Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: November 2004

Friday, November 26, 2004

02:55:05 pm , 1000 words, 15448 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Scree

Natural animation by Andy GoldsworthOsamu Kobayashi is back in the driver's seat in Beck 8, with Norio Matsumoto along for the ride. The latter is in good form, with volume and wonted background animation. The previous episode featured Takeshi "master" Honda. Compare with his shot in the opening to get a sense of his current style. Satoru Utsunomiya did some work in FMA 47.

Been revisiting Nadia, and was impressed by the script of Hisao Okawa, one of the Heidi writers. Choice animation catch: Honda's bits (1, 3, 8, 12, 16, 20, 22, 39 + lanky AD on 30 & 35), Hiramatsu's King in 11, Masayuki's boars in 30. Mahiro Maeda storyboarded the episodes that I remembered being more dramatically weighty and convincing (16, 22, 35). Tsurumaki was present, but I don't know his style enough to pick it out.

I talked about Takaaki Wada in the last post. Well, a collection of his key animation for Kaleido Star is coming out soon. It will be nice to see just how this special movement was created. It's being put together by Studio You, the editorial branch of Anime Style, so it should be extremely solid, albeit brief in light of the limits of the subject matter. It's common to see self-published books devoted entirely to the key animation of a particular animator, typically sold at cons in Japan (Hiroyuki Imaishi has regularly put together books of his own key animation), but it's not as common to see solid books on interesting animators like this published via the normal route. The Akira Archive is one published in recent years that offered a sizeable and carefully presented collection of key animation by major animators.

Takaaki Wada started from a circle. Aihara Nobuhiro started a circle, Earth Club, in 1980. Reiko Yokosuka, from Winter Days, started from that circle. Norihito Iki started from a circle, Maunac, founded 1995, and Yuko Asano, also in Winter Days, started from a circle, Animation 80, founded fifteen years earlier in 1980 at the same school, Musashino. Hideaki Anno started making anime during high school at a circle, Group Shado, in 1980. The list goes on. "Circles" (clubs), an outgrowth of the do-it-yourself spirit of the Animation Sannin no Kai, are one of the hidden currents that have historically fed the industry and indie animator pool in Japan.

What has Kihachiro Kawamoto been up to since Winter Days? Working on his next film: The Book of the Dead. It's not what you're thinking, though. He hasn't moved from early Japan to ancient Egypt. This is an adaptation of seminal anthropologist Shinobu Orikuchi's same-titled story, set in the Nara period (8th century), which relates the story of the empress who took it upon herself to promulgate the newly arrived religion of Buddhism to hitherto animist Japan.

Kawamoto continutes his pursuit of the Japanese spirit in this new film, again delicately crafting his own handmade puppets, but the interesting new development is that rather than relying on corporate support to fund the project, this project is entirely funded by fan contributions, which can be made online via his web site. After forging a new paradigm for independent animation filmmaking in Winter Days, Kawamoto has again managed to come up with an approach that bolsters the integrity of the independent animator.

At present more than 50% of the film has been photographed at the studio set up in the Hachioji campus of Tama Art School. Roughly 5 to 10 seconds are photographed daily. It seems that the project is going to be a success. It would be nice if a similar system could be set up to fund Yuri Norstein's Overcoat.

One of the animators who is helping to animate the film is Shin Hosokawa, whose own recently completed short Oni just won the Debut Prize at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, and has gone on to win prizes at numerous other festivals. Over the next two days, this film is being screened at the Tama Art School's Graphic Design College festival alongside other student films, several of which were showcased on Digital Stadium in the recent past, including Junpei Fujita's Mind the Gap and Mirai Mizue's Fantastic Cell.

Fantastic CellThe latter didn't make it into the Hall of Fame, but sounds fascinating as a concept: 9 minutes of cells replicating endlessly (and encounting - it was unfinished at the time of airing). As judge Makoto Tezuka describes it, you don't know what the hell is going on for the first minute, then after a while it grosses you out, and then it starts to mesmerise you, until it almost becomes a test to see just how much you can stand to watch. It sounds like it would work well as a looping installation in a modern art gallery, 30 minutes or so. Though I haven't seen it to say for sure, if I was the judge on the panel that day, I might well have picked this one for that compelling feeling of unlimited potential for expansion inherent in the concept, and just as importantly to salute the bravura act of having drawn each and every one of the 6000 minutely detailed drawings that make up the piece.

The DigiSta Hall of Famer that impressed me most so far this year is Maya Asakura's Tarachine, for the totally assured sense of purpose, expressive maturity, technical skill, and convincing structuring and pacing of the material. She is 22 and it was her first film. She has my vote for the grand prix because I want to see more from her. There are other films more conceptually novel and technically innovative, but none captivated me and spoke to me like this one, which with no dialogue and only measured action manages to probe an inner world of emotions that few of the other participants seem interested in exploring. She strikes me as a profoundly feminist creator, an animation analogue of manga-ka Murasaki Yamada. The most succinct thing I can think to say about this fragment is that it seems to point to an expressive world that has been lacking in animation up until now, and it would be a tremendous shame if she didn't follow it up.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

02:42:04 pm , 931 words, 1381 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Takaaki Wada

When it moves, it moves. That's what I like about Takaaki Wada's work. He's got a good sense of balance. If the essence of animation in anime is figuring out how to obtain the perfect balance between movement and still given the limits of the circumstances (in this case TV anime), Wada again shows that he's one of the most adept at the task in the episode of Gankutsuoh he just did, #6. Wada has been known since the mid-90s for being an animator who loved to pack in as much movement as possible into his work. Rather than focusing on creating meticulously-calculated realistic movement, Wada tends to go with the flow, with the inspiration of the moment. In that sense he's different from most of the most famous animators today. He's not a realistic school animator; neither is he of the school that favors extreme deformation and pinhead-turn-precise manipulation of frame rate to vary rhythm within a shot. His work has always been rather difficult to identify because it isn't easy to classify or associate with a school, and because his work isn't ego-driven, with a wild drawing style. It doesn't stick out from the rest of the series; the drawings always look completely normal within the series in question. He has a very particular style of movement that is purely intuitive, rather than realistic, reflecting the shojo material he focused on during his early years in the industry, so combined, these two characteristics make his work simultaneously less easy to distinguish, and easier to appreciate to a broader audience that doesn't like the fly in the ointment effect produced by animation from the more idiosyncratic animators out there.

He is an animation artisan, and one of the best active today. His work is purely about the joy of creating movement. Instead of focusing on precisely calculating a movement, Wada spends more time adding to the movement, so there is a lot more going on generally throughout the episodes. Rather than just a still of someone talking, for example, there will be little movements added to make it more interesting. So when you see his work, there's a generalized sense of constant movement, even though of course that's not the case. And he's a workaholic. When you see one of his episodes, you're seeing not just a piece that was thrown off without much thought. Wada is known at Gonzo for the huge amount of research material he keeps at his desk, which he assiduously puts to use in the episodes he is assigned. Shot assignements to animators are accompanied by reference photos, textual background material, clips from movies to serve as reference for movement or atmosphere. He designs everything from scratch for his episodes, does the most animation for the episodes, in addition, of course, to correcting all the drawings as the animation director. All this would be moot if the results were not as consummately entertaining and dramatically convincing as they are.

