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 2005, 08

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

05:20:30 pm , 196 words, 1106 views     Categories: Animation


I had a look at Square of the Moon today because I heard Hisashi Mori-- I mean, Hisashi Nakayama was involved in 2. Ecchi anime doesn't usually do the trick for me, unfortunately, but this one did, though in a different sense. It was pure Nakayama, and one of the longest sections I've seen from him after Samurai 7 7. The series was directed by Hiroyuki Okuno, so I should have suspected he might be in there. The two have been involved in the same projects for more than a decade now.

After his involvement in the Digimon movies his personal style seems to quickly become more and more pronounced and foregrounded, as if he had undergone some kind of eureka moment and realized his calling, and we begin to see the incredibly beautiful approach to line and form that characterizes every single piece he has done since then. His piece in Square is one of the earliest, best and most extended pieces of this mature period, so it was thrilling to discover it, as I wasn't aware of its existence. It made up a bit for not having seen any major animation work from him in Speed Grapher.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

12:23:05 pm , 1663 words, 9097 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil, Animator

Mitsuo Iso

RahXephon 2Only a decade behind everyone else, today I had the opportunity to see Mitsuo Iso's part in End of Eva. This was reportedly the sequence that got many interested in Iso specifically and in animation generally, but ironically it's among the last of his mature pieces that I've seen.

In short, it was spectacular. Seeing it, I realized that that memorable bit of animated mecha action in Aquarion 19 was an homage to Iso's bit, with the way the spear flies through the air from the background to crash into the earth directly in front of the camera, throwing up clumps of dirt in the style that made Iso so unique.

There is much other great animation here, but Iso's stands out from the rest of the action fundamentally in some way. It just moves differently. Having a close look at it reveals that he alternates between 3s and 2s. None of the other sections have that unique impact that 3s can have in the hands of a master, which is what Iso is. Drawing every drawing the way he does and leaving it all open requires conviction, because he lays himself bare by doing so.

And then there is the movement itself. Iso knows how to create movement that is real but that simultaneously feels incredible. This is a classic instance of movement based on reality that achieves an effect far surpassing any that could be achieved in real life with the same movement. There are legends about how he captured a spider in a glass and observed it for hours in order to get down the movement of the spider tank in GITS. Similarly, there are stories about how there were days when people heard all sorts of loud crashes and thumps coming from upstairs, as if people were brawling or throwing the furniture around, from the room where Iso was animating this section.

Having seen most of the rest of his work, I'm familiar with the approach on display here, so it didn't have the effect of surprise it probably would have had if I had seen it when it was made, but rather it just made sense and fit within his evolution as I've been able to look back on it. It's certainly one of his best pieces. You can tell he really put his all into it. It's animation where you can almost see the blood of the animator that went into it. Here is a person, you sense, who literally became what he was animating. It's animation that can be hard to get to the heart of just by describing how it was made. Without even knowing about that, it grabs something in you the way only animation can at its best, and that's what makes it great. Iso is the one who awakened many to this approach in Japan. Figures as diverse and Toshiyuki Inoue, Yoshifumi Kondo and Tatsuyuki Tanaka were awestruck by the revolutionary nature of his work when he appeared on the scene. Since then there have appeared people who have similarly rethought the entire concept of what animation should be the way Iso did, but none of them quite reach the elemental level that Iso's work does. Iso really helped to redefine the idea of animated movement in Japan.

To begin an appreciation of Iso's work, it might be best just to start at the beginning. Not quite the very beginning, ie, when Iso was working at studio Zaendo on various TV shows, but a few years into his career around 1989 when he did the first piece that really brought him to the attention of other animators and serious anime enthusiasts: the first episode of Gundam 0080, specifically the attack on the base at the beginning. One of the things that set Iso apart was that his animation was all about creating a flow of movement, not going from pose to pose, as had been the norm in anime up until that point. Like animators like Yoshifumi Kondo before him, Iso also went to the extreme length of drawing most of the drawings in his sequences himself in order to retain as much control over the movement as possible. Both of these traits can be seen in this famous sequence, where he manages to create a convincing feeling of weight in the movement of the mobile suits. Afer all, these are humongous mechanical contraptions. They can't just fly around like birds. Iso was one of the first to bring things back down to reality and assess systematically how the various parts of the objects he was animating would move in real life, and to put in the considerable effort required to translate that into animation.

