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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Sunday, March 6, 2005

12:48:14 pm , 761 words, 3863 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Hosoda's latest etc.

Portrait of a woman on a mummy casket from Fayum, EgyptOne of the things that makes a good director, at least in anime, is the ability to bring together a good team, the way Satoshi Kon was able to bring together lots of good freelance animators from all over the place for his recent efforts. Same applies to Imaishi Hiroyuki's Dead Leaves. These guys are good directors because they know that among the elements that make a good animated film are good animators. Add to that list Mamoru Hosoda, who for his recent film went to the effort of bringing together an impressive animator list that reportedly includes the likes of Nobutake Ito, Norio Matsumoto, Yo Yoshinari, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Takaaki Wada, Hisashi Mori, Koichi Arai, Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Hideki Hamasu, Yusuke Yoshigaki and Takashi Hashimoto. Many are familiar Toei names, but others like Ito, Wada, Imaishi, Yoshinari and Matsumoto are obviously special guests, which goes to show how much Hosoda wanted to make his first full-length feature a success on all counts. As in Kon's films, hand-picking animators obviously played a big part in putting together the animation for Hosoda's most recent film, and that's one of the things that makes him so unique as a director.

When we think of directing, we tend to think of the style of the cutting, the framing and so on - the technical elements that are usually referred to as enshutsu 演出 in Japanese. But the organizational aspect is the main role of the kantoku 監督, and in fact in some movies, such as Tokyo Godfathers, where Kon had the great Shogo Furuya (who's done some interesting work recently in Twe. Witc.) take care of the enshutsu, we see both roles credited. Kon and Hosoda are actually similar in the respect that they're both known for the incredible level of detail they bring to the layout and storyboard, so in the case of Tokyo Godfathers most of the information was probably prescribed in extreme detail in the storyboard. Toei never credits storyboard for some reason (it's tacitly included in the directing credit), but such can be presumed to be the case for Hosoda as well. Hosoda's storyboard would be a nice item to see. For those who might have been reluctant to approach the film due to the franchise, initial reports have it that this film stands in relation to the original story in a way not dissimilar to Beautiful Dreamer, though not having seen it myself I can't make any judgment about it as a film yet.

Interesting and unusual use was made of a good animator, Norio Matsumoto, in Beck 22. Rather than having him do a big extended section or having him focus on one small section, instead we see little shots by him throughout the episode, which has the effect of raising the overall quality of the viewing experience. A good idea. Kazuyoshi Yaginuma made an ep rather more fast-paced and watchable than usual. I hear the bike was a Project A reference. Also, Utsunomiya did a few shots at the beginning.

I got to see Alexander Petrov's The Old Man and the Sea a short while ago, and I found it beautiful but otherwise lacking in any real drive or dramatic appeal. I was all the more disappointed because I like his technique (finger painting?), and was extremely pleased with the results as seen in his short for Winter Days. Anything can be made interesting with good directing, even thirty minutes of an old man lying around on a raft in the middle of the ocean, but it just didn't happen here, as breathtaking as the results may be visually.

I also had the chance to see Visitor Q recently. I'll just say it's a good companion piece to Shungiku Uchida's Watashitachi wa hanshoku shiteiru, which I'd read a few years back. (in terms of the lactation aspect)

I've been into the Fayum mummy portraits lately. I've long been fascinated with the idea of looking into the lives of people of the past, particularly via literature (Menander was my favorite Greek for the longest time), so I was really moved to discover that there existed such exquisitely realistic paintings of people who lived (briefly, judging from the youth of many of the portraits) almost two millenia ago. Some of these people look like they might be living next door the likeness is so convincing and immediate. History is a curious thing. We have to go through more than a millenia of children's drawings in Europe before we slowly and arduously begin to come close to what was achieved by these artisans in Egypt.



