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: March 2005, 30

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

04:33:18 pm , 1570 words, 3048 views     Categories: Animation, Translation

Mamoru Hosoda article

Although this article reads more like a Mac infomercial, it's still pretty informative, so here's a translation. It confirms a number of things I've mentioned here, about the way the storyboard is part of the directing credit at Toei, about the importance of the storyboard, about how Hosoda does his own location hunting. The part where he describes his particular focus on color is enlightening and solves a personal mystery about what it was about Hosoda's films that made them feel so different in terms of the visuals (besides the shadowless characters of animation director Takaaki Yamashita).

One Piece The Movie: Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima is director Mamoru Hosoda's first full-length directing feature, and his third feature after his two short Digimon films. Around 1998 Toei was in the midst of transferring their production system to digital, and it was around this time that Hosoda was making his own shift from animator to director. Hosoda could thus be said to have flowered along with digital, and come to fruition with his epoch-making directing of the Our War Game movie, Toei's first full-digital animation. Hosoda has since flexed his directing muscles in a wide variety of video projects including Superflat Monogram and a TV advertisement for the posh new Roppongi Hills district.

Most of the job of an anime kantoku consists of enshutsu, but at Toei Doga the job of kantoku also includes drawing the storyboard. Hosoda says that he feels it's absolutely essential for the same person to do the two, and he couldn't imagine the two being separated.

"When drawing the storyboard, of course my main consideration is the overall structure, but I also work out what would be the most effective way to express certain things in terms of the animation, and how to allocate the available resources. So you could honestly say that most of the work of the director is done at the stage of the storyboard."

In the case of this film, once the storyboard was finished, the story was divided into four parts (A-D) and the animation was allocated to animators. Traditionally, 24 cels are needed for every second of animation, and each cel must go through the steps of: animation, cell tracing, cell coloring, and cel photography. In particular, the process of coloring the characters and backgrounds has always been the most time-consuming of these steps. However, now almost the entire process can be done on a Mac using RETAS! Pro software, thus eliminating the need for cels and making it possible to dramatically reduce the production time.

"In terms of picture quality, the Mac production environment presents no problem for creating TV animation, and it also meets the stricter requirements of theatrical animation. Color correction can be a problem when you transfer the images to film, but this system enables very precise color adjustments."

Hosoda spent a huge amount of time every day to finish the approximately 1300-shot storyboard.

"I'd walk over to a nearby family restaurant from my house and work there. I spent weeks just going back and forth between the two, working more than 12 hours a day for days at a stretch sometimes. Would have been impossible without my iPod. (laughs) I wore out the battery of my iPod at one point, so I bought a mini as a replacement." The storyboard was thus the most important step in allowing Hosoda to gain an overall perspective over the 90 minute film, with its 14 or 15 shots a minute.

As a director in the digital age, Hosoda has been known for his directing style that has always gone beyond simple digitization of the work process. Rather than simply going full CG, what has characterized his work has been his seeking out of new ways of integrating CG into the fabric of the film, to add richness to the backgrounds and enhance textures. In his latest film, Hosoda uses 3DCG only for a number of characters who appear in certain scenes of the film to increase the detail and texture of those scenes. This 3DCG was created using Alias's MAYA software, and rendered using cel shading to ensure a convincing blend with the 2D animation.

"In the Digimon film Our War Game, the characters went back and forth between the inner world of the network and the real world, so I used symbolic images for the backgrounds in the network. But I was very concerned about matching the digital with the 2D animation, so instead of using a gradation to express the blue of the sky in the real world, for example, I used a single color to make it match the look of the interior world of the network. Also, I tend to not add shadows to the characters in my work. Normally you use a shadow to make a 2D object look 3D. But this was just a method that was adopted in analog animation production to make up for the fact that you had a limited number of colors. But with digital it's possible to use any color you want, so you can adjust a character's color much more easily. Subtly changing the color can be very effective in expressing a feeling of atmosphere, or distance, and it adds great richness to the visuals. Adding a shadow, conversely, would only make it harder to distinguish the color variations."

In traditional analog animation, inks were selected from existing colors, and once the number of colors was determined, those inks were distributed and the coloring was done. In digital, not only can the colors be changed at will, but the colors can easily be adjusted even after the film is completed. It's now possible to freely express changes in color due to changes in lighting, which opens the door to new expressive possibilities.

