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Handcrafted animation in 'Spider-Man': Latinos celebrate the "human touch" in the face of the rise of artificial intelligence


Highlights: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opens in theaters this weekend. Latino artists behind the film say they see themselves reflected in the main characters. "Animation has that human touch that's hard to make" without humans, says animator Daniel Ceballos. The film also opens as the film and television industry is debating the use of so-called generative artificial intelligence, amid fears that studios want to use it to make scripts or design animated works. "There's an essence to animation made by hand or by flesh-and-blood artists that can't be achieved with AI," says one animator.

In addition, in the Axios Latino newsletter, a key day for the future of DACA and dreamers.

📢 Axios Latino is the newsletter that summarizes every Tuesday and Thursday the key news for Latino communities in the hemisphere. You can subscribe by clicking here.

1. The Hot Spotlight: The Latino Artisanal Hand in Spider-Verse

Latino artists behind one of the summer's most anticipated films explain how working on the production was especially exhilarating because, unlike many Hollywood films, they did see themselves reflected in the main characters.

News momentum: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opens in theaters this weekend. The sequel to Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is already receiving rave reviews.

[Read our full interview with the Spiderverse's Latin artists and why they're "making history"]

  • Artists of Puerto Rican and Dominican origins, as well as animators from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and other countries, participated in the team that brought the story to life.

Context: One of the protagonists is Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino who is still learning to use his Spider-Man powers.

  • The sequel introduces dozens of other arachnid people, including Miguel O'Hara, the Mexican who is Spider-Man 2099.

In her own words: "Working on a movie where there is a name and race and face like yours gives you a lot of satisfaction, because when I was little I did not see much of that," says Fernanda Ortiz Rojo, who does lighting and composition work, or the process that combines the different visual layers that form a shot.

There's an essence to animation made by hand or by flesh-and-blood artists that can't be achieved with AI."

Daniel Ceballos

  • The story of Miles Morales as a superhero who is still finding his way feels close to artists.
  • "Several Latinos who worked on the film because we are migrants, we arrived in another country to start from scratch, almost like Miles when he is learning to use his powers. You understand its context more," says Isaac Miranda, who did work on motion graphics and matte painting backgrounds. "You feel like a spider-man too," he adds.

The characters' diverse backgrounds allowed the artists to include subtle references and details that honor their ancestry.

  • Daniel Ceballos, who like Miles Morales is from a Puerto Rican family, says it occurred to him that a Puerto Rican flag appeared when the protagonist's mother scolds him for getting a low grade in Spanish class.
  • "People were very, very open to the idea and thought it would be interesting," he says, "there was openness to let this diverse team get a little bit of us into the project."

2. Mind-blowing animation

The Across the Spider-Verse film also opens as the film and television industry is debating the use of so-called generative artificial intelligence, amid fears that studios want to use it to make scripts or design animated works.

But the artists who created this film say that what they did, with sweat, creativity and human effort, is something that will have an impact on all animation and that there is still no substitute for that craftsmanship.

In his own words: "There is an essence to animation made by hand or by flesh and blood artists that cannot be achieved with [generative] AI... animation has that human touch that's hard to make" without humans, says animator Daniel Ceballos.

  • The film has been praised by filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro, who said Spider-Verse pushes "the boundaries and power of animation as a format" for storytelling.
  • "After the first Spider-Verse came out (in 2018), you saw it in other works that people were more willing to explore in animation," Ceballos says. He adds that the second goes much further in its experimentation and stylistic innovation and is excited to see from there "what other studios, artists, directors and more do to open up to everything that animation can do."

Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation.

More details: The film, in which the characters visit several different universes, uses six different animation styles. Most animated films have one.

  • Across the Spider-Verse builds on the foundation of the former, for which the team created new technologies for mixing 2D and 3D animation as well as combining hand-drawn and computer-generated images. The programs were also used to include details such as text bubbles or colors that merge with each other on purpose, honoring the heritage of the Spider-Man comics.
  • The animators of the sequel say that this time the team went even further by thinking about the new visual styles for each new character, and the technology needed to make them a reality.
  • "Passion is always very important and it was seen in this project by pushing our barriers, that is, ourselves saying: before delivering this version I can do something better. I felt a lot of camaraderie," says Miralda Medina, who did lighting and composition work.

3. The judge who ruled that DACA is illegal hears new arguments

A federal judge in Texas hears arguments Thursday in a key case over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

News momentum: In 2018, nine Republican states, led by Texas, sued to end DACA, arguing that the program was improperly adopted and was a financial drag.

27% of DACA recipients are uninsured

May 27, 202300:47

  • Andrew Hanen, a federal district judge, opined in July 2021 that the program was illegal. Last year, an appeals court upheld the ruling but sent the case back to him to consider how a new federal rule by the Joe Biden administration affects the program.

Background: Former President Barack Obama established DACA by executive action in June 2012 to provide some protections to people who came to the U.S. irregularly as children by the hand of their parents.

  • Hundreds of thousands of people have received two-year work permits and avoided deportation under the program.
  • But those so-called dreamers have faced many challenges.
  • Hanen's 2021 ruling blocked new enrollments to the program, but allowed recipients who already had DACA to renew their status.

To keep an eye on: The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is among the groups that will testify and present arguments on Thursday.

  • It's unclear when Hanen will issue a ruling.

Important note: The president has spoken out in favor of DACA; his Administration also proposed a plan to expand access to health care for DACA recipients through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

4. Summary of key news in Latin America and the Caribbean

1. Argentina will no longer require a prescription for the sale of emergency contraception, the so-called Plan B, the Government of Alberto Fernández announced on Wednesday.

  • In recent years, several Latin American nations have been expanding recognition of reproductive rights.

2. At least 153 people have died in prison during El Salvador's state of emergency, which has now been more than a year with the stated aim of combating criminal gangs, according to a report by the human rights group Cristosal.

  • The report concludes that the deaths are the result of systematic and serious torture and injuries and that none of the cases have resulted in a conviction or disclaimer.
  • The Salvadoran government has not commented on the report's findings, but President Nayib Bukele has made fewer other criticisms of his mass incarceration measure.

5. Pachanga Thursday

Every Thursday we publish our Pachanga to highlight readers' achievements. If you've just celebrated an anniversary, adopted a pet, or had a job success and want to celebrate, send mail and photo to

Photo courtesy of Ricardo José González-Rothi. Photo illustration: Axios Visuals.

We congratulate Ricardo González-Rothi, who wrote to us to celebrate a poem just published on the literary website The Dewdrop.

  • Ricardo comments that his works have been published in the United States and the United Kingdom. He says he was born and raised in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a teenager as a refugee.

Thanks for reading! We returned on Tuesday.

If you want to share your experiences or send us suggestions and comments, send an email to

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