Jericho [Visitor]

Its hard to believe that those convincing portraits that strived for verisimilitude abrubtly ended during its time (I think around hellinistic era). And this was prior to the middle ages, where the artwork in that era is more about 2 dimensionality; planear, linear illustrations of scripture, rather than a striving for its verisimilitude. But art and its relationship in making images according to what we see as ‘reality’ is rather complicated.

There is an artist by the name of David Hockney who has postulated a theory that the old masters of northern Europe during the Early Rennaisance used lense devices to create their realistic aura by referencing set up models that they saw in their optical devices, and they developed contraptions that would transpose those images onto their drawings and paintings. Which means they didn’t ‘eye’ their work. If you look around the history of western art at around 1420 there is a strange transformation within that one decade. The medieval style of painting turned all of a sudden into a realistic style of depiction! Gone were flattened faces and elongated figures and in came the flesh and blood 3D illusion on a 2D surface. He believes it was due to the new use of lenses and viewing devices in their studio practice that made verisimilitude an abrupt phenomenon, (Satoshi Kon recorded women running in a lot to refrence for his girlish running sequences in Millenium Actress, his example along with any animation director). Things like painting the shine on armour shows up during this time, and poses situations in which we have to analyze how we transfer what we see to what is shown in a painting, (or in animation for that matter). The rest is explained in his documentary “Secret Knowledge” if you want to find out more.

03/07/05 @ 00:04
hym [Visitor]

Development of art styles throughout history and cultures but especially the reasons behind it are extremely interesting but at the same time relies too much on assumptions with many different schools of thinking often contradictory. The main thing i remember is that artists are the source of changes never the public, they almost have to be forced into accepting a style by groups of artists often independently coming to the same conclusions because of their similar backgrounds and knowledge. And in the end i don’t think its that much different today, just a lot faster and ramified with incomprehensible quantity but still defined enough per target audience to see how it might have happened in the past.

David Hockney’s writings are pretty much fact, they explain way too much otherwise illogic decisions and even errors by the artists, the quality and realism are possible in a natural way but the quantities that time says enough (don’t convict every painting though, enough was done traditionally at the same quality). Also the artist that signed the work didn’t by definition make it, he was basically not much different than Directors of today with studios.

Training your eye, brain, painting technique to act as an almost perfect camera is possible but natural or effective. And thats probably the reason why ancient cultures didn’t invest much in it.

03/07/05 @ 09:34
hym [Visitor]

long posts are doomed to have errors,

is possible but “not” natural or effective

03/07/05 @ 09:37
Ben [Visitor]

I recently read the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which would seem to suggest that the reason it’s not natural for us to draw photorealistically is mainly just because the left side of the brain steps in and hinders our doing so. It’s actually relatively easy to train yourself to draw exactly what you see. The question of whether drawing things more realistically is better qualitatively is entirely relative, historically and culturally and personally, but considering the ease with which it can be done it just naturally got me curious why there were so few examples in Europe before the Renaissance. I know the issue is far more complicated than that, and I don’t want to open a can of worms or anything. I’m totally out of my league here. But it’s certainly an interesting issue that has relevance to animation. The question of what is less or more real in animation has always fascinated me. We see so many different approaches to portraying reality in animation still evolving at this very moment, which is one of the things that makes it feel alive as an art to me, the way it must have been back then with painting.

03/07/05 @ 17:55
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

The bike in ep 22 certainly was nice to watch. Most viewers hailed this ep as having one of the worst animation though. They pointed especially at the first part… I guess it can’t be helped when everyone likes clean nice drawings and the bike scene wasn’t all flashy and obvious.

I also liked the woman’s reaction when the band told her audition groups can’t get in.

03/09/05 @ 04:02
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Hm, and off-topic but I finally watched RahXephon, was very impressed by ep 15 and when I saw Mitsuo Iso in the credits I remembered seeing him mentioned in this blog. Voila, the name and even the very episode is shown here. Shockingly I think he even did the script for that episode.

I’m also wondering if you know much about this animator called Takashi Tomioka.

