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“Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man” – A Conversation With Supervising Director Alex Soto

By: Marjorie Galas

As a boy, Alex Soto dreamed he would one day be a comic book artist. He immersed himself in the Marvel universe, studying the pages and admiring the artistry behind each adventure. Today, Soto is living his boyhood dream and then some.  He is the supervising director of Marvel’s longest running animated series to date: “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man” which currently airs on Disney XD.

Soto’s career began after he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA with a BFA. He was hired as a story board artist on Sony/Columbia Tri-Star’s animated series “Men In Black.” He continued on the path of a story board artist with series including “Starship Troopers” and “Max Steel” until he joined Warner Bros Animation to direct four seasons of “Teen Titans.”  This led to his work as supervision producer on Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10” and his first Daytime Emmy nomination.  Soto never lost sight of his animating skills, and in 2010 he joined the team behind “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” as a story board artist.  Before becoming a supervising director at Film Roman on a variety of projects, he began as a story board artist on “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man”.

“I’ve always had such a passion for Marvel,” said Soto. “So now, to transition into a (supervising director) position is so exciting, I get to work with such talented teams to bring this world to life.”

Soto was excited to tackle fan favorite Spider-Man, having been a fan himself for years. Recognizing storylines were always key to the Marvel property, the writers behind the series work tirelessly to meld the series storyline with what has come in the books before, while still maintaining a unique experience for viewers.  The artists springboard off the writers’ work, imprinting important visual cues that will pay off for longtime fans of the story (without detracting from the experience of new viewers.)

“The imprint is in the past, so we are both creating and also mimicking,” said Soto. “The flair is found in the art direction and the set.”

As supervising director, Soto’s story boarding experience has given him great insight when it comes to building the creative team behind the show. He bolsters each division using many individuals he’s known for years including color stylist, story boarders, and post artists. He’s partial to comic book artists, noting they make the best transition to animation due to their versatility.  For example, a comic book artist is as well versed at creating a building as a person, a cityscape as an automobile.  These artists have the unique ability of telling a complex story and guiding a viewer through action contained within very limited frames.

While more senior positions are filled with talent he’s known for many years, Soto does like to find emerging artists that can start their budding careers (and in some cases move up the ladder when vacancies arise.) He’ll go to animation festivals, art shows and major events such as Comic Con where he can review portfolios.

“It is a small industry. You develop a network and watch for those individuals who rise up,” said Soto.  “Meeting with young fresh talent; that is how it starts.”

Although Soto and his team are working with a highly recognized property, there are many opportunities for creativity. This comes primarily in the palette of the series, specifically in the background and layout.  There are many opportunities that arise with time of day and year to incorporate a vivid array of primary colors and washes for the sky and environment, as well as physical locations the characters may find themselves in.

“Sets, colors, day or evening sky, in that sense we treat the animation just like a live action set,” said Soto. “The environment sets the color.

Soto and his team also work with infusing a palette that represents key characters into each frame. For example, if a villain is dressed in a green outfit, shades of green will be worked in throughout the background, providing a sense of tension.

One of the aspects of tackling the supervising director position that has given Soto such a tremendous thrill is the direct relationship he has with the show’s producers. He was particularly excited to meet Joe Quesada, writer-artist and chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment who was involved during the launch of the series.  Soto also had the opportunity to work with Executive Producers Alan Fine who’s been president of Marvel Worldwide since 2009 and Dan Buckley who serves as the president of Publishing, TV and Brand Management for Marvel Entertainment.  As supervising director on “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6”, Soto has worked closely with executive producer Jeph Loeb.  An Emmy-nominated and Eisner Award-winning writer and producer, Loeb is Marvel’s Head of Television and has been the EP on not only Marvel properties but also “Smallville,” “Lost” and “Heroes.”

“I’ve had many humbling moments,” said Soto. “It’s been a real honor to speak with these great talents and be part of this universe.”

Every day Soto comes in to do a job he not just loves but feels honored to do.   During his free time, however, he still has energy to work on creative projects and endeavors.

“I have a fine arts degree and the passion is still there,” said Soto. “I am constantly creating my own things.”