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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Wednesday, December 8, 2004

11:35:37 pm , 831 words, 7880 views     Categories: Animation

FX

Little TwinsThere was already anticipation surrounding the fact that Mamoru Hosoda was going to direct his first full-length feature with the next One Piece movie due out in March, a month before the next Shin-chan movie, but the recent unveiling of the identity of the animation directors - Takaaki Yamashita, Sushio Ishizaki and Kubota Chikashi (the latter two Dead Leaves animators) - further raised expectations, and these expectations now appear corroborated by the patently Mind Game-inflected trailer, which leaves no room to doubt that this is a film to look forward to, however unimpressed one may otherwise be by the evolution of Okawa Hiroshi's studio.

One of the most prominent deaths of the Mushi Pro generation was Mikiharu Akabori, in 1999. Having been a fan before I knew his name from The Legend of Sirius and after I knew his name from the great youthful FX in Cleopatra, I've always wished I could see more of his work in the realistic, extremely tricky and active vein of the early period. Those scenes where he animates all sorts of phenomena, from smoke to water to explosions to flying objects to vehicles, all with such obvious exacting detail and enthusiasm, and all interacting so convincingly. I can't for the life of me think of another animator in Japan at the time who was doing that sort of thing. Only afterwards do you start to see animators picking up that thread: Kazuhide Tomonaga in 999 and Takashi Nakamura in Esteban, people who loved effects animation and saw the beauty in it. After flowering in Cleopatra, he moved to Sanrio, where he eventually produced his most famous work in the water of Sirius, a decade after the battle on the sea that killed poor Antonius. In the interim he worked as an animator on most of the early films, and continued to develop his style, producing ever more tricky and inventive work that is among the best in any of the films: the cannonball dogfight in Little Jumbo, the rugged mountain terrain of Ringing Bell and the clouds in the Unico pilot. Akabori is one of the truly great animators of the 70s, but he seems less well known than many others of the period, perhaps because he doesn't fall into the same line of development as most of them. He is indeed one of a kind, and all the more precious for it.

I think it was seeing the climax of Little Twins that brought Akabori to mind. It springs from the same visceral thrill of facing up to the challenge of bringing into movement on the page various objects accurately moving in their own trajectories and interacting with each other according to their differing physical properties, and it's one of the best examples I've seen in anime. You don't see intricately detailed natural animation of this kind very often, at least not in Japan. And certainly not in children's shows like this, at this period. The reasons are fairly obvious enough - it's tedious, hard work, and time and budget constraints preclude that sort of extravagance. The scattered examples are therefore all the more precious. I once ran across an equally unexpected and inexplicably high-quality natural FX sequence in an episode of the 90s remake of Moomin, a scene on a beach where a ship is seen sinking far out to sea. The turbulent lapping of the waves was depicted with extreme care in a highly stylized fashion that was clearly the product of a strong-willed and talented animator. It's somewhat mysterious how it could have come about that a scene of such quality should inconspicuously find its way into a random TV episode like this.

Buried in all this somewhere is a thought process that I think is unique to Japan. Rather than being character-centric, they see the world around us in animist terms. Movement is everywhere. Norio Matsumoto moves backgrounds, showing us that movement is a product of perspective. Shinya Ohira makes an art of smoke. Ichiro Itano creates ballets with missiles. Water has been continuously reinvented, from Yoichi Kotabe in Animal Treasure Island to Mikiharu Akabori in Sirius to Nobutake Ito in Mind Game. There is a willingness to try to grapple with the nature of the thing, to figure out how different objects work and move, an eagerness to discover new kinds of movement. The movement itself is the aesthetic object. I think this is partly what accounts for the uniqueness and the incredible richness and appeal of FX animation in Japan.

Notable examples of FX animation throughout anime history include Yoichi Kotabe's waves in Animal Treasure Island and Doggie March, Yasuo Otsuka's giant fish in Hols, Tomonaga Kazuhide's apocalypse in 999, Yoshinori Kanada's dragon in Harmageddon, Takashi Nakamura's rocks in Esteban, Hideaki Anno's war in Honneamise, Shinya Ohira's smoke and building destruction in Akira, Hiroyuki Okiura's mob in Akira, Manabu Ohashi's clouds in Cloud, Norio Matsumoto's storm in the You're Under Arrest OVA, Mitsuo Iso's explosion in Blood and rocks in Rahxephon.

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12 comments

tim_drage [Member]

Effects animation is definitely one of my favorite things about Japanese animation. Too much of western disney-influenced animation is all about character at the expense of the surrounding world…

I too was impressed by some really great water sequences in the Moomins.