The thing about Wada is that he's self-taught, and he started at a relatively late age. So when he started, he was already rather mature and had a sense of where he wanted to go. This is probably what accounts for his unique approach, which has remained constant over the years with little evolution. One of his early student films from 1985 is 20 minutes at 2 cels/frame - constant. You don't find that often in Japan. And it only took him about two months to animate. Right from the beginning, Wada wanted to make things move. That hasn't changed. And he's just as fast now as he was then. He debuted in commercial animation in 1988, and after several incredibly prolific years working on shows like Hime-chan no Ribon, Akazukin Chacha, Kodomo no Omocha, he started directing on Sexy Command Gaiden and then To Heart, revealing his talent for that, and he really came into the spotlight last year with Kaleido Star, where he produced his most maniacally movemented animation yet and directed several extremely impressive episodes (7, 33, 41) that proved his special knack for directing. (He was the one they turned to when it came time to make encore episode 52.) By this time he had done animation for more than 100 TV episodes, so he is probably one of the most prolific animators of the period, in addition to being one of the most talented.

He's famous for totally going overboard in the scenes he animates. One of the more well-known anecdotes about the first Animation Runner Kuromi OVA is how Wada single-handedly managed to drastically reduce the chances of the staff receiving any pay for the film (the staff were not paid; pay was to come after recouping expenses from sales) because he used more than 3000 drawings all by himself, which was something like one third of the total amount used in the entire film, with as many as 600 going into one single shot (the one with all the people working at their desks in the studio). One of the more talked-about aspects of his involvement in Kaleido was the unusual credit that had to be improvised to describe the very particular nature of his contribution to episodes 47 and 49, namely: "assistant to the animation director for the dog and bird". Translated, he animated them. I haven't seen the episodes, but the movement is said to be something special. He's been hidden away from the public eye over the last decade, but he's a name worth looking out for now that he's starting to combine his very special animation talent with his equally impressive directing talent in more visible gigs.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

05:10:47 pm , 253 words, 1272 views     Categories: Mind Game

Yuasa speaks

Fish skeleton extension cordThe current exhibit at the Intercommunication Center in Shinjuku is a retrospective of the Nonsense Machines created by Maywa Denki, a two-brother art unit modeled on the electrical appliance microcompanies that were a hallmark of 60s Japan. (company site) In addition to the exhibits, there will be a series of talk events. The last one is entitled "Cartoonist and director and electrician's poem" and will feature Mind Game creator Robin Nishi and director Masaaki Yuasa. It will be broadcast live on the internet December 18 @ 18:00, Japan time. I'm not sure how Yuasa got involved in this, but it's easy enough to see the affinity between these surreal objects and Yuasa's equally surreal and mad design world. I'll summarize afterwards.


An extra soundtrack CD was added to the two Mind Game DVD box sets to add some purchasing incentive. Reportedly Seiichi Yamamoto recorded hours and hours of music for the film that never made it in for lack of space, and some voiced interest in seeing some of that released; ask etc.


An interesting item that sheds some light on Yuasa's open approach to the film: We know about the possibility of the actors being replaced in the dub, but one of the prizes being offered to Japanese purchasers of the DVD is the opportunity to record a scene from the movie with YOUR face in the role of the character in question - an amusing development that makes you realize Yuasa really meant what he said about a the film being a "work in progress".

Thursday, November 11, 2004

05:05:33 pm , 517 words, 2135 views     Categories: Animation, Animator, Director: Yasuhiro Aoki

Tweeny Witches #26

The latest episode of this series was again done by Yasuhiro Aoki, who continues to raise the stakes and go to the next level with his intensely assertive directing. His episodes are the most satisfying to me personally because in each one you get a clear sense of him trying out new techniques and attempting to push the boundaries of his abilities a bit further. There's no feeling of stasis, of knowing what to expect. He grabs you by the lapels every time, never lets go, and knows exactly where he wants to go. That sort of extremely tight directing is what I like to see people do in anime, and I haven't seen many others up to his level recently. I look forward to seeing his episodes (and the rest) in widescreen, as they were produced. (they've been snipped to 4:3 for broadcast)

Incidentally the order of the Kimagure Robot episodes was different from what had been announced previously, so here is the actual order of the eps on the site for anyone who's curious who did what. As it turns out, all three of Aoki's episodes will be contained in the second batch being posted in a few days.

1 Yoshiharu Ashino 芦野芳晴
  Tweeny Witches - chief director
  Azuki-chan - animation director, character design
2 Yasuyuki Shimizu 清水保行
  Arjuna 6 - director, storyboard
  Christania - animation director
  Spriggan - animation director
3 Chie Uratani 浦谷千恵
  Toshizo Hijikata - director, storyboard, animation director, character design
4 Masahiko Kubo 久保まさひこ
  Hakkenden OVA 11-13 - key animation
  Paranoia Agent 1 - key animation (Maromi)
  Virus Buster Serge op animation
5 Yumi Chiba 千葉ゆみ
  Azuki-chan 2, 14, 18, 22, 26, 30, 36 - key animation
6 Yasuhiro Aoki 青木康浩
7 Yasuhiro Aoki 青木康浩
8 Yasuyuki Shimizu 清水保行
9 Yasuhiro Aoki 青木康浩
10 Nobutake Ito 伊東伸高
  Dai Guard 22 - storyboard, animation director
  Yamamoto Yoko 17 - storyboard, director, animation director
  Hiwou Senki 10 - storyboard, animation director

Yasuhiro Aoki Filmography

1993

  Sailor Moon R
    7, 12, 18, 42: key animation

1994

  Sailor Moon S
    6, 11, 16, 21, 34: key animation

1995

  Sailor Moon SS
    6, 13, 18, 24, 36: key animation

  Slayers Movie
    key animation

1996

  Rurouni Kenshin
    9: animation director, key animation
    14: animation director, key animation
    22: storyboard, director, animation director, key animation

  You're Under Arrest
    11, 19: animation director

1997

  Eternal Family
    key animation

2000

  Ah My Goddess Movie
    key animation

2001

  Cyborg 009
    32: key animation

  Earth Girl Arjuna
    11: key animation

2002

  On a Moonlit Night
    key animation

2003

  Animatrix: Second Renaissance & Beyond
    key animation

2004

  Steam Boy
    key animation

  Tactics
    opening: key animation

  Tweeny Witches
    2, 8, 14, 20, 26: storyboard, director, animation director
    1: storyboard (w/Yoshiharu Ashino)
    6, 18: storyboard

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

05:00:24 pm , 484 words, 9488 views     Categories: Animation, OVA

Little Twins

July 1992: 25 min. movie (end of summer)
July 1992-Oct. 1993: 12 direct-to-video/rental episodes
Sept.-Dec. 1993: All 13 episodes broadcast on TV Tokyo

Little Twins is a short series that was produced ten years ago by Oh Production, the studio that produced Gauche the Cellist ten years before that. Oh Pro was one of the main animation supports of the World Masterpiece Theater for the first few years of its existence, when Takahata and Miyazaki were working there, and then focused on work for Ghibli after T & M made that their base of operations. Between the two they took several years to create their own self-produced Gauche as the studio's calling card.