The Oizumi studio of Toei Animation bought two Xserve file servers in Spring 2003 as part of their digitization process. The compositing team uses the Xservers to exchange files on the fly. Toshiaki Katada, system manager, relates how this has affected work at the studio.

"Everyone uses a Mac, so transfers with the Xserve go very smoothly. File transfer speed has increased, and stress has gone down."

Installing Macs has improved the efficiency of each animator, and installing Xserve as the workflow core has improved the efficiency of group work.

Hosoda began using a Mac around 1997, after he had begun to work as a director's assistant, when Macs were installed in the art department. Convinced that digital would become the norm, he purchased a Macintosh 7600/AV. He relates that he used the A/V input function via the composite terminal to edit together a temporary animatic presentation of the narrative flow that he used to convey his ideas to the staff. Later he purchased a PowerBook G3 for portability. He currently uses a PowerBook G4 to connect to the studio's FTP server to check video storyboards put together by the staff, test out music on scenes and so on. He also uses a digital camera to go on location hunting and photograph places that will serve as reference material for his storyboard. iPhoto reportedly is a big help in organizing these photographs by scene.

"Personally I'm not in the habit of taking pictures, but when it's necessary to convey something to the staff, I go and take a photo of a street with a waterway or flowers or whatever I need with a digital camera. Digital photos add up quickly, so iPhoto is handy since it lets you organize your photos by scene. Material arrives from the staff in various forms - Quicktime video, stills - so the Mac is definitely a conventient tool for testing out effects on different materials."

In traditional animation production, there was no way of checking the content of a film from the time the storyboard was completed to the time the film was completed. Digital has made it possible to preview one section at a time, and make any necessary corrections right then and there. It used to be said about animation that the completed product existed only in the head of the director. Hosoda, on the other hand, believes in giving the entire staff creative input - from the storyboard down to the smallest details of the production.

"An animated film is the product of a team working together within a given schedule and set of confines. I take pride in the fact that my staff are all on very good terms with one another. In the past I think the emphasis was placed on the director; it was all about the director and how far he could go with his imagination. Working with computers could easily help to go further in that direction. But I also think digital could just as easily be used to get as much as possible out of the vast resources of your entire staff's skills. When we get together to preview the video, people make interesting suggestions all the time. We toss around different ideas, and the staff takes part in coming up with new expressive ideas. Being able to share everything on the computer has helped out a lot in making the whole experience more rewarding for the staff in spite of the harsh schedule."

To Hosoda, making a film is all about teamwork. A group of professionals pool their skills, which Hosoda orchestrates. Helping Hosoda has been the creative and communications tool that is Mac.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

11:16:39 am , 343 words, 731 views     Categories: Animation

In the news

Mr. Ashita Nonki has a loveable collection of gif loops that'll put a smile on your face when that's necessary. (click on Fliptheater)

Koji Yamamura curated a pair of exhibitions about animation over at the Aichi Expo 2005. The first is a macro-micro history section - a history of animation from the cave paintings of Altamira through to the present day, followed by a history of his own personal evolution as an animator. The other half is a corner where you can play around with his own recreations of early animation toys like the phenakistiscope and the zoetrope. Great to see an independent animator getting to do such a fun project.

Manga is hardly my area of expertise, but I was rather excited when I ran across Ryuji Umeda's Warawanai Kodomo (Kids who don't smile) because it reminded me of... what, I couldn't exactly put my finger on, but it has a feeling of stillness that's close to some of my favorite manga artists like Fumiko Takano, Murasaki Yamada and Masahiro Nikaido. Stunning work. It actually dates from more than a decade ago, since it was published in book form in 1995 by Shinpusha, from whom the book can still be ordered (over there). Umeda made some amateur animation prior to this that is high on the list of Satoru Utsunomiya's favorite animation, but I don't think he's made anything since. It'd be nice to see that.

Hiroyuki Imaishi's new short Oval x Over was unveiled a few days ago at a press junket, where it was revealed that the three 3-minute episodes will be shown on MTV Japan starting April 1, and will be released on a CD+DVD entitled Over Top on April 27th.

And according to Beyond C News, Studio 4°C will be officially unveiling details about their next two major projects at the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2005 over the next few days.

Chris Sobieniak brought to my attention that you can now see the cover for Hen's Tooth's Jack and the Beanstalk DVD on the web, eg, on Amazon's pre-order page.