True to its name, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse contains a sprawling universe of Spideys. The 2023 animated film boasts dozens, if not hundreds of interdimensional heroes, ranging from major players like Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) to blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos by LEGO Spider-Man and Spider-Cat (which is exactly what it sounds like: a cat with spider-based superpowers).
But of all the varied web-slingers and wall-crawlers, none have made an impact among fans like Hobie Brown. Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya voices the appropriately-nicknamed Spider-Punk, who's got an anarchic streak almost as long as his spiky mohawk. From the moment he explodes on screen, soundtracked by a shrieking guitar riff, Hobie is a burst of chaotic energy: a rock-star-slash-runway-model-slash-unexpected-mentor-to-Miles. He quickly became a favorite among fans, and the Spider-Verse directors and producers tell EW that he's the film's anti-authoritarian secret weapon.
Everett Collection Hobie Brown, a.k.a. Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), in 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse'
"He was in and out of the picture for a little while because we weren't sure which elements we were going to stick in this part and which were going to migrate to the next movie," explains writer-producer Phil Lord. "When we met Daniel Kaluuya, we realized that he had to be Hobie Brown, no matter the cost. And Hobie had to be in the movie because that personality needed to be part of the story."
"Some people were like, 'Is there a way to simplify this? There's so many characters. Do we really need Spider-Punk?'" adds fellow writer-producer Chris Miller. "But once we got to know Daniel, we rewrote the part so it became more necessary."
In the comics, Spider-Punk is a fairly recent creation: Dan Slott and Olivier Coipel invented him in 2015 as a punk, alternate-universe version of an established character. Lord and Miller explain that they've long been fascinated by Hobie, even while working on the first Spider-Verse, and when it came time to brainstorm new Spideys for the sequels, Spider-Punk was at the top of their list.
"The challenge is that Miles is a really cool character — one of the coolest Spider-Men that you can think of," Miller says. "Coming up with a character who is even cooler somehow is a really fun challenge."
Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, and Kemp Powers wanted Hobie to function as an unexpected role model for Miles — a chaotic foil to the more strait-laced Miguel O'Hara (voiced by Oscar Isaac). At first, Miles is resentful of the effortlessly charming Hobie, especially when he sees how much his crush Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) admires him. But he can't help but be won over by the charismatic Brit, who later helps him break out of the Spider Society.
"He's a catalyst for so many things in this movie, which is why I think he ended up being such a breakout star," Powers adds. "No matter how cool the character design looks, he really earned his way into this film because every character has to be in service of Miles' story."
Ami Thompson, Character Designer Spider-Punk concept art by character designer Ami Thompson
Dos Santos points to one particular scene in the film, when Miles is imprisoned by the Spider Society. It's Hobie who gives him the information he needs to escape, telling Miles to use his palms to send an electrical charge, not just his fingers. As Miles sends a blast through the room, everyone is shocked — except for Hobie, who gives a quick chuckle of approval.
"There was a version of that scene that didn't have Hobie in it, but he really pushed that scene over the edge," Dos Santos adds. "We were trying to figure that out for a very, very long time, and he was the chaos element who told Miles not to fall in line. He really saved the day."
Hobie's visual design is as wild as he is, and he careens across the screen like a punk rock poster come to life. The directors wanted to pull from a wide variety of influences, from classic '70s rock to more modern Afro-punk elements, and Hobie's collage-like design and color palette shifts frequently. He's also one of the tallest characters on screen, a lanky presence who towers above even Miguel.
Evan Monteiro, Character Designer Spider-Punk concept art by character designer Evan Monteiro
But perhaps the biggest influence was Kaluuya himself — the actor's presence was felt among the creators even before he joined the cast. Early in the development process, artists and animators began using unrelated video interviews of Kaluuya to help imagine how the character might speak and move. "As we were doing visual development on the character, we were actually using audio clips of interviews with Daniel Kaluuya," Powers explains. "Daniel Kaluuya's natural speaking voice was right in the pocket of that effortless cool we envisioned the Hobie character having from the beginning."
In fact, Kaluuya is the reason the filmmakers decided to make Hobie hail from Camden Town, Kaluuya's actual birthplace and the London neighborhood considered to be the birthplace of punk. The directors also gave the animators video footage of Kaluuya in the recording booth, so they could use the actor's facial expressions and mannerisms for inspiration.
Powers also points out that one of Hobie's best moments was a late addition — improvised by Kaluuya himself. There's a moment where Miles and Hobie first walk into the top-secret Spider Society, and Hobie removes his mask to show his face for the first time, hair spilling out everywhere.
"Initially, there wasn't dialogue there," Powers explains. "That was actually a piece of dialogue we wrote after seeing it in edit: 'How are you even cooler under the mask?' We threw that to Daniel in the recording booth and let him ad-lib a bunch of things. He started saying lines like, 'I was this cool the whole time.' And that's the one that stuck."
Everett Collection Spider-Punk in 'Across the Spider-Verse'
One of the trickiest parts of getting Hobie right was the technology required to make him move: Different parts of Hobie's body are animated at a different frame rate, a complicated process that breaks with traditional animation rules. Thompson explains that one part of Hobie's body, like his face, may be animated at a certain frame rate, while his jacket, body, guitar, and background each have their own frame rate.
"It's one of the most underappreciated aspects of this film and how hard it was to make," he says. "You have to make the camera smooth, so you can feel how the camera moves with these characters who are moving at these wild frame rates. Imageworks had to invent several different software programs and tools to be able to do that."
Still, as innovative as the technology is, Thompson notes that Spider-Punk can only truly come to life with Kaluuya's performance. "When we did the early tests, we were like, 'This is cool, but with the sound off, I don't know,'" he explains. "As soon as you hear Daniel delivering those lines, all the things that shouldn't work in animation work."
As for Hobie's future? A third film titled Beyond the Spider-Verse is currently in the works, continuing Miles' story with a third and final installment. (Originally, Beyond the Spider-Verse was scheduled to hit theaters in March 2024, but it's since been delayed, and a new release date has yet to be announced.) The directors are tight-lipped about how Hobie may or may not fit into their future plans — but they promise that fans haven't seen the last of everyone's favorite anarchic Brit.
"Anything is possible," Thompson says with a smile. "But I think it's fair to say you'll see Hobie again for sure."
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is available now on digital and on 4K UHD and Blu-Ray Sept. 5.
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