Can’t wait for that One Piece movie! :)

12/09/04 @ 09:47
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

I too have been constantly impressed by the FX in Japanese animation. Unfortunately, because I never took note of these things previously I don’t remember which ones impressed me (except for I think the OP of Revolutionary Girl Utena where something was crumbling)…

Unfortunately, no matter how good the animation is, I will never watch a One Piece movie. :x

12/09/04 @ 23:22
tim_drage [Member]

I on the other hand would watch any One Piece stuff regardless of the animation quality! :)

12/10/04 @ 02:47
Tony Mines
Tony Mines [Visitor]

Tim’s right. 90’s Moomin actualy has consistently good water throughout. I have often said that it has my all time favourite water. Good snow too.
My favourite explosions are in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Ben, can you remember who did those, it was someone from Akira wasn’t it?

Oh yeah, and Transformers the Movie for lazers.

12/10/04 @ 05:31
Tony Mines
Tony Mines [Visitor]

Actualy, the more I think about it, the Bat is chock full of interesting japanese animated effects sequences. Good fire at the end of Mask of the Phantasm and Sub-Zero, and good ice-ray stuff in the episode Heart of Ice. And smoke near the start of Beware The Grey Ghost.

12/10/04 @ 05:37
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

I haven’t seen BB: Return of the Joker, but I know that Kazuhide Tomonaga was involved as a key animator in the film, and that sort of thing would fall into his arena. He wasn’t in Akira, but TMS and Telecom were involved in a lot of B/Sman.

Telecom’s involvement:
1991: Bman op, 1, 3
1992: Bman 578, 580, 581, 585
1996: Sman op, 1, 16
1997: Bman 1, 5, B/Sman op
2000: Bman Beyond OVA

12/10/04 @ 19:46
jay smith
jay smith [Visitor]

here this might intrest you?

http://www.toonamiarsenal.com/features/lostbatman/

it’s the lost batman episode (or mega cd cut scenes) by tms, lots of anime effects and a slightly diffrent feel to the animation!

12/11/04 @ 10:08
Balak
Balak [Visitor]

hi there Mr Benjamin!
first i have to say how great your page is, a pure goldmine for animation freak like me.
I’m glad to see you’ve made an article about FX animation…
Actually i’m an animation student in a school in Paris, and my next animation exercice will be about fx (just to let you know, right now i’m working on an “acting” exercice with Lupin the 3rd (one of our teacher worked at Telecom)), so your article is a great help.
I’ve got one question, in which rahxephon episode is the “rock” shot you’ve talked about?
is there more movies or episodes with good fx sequences you can think of?
hope it won(t bother you.

anway, thanks again for the great website.

12/12/04 @ 17:34
Tsuka
Tsuka [Visitor]

Cuckoo Balak ;) !

Ben, thanks too for this article about FX in japanese animation ! Since I saw Akira I’m also totally astonished by some amazing scenes from japanese works …

Recently, I liked the FX of “46x61″ special short (Otomo & Rin Taro doing bicycle) … great smoke and fire animations … and some backgrounds are like traditional japanese prints. I made some screenshots.

I also like an Canadian artist called Michel Gagne, wich has worked a lot on animated special effects … his short “Prelude To Eden” is well done !

One Piece trailer is quite exciting indeed :)

12/12/04 @ 19:01
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Tsuka: Thank you for the tips. I’ll look for that Gagne piece. And I’d like to see *48x61* one day, too. It looks quite nice. What a strange idea, though.

Balak:

Thank you! I’m glad to be of help to someone on the front lines like yourself.

The rock in question is in episode 15. It’s quite short, and you wouldn’t think rocks would be that thrilling, but it thrills the pants off me. The bullet and chipping effects of the part where the rock monster is being shot are equally nice. Looking at that bit, you realize what it means to have an all-encompassing understanding of the art of visual creation. Iso is a genius. Episode 15 is a good episode overall, too. Iso also did the digital FX work throughout the series, so you may wish to peruse a few episodes, because I’ve seen the first few, and Iso’s work besides episode 15 is also quite worth seeing. I’d say he’s the most interesting FX animator in Japan at the moment, at least in terms of someone coming from an animation background. Iso is an example of an animator who truly innovates, who creates movement that hasn’t been seen anywhere in the world, as far as I know, and every drawing in his animation speaks - it’s always a perfectly conceptualized whole. It’s intricate, it’s thrilling, it’s sophisticated, it’s like nothing else out there. I can’t get enough. But he’s very much quality over quantity. Iso’s gun in the water in ep 4 of Blue No 6 is one of my all-time favorite shots. Iso’s non-FX work is also interesting, so I recommend seeking out his other work as well.