This series is essentially inspired from the Gnomes world, with little people with pointy hats and realistically portrayed animals. Many of the same staff who were involved in Gauche were involved in this series, including veteran animation director and Oh Pro co-founder Kazuo Komatsubara (Nausicaa, Galaxy Express 999), here the character designer, who helped see the earlier project to completion; and Toshitsugu Saida, Oh Pro's most famous animator, here the animation director, who was the character designer and main animator of the earlier classic. This series shares with Gauche the same soft, etched look and calm, storybook atmosphere. It's one of the studio's most distinctive productions. Numerous interesting figures were involved, including art director Tsuchida Isamu, who was previously involved in another similar show with Komatsubara, Memol in the Pointed Cap; Takashi Nakamura, who animated the op/ed; and Manabu Ohashi, who in the movie provided "special animation" similar in style to that he provided for Junkers Come Here immediately afterwards, plus a nice sequence in the first winter episode. Apparently it was technically a Toei production, because Kimio Yabuki, who thirty years earlier was assistant director on Little Prince & the 8-Headed Dragon, was here as the producer. The movie even boasts a truly spectacular bit of animation at the climax, a strangely out-of-place, ultra-detailed portrayal of a house falling apart, which was probably animated either by the studio's representative, Koichi Murata, or by Masahiro Ando or Shigeto Tsuji, two of the studio's main animators.

There are 3 episodes for each season, plus the movie between summer and fall. The order seems arbitrary: The OVA version started with summer; the rental version started with winter; and the TV broadcast started with spring.

Creator/Supervisor: Isamu Tsuchida 土田勇
Chief Producer: Kimio Yabuki 矢吹公郎
Chief Director: Toshio Hirata 平田敏夫
Character Design/Chief Animation Director: Kazuo Komatsubara 小松原一男
Key Animation Supervisor: Toshitsugu Saida 才田俊次
Opening/Ending Animation: Takashi Nakamura なかむらたかし
Art Director: Mariko Kadono 門野真理子

MOVIE
Storyboard: Jun'ichi Sato 佐藤順一
Director: Yorifusa Yamaguchi 山口頼房
Special Animation: Manabu Ohashi 大橋学
Key Animation: Koichi Murata, Kin'ichiro Suzuki, Masahiro Ando, Eiichiro Nishiyama, Junko Ikeda, Kazutaka Ozaki, Eiko Miyamoto, Toshiaki Komura, Shigeto Tsuji
村田耕一 鈴木欽一郎 安藤正浩 西山英一郎 池田淳子 尾崎和孝 宮本英子 小村敏明 辻繁人

WINTER-1
Storyboard/Director: Toshio Hirata 平田敏夫
Key Animation: Kin'ichiro Suzuki, Manabu Ohashi, Ikuko Ito, Eiko Miyamoto, Satoshi Nishimura
鈴木欣一郎 大橋学 伊藤郁子 宮本英子 西村智

WINTER-2
Storyboard/Director: Osamu Inoue 井上修
Key Animation: Ikuo Ayaki, Takao Yamazaki, Tadao Yamazaki
礼木幾夫 山崎隆男 山崎唯文

Saturday, November 6, 2004

08:29:59 pm , 1231 words, 3191 views     Categories: Animation

Running man

Anime Kai no Chimimouryou na Hitobito
by Yusui Taiga
アニメ界の魑魅魍魎な人々
大河湧水著
191 pages

This book published just under a year ago goes into some depth about a subject that isn't heard of very much: the early interaction between the Japanese animation industry and the Korean animation industry during the mid-1980s. Today it's common to see entire episodes of high-profile anime series produced almost entirely in Korea. So it's a timely book in the sense that it sheds a little light on an early stage of this interesting new relationship between the ancient neighbors.

The author got his start in the anime industry in 1982, when he was hired by Madhouse midway through production of Unico on the Magic Island. He's a representative example of the half of the anime industry that we don't hear as often about: the production side. Probably like many of his compatriots, he came to this line of work because he saw anime as a kid and wanted to do that as an adult. But when he got to the animation school in 1982, he couldn't draw, and consequently couldn't do what most people would have done - namely, study to become an animator. So he set his sights on directing. Isao Takahata is an example of an anime director who doesn't draw. But, running up against the difficulties of acceding to that high position when you can't draw, he was forced to give up on that ambition, at least temporarily, and start where most people in his position did - as an animation runner - with the hope of eventually working his way up. And so it was that Yusui Taiga entered the world of anime production.

Before going on to the section of his experiences in Korea, he writes about his beginnings working as a runner for Madhouse on the Sanrio-produced Unico, after which he quit and joined Sanrio Films proper, where he worked on Oshin (1984) and then Fairy Florence (1985) before the breakup of the studio.

There's little information generally available about Sanrio Films, one of the more unique studios in anime history, which was in existence only for about the decade spanning 1975 and 1985, but unfortunately the author does little to change that, only providing some curious anecdotes in passing. For example, the fact that the life-sized models of the various places depicted in Oshin, which had been created for reference purposes, were appropriated by staff to serve as sleeping quarters during the final burst of work over the last few months of production, when it was common for people not to go home (to shower, say) for weeks on end.

Sanrio Films was unique in many ways. It was essentially a side-enterprise run by the massive parent company, so production always remained entirely in-house, and projects tended to look really different from most anime because they were either co-productions or made with a worldwide audience in mind. The system was closer to the western system, with effects animation directors and character animation directors. Different groups handled the animation for each section of Oshin. There was a background runner, an animation runner and a finishing runner. As if to mirror all these differences, the studio was located at a distance from the nexus of anime studios in Suginami. There's a lot that remains to be examined about Sanrio Films. Hopefully someone will do that one day.

Madhouse today is known for extensively using Korean studios, but back in the day when Yusui Taiga came in it was still a relatively young studio mainly doing subcontract animation for bigger fish like Tokyo Movie Shinsha and Sanrio Films, which is what was happening with the two Unico films. At this time, a handful of bigger studios like Toei Doga and Tokyo Movie Shinsha had the means of handling all of the production tasks, but otherwise smaller studios like Madhouse outsourced to specialized studios - inbetweening studios, finishing studios, etc. - which is where Yusui Taiga comes in. He paints a fairly vivid picture of the experience of being a runner at this time, which in extreme cases involved driving more than 300 kilometers a day. It gives a sense of the part-heroic, part-drudge nature of the job. Everything really depended on these guys. Just from seeing the final product it's hard to get a sense of the amount of behind-the-scenes legwork that was involved in coordinating the various parts of the production.

One of the more interesting parts of the book is the description of his first experience running between Japan and Korea during the last month of production on Florence, when finishing work was sent to Korea. This was a first for Sanrio Films, though other studios like Toei Doga had already started outsourcing to Korea. Not knowing any other way to do it, they just sent a runner over on a flight with all the material. They tested various convoluted schemes to reduce taxes and surcharge fees for the dozens of boxes he had to carry over as luggage - all because Sanrio used their own specially-designed painting equipment that nobody else in the industry used, and they had to bring the tools over along with the cels. The tricks of the trade became more sophisticated later on, and he relates colorful tales about certain runners who became experts at scanning the crowd in the lobby and picking out people who would be most likely to be willing to go along with a request to carry boxes for them.

