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.
July 2005
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Archives for: July 2005, 12

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

07:21:46 pm , 942 words, 803 views     Categories: Animation

A Matsumoto runs through it

I wonder who's big in Japanese fiction right now? Ever since Kenji Nakagami died, I've felt a void, and I haven't found anyone else to replace the great novelist, the self-styled Japanese Faulkner, although Mieko Kanai continues to write and remains my favorite. Why did he have to die so young? I succeeded in mildly freaking out the employees of Vanouver's shiny new Book Off today with my scary white-person self judging from the fact that my entry there was greeted with a booming silence quite conspicuous amid the cacophany of periodic "irasshaimase konnichiwa"s called out like so many exotic bird-calls. Irritating at first, but you get used to it after a while. I wanted to find myself a new good writer, but I didn't even know where to begin, as I haven't had access to any magazines recently to look for new authors. I remember wanting to read some Gen'ichiro Takahashi a long time ago, but never getting around to it. I noticed his Goodbye, Gang had been translated.

That article in Newtype gives a nice overview of the work process behind the Atsushi Wakabayashi Naruto episodes, and gets it mostly right, though the reproductions of the materials were a little small, which I suppose can't be helped. It's nice that the article was done in the first place, properly giving credit where credit is due. If anything deserved to have an article written about it, it was Wakabayashi's episodes, which are surely among the best pieces of animation to have been shown in a TV series in a long time.

To summarize, the process starts with "image sketches", where Wakabayashi digs through his memory for ideas from various places, throwing them down in very rough sketches, coming up with the basic idea for the various actions. He then draws the storyboard, where he organizes the ideas into dramatic form, putting particular emphasis on creating flow from one shot to the next. That is probably the thing that makes his episodes so unique. Nobody else is quite as good as him at coming up with an interetsing and convincing flow of action. As he puts it, "For example, if a character starts turning in one shot, I keep that movement going without any pause into the next shot to create a feeling of continuity, which is what makes it feel good. Otherwise it just feels like one clunky move after another." Next comes the animation. Wakabayashi describes his two animators like this: "Norio Matsumoto is a person who has achieved the ultimate in the expression of natural phenomena like rocks, fire and water. Atsuko Inoue is good at expressions and emotions. Both have an excellent sense of how to make a movement feel good through the timing. You either have that or you don't, so it's a precious thing."

About Matsumoto, it's nice to hear that Wakabayashi also considers his action "sugoi". He concedes that the replica fight scene was pretty much there expressly for Matsumoto. That's another thing that makes Wakabayashi's episodes uniquely tight - that the dramatic/action flow is conceptualized based on an intimate knowledge of the capabilities of the animators. Nobody else would have been able to animate that scene, so it wouldn't have even been storyboarded were it not for Matsumoto, and he fully meets the demands of the storyboard. They mention the various scenes Matsumoto did, though this seems unnecessary as they are patently obvious when watching the episodes. I enjoy the episodes in particular because from one shot to the next you can identify the different animators, since they're so few, so I find myself going "Matsumoto, Inoue, Wakabayashi, Matsumoto, Matsutake". It winds up being a big part of the fun of the viewing experience - enjoying how each animator's drawings are played out on the chess board.

The last scene in episode 25 of Beck struck me as a similar instance of directing and animation being perfectly in balance, this time working to create drama rather than action. The good balance gave it an uncommonly moving effect. It was also animated by Matsumoto, showing his versatility. Matsumoto was even in Hosoda's One Piece movie, so he acts as the alternate linking thread between the three figures featured in the section. The discussion between Kobayashi and Hosoda mostly focuses on their explanation of their goals with their respective recent productions, though a small note answers my own question about Hosoda's upcoming plans. It mentions that he's currently working on a new film at Madhouse due to hit the theaters next summer. I don't know if that means he's moved there or working contractually, but it's nice to know. He's been stuck at Toei for a long time, so I'm hoping he does something really different from what he's done so far, a project he would never have been able to do at Toei, to make the move worth it.

The most memorable point of the discussion was their agreement that the excessive reliance on symbols like the sweat drop has led to a kind of poverty of expressive possibilities, where you can only express this basic set of emotions and nothing inbetween, nothing nuanced. Anybody who has seen Beck will have realized, consciously or not, how studiously Kobayashi avoided those symbols, which is what made the characters seem so much more emotionally expressive and realistic despite the unrealistic designs. Where Kobayashi managed to express his own personality by sticking close to the original, Hosoda has reportedly managed to express the heart of the original by turning it into something completely his own. Totally different approaches, but spiritually they seem to have much in common.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

05:30:43 pm , 82 words, 534 views     Categories: Animation

An inquiry about Korean studios

A person asked me the following question, which I'm unable to answer, so I thought I would pass it along here.

Hey Ben,

Do have any info on which Korean studios and animators worked on Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, in addition what other films have these animators/studios worked on?

Thanks,
Dane

Dane actually posted this on my blog, which I found surprising, because I didn't know other people could post on my blog until I saw his post there.