As for other recommendations, just to be thorough, I’ll start from the beginning:

Kenzo Masaoka

His Spider and Tulip reportedly contains highly detailed and realistic natural animation. He is credited with “shadow drawings” 影絵 on the classic propaganda pic Momotaro the Sea God Soldier 桃太郎・海の神兵. I’m not sure what that means, but this film is also well known for the incredible overall quality, and particularly the quality of the aerial action sequences. This is arguably where it all starts. From everything I hear, technically it was very impressive for its day and remains impressive even today to animators - at least, technically. I read an amusing/disturbing item once where Yasuo Otsuka showed the film to a bunch of young animators, and they didn’t seem to catch on to the hardly disguised subtext of brutal fascistic military subjugation, but just thought it was a nice, fun action film that was really well done for its day.

There are also a number of other interesting animated shorts from the early days that supposedly make innovative use of effects or that animate things other than characters in the pre-Toei Doga period, like Nobuo Ofuji’s Ghost Ship, but those aren’t widely available yet, so I won’t bother going into that.

Anyway, here are some of my own favorites. A lot of this isn’t FX but just interesting non-character animation. My mind tends to wander to action stuff when I think of FX in anime, because they tend to come together - when you have action scenes, the whole screen moves, lots of things come into play, which is the attraction to me, even though it’s not pure FX. But I’ll stick mostly to FX.

Yoichi Kotabe
Waves in Horus, Doggie March and Animal Treasure Island

Hideaki Anno
Wings of Honneamise - battle at end
Nausicaa - God warrior beam at end
Abenobashi Maho Shotengai 12 - explosion

Mikiharu Akabori
Jack and the Beanstalk - the beanstalk
The Sea Prince and the Fire Child - water & fire

Toshiyuki Inoue
Peek the Whale - first scene (nice water)
Paranoia Agent 13 - blob

Kazuhide Tomonaga
Nemo pilot
Galaxy Express 999 movie - destruction at climax (FX; Yoshinori Kanada did characters)
Laputa - destruction at climax

Norio Matsumoto
Naruto 30, 71 - FX (characters by Atsushi Wakabayashi)
You’re Under Arrest OVA 2 - animation director (all that water!)
Rurouni Kenshin Seisohen OVA 1 - water at beginning
Earth Girl Arjuna 4 - vegetable animation

Ichiro Itano, known for his exciting moving-perspective animation of mecha and missiles in combat in the early 80s, referred to as “Itano Circus”
Macross TV - 18, 27 and others, also the film; he’s doing it in digital now in Zero

Manabu Ohashi
Cloud in Robot Carnival
Junkers Come Here - ending flight

Shinya Ohira
Hakkenden OVA 1 - reflection in water
Animatrix: Kid’s Story - skateboard chase
Gall Force: Destruction OVA - laser beam

?
Moomin (1990) 12 - water at beginning
Little Twins movie - house breaking apart

Akira, of course, had much great non-character animation.
Toshiaki Motoya - pipes, capsule breaking apart
Shinya Ohira - smoke coming out from elevator, clouds swirling past, building breaking in half
Masaaki Endo - building collapsing under weight of water, ball of light, Kaneda sucked into light towards building
Shinji Otsuka - Tetsuo turning into a ball of meat
Tatsuyuki Tanaka - General shooting Tetsuo, Tetsuo losing control of arm
Hiroyuki Okiura - riot and big beer can (which is amazing because he animated the pan)

Sorry, I can’t think of much else at the moment. At least, nothing I’d go out of my way to recommend.

12/12/04 @ 22:20
Balak
Balak [Visitor]

Good God, thank you so much for the time!
It’s a great help, really.
I always loved the way FXs are done in japanese animation, since i was a kid… Now it’s time to try to understand how all this is working!
thnaks again.

Hi there Tsuka! Thanks for the screenshots camarade!

and thanks to jay smith for the batman videos.

12/12/04 @ 23:34
Jordan Scott
Jordan Scott [Visitor]  

To anyone coming across this, the sequence in question in the ’90s Telecom Moomin seems to be by Yasunori Miyazawa.

It’s in this video: http://www.catsuka.com/player/mad_Yasunori_Miyazawa_v2 (I like in particular in this the talking woman from what looks like the Momose-directed Ghibli capsule videos; the movement of the lips visualising the flow of a conversation/rant in the absence of hearing any spoken dialogue).

And more Moomin clips in: http://www.catsuka.com/player/mad_Yasunori_Miyazawa_v3

My favourite of the ’90s Moomin, one of my what-got-me-into-animation, and indeed still keeps me in it memories is a of snow maiden/queen figure, perhaps in a part based on Moominland Midwinter, slowly turning her head. The nearest I’ve come to it since is OTSUKA Shinji’s singing sequence in Porco Rosso – or rather, something that’s strong enough to impress in me know the same feeling as that did when I was more easily impressable.

03/31/12 @ 06:16