After Sanrio Films closed, he started getting involved in overseas coproductions, eventually participating in a project to establish a Korean studio that would be able to handle all stages of Japanese-Korean coproductions with only minimal oversight, thus excising the middleman and all the problems inherent to 'international running'. His various experiences in the process - translation mishaps, cultural misunderstandings - are probably a fairly accurate snapshot of the typical Japanese businessmen experience during the bubble, so it's interesting especially for that. It's always instructive to see how a person from another culture views the rest of the world.

Rather than being an objective history of the period, this is a subjective first-person narrative that does not go into much detail beyond the author's own experience, so there is not much in the way of background history or balance. The main focus of the book is in fact on descriptions of the many colorful people the author met over the length of his career in animation. A good example is his one-time partner/full-time military buff, who on the occasion of his first trip to Korea with the author was detained by the authorities at Kimpo Airport for questioning regarding the reason for his being attired in the regalia of a US Army General. The people are vividly described, the anecdotes interesting. The book works nicely as an entertaining Dickensian picaresque novel, but lacks the clear organization, factual substance and insightfulness of Yasuo Otsuka's narrative of his own career, Sakuga Ase Mamire (Cels Covered in Sweat), rather falling closer to ex-Mushi Pro director Eiichi Yamamoto's heavily fictionalized autobiography Mushi Pro Koboki (The Rise & Fall of Mushi Pro), a famously problematic book that never bothers to demarcate where truth ends and fiction begins. But insofar as it's an honest expression of another person's different experience, to me it's a satisfying creation. It offers a perspective we don't get to hear very often.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

05:10:27 pm , 319 words, 1549 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Masayuki

Though lacking the brash stylistic unity of Hiroyuki Imaishi's first episode, the third episode of Re: Cutey Honey was in good form, a big Gainax finale, as was expected from the fact that Masayuki was in charge. Anno co-directed, which perhaps accounts for familiar elements like the subtitles. Hiroyuki Imaishi is probably the one who did the early sequence that looks like an homage to Masayuki's early manic animation, which similarly tended to have lots of tricky movement with people flying all over the screen in strange poses (the joined feet thing comes from the similarly-inclined Yamashita Masahito), though Masayuki's work was more fluid and less limited. It's the only sequence that lived up to the level of excess I was expecting, though otherwise the film was a nicely enjoyable romp with lots of quality work.

I haven't followed Masayuki's career closely, but I know that he was an intriguing animator creating the sort of hyperactive movement that falls, chronologically and stylistically, about midway between Yoshinori Kanada and Hiroyuki Imaishi. Remember Thundercats (1985)? The opening was animated by Masayuki, and it's the best representative of his style that I know of. It's one of the few, actually. Apart from that I know little about his work as an animator. One of the more famous gigs of his early period was the 1982 TV series Sasuga no Sarutobi, for which he did highly accentuated animation in about ten episodes. Then in 1985 came Thundercats; for Honneamise in 1987 he did a lot of highly regarded work; and for Gunbuster in 1988 he animated the opening. After that he played other roles in a number of projects, though he recently returned with animation for FLCL and now this episode.

I ran across an impressive film called Hello from Kislovodsk (2000) by a person named Dmitri Geller on the OpenArt site. Recommended. I also liked Yukihiro Tsujita's films on the same site.

Studio 4°C x N*ke = ?

Thursday, November 4, 2004

01:25:54 pm , 89 words, 1393 views     Categories: Misc

Drawing Reality

There's a new meme in town, and it's called Sketch Crawl. It started in San Francisco, and it's spreading at an alarming rate: There's one scheduled in scenic Kyoto two and a half weeks from now. Check out John Grillo's new blog Logical Explosion, which will be examining the concept of pop culture in Japan, to learn more about the upcoming event. Also be sure to have a look at the wonderful results of the original Sketch Crawl of San Francisco by the originator of the idea, Enrico Casarosa.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

04:20:13 pm , 7258 words, 7758 views     Categories: Animation, Translation, Interview

Tadashi Hiramatsu interview

The following is my translation of an interview with animator Tadashi Hiramatsu. The original Japanese interview was posted last month on Anata to Watashi no Gainax, a site devoted to interviews with Gainax figures of the past and present. This is the 13th installment in the series. Figures interviewed in previous months include Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki and Hideaki Anno. Everything prior to this interview is no longer viewable. The interviewer is Junji Horita.

PART I:
Notebook Manga & Flipbooks

ATWNG: When did you first get interested in drawing?

HIRAMATSU: Let's see... that would be back in grade school, when I first started reading manga. I went through that typical phase, like lots of people. I borrowed a manga magazine from a friend, and Mazinger Z was in there, and I became a fan of that. Me and that friend would get together and hold contests to see who could draw the best Mazinger Z, or who could draw the fastest.

So the first thing you drew was robots.

Yes. And Koji Kabuto (protagonist of Mazinger Z). I didn't draw people that much. Mazinger, monster robots, that sort of thing. That was my debut.

Was it mainly single drawings? Or did you draw stories?

Well, me and that friend started drawing manga in our notebooks. We would each draw these Go Nagai-ripoff robots in our notebooks at home and then show each other at school, or go over to each other's house and say "Let's draw this today."

Sounds like a nice friend.

His drawings were a lot better than mine. (laughs) We did that for about three years, until middle school.

You drawings must have gotten better over the years, since you did it for that long.

It's funny. I still have most of them. When you look back at them, I started out drawing Go Nagai style, and then suddenly after a while I started drawing with Leiji Matsumoto-style wobbly lines and such. I started adding rivets to the robots, getting more and more detailed. So that started getting a little out of hand for me, and I stopped drawing note manga. If I'd stuck with it I might have become a manga artist. Though what I drew was mainly just robots beating each other up. I didn't pay much attention to the story.

Leiji Matsumoto's influence came in for real when I saw Space Battleship Yamato (1974). After that I started reading his manga like the war series.

So you were basically attracted to artists with unusual drawing styles.

I guess so. Back then I had only looked at Devilman and Mazinger Z, but I took the time to look over his work again recently when I did Cutey Honey, and I was impressed by the quality of his drawings, like the scene where Koji Kabuto discovers Mazinger in the lab, or Mazinger coming to the surface.

So you drifted away from manga when you got into middle school.

Then I started doing flipbooks. A teacher confiscated my manga at one point, which kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm for the whole thing. This was around the time that Future Boy Conan (1979) was being broadcast. Seeing Conan was what got me interested in the idea of making drawings move. So I started drawing little flipbooks in the corner of the pages of my textbooks. (laughs) At first I just did easy stuff like stick man running or shooting a gun. Then I started getting ambitious, drawing Yamato, people and so on. I couldn't draw worth a lick, but that's what got me interested in animation.

What exactly was it that you found interesting - the process of drawing each drawing, or seeing your drawings move when the process was finished?