03/16/05 @ 05:08
Ben [Visitor]

Mitsuo Iso is definitely one of my favorite figures active today in anime. Glad to finally hear from someone else who’s seen this episode. It’s long been one of my favorites. I talked about how much I liked the rocks crumbling in an old comment for that FX post. Truly amazing work, in every respect. If you hadn’t heard of Iso prior to this, then you should look at my Karisuma Animators entry on him, because he’s done a lot of other animation work that’s among the best of the last decade.

A while back I wondered aloud what he’s been up to, because I haven’t seen anything from him in almost two years, and recently I ran across someone confirming that he is currently working on a project of some sort. Hopefully it’ll be something like a movie-length version of the quality we saw in that Rah episode.

Never heard of Takashi Tomioka. Where’d you see him?

Actually, I looked up a bit, and it seems he animated the beginning part of the third FMA opening, where a character is fighting a monster. This is the op that was replaced by the one with Utsunomiya that I mentioned a while back. He was also in Bebop, Ninku, Karekano 10… and quite a few eps of Rahxephon, I see now, which is where I guess you saw him.

Speaking of Rahxephon, there’s a nice bit of animation at the end of 12, but I never have been able to find out who did it.

03/16/05 @ 11:02
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

I’ve read through your Karisuma Animators thing, it certainly was very helpful. I definitely will have his kanji in my head and look out for him more… I really liked the rock; even its design, especially what was referred to as the “wounded parts” had just got this texture I… inherently like. No idea why. I’m terrible at drawing objects, so I really respect great FX animation…

Upon reading a few old Japanese comments/articles/blogs on RahXephon 15, the praise is unanimous. Even people who hated the show had to give in and say it was a good ep…

As for Takashi Tomioka, there was that… What made me ‘notice’ him was that he did a short bit in the very first bit of Fafner that had an unusual but nice mecha fight (I think that was him, anyway) and was also very involved with Generator Gawl (never watched taht though). He was the AD for quite a few eps of RX and did a lot of the key animation too, from what I recall. Most of the time I was lost in the music though…

I guess you know, but the credits for ep 12 of RX are here … I don’t know if that helps, but my DVD player completely died and I can’t even see what kind of animation it is, let alone make a half-assed guess as to who did what. Perhaps it is in order of cuts so the last animator did the last cut? I dunno… Heh, I don’t even know what’s the difference between genga and dai ni genga…

03/17/05 @ 07:08
Ben [Visitor]

Misuo Iso is really great at creating textures. Since at least Blood he’s been handling the digital processing work for his animated bits, which gives them a sort of richness that’s way beyond anything else out there.

One interesting thing is how much his animation changes in just a few years. In Ghost in the Shell he’s still doing things the traditional way, but his animation had already reached a sort of borderline insane level in terms of the attention to detail, so ever since, as if he’d reached the border of what is possible with pure animation, he now starts incorporating digital effects into his work to make it ever more convincing, which is what leads to Blood and Rahxephon and Kill Bill (not sure what he did in the latter).

Here’s an interesting testimonial from a person who witnessed Iso’s work methods in Ghost in person (in Japanese):

I’ll have to check out that Fafner, thanks.

And yeah, I had a look at that list after your first comment, and I think I can narrow it down to Takashi Tomioka, Koji Aizaka, Yoshiyuki Ito and Yutaka Nakamura in terms of who might have done that section. The first three were ADs in the ep, and in many of the other eps, and Yutaka is known for his action. As you noted, the ADs often contribute animation to the eps they’re in. I don’t know whether this is just a schedule thing or whether it’s just because they wanted to handle the action parts themselves…

But yeah, the credits for this show are incredibly complicated, which I guess shows how much work they put into it. (If only the story was on par with the animation!) In just this episode you have:

animation director
co-animation directors
mecha animation director
key animators
first key animators
second key animators

They even have a “layout ad” credit elsewhere.

