The Art of animation across the Spider-Verse with Seng Thanawat

The Art of animation across the Spider-Verse with Seng Thanawat

Meet Seng Thanawat Khantrum, a highly skilled senior animator known for his work on popular films like “Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Hotel Transylvania 3,” and “The Mitchells VS the Machines.” and many more. Through this article, Seng graciously shares his invaluable experience, offering a rare glimpse behind the scenes of some of his animations. For anyone intrigued by the art of animation and eager to delve deeper into its intricacies, this article provides a captivating exploration of the craft.

Describe your career progression briefly from a 3D animator at The Monk Studios to Senior Animator at Sony Pictures Imageworks.


The first job I ever had was at the Monk studio in Thailand, which was eleven years ago in 2012. When I started in the animation industry, I worked on TV shows such as “Paddle Pop” and “Talking with Tom.” However, it was only when “Strange Magic” came along that Lucas Films hired The Monk studio to create its first animated feature film. The incredible animators at Lucasfilm set a high standard, and I was aware that I’ll need to invest extra time and effort to catch up.


After completing this project, my new goal was to join a larger studio and take on more complex feature film projects.


Following my 3.5-year tenure at The Monk, I was offered a Senior Animator position at Original Force in China, where I contributed to the feature animation project “DUCK DUCK GOOSE.” It was during this time that I had the fortunate encounter with Denis Couchon, a former Dreamworks supervisor. This encounter turned out to be a significant stroke of luck for me. I spent two years working in China before receiving a job offer from Sony.

My career at Sony commenced as a mid-level animator on films like Hotel Transylvania 3, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Angry Birds 2. I continued working there until I was promoted to senior animator on The Mitchells vs. the Machines. After completing my work on The Mitchells vs. the Machines, I had planned to return to The Monk Studio, where I had previously worked as an animation director.


I spent almost two years with The Monk studio, refining my management skills and directing a feature-length animated intellectual property. However, Sony approached me about returning to lead Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Consequently, in 2021, I rejoined Sony Pictures Imageworks.

What sets senior animator apart from their junior or mid-level counterparts?


The senior animators at Sony love to come up with ideas for their own shots, and I think that’s the difference between a Jr./Mid.level artist and a Sr. animator. A senior animator should be able to create shots that leave you breathless, even with limited time. It’s important to stick to the timeline and not go over it.

In what ways does the animation style of Hotel Transylvania differ from your previous projects, and what was your experience collaborating with Genndy Tartakovsky?


First of all, Hotel Transylvania is my favourite!!! During my first interview with Sony, they asked me to choose between Spider-Man, Hotel Transylvania 3, and another project and of course, I chose Hotel Transylvania 3.

Gendy is such a wonderful, wonderful Director!!! He can see things very clearly and is very good at drawing. Every time we show him the shot, he looks at it quickly and draws right over your animation in a second.


The show is mind-blowing. The style of animation is really crazy!! Super cartoony style, but the most important thing about this project is “IDEA” how to make the shot real funny.


Every pose-to-pose needs a very clear silhouette, so we have tools to shape the model. The animators working on this project need to learn how to build because our rigs have limits and we have to match the pose to what Gendy drew for us.

Please describe your ideation process for the Spider-rex shot in “Across the Spider-Verse” and how the director responded to it and approved the shot.


When working on the Spiderverse project, my process for each shot was quite similar. I would start by looking at the storyboard and checking the director’s notes. If there were any big changes, we would discuss the new ideas.


To pitch my idea, I usually began with a simple 2D drawing. My drawings may not be the best, but they were enough to convey the main idea. Sometimes I would use video references to understand how the body moves, so I could draw it better. I chose 2D drawings because they were quicker than 3D animation.


After showing the drawing to the director and getting clear instructions, I would start working on the animation by blocking, refining, and polishing it.

Can you provide a list of other shots you animated for “Across the Spider-Verse,” and could you highlight one particular shot that you thoroughly enjoyed working on?


I worked on several shots during the college party scene when Gwen was looking for Peter and the Lizard was about to show up. I also had the opportunity to contribute to some shots when the Vulture appeared, and when they were talking to Miguel and he was about to show them a hologram.


