Early in the thrill-packed sequel “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” the story takes a transient but memorable detour into a dimension that resembles Lego constructing blocks and figures.
The intelligent and amusing scene, a tribute to “The Lego Movie,” was not the work of seasoned animation artists, however that of a 14-year-old fan turned skilled creator residing in Toronto.
Preston Mutanga, the prodigious Minnesota-born son of immigrant mother and father from the Northwest Region of Cameroon, had proven a aptitude for creativity from a younger age. Forgoing the directions for a set of Lego blocks, he constructed vehicles along with his personal designs.
“I also used to make comics when I was younger,” Mutanga stated throughout a current 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.”
By that time, he had been honing his abilities for a number of years making brief computer-generated Lego movies. “My dad showed me this 3-D software called Blender and I instantly got hooked on it,” he stated. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos to teach myself certain stuff.”
He shared his model of the trailer on-line. The high quality of his self-taught craftsmanship shortly gained consideration and reached Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the administrators of “The Lego Movie” and two of the writer-producers of “Spider-Verse.”
After deciding to include a segment in a Lego universe, Christina Steinberg, another of the film’s producers, contacted Mutanga to ask him if he wanted to animate it.
“We discovered that it was a 14-year-old child who made it and we have been like, ‘This looks incredibly sophisticated for a nonadult, nonprofessional to have made,” Miller said on a video call. “It blew us all away, including some of the best animators in the world.”
Mutanga’s supportive mother and father, Theodore and Gisele Mutanga, have been skeptical when the manufacturing first contacted them. Not lengthy earlier than, their son’s YouTube channel had been hacked, so the couple was moderately cautious that a Hollywood studio was searching for their son’s expertise.
But after finding the movie’s Toronto-based production designer, Patrick O’Keefe, on LinkedIn, and confirming that Sony Pictures Animation’s offer was legitimate, Theodore Mutanga, a medical physicist, built his son a new computer and bought him a state-of-the-art graphics card so he could render his work much faster.
His mother, Gisele Mutanga, a public health instructor, said, “I know Preston has a gift that was given to him by God, and once we identified that he had that gift, all we could do as parents was to nurture it and let him fly.”
Over several weeks, first during spring break and then after finishing his homework on school nights, Mutanga worked on the Lego sequence. Every other week, he would meet via video with Miller, who would check on his progress and provide detailed input.
For the young storyteller, accustomed to working alone with complete creative freedom, collaborating as part of a larger production provided eye-opening. “One new thing I learned was definitely the feedback aspect of it, like how much stuff actually gets changed from the beginning to the final product,” Mutanga said.
Miller saw Mutanga’s contribution to “Across the Spider-Verse” not only as a testament to the democratization of filmmaking, but also to the artist’s perseverance: he dedicated intensive time and effort to animation, which is “not ever fast or easy to make,” Miller said.
“‘The Lego Movie’ is inspired by people making films with Lego bricks at home,” Lord said by video. “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.”
While Mutanga is still dedicated to his high school studies, his career goal of becoming a full-time animator and director feels more within reach than he or his parents might have imagined at this stage. “I adored the first movie and was so hyped for the second one, so getting to work with the people who actually made this masterpiece was honestly like a dream,” he said.