As I understand it, “first key animator” basically means rough key animation; the seconds clean it up; then the AD comes in to correct the drawings if necessary; then the inbetweens come in. You often see this system in Champloo, with the Suzuki bros known for their action drawing first ka, for example. Most of the time in anime you only have “genga” or key animation, and “douga” or inbetweens. I’m not completely sure what the reasons are for using the first-second system, but I suppose it’s a good time-saving method, in that it lets a good animator lay down the rough movement quickly without having to focus on the details. For example, I now remember that Satoru Utsunomiya drew first ka for FMA. Using this system allowed him to draw a lot more shots than he would have been able to if he had had to focus on the details… I’m guessing.

Yoshiyuki Ito is also supposed to be really good. He’s in that new film by Hosoda, for example, though I don’t know his work at all. (so is Takeshi Otsuka, who’s also supposed to be good)

About your guess about the ordering of the credits… actually, I’ve heard that the reason for the ordering of key animator credits varies from show to show. Sometimes it’s alphabetical, sometimes it’s by amount of work, ie, number of shots. Usually it’s the latter AFAIK. I think listing the names based on their location in the show would be impossible since animators often do bits all over the place.

Guess who’s doing next week’s ep of Gankutsuoh. I’m going to be totally lost. I haven’t watched anything since his last ep… This’ll probably be The End for me.

03/17/05 @ 09:42
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Thank you so much for the info! Heh, now I finally understand it.. Yep, I think using the first-second system would be quite good if, say, the first ka would give the ‘essence’ of the action and movement and timing… then the second ka may fix the faces around, or perhaps the lines and stuff… add details… Gives the AD a little less work maybe, and perhaps allows the AD to have more space to fix timings rather than details?

RahXephon indeed has a huge amount of work involved in it. I’ve always personally liked the character designs and colour scheme from what I had seen, so I was a little disapppointed after the first ep - it had rather average animation. But there were lots of treats as the series went on - it’s like the animation quality generally increased with some really high points, compared to most series where the animation for the first and last and sometimes the middle ep are good and the rest are bad/average…

As for Yoshiyuki Ito, I don’t really know much except that he did the original character designs for FMA. He was also in Jin-Roh and in the first Digimon movie (I guess Hosoda likes him?)

Thanks for the tip on Gankutsuou. I don’t think it matters if you don’t know the story, you can kind of generally figure it out… I’m going to have to watch this episode raw, the subs are kind of behind. I really don’t know why Takaaki Wada is with Gonzo though…

Also there’s a short from Studio 4C’s Punch 1 studio called Prof. Dan Petory’s Blues that’s on the net… Seems to be largely 3D but it’s kind of amusing. Directed by Hidekazu Ohara, KA by Daisuke Nakayama, Yumi Chiba.

03/18/05 @ 00:37
Ben [Visitor]

You should also grab next week’s ep of Beck while you’re at it, because it’ll have a lot by Norio Matsumoto.

I’ve always wondered the same thing about Wada and Gonzo… He’s such a great traditional animator, but he seems so out of place on a show like that that seems mainly there to showcase the company’s digital prowess. At the same time, it feels like a nice balance when the digital is combined with Wada’s good 2d. And Gonzo seems to really value him, since they give him a lot of nice opportunities, so I figure he could be worse off.

And I’ll check out that Studio 4°C short, thanks. I’ve always liked Hidekazu Ohara’s work. I like the way he’s not restricted to one style, but likes trying all sorts of different things. Too bad he’s mainly involved in ads and stuff. I hope he keeps doing stuff at 4°C.

Oh, and I saw that Takashi Tomioka bit in Fafner. You’re right, it was nice, though it was a little short. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but it does seem kind of reminiscent of that section in 12…

03/18/05 @ 10:28
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Hm, and according to the Fantastic Children page Takashi Nakamura might be in the last ep of Fantastic Children. Yay!!

03/19/05 @ 08:05
Ben [Visitor]

Wow, that’s great. It’s been like 7 years since he did any animation. Worth looking forward to.

03/19/05 @ 12:25