The Man Behind the Web: Just Who Is Spider-Man?

By Debbie Beyer and Chris Golden

Well, he's Peter Parker, an ordinary 19-year-old who leads an extraordinary life. One day in his school lab, Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider, and, suddenly, the shy, bookwormish college student became Spider-Man the superhero. When Peter isn't going to school or working as a newspaper photographer, he's soaring over New York City, leaping buildings and crawling walls as the only web-shooting crime fighter in the Marvel Comics universe.

Peter has the proportionate strength of a spider, which means he's one of the strongest, toughest guys around. He's quicker and more agile than the world's greatest athletes. He can stick to walls and ceilings, so he'd have no trouble getting a job washing windows on skyscrappers. Using his scientific know-how, Peter created a synthetic weblike material, and mechanical gadgets to shoot it from his wrists.. He uses his web-shooters to swing from building to building and snag the bad guys. But coolest of all, he has a strange spider-sense -- one of those powers that everyone would love to have -- that warns him when danger is near!

Peter keeps busy going to school, taking pictures for the Daily Bugle, and being a superhero. One minute, he's using his web-weaponry to battle wicked villains like Scorpion and Venom, swatting them from the city as if they were flies. The next, he's dealing with normal problems like any other teenager -- he catches colds, loses his socks, and can't get a date with the girl next door.

In the comics world, where he's been a star since 1962, Spider-Man's life has progressed further than on the TV show. Sure, he still argues with Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson and has to face Venom, the Vulture and the Lizard from time to time. But he's older now: He's a college graduate and married to Mary Jane, and they have a baby on the way.

He's still a regular guy with regular problems. WHile Carnage and Tombstone are out to kick his butt, his biggest headache is getting home on time for dinner.

Inside Spidey's Web

Spidey spins his web across your TV set every Saturday at 10 a.m. on FOX Children's Network. But how does he get there? Putting our fear of spiders aside, we went behind the scenes of "Spider-Man" to unravel how the animated TV show is made.

First, the Marvel team in Los Angeles, California, chooses story ideas from the comic books and writes a script for TV. Artists develop model character drawings and paint backgrounds and settings. Then the storyboard artists draw panels of scenes -- about 20,000 for a typical show! Production artists make cel drawings. Then all the materials are shipped overseas, where hundreds of animators add details. Drawings are scanned into the computer, and color, camera angles and computer-generated action are added. Those computer "cels" come back to Los Angeles, and the drawings are combined with sound effects, music and voices. Finally, the whole show is edited, screened for perfection and, at last, delievered to Saturday-morning TV.

Meet Some of the People Who Bring Spider-Man to Life

The supervising producer, Bob Richardson, gives the show a vision. He reviews all the scripts, and checks the models and designs to make sure everything is drawn in "Spider-Man" style.

What makes "Spider-Man" so cool?

We give it a live-action style, and we push the realism. We make the city and overall environment realistic, because it makes it more fantastic if the hero is climing walls and villains are flying in a real city.

What makes it look so real?

We have detailed, 3-D maps of New York City, where the cartoon is based, that we look at for designing. Bridges and buildings, like the World Trade Center, are all where they really are located and look exactly as they do in real life. Using CGIs [computer-generated images] for 3-D backgrounds we can really swing with Spidey across buildings and over the city.

Christopher Daniel Barnes collected Spider-Man comics as a kid, so being the voice of the webby superhero is a dream come true.

How do you make Spider-Man speak?

I get the script, then go into the studio booth to record the show with the whole cast. I usually close my eyes and imagine myself there, as Spider-Man. I don't have to change my voice a lot for Spidey, but I make it a little higher when he's Peter Parker. When Mark Hamill [Like Skywalker in Star Wars], who plays Hobgoblin, is in the booth doing his lines, his body contorts, his face turns different colors, veins pop out on his head...He really gets into the character!

As lead character designer, Dell Baras designs all the cartoon characters with pencil and paper. When a new villain comes in from the comics, he does tons of sketches to bring the bad dude to the television.

How do you develop the characters?

When we were designing Spider-Man, I drew him really muscular, then with lean limbs like a spider...It took many sketches before we came up with the Spidey we see on TV. Designing the webbing was the hardest part, because it stretches all over the place.

Vladimir Spasojevic, production designer, is handed a script, which reads: "The place is a high-tech wonder, a sprawling complex of labs and factories somewhere in Queens, New York..." From a one-line description, he creates the background setting on paper.

How do you build a background for a scene like this?

First, I look at a New York City map to see what the industrial buildings look like in this area. I may research books for picturse of factories, but you have to use a lot of imagination. I usually doodle out the background, then do a three-dimensional drawing of the whole area with detail. Last, I do "zoom-in" sketches of areas where the main section will be.

Art director, Denis Venizelos gives the cartoon pizzazz by adding detail to background scenes and working with other artists to add color, lighting and expression to settings and characters.

What makes the total picturse?

You have to set a mood. Scary scenes are painted with darker colors and have shadowy lighting. We give the scenes a lot of depth and height because Spider-Man climbs and flies. We give characters an attitude with facial expressions, like sharp eyebrows, and color. Most of the villains are done in greens, or in colors that conflict with Spider-Man's red and blue.

Villain Profiles

Spidey Secrets

It takes almost nine months to create one cartoon episode.

Spider-Man makes certain sounds in every fight. A hit in the stomach is an "UUMPH!" Getting thrown through the air is an "AAH!" Landing is an "UHHH!"

There's a vent in Peter Parker's apartment that you can see at the top of the building. Spider-Man might use it as a secret escape hatch, but he hasn't yet.

Most of the cartoon stories come from the comic-book pages, but sometimes they have to be updated -- a villain driving a '65 Buick may end up in a '95 Porsche.

This page is a part of DRG4's Marvel Cartoon Pages:

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Featuring Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, and the Silver Surfer.