A 14-Year-Old Whiz Kid Animated a Scene in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
This has to be one of the best stories we’ve come across all week. Dare we say we’ve been ensnared by how lovely it is?
Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has been hailed as a masterpiece, a stunning, emotional tour de force of animation, filmmaking, and storytelling. And one of the people who count themselves among the artists to bring this kaleidoscopic fever dream into reality? The 14-year-old artist Preston Mutanga, a young man who earned his way into a spot on the animation team by creating a shot-for-shot version of the trailer with animated Lego characters. Mutanga’s story could be a movie itself.
The New York Times reveals that the moment early in Across the Spider-Verse when Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) swoops into a dimension that looks like Lego building blocks and figures, a hat tip to The Lego Movie, was the work of Mutanga. The Times reports that the Minnesota-born, Toronto-based son of immigrant parents from the Northwest Region of Cameroon has been an artistic dynamo since he was a very little kid. Whether it was building Lego cars using his own designs or creating his own comics, young Preston was irrepressible.
“I also used to make comics when I was younger,” Mutanga told the Times during a recent video interview. “Looking back at them now, they’re not the greatest, I’m not going to lie, but it was good practice for telling stories.”
Then, this past December, the teenager revealed to the world just how prodigious his artistic abilities have become when, using his dad’s old computers, he recreated the Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse trailer shot-for-shot—but as if it were a Lego movie.
I recreated the entire Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse trailer in LEGO! @philiplord @chrizmillr @terry12539 @LEGO_Group @SpiderVerse #LEGO #SpiderManAcrossTheSpiderVerse #animation #Blender3d pic.twitter.com/kYY19go7Fc
— LegoMe_TheOG (@FG_Artist) January 3, 2023
Mutanga had taught himself how to make computer-generated Lego short films with a little help from his dad, Theodore, who showed him a 3-D software called Blender. “I instantly got hooked on it,” he told the Times. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos to teach myself certain stuff.”
Mutanga’s shot-for-shot trailer remake got the attention of none other than the two directors of The Lego Movie and writer/producers of the Spider-Verse films, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Once it was decided that Across the Spider-Verse would include a foray into a Lego universe, Christina Steinberg, one of the film’s producers, got in touch with Mutanga to see if he wanted to animate it.
“We found out that it was a 14-year-old kid who made it, and we were like, ‘This looks incredibly sophisticated for a nonadult, nonprofessional to have made,” Miller told the Times. “It blew us all away, including some of the best animators in the world.”
His parents, Theodore and Gisele, were a little wary at first—Preston’s YouTube channel had been hacked before, so at first, they worried that this could be a ruse. But a LinkedIn search led them to Across the Spider-Verse‘s Toronto-based production designer, Patrick O’Keeve, who confirmed that the offer was legitimate. Mom and dad had been nurturing their son’s gifts all along, and now, it seemed, was a huge opportunity to let him take that next step.
So, during the week of spring break and then for several weeks after (once his homework was finished), Mutanga worked on the Lego sequence. Every other week, he had a video call with Miller to go over his progress and get feedback. He learned in real-time what it was like to work on a team and how filmmaking is an evolutionary process, with things changing right up until the very end.
“The Lego Movie is inspired by people making films with Lego bricks at home,” Phil Lord told the Times. “That’s what made us want to make the movie. Then the idea in Spider-Verse is that a hero can come from anywhere. And here comes this heroic young person who’s inspired by the movie that was inspired by people like him.”
Mutanga’s dream to become a professional animator seems very well in hand. He just needs to finish high school first.
For more on Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, check out these stories:
Featured image: Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (PART ONE).