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: December 2004, 15

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

11:45:56 pm , 1281 words, 4674 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Ichiro Itano

The first pic from Gisaburo Sugii's new film. Why am I reminded of Ringing Bell?

I love Shinji Hashimoto's shot in the Sci-Fi Harry op, the way he manages to make the person all wobbly and wavy and yet retain a distinct core. There's a bit of this deforming sensation in his work of late, but here it's done quite dramatically and to great effect. I don't know who else was involved, except obviously Shinya Ohira, but it's all great, though Shinji and Shinya are the only two who take the idea of getting as much movement as possible out of the character on the screen to its maximum potential. They place the character there and see how much interesting movement they can come up with. The whole form speaks, not just the face, and there's a thrilling density there that nobody else acheives, whereas in normal animation there's a hurry to get the specified movement done and out of the way. It's really a different way of approaching the act of animating.

I had another look at Riding Bean and was surprised by the quality and the quantity of Ohira's contribution. He was one of the ADs and contributed the most animation. Last time I watched this thing it was over a decade ago and I didn't know who Ohira was, nor what good animation was. Now I see. Any suspicions about Ohira's drawing skills from people who have only seen his late work will be quickly wiped away from seeing his mid-period FX. This would have been right after Akira, when he was still focusing on FX, before moving to characters. There's an incredible density of movement and detail that has no equal in anything that was being done then or now by anyone else. I look forward to seeing Ohira's work in Howl. There's a part of me that would love to see him go independent, but another part that loves seeing him working within the system on these major studio projects, always totally doing it his own way. His presence bring a healthy feeling of tension to the final product, at least in this viewer.

One of the things that made Ohira stand out in his early years was his tendency to pack an incredible amount of detail into short sequences animated at a full frame rate. There was a span of years during which he admits that he went a little detail-crazy, doing such things as drawing a thousand drawings for five seconds of animation. One of Ohira's most famous predecessors in terms of focusing on packing in detail into short sequences of incredible power and density is Ichiro Itano, who created a sensation among fans with his animation of aerial combat sequences in a trio of early 80s TV shows.

Ichiro ItanoBorn in 1959, Itano started as an animator midway through the original Gundam series. While working on the show he came up with a new, more dynamic approach to portraying combat sequences that would wind up making him one of the most famous animators of his day.

The seed of this new approach can be traced as far back as the make-beleive games he and his friends would play out on the street mimicking their favorite TV hero, Ultraman. One day they came up with the idea of tying firework rockets to the back of a bike to spice things up, and when the rockets flew, the young Ichiro was struck by the dynamism and beauty of the unpredictable way the projectiles flew through the air.

When he began to think about the problems entailed in the combat animation he had to do on Gundam, he questioned the static way such scenes had been approached up until that point, looking back to those youthful bike rocket experiments for inspiration. Rather than letting action take place in a fixed frame and cutting between close-ups, he moved the camera into the middle of the fray, dynamically following the various bodies in the frame as they danced around each other in an elegant, intricately detailed ballet. This was like nothing that had been seen before, and it gave his scenes an incredible immediacy. You knew it right away when Itano's animation appeared on the screen, and you couldn't look away. It stood out. At a basic level this is because his scenes were (ideally) done at a full frame rate, which contrasted greatly with the limited animation that necessarily dominated the medium. (There were particularly bad episodes in Macross with literally no animators, only the character animation director and mecha animation director; Itano handled several.) But the movement itself was different in a more fundamental way - it was about the sheer joy of pure movement. Like all great animation, you could see the person behind it. It had personality. You could sense an artist communicating his vision: "This is animation!" He was an animation artisan searching for how best to work the material given him, and you could clearly see the labor that had gone into the final product. The timing of the action was millisecond-precise, the flight paths were unpredictable and full of pinhead turns in a way that convinced you of the reality and the weight of the objects. In the end, what makes his work great is that it is an example of a person pushing the medium of animation to its limit and creating the sort of visuals that are only possible in the medium of animation.

Yoshiyuki Tomino was duly impressed by his invention, and gave Itano an opportunity to continue to develop it in his next series, Ideon, in the movie version of which Itano's approach reached its first peak. Having by now acquired a reputation in his field, Itano handled most of the film's important full-frame mecha sequences (along with Yoshinobu Inano), which, combined with the highly expressive characters of animation director Tomonori Kogawa, contribute greatly to the visceral impact of this blistering, orgiastic vision of mutual assured destruction, which many (including Tomino himself) consider Tomino's peak acheivement. After this, Itano worked on Macross, where his art reached its peak in the various classic action sequences scattered throughout the series, for which he is best remembered today. It was at this time that Hideaki Anno came to work under Itano to learn professional animation skills, which he would put to use in animating the swords in Daicon IV. By this time Itano had become famous among animation fans in Japan - to the extent that they had invented a word for Itano's animation: Itano Circus. To the disappointment of animation fans, however, he soon embarked on a directing career, cutting off a promising beginning as an innovative animator. He was part of the generation right at the border of the digital age, when animation was becoming more and more detailed, and he was one of those who pushed the medium of hand-drawn animation to its height, creating incredible effects by means of arduously crafted hand-drawn animation. Much of it could easily be done on a computer now, and for the last few years that is exactly what Itano has been doing: bringing his art into the digital age, in recent work on shows such as Macross Zero.

Partial filmography
  Gundam TV - key animation
  Ideon TV - key animation
  Ideon movie - key animation
  Macross TV
    mecha animation director (w/animators): 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 31
    mecha animation director (alone): 14, 17
    key animation: 31
  Macross movie - key animation
  Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer - key animation
  Megazone 23 - action director, animation director
  Megazone 23 Part II - director, mecha animation director
  Tekkaman Blade TV - storyboard, director, animation director: 31, 36, 42, 47
  Macross Plus - action choreographer
  Macross Zero - action choreographer