I had a lot of fun working on each shot because they were all different. However, there is one shot that stands out as the most enjoyable for me. It’s the scene where Miles is running away from the other Spider-Men in the cafeteria, steps on a burger, and the spider monkey tries to catch him.

What was your experience collaborating with directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson? Additionally, what are your thoughts on their vision for the film?


At the beginning of the project, the animators only worked with “Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson” for a very short time. Mostly, we worked with “Bob Persichetti,” who is the director of “Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse.” So Bob returned for the sequel and was helping the movie go in the right way.


Bob’s involvement proved invaluable in steering the film in the right direction, as he possessed a deep understanding of the intended portrayal of characters like Miles and others.

Can you provide any insights into the deleted scenes you worked on for “Into the Spider-Verse” and “Across the Spider-Verse,” if there were any?


I’m glad to share that the deleted scene I worked on for “Into the Spider-Verse” is now available on Blu-ray. This gives me the chance to share it with everyone.


The scene focuses on Spiderham and Doc Ock’s fight in the side house, where Spiderham has the flash drive and Doc Ock tries to catch him.


Initially, I felt disappointed when the shot I had been working on for just two days was unexpectedly removed.


In the final version of “Across the Spider-Verse,” I made a small change by trimming one shot that I had worked on. I’m excited for the full Blu-ray release so I can share it with everyone!

The importance of acting and creating references in the animation process cannot be overstated. How crucial are acting skills and reference materials in the animation workflow?


The acting in this project is really interesting. I don’t act very often; I prefer action shots where I can play with the camera and timing. However, I’m always amazed by artists who are good at acting.


One tip I’ve found helpful is to imagine myself as the character. For example, if I’m playing Miles, I try to think and act like a teenager. Sometimes, I watch videos of black people acting on YouTube to get ideas on how to perform.

What motivated you to return to Sony Pictures as a senior animator after working at The Monk Studios as an animation director?


I believe I miss the time I spent working on spiderverse. I learnt a lot while serving as the animation director at The Monk, including how to manage people, build a quality team, and guide the team in the right direction. However, since I had to work closely with the director, I didn’t do a lot of animation. I frequently provide input, make sketches, and plan out ideas. So I don’t get the opportunity to animate as an animator, and Sony contacts me to see if I’d like to come to help Spider-man: Across the Spiderverse. Such ideal timing!

From your perspective, what steps can a junior animator take to transition into the role of an animation film director?


Continuous learning through experience is undeniably the most critical factor. It is not enough to dedicate your working hours to study; exceptional animators and directors I have encountered have consistently exerted tremendous effort to enhance their skills outside of regular work hours.


The significance of refining ideas cannot be overstated. Numerous remarkable artists I know devote their time after work to hone their concepts by crafting short stories, even as brief as a 10-second animated joke. Iterative versions of these animations are created, ensuring that the humor resonates with viewers. If the idea is not immediately understood, it is repeated until it is comprehended.

What advice would you give to aspiring newcomers entering the fields of animation and VFX?


Many people I knew had great success in this field, but I also knew many who struggled. My guess is that the winner will be the one who can maintain their “Passion” for the field for the longest.

Feelings of lack of interest or lack of passion may surface at times. You can’t make yourself feel passionate again, but that’s no reason to give up. You could try to give your mind a break by sleeping, getting away from your computer for a time, or even taking a vacation. After you’ve had some time to prepare, return to Animation with a clear head.


Because so many people, including myself, struggle with this issue, I never finish a project without having taken an extended vacation during which I may relax and refocus my mind.

What are your reflections on the recent layoffs in the animation industry, and what suggestions do you have for fostering community support during challenging times like these?


The occurrence of such unfortunate news is not uncommon in this industry. Nevertheless, the advent of Covid-19 has brought about numerous opportunities for remote work. In my opinion, if we prepare ourselves and always improve our skills, I think there are always a lot of opportunities in this industry.

You can connect with Seng at the following links:




About the author

  • Mohammad Khalikh

    Based in India. Khalikh is a Previs and Cinematic Designer with over 6 years of experience in the Indian Film Industry. His passion for films and animation led him to the city of dreams, Mumbai, and he found the world of filmmaking. He loves to share knowledge and he believes what J.M. Cornwell has rightly said "“Knowledge is wasted when it isn't shared.”

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