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, 13

Saturday, November 13, 2004

02:42:04 pm , 931 words, 1380 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.