When I started out, I didn't plan the movements at all. If I was drawing a bouncing ball, I just drew a ball, then drew it slightly higher, that's all. I just eyeballed it. It was just me figuring out, "So that's what happens when I do that." Then after a while I started to figure out the basic rules, like how to pace movements correctly by changing the space between drawings; the fact that you can change the speed of an object just by changing the space between the drawings. That's what was fun about it. I think it's like that for everybody when they first start out.

After going that far with it on your own, it's not too surprising that you became an animator afterwards.

At first I didn't really give it that much thought, it was just doodles. But then I started trying to reproduce these complicated sequences - Yamato flying up in perspective with the earth in the background, Yamato getting ready to fire the beam cannon. Even the whole scene where Yamato gets shot down by the satellite cannon.

But this was a flipbook - you mean you had shots, too?

Yes, a whole sequence with various shots. With a stick man or a ball, all you need is blank space, but I was trying to reproduce stuff I'd seen on TV, so it was hard to do without a frame. First I just drew a frame for each picture, but the frame changed shape every time - so I thought, 'This won't do'. So what I did was I took a compass and punched a hole right through a bunch of pages in my textbook, then drew an accurate frame on each sheet using the hole as the top left corner of the frame. Then I could start drawing with a stable frame. All that so I could draw the whole sequence from the firing of the beam cannon to the sinking of the Yamato. (laughs) Pretty stupid, now that I think about it. I spent all my time doing that instead of studying.

After all that work, didn't you want to show it to anybody?

I showed a few people, but it was mostly just for fun. I didn't want to get too deep into it, because then there's no end to it. I didn't have a background at first, then I decided I'd color in outer space. That's as far as it went.

After going pro I looked over my flipbooks again, and one of the things that became obvious was that I didn't give any thought to the timing of the movement. I wasn't there trying to figure out how to make the timing of each movement interesting, I was just basically trying to reproduce the mood of the image I'd seen on TV. If I'd only given more thought to the timing of the animation, I might have become a different kind of animator. I might have become more like Imaishi.

I think lots of animators had their own particular version of the flipbook experience as kids. It would be interesting to be able to look at what sort of flipbooks various famous animators made when they were younger to see how they each approached it differently. Imaishi, for example, was so advanced even at that early stage that he was already studying extreme ways of varying the rhythm such as pausing a drawing for five frames. That's an amazing difference with me.

There are a lot of fans of your recent work as a character designer, so it's surprising to hear that you didn't actually start out drawing characters.

I was just a kid. I drew what I liked without really thinking about it. I wasn't interested in nuanced acting or expressions. I just loved drawing cars, planes - robots not that much - so I spent all my time drawing that.

Were you already determined to become an animator when you reached high school?

Well, that was a pretty good period for anime, with Cagliostro's Castle (1979) and other famous anime like Aim for the Ace and Tomorrow Joe all coming out around the same time. And I was certainly watching a lot of anime then, more than ever. But I still wasn't at the point where I could make a firm decision that, yes, this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I was still undecided about my future. So I just wound up drifting into an art college without any real ambitions. I was interested in doing some kind of work involving drawing, yes, but I didn't have this unwavering sense of certainty that I wanted to become an animator no matter what or anything like that.

In his book Sakuga Ase Mamire (Cels Covered in Sweat), Otsuka Yasuo emphasized that the fundamentals are crucial for an animator, and really drove home that it was important to go out there in the real world and draw what you see to sharpen your observation skills. For a long time I hadn't been able to get that advice out of my mind, and that was probably one of the factors that motivated me to decide to go to an art college. But beyond that, I hadn't really given it that much thought. I was pretty out of it.

So you learned sketching and all the basics at school.

Yes. My major was oil painting. But it was just an art college, so we didn't go into that much theory. It was mainly just various exercises. Around that time I started spending a lot of time doing club activities. That and going out drinking with friends. I was living in a dorm, so it was pretty wild at times. I haven't changed that much either.

The club was basically a puppet group. I learned how to put on shadow puppet shows. It was actually not even a group at my college. It was a group at one of the major 4-year universities. But I had a friend there who invited me, and that's how I got in. We were the only two from other schools there. Puppet theater is interesting because it leaves you a lot of room for ad-libbing. Movement and dialogue are the two major elements, more than the drawings, but there's a real feeling of life in the drawings. Drawings being what I'm really interested in, in retrospect I learned a lot from the puppet theater. It gave me a chance to learn and experiment with various things that I wouldn't have been able to elsewhere.

The process is sort of similar to the audio recording process in anime. You have sound effects, you have music, you have dialogue, then you have to figure out where each one goes, then you mix them, then you add the movement. I really enjoyed the process of adding the music in particular. I got a taste for it, and now I can't do without it. (laughs) I've been doing that ever since I came to Gainax. So it was a tremendously useful experience for me.

Generally speaking, these puppet plays were lyrical stories rather than action adventures, right?

Yes. We put on plays based on children's books and picture books. The year I entered they were doing Takashi Yanase's The Gentle Lion, and I was really blown away by what they were doing with it. While I was there we did stories for children like Helen Keller and Ryunosuke Akutagawa's The Spider's Thread.

So you actually put on public performances.

We put on shows at temples, public libraries, places like that. During the summer I spent more time doing that than attending classes. We event went to Kyushu and spent two weeks putting on shows in various places once. We were doing up to three, four shows a day at one point. Our schedule was packed to the minute.

You must have been real pros with all that practice.

It was pretty hectic. The stage was a basic fold-up backdrop, and we kept the shows short and simple. For example, sometimes the whole show would just consist of us being silly, and then we'd tack on an "everyone lived happily after" ending. But the kids really went for that sort of thing. In the fall, there'd be the school festival, where we'd put on a big show in the school gym. We put a huge amount of effort into it. It was a big event for us. It was kind of terrifying, but at the same time incredibly rewarding.

So along comes this big fall show after the summer tour. We're hyped from all our efforts during the summer. We want to try something new, find a new challenge. The guy who was in charge at the time liked experimenting, and he listened to suggestions of the younger people. But of course, the club had its own traditions, and you'd get this older doyen coming around watching practice - a guy my age - poo-pooing our experiments, saying "That's not shadow puppetry!" ♪

PART II:
Drawing Reality

This club veteran would come around all dressed up in a suit and tie to watch us. He was very traditional, almost medieval. One time he came around and he wouldn't let us uncross our legs at the meeting after the show because he was so angry. He was like, "What the hell do you think you're doing? This isn't shadow puppet theater!" (laughs) For example, in shadow puppetry, one of the basic rules is that the characters are all in profile - it's this flat world without any dimensions - but in Helen Keller what we'd done is to have Helen turned slightly towards the audience to suggest her feelings of loneliness and separation from everyone. So that's what he was reacting to: three-dimensional thinking was antithetical to the very idea of shadow puppetry. We were kind of playing around with the basic concept.

As another example, the director would use spotting as an integral part of the narrative - have the spotlight on Dr. Sullivan while he's talking, then fade out and put a spotlight on Helen's parents in the bedroom - as a way of presenting various actions on the stage at the same time, like they do in the theater. So it's true that we were getting a little away from shadow puppet theater. He was perfectly justified in saying what he did.

