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: August 2009, 21

Friday, August 21, 2009

03:13:00 pm , 1896 words, 9694 views     Categories: Animation, Translation, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

Miyazaki on Kanada

By some lucky stroke, yesterday as I was browsing through a Japanese second-hand book shop, I found a copy of the "Yoshinori Kanada Special" book that was published in 1982 by Tokuma Shoten. It's undoubtedly the single best book published on Yoshinori Kanada, and probably among the better anywhere on a single animator. It is jam-packed with Yoshinori Kanada's awesome, loose, free drawings, which are massively invigorating to look at. I find the freedom of his drawings not only appealing, but liberating. It's the same feeling I get from his animation. I hope that there will be an updated and expanded version of this book published soon, supplementing the coverage of his first 12 years in this book with the last 25 years of his career. This book was published before Birth was released in 1984, and contains a lot of conceptual sketches for the film, as well as scads of genga from all of his most important work up until then. Also, I love the tag-line: Now, The Super-Hero "IKO" Shoots Your Anime-Spirit!

There's an essay by Hayao Miyazaki about Kanada at the end. Kanada had never worked for Miyazaki at this time, but was to do so soon on Nausicaa, for reasons that will become obvious below. I like how throughout his career Miyazaki regularly picked out great new animators outside of his circle of connections like Kanada, and more recently Ohira - both animators who stylistically hardly seem suited to a Miyazaki film - and invited them to work on his films, utilizing their skill as animators while allowing them to do work that preserved their individuality to an extent. Anyway, here's my translation. It's quite old, I know, but most of the things he says remain relevant and insightful about Kanada and about animators in general. His imaginary reconstruction of Kanada's development is quite perceptive and continues to apply today to many animators. Miyazaki himself, after all, must have gone through much the same process.

He's been true to himself throughout his work. - Hayao Miyazaki

Around the time we were wrapping on Cagliostro's Castle, I remember one day Tomonaga Kazuhide coming up to me and saying how he thought "This Kanada guy at Z is really good". It wasn't long after that at a get-together somewhere that I first laid eyes on Kanada ("met" isn't the right term). As I watched him go-go dancing amid the fracas of youthful animators letting loose, I thought to myself, "Now this guy is the real thing."

I already suspected him to be the "real thing" for being able to incite such barely concealed respect-combined-with-rivalry in an animator as grounded and professional as Kazuhide Tomonaga, but the way he shook his booty with zealous abandon that night only confirmed my suspicions. All of the great animators I know have some kind of behavioral quirk that sets them apart. With Yasuji Mori it's his subtle wit. Yasuo Otsuka is great at doing impressions of people (he does a good Hirohito - one of these days he's going to get killed by some right-winger). Watch out when Kotabe Yoichi gets drunk, ladies... etc.

So I was convinced that Yoshinori Kanada had to be a good animator. We met a few times after that at various get-togethers, but never really got a good chance to talk, apart from one phone conversation where I did most of the talking. I'd never even really had a good look at his work. Yet I was determined to work with him some day. I made the mistake of saying that aloud one day, which is why I was asked to write this essay. Try as I might to squirm out of it, I got tired of fighting off the repeated video education sessions and decided to give it a go, accepting that what I say here might be way off the mark.

I have no intention of trying to analyze or critique his work. For one, I've never worked with him, and for two, he's obviously doing something that people today feel is relevant, so it's not my place to stand on a pedestal and talk down to him. The only thing I know for sure is that he's a person who seems to have been true to himself throughout his work. I like animators like that.

What does it mean to be a real animator? It's a hard concept to define, and defining it would probably be meaningless. I'm sure there are plenty of talented people I've never heard of, and I'm sure there are new ones developing this very moment.

But if we narrow it down to animators who are able to create animation whose drawings and movement (including their sense of timing) feels good as animation - then the number becomes much smaller. Yoshinori Kanada is one of the few animators who can create that kind of animation.

It's easy to imagine why his unique brand of explosions and wild action has bred a league of followers. But that unique feeling in his work can't be achieved by simply copying a template pattern, as will undoubtedly be illustrated by the stale and stultified feeling of battle scenes drawn by his imitators.