Soon afterwards Iso did two sequences in Satoru Utsunomiya's Gosenzosama Banbanzai, and here we can see different application of Iso's approach to creating through-conceived movement. In one of these he turns what might otherwise have been handled as a static shot of monologue into a scene full of dynamic acting that showcases his skill at coming up with movement that is realistic as well as interesting as animation. The way Iso conceptualized the acting in the scene seemed fundamentally different somehow. Over the next few years he continued to evolve and explore his approach to movement. In Like a Cloud, Like the Wind he created some nice wobbly movement that seemed to have taken in a bit of Utsunomiya, in Hakkenden 1 he created characteristcally realistic movement like the corpse toppling over, in Hashire Melos and Jojo's Bizarre Adventures he created dynamic action, and in Junkers Come Here he created a one of his most powerful sequences of realistic human acting, with a character doing a monologue in a static shot over the length of thirty seconds.

In Jojo's Bizarre Adventures there is one particularly memorable shot where the camera is following a running character from a distance away, and various objects lying on the ground zoom by, appearing in the frame for single drawings, which for some reason creates an uncanny feeling of reality in the sequence of actions. Iso knew how to create a feeling of reality using the bare minimum of material. In Hashire Melos he animated a sequence back to back with Satoru Utsunomiya, the other great figure who helped to revolutionize the way people conceptualized movement at this period, and there must surely have been some mutual influencing going both ways.

Finally we come to one of the most laboriously animated pieces of his career up until this point, the climax of Ghost in the Shell with the tank. Around this time he begins to do other things like designing and script writing, and we begin to see his style gradually changing, becoming more and more all-encompassing in his handling of all of the phenomena on the screen. Next, in Eva he did the beginning of 1 and the end of 19, as well as writing script for the first time, which he has since only done once. His work in 19 is particularly striking and what makes it unique easier to grasp compared with some of his other work. The beastly way the robot moves is closely observed and very convincing in the timing and in the particular actions taken, for example the timing of the way he raises his head and looks around blinking. The close-up shot of the robot biting off a piece of flesh is a classic example of the concept of "full limited" animation that Iso developed, whereby he draws every drawing in a shot in order to maintain control over the movement. Every single drawing contributes to the movement, which jerks dramatically every which way over the screen the way such a shot would undoubtedly look zoomed in with a camera lens from far away.

Continuing in the direction of this work comes his action in the film, which brings together everything that had been seen in his work in the past: drawing everything himself, realistic movement that is full of dynamism as animation, moving everything on the screen. Besides the awe-inspiring way the figures move on the screen, with an almost balletic beauty and an incredible feeling of presence and weight, the unique way he drew the earth being thrown up as clumps was apparently influential and widely imitated. Here we see the entire screen utilized, with a great feeling for depth, and the characters move all over the screen, as if the camera were barely keeping up with the action. In just the short span between his work on 19 and the film it feels like you can see a huge evolution in the quality of his work.

From here on out, in all of the little shots he did here and there, in the swimming in Golden Boy, the water in Blue No 6 and the clouds in FLCL, his work is unmistakable and has a new feeling of assurance. Particularly notable is his scene in Voogie's Angel 3, which is one of his most hair-raising and powerful in effect, combining his genius for effects animation with his nuanced approach to character animation. Finally we come to the hangar scene in Blood, which signaled the beginning of a new phase in his work, with its seamless combination of his realistic style of animation and digital processing. This finally led to Rahxephon 15, in which he combined all of his preoccupations into this one film that stood out as a unique and powerful creation within the series, with its memorably subdued tone and measured pacing. The combination of realistic digital processing and traditional animation in this episode seems to be the culmination of what Iso had been working towards since Blood. The episode was also his directing debut. In view of the fact that he's been virtually out of sight for the last three years, it seems likely that he's working on a big project, probably directing, so it seems just a question of time until his name becomes more well known.

Mitsuo Iso Filmography