Another technique we used in Helen Keller was what you could call 'layering'. Essentially it was a way of representing three-dimensional movement, for example the way the scenery moves slower the farther out you go when you're looking out from the window of a moving train. We used this technique for the climactic scene where Dr. Sullivan is walking around with Helen in the garden explaining to her, "This is a tree. This is water."

The reason we did that was because we were having trouble figuring out how to convey a feeling of the large distance they were walking, which was absolutely essential because it was her encountering these various things around her on this long walk that led to her awakening to the world around her. That feeling of traversing a great distance was totally lacking. So I made the suggestion, "This is a technique used in anime." I asked them to move the cutout of the trees in the background slightly back, away from the sheet, to blur the outline a little and thereby give the objects in the background more of a sense of distance; and to move the trees slowly to the side while moving the objects in front slightly faster, to create the sense of movement. It's absurd, really. I was using concepts from photography in the shadow puppet theater. (laughs) I'm surprised they even let me do it, especially blurring the shadow like I did, which is considered taboo.

Sounds like you've always been blessed with good friends.

In most other ways it was a very strict, regimented group, but it was a rewarding experience working within a group and seeing my little suggestions actually produce concrete results like that.

So after doing that, you graduated and started right away doing animation work?

No, I didn't start right away. I worked for about a year as a salaryman. I was a coward. Or practical-minded, you might say. (laughs) I was afraid I wouldn't be able to earn a living as an animator. That's certainly what my parents would have told me if I'd told them I wanted to become an animator. So I just said, "Forget it, I'll join a company and work like everyone else." But obviously that didn't last long. It wasn't for me. I quit after a year and that's when I started working in animation.

I was a big Lupin fan, so when I quit and started looking for work, one thing I wanted to do was find a place where they'd let me draw Lupin. So I went to this studio called Nakamura Production, which did a lot of subcontract work for Tokyo Movie Shinsha, the studio that produces Lupin, because I figured there I had a pretty good chance of eventually getting to draw Lupin. That was my whole reason. I didn't even know that the head of the studio was this incredible animator who'd done work on Daitarn 3 (1978) and Gundam (1978), Kazuo Nakamura. I was hardly what you'd call an anime otaku.

Did you like it when you first started?

It was relatively similar to what I'd experienced in the group, with everybody buzzing around doing something together, so yes, I rather enjoyed it.

Were you drawing pictures like crazy all the time, now that you'd found a job doing something you really liked?

Well, I liked drawing pictures, and I drew things when I got back home, but not as much as other people. Though I actually started drawing manga in notebooks again, for about about a year or so after I got hired as an inbetweener.

I pictured you practically drawing in your sleep because you loved drawing so much.

No, it never went that far with me. I don't think it ever will.

So, with drawing, is getting better just a question of practicing when you're young?

To put in in terms of my own experience as a key animator, I think there's a point where everything suddely clicks. I only realized this in retrospect. But with some people it's really dramatic, and their whole style suddenly changes. For a long time you'll be struggling to get a certain pose right, and you can't do it no matter how you try. Or you see your work on TV, and you know there's something wrong with the timing, but can't quite figure out what to do to get it right. Well, suddenly one day it becomes clear: "That's what I need to do." I'd say it's crucial to go through that struggle to come to your own personal style, assimilating all sorts of things in the process.

Can this "click" moment come from watching something other than animation?

I think so. In my case animation wasn't the only thing I was interested in. I was also interested in live-action special effects, and I considered visiting studios to look for that kind of job. But obviously nothing came of that. I liked Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I watched all the Godzilla films when they were restored in 1984.

I read books by Eiji Tsuburaya (SFX director of the Godzilla movies), and Cinefex, and I remember that at one point I "clicked" when it suddenly dawned on me that special effects - which is essentially the art of making the unreal seem real on the screen - was incredibly similar to the art of animation, where you create an imaginary world by the act of drawing on a piece of paper. So in my case, special effects was probably another major influence.

Once you started working, was there any change in the kind of work you wanted to do?

I did my first work as a key animator on the show Mister Ajikko (1987). It was a lucky break for me, actually, because in that show you get lots of different scenes - explosions, everyday drama scenes, people eating. So it offered me the chance to learn how to draw all sorts of different things. I think I did about ten episodes in all.

After doing that, I went on to do work in a variety of shows in various genres - action, sci-fi, cute girls. In the process of doing all sorts of things you come to figure out what you like and what you're good at. In my case at some point I realized that what I really wanted to do was everyday drama scenes, though I was stuck doing all these various things for quite a while.

So I eventually went freelance, and joined Studio Curtain, which was run by Masahiro Kase, who had worked at Nippon Animation for a long time prior to forming his own studio. There I had the chance to do work on a number of World Masterpiece Theater shows. That's where I really started learning in depth about everyday drama scenes and how to draw realistic characters.

So in the process of doing all these different shows you sort of discovered yourself.

It really makes a difference in the end product when you actually like what you're doing. You may have started out tracing a certain cute girl or robot drawing because you liked that drawing, but as you start to draw more on your own, you start to realize what it is you really want to draw deep down. But when you start to try to draw that, you realize you're still not good enough, which leads you to try to get better by studying other people, watching movies and observing reality. Reaching that moment of self-discovery is important because that's your real starting point.

It's not unlike learning to play an instrument. You start because you want to play a certain piece of music you like.

Exactly.

With the piano, they say if you don't practice every day you lose three days. Is it like that with drawing?

You don't have to challenge yourself with something new every day, but I think it's like music; you have to play a basic practice tune at least once a day or you start to lose something. It's important just to pick up the pencil and draw so you don't forget what it feels like.

Did you start working on Gainax shows right after the World Masterpiece Theater?

Yes. The first World Masterpiece Theater series I did was Tico of the Seven Seas (1994). Shunji Suzuki happened to see my work on that show, and he invited me to work on episode 15 of Evangelion. After that I borrowed a desk at Gainax to work on episode 19, and sort of never left. Though of course I had worked on Nadia of the Blue Waters (1990) before while at Studio Curtain.

Which episodes?

11 and 15, and a bit in 20. 11 was a slapstick episode, the one where Grandis falls in love with Captain Nemo at first sight and cooks him dinner. Looking back on it now, it's actually scary the degree to which they let me play around on that episode.

You're very popular as a character designer nowadays. Did you already consider yourself to be a character specialist at the time you were working on the World Masterpiece Theater?

No, not at all. In my case I've never looked at my task as drawing a character as cute as possible. I've always felt a real sense of affinity with what Isao Takahata said, back around the time of Anne of Green Gables (1979), about "going to the trouble drawing of a real live person, transforming that drawing into an animation design, and using that design to attempt to recreate the behavior of a real human being. There must be something we can learn by this process." Hearing that was what made me realize, Of course! The beauty of animation is that you can make a drawing feel real simply by projecting your own feelings onto the picture, and you're free to pick whatever pieces of reality you want for whatever given situation. Though I've still got a lot to learn about how it's done.

So reality in animation isn't about merely copying real life.