The work of a great animator can only be drawn by that animator. Every element of a piece of animation - in other words, the technique providing the foundation for that piece of animation - is the product of the innate sensibility of that particular animator, which is something unique to that animator.

Very few animators have a firm grasp of how weight, momentum and acceleration affect the properties of objects, and are able to instinctively visualize in their heads how a movement might play out in space. Even fewer are able to not only do this, but go beyond logic, integrating physics with instinct to create animation that can't be explained but that simply works in the eyes of the viewers. The ability to create animation that works comes from first achieving mastery of how the laws of physics such as weight and momentum work, and then going beyond those rules - saying to yourself, "Drawing it this way would feel better", and drawing it based on that feeling. It's a mistake to think that his style can be mimicked simply by surface imitation of his crazy poses and rough drawings.

Gatchaman, for example - sorry to name names - certainly impressed with its various innovations, but in terms of the movement turned out to be a classic example of how, no matter how many quick movements or cuts you might string together, the movement simply doesn't feel good or even convincing if it completely ignores the laws of physics.

You've just started out as an animator. Suddenly you have to draw your first genga. You don't know what to do. You're worried, you're afraid. But you tough it out and just draw. Eventually, you don't know why, but you stat to get a sense for how to do it. You start to get little ideas for how to make a movement interesting in this or that scene in the storyboard. Then you start changing the storyboard. At first it's subtle, but it gradually becomes more prominent. Sometimes the director agrees, other times you have to muscle your idea through. Sometimes what you tried doesn't work and you come out with egg on your face. But you just can't hold back this uncontrollable urge to draw things the way you want.

Eventually, the scenes you animated start to stick out from the other sequences, standing apart for how much more lively and individualistic they look and feel. People start to be able to guess what part you did. Your courage starts to build. Usually with this kind of animator, the characters are way off model. Even if he drew the character designs, they're still way off model. You start to notice that, even when you think you drew a character close enough to model, for some reason other people seem to think it's way off. But you don't let it get you down.

Then you're given the chance to handle a whole episode in a TV series. The episode winds up looking nothing like the rest of the episodes, but it's interesting, so you don't let it undermine your newfound confidence.

You give sakkan'ing a shot, but you realize that you're not cut out for it. All it does is make you want to re-draw everything in your own style. You couldn't do that day in and day out, for one, but more importantly, you want to spend all your time drawing movement that you're satisfied with, not correcting other people's drawings. But sakkan's are at the top of the ladder in the animation industry, so you feel torn. You start to feel troubled by how in magazines and the like even the best animation work winds up being attributed to the director or to the animation director, or even to the original creator.

You start to find that you can predict how a piece of animation will turn out if it's drawn this way or that way. And yet, the more this feeling grows, the more you begin to feel a growing emptiness inside.

You take part in some big name projects. You decide to lay aside your issues with the structure or the storyboard or the subject of the film, and just make your part the best you can make it. Your work even receives recognition as a result. You feel like you've achieved something. Another part of you, though, begins to wonder if it's enough to simply chug along as a cog in the wheel. You begin to awaken to what it really is that you want to express as a creator.

If I may be so bold, that is the kind of animator I imagine Yoshinori Kanada to be.

The work of Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuhide Tomonaga on the Galaxy Express 999 movie (viz) was characterized in some corners as a victory for contract animators. But the issue of contract vs. in-house is beside the point. What's really happening is that a new generation of animators is replacing the old. That's all. The problems faced by the new generation of animators are otherwise the same. If some in-house animator someplace lords their sense of superiority over you, they're not deserving of respect anyway, so just leave and go somewhere else.

When the youthful days of experimentation are past, and you've accumulated experience, and it's time to build on that experience, what kind of projects you will encounter and what kind of people you'll work with will unfortunately remain largely up to chance. But it is also undeniable that what work comes your way will be partially dictated by the kind of work you've done up until now. As we head out of this 'anime boom' towards the age of mass consumption of anime, I imagine that not only Yoshinori Kanada, but also many other animators with talent, ambition and endurance, must be holding out hope that they will encounter work that is truly meaningful. I hope sincerely that they will encounter such work.

I'd very much like to work with him, but so far the opportunity to offer him a job hasn't presented itself. I know how hard it can be to be picky about work without losing heart. I hope he takes care of himself and perseveres.