable. I didn't expect that to happen. So when I saw it, I was like, "Are you kidding me?" I was super stoked myself. Again, it was so flattering for them to put as you know in canon I guess and I really felt that we had done the Spider-Man story justice, because they recognized it.

If you're in the dark about this new version of Spider-Man, you can check out our lengthy hands-on preview of the game and our information hub for all things Spider-Man. Marvel's Spider-Man is coming to PlayStation 4 on September 7, 2018.

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About the Author
Mike Williams avatar

Mike Williams

Reviews Editor, USgamer

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.