Lots of people were influenced by Go Nagai, of course, but on the other hand Katsuhiro Otomo's influence shouldn't be underestimated either. His impact on anime was huge. His way of drawing realistic characters provided a very handy tool for figuring out how to make our drawings more realistic. It was after him that you started getting people who drew faces with all the little nuanced angles and planes that make every person's face unique. Someone like Akio Sugino may have been doing something similar prior to that - drawing faces three-dimensionally - but in his case the method probably came from shojo manga.

Around that time there was a growing feeling of wanting to get away from the conventional expressive symbols in anime, of wanting to find a way to get closer to reality, and along came Katsuhiro Otomo's drawing style, which offered exactly the hint people were looking for. He influence me, too, though another equally imporant figure to me personally was Yoji Fukuyama, with his realistic but extremely personal and powerful approach to line and form.

There's a generalized sense among most people that "animation can never win over reality". To me, what's amazing about animation is that each person takes a certain something from reality, comes up with their own interpretation of it, and out of that creates their own personal vision of reality.

That's the act of artistic creation - taking it apart, then putting it back together again. Style is kind of a by-product of that process. The perennial dilemma of graphic artists seems to be this problem of not being able to measure up to reality. For example, performances by actors in the movies are full of all sorts of extraneous actions and movements, which can be a big part of the appeal of the actor, or part of the actor's performance in the role of a character. In animation, it's incredibly difficult to incorporate that sort of extraneous movement. There have been a number of people who have been making efforts to do just that for quite a while now, but it's extremely demanding work and so you haven't seen it done very much in TV animation.

Personally, what I'd like to do is to bring in a bit of that extraneous realistic element as a way of complementing the language of standard anime symbols. Yoji Fukuyama's work is a good example of how this could be done.

Otomo's drawings are easy to turn into animation. Why do I say that? Animation is a long process with numerous stages - key animation, inbetweens, finishing and so on - so it's easy to lose the flavor of the original drawings. But the strength of Otomo's drawings is that they retain their flavor right down to the last stage, which I think is what accounts for a lot the popularity of Otomo's style in anime. To put it the other way around, in my case, what I'm doing is trying to discover a style that allows me to retain the roughhewn line quality of the original drawings. That's been my task, and I think it will be for a while. ♬

PART III:
The Heart of it All

I've heard you're a big classical music fan. I don't know why, but I pictured you being a fan of Mozart or some other genius composer like that.

No... I don't listen to him at all. Everybody always tells me "You'll grow into Mozart."

So, mostly pre-Bach and, at the opposite end, modern music.

The extreme ends of the scale. Everything up to Bach, then skip a century and everything after Wagner. Western music kind of changed after Beethoven. That's what I like - everything after him. Wagner-influenced composers like Mahler, Bruckner, Sibelius...

I'm also told you're into recordings by idiosyncratic conductors like Stokowski.

I could go either way. Stokowski, Furtwangler, Toscanini - I like those old golden age conductors. They each had their own totally different approach to conducting.

All art tends to get stylized with time, doesn't it? Well, the same thing applies to these conductors. With them, it was all about individuality, about building up this storehouse of tricks. So after a while they sort of turned into these walking dictionaries of personal tricks and quirks.

Then in the 70s the authentic performance movevement came along and people started to say, "That's not good enough. What did Beethoven mean when he wrote those notes? How did people in his day hear the music?" Stokowski was interesting because he lived through both periods, so he sort of stood between the two poles. He'd do all this gear shifting in Mozart, mess with scores, do all this extreme stuff. But with him it wasn't a personality cult - he wasn't projecting his demons onto the score. He had his own particular concept of authenticity that has its similarities with the way it's done now. It's kind of the same thing with painting. It gets more and more stylized as time goes on. But when stylization becomes nothing but habit, that's when an art starts to decay. It gets stuck. Stops developing. I like manic, wildly individual art, but on the other hand, there's also something really appealing in art that sticks to the basics, shows you a new sort of beauty you didn't see before, strictly using the old tools.

Take the same score, listen to different recordings by different conductors, and you'll get totally different interpretations of the melody, the tempo and so on. That's what makes it interesting. It's the same thing with animation.

Instead of conductors, you get fans who follow the work of animators: "This part was done by whatsisname."

Just like with conductors: "This recording has the most incredible rubato."

Do you always listen to music while you work?

I try not to, because it's hard to concentrate on the music. I've got hundreds of CDs now, and I keep everything at work: work stuff, personal stuff.

It's your castle.

Everybody's desk like that - their own little castle. My shelves are stuffed with just about everything: manga, fashion magazines, architecture books, musical scores - you name it. It's a total mess.

One thing about your work I've noticed is that each drawing is appealing on its own. You get a sense of a broader stream of events, a flow in time. And it's drawn with your own personal line, so it feels like your own personal interpretation of reality, which adds an appeal not present in straight reality.

I just don't see the appeal of the same old hackneyed poses. Tsurumaki-san and I often discuss photo shoots that appear in fashion magazines, and one of the things we agree on is that usually the most interesting photos aren't the ones shot during the shoot - the most interesting ones are the unplanned ones shot at the end, after the shoot, where everyone's relaxing, sitting around eating lunch or whatever. I try to avoid the usual poses and go for that sort of caught-in-the-act feeling in my drawings.

Both of you draw with a very loose line.

Tsurumaki-san likes that word. He uses it all the time: "Draw it looser." "Try doing it a little looser." It's a nice word. You can make it mean anything you want. (laughs)

Even in fashion magazines nowadays you see shoots with people just walking around like normal, leaning on a fence, everything really casual. The whole point is supposed to be to show off the clothes, but now you can't even see the clothes! I think it's a sign that people are starting to feel bored with the cookie-cutter formality of these pictures. You can see that same evolution in illustration and music, if you look for it.

You're credited as character designer for the anime part of Anno Hideaki's movie Cutey Honey and the recent OVA Re: Cutey Honey.

My drawing style is about as far as you can get from the highly stylized design world of Cutey Honey, so it was interesting trying to reconcile the two.

How did you approach your job as the character designer?

Well, first of all, I'm not really a character designer at heart. I seriously hestitated when Anno first approached me to design His and Her Circumstances (1998). But I like shojo manga generally, and the story was interesting enough when I sat down to read it, so I did the job. But the idea of me being a character designer still doesn't feel right, personally.

There must be special problems involved in creating a character from a manga rather than from reality - figuring out exactly which lines to include, that sort of thing.

I try to stay as close to the original as I can. If there's a particular way they draw the fold of clothes, say, I keep that, even if you wouldn't normally think to draw it that way that in anime. It's a learning experience for me. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to work on Jin-Roh around the same time, and one of the things I came away with was that the two approaches are similar in unexpected ways - the way a real image is simplified into a design using the fewest possible lines in Jin-Roh actually has its similarities with the highly stylized shojo-manga lines of Karekano.

You said you still didn't feel right as a character designer. Wasn't there ever a "eureka" moment when things suddenly clicked?

No. Even while I'm designing, I still wonder if it's really necessary to pin everything down like that. Why not just let it change? I prefer to let things evolve naturally.

While you're designing, your drawings will change when you finally get used to the characters. But often that doesn't happen until after you've finished designing them. So what you see with the design sheets is the most embarrasing step: you trying to figure out the characters. People have this idea that once you've done a bit of character designing, you can just whip it out quickly, you've worked out the characters well ahead of time. I guess it's just that to me personally, character design doesn't seem to offer that much.

My main aim when designing is simply to make sure the key animators can do their job properly without running into any problems. In manga, you only get a handful of shots of the characters - one profile shot, and maybe one pose between the profile and the front - so my job is to use those basic poses to extrapolate the other angles. That's all. I don't approach it as a chance for me to set the style of the film. The style should come from the manga if it's based on a manga. I just try to make sure the key animators don't run into any trouble. Beyond that, it's in the animation director's hands to add little touches if he wants to. Even me, the first thing I do as animation director is to change my own character sheet. I was the animation director of the first episode, so right from the first episode the characters are off-model. (laughs) The animation director of episode 2 and 3 weren't happy because of that. They're over there doing 2 and 3, so of course they haven't seen episode 1 yet, they don't know what it looks like, and they're over there really sticking to the character sheet. Then they see my episode, and they're like, "What happened to the character sheet?!" They've got a right to be mad. (laughs)

You've also directed in shows like Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai (2002). Is the attraction of directing similar to that of animating for you?

Not at all. Directing instructions could probably be expressed entirely using stills. Figuring out what sort of movement to do within a frame is also part of directing, but for me the real pleasure is in the shots. Figuring out how to create something interesting by the organization of the shots. Learning how to exploit that moment of wonder and surprise when you go from one shot to another. I know it's just as important to think about the story structure and what sort of visuals would best express the material, but for me, at the moment at least, the organization of the shots is the thing that I find most interesting. A literary analogy would be prose style.

Directing, animation directing, animating, and character design each have their own unique requirements, and each requires a totally different approach.

Would you be more interested in directing action, or regular drama?

Probably the latter. Anno-san and Tsurumaki-san know how I feel, so they usually have me do the more lyrical episodes. And I enjoy that sort of thing.

Tsurumaki-san is known to have said that to be an animation director there are two rules: your drawings have to have charm, and you have to be able to draw cute girls. I got the feeling he was thinking of you when he said that.

When I was called in, I was pretty sure they mainly wanted me for the ordinary drama scenes. I started helping out Shunji Suzuki on episode 15 of Evangelion, and in episode 19 he had me working on the drama at the beginning, rather than the main action at the end. Basically ever since then I've been doing the low-key parts like that. Karekano was something of a turning point for me because that was when I started thinking I probably had add a little something to my drawings, since I was the character designer.

Anime has gained a lot of recognition over the last few years. What are your predictions for the future?

It's hard to say. It's a bit chaotic right now. Visually, the infusion of digital technology has helped out a lot, so I think there are still possibilities. But there's a real feeling of having reached a dead end in terms of the material. Cute girl anime is fine and good, but I find myself wishing the media would broaden its perspective a bit.

Kids nowadays are distracted by all sorts of things. You don't have everyone watching the same show anymore, like when I was a kid, when everyone would run home to watch Ashita no Joe or Candy Candy (though the advent of video technology is partly to blame for that).

The anime world seems to lionize its skilled animators. There's something very Japanese about that.

Disney used to have the most incredible animators, but you almost never heard about them, unlike here. In that sense, Japan is definitely unique.

What do you intend to focus on in the future: animation, character design or directing?

I think I'll only be able to do animation for another 5 years or so, tops. After that I'll probably focus on directing.

There are various types of animators. I'm what you call the arranger type. Rather than coming up with my own story, I'm better at taking a real situation or pre-existing story and seeing what I can do with it, how I can interpret it. That probably won't change.

I've been busy constantly recently, so I'm hoping to take some time off soon. I'm in a dilemma right now: When someone asks me if I've got any ideas for a project, I wind up having to say "no" because I don't want to find myself in the position where I start on a project, and I suddenly realize that I'm just doing the same thing I was doing 30 years ago. I'm at the point in my life where I'm starting to realize all the things I wanted to accomplish, everything I haven't done. So I need some time to recharge. Directing helps to show you what's missing.

And illustration. Always. Have to have that. When you're starting from scratch it helps to express what you're feeling more directly, and there's always that satisfaction of creating something entirely by yourself. That's the whole reason I started my home page, but I haven't had time to draw anything. (laughs) If I could get some work as an illustrator, that's something I'd continue.

But, in the end, the heart of it all is definitely the joy of creating movement. The pictures don't always have to be perfectly drawn. Even in the old Disney films, a character's face could get all squashed, or people would go out of proportion - that was no big deal. Just the opposite, adding that sort of thing made the images that much richer, and the films that much more interesting. To me, that's what animation is all about. ♫

Filmography

(from Tadashi Hiramatsu's home page)

Early work

Mister Ajikko
    #53: key animation

Nadia of the Blue Waters
    #11 part B: animation director

Chuka Ichiban
    season 3 ending: storyboard, director
    #22: storyboard

His and her circumstances
    animation character design

1999

Then and now, here and there
    #1: storyboard
    #6: storyboard, director
    #13: storyboard

2000

FLCL
    #1, 3, 6: animation director (+storyboard in 6)

2001

Earth Defense Family
    #2: key animation
    last episode: layout

Argent Soma
    #25: key animation

Fruit Basket
    #8: storyboard, director
    #26: storyboard+alpha

2002

Abenobashi Maho Shotengai
    animation character design
    #1: storyboard, animation director
    #7: storyboard, animation director
    #13: director, animation director

The Cat Returns
    key animation

Witch Hunter Robin
    #15: key animation

Puchi Puri Yuushi
    opening: storyboard, director
    #7: key animation

Sister Princess Re Pure
    Rinrin part B: key animation assistance
    Shunka part B: storyboard, director, animation director
    Sakiya part B: key animation

Witch Hunter Robin
    final episode: storyboard, key animation

2003

Puchi Puri Yuushi
    last episode: storyboard

Texhnolyze
    #12: storyboard
    #22: key animation

Mahoromatic Summer TV Special
    key animation

Innocence
    key animation

Gad Guard
    #24: key animation

Kuromi-chan
    #2: key animation (3 shots)

Ghost in the Shell SAC 2nd gig
    key animation

Cutey Honey
    animation character design, animation director

2004

Paranoia Agent
    #5: key animation (14 shots)

Jubei-chan 2
    #12 part A: storyboard

Kaleido Star: New Wings
    opening: storyboard, director
    #51: key animation (1 shot)

Peace Maker Kurogane
    #24: key animation (5 shots)

Kono minikukumo utsukushii sekai
    opening: key animation (2 shots)

Re: Cutey Honey
    animation character design
    ending: storyboard, director, animation
    #1: animation director
    #2: animation director assistance
    #3: animation supervisor, key animation (14 shots)

Aim for the Top 2!
    #1: key animation (28 shots)
    #3: storyboard, director

Beck
    opening: key animation (1 shot - closeup of characters singing)

Bgm

- La Pellegrina - Music for the Wedding of Ferdinando De Medici and Christine de Lorraine, Princess of France, Florence 1589
- Music of the Gothic Era
- Res Musice: The Passion of Reason
- Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame
- Venetian Vespers 1643