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It's been a while since I've translated an interview, and I recently found an interview that fairly made my eyes bug out, so I thought I would translate it. It's an interview with Mitsuo Iso, and the only one I've ever seen at that. I'm not sure what magazine it was published in, but it must presumably have been published around 2003, because the interview is all about episode 15 of RahXephon, what might be considered Iso's "debut" of sorts, at least in terms of directing and storyboarding.
Iso had up until that point been known mainly as an animator, with the only non-animation work to his credit prior to RahXephon being prop design and weapon design in Magnetic Rose and Ghost in the Shell in 1995 and co-writer of episode 13 of Evangelion in 1996. Iso's involvement on RahXephon was at the very least a major turning point for him, an experience that must have wrought major changes in his approach to animation.
More accurately, his approach in this series - he handled 2D digital effects combined with traditional animation - was simply the culmination of his work over the previous six years. After his involvement designing and writing in 1995 and 1996, you can sense changes overcoming his animation style, making it become more comprehensive, more cinematic and honed down to the minutest detail. This is what leads to his taking his work to the logical next step with 2D digital processing of his animation in Blood and so on. This then leads directly to RahXephon, in which he handled various manners of digital processing throughout the series. This is the only instance I can remember of a TV anime having a separate post for digital FX.
After his work on this series, Iso pretty much disappears from the scene as an animator. Rumors in the intervening years had it that he was working on something big, but only now has it become known that this was true, and so it's an ideal time now to look back on RahXephon, the series in which he experimented, learned, and tested many of the things that will presumaly be built upon in the upcoming Denno Coil.
Bringing RahXephon Alive:
The Digital Artistry of Mitsuo Iso
How did people in the studio react to your being put in charge of digital processing?
They seem to have interpreted it to mean that I was retiring from animation because animation was becoming too hard for me. (laughs) But to me it was just the opposite - I took the job because I viewed it as a new challenge. There's this conception that digital takes more time and money to do, but I feel it's the reverse. People tend only to think only of 3D when they talk about CG, but I've used almost no 3D whatsoever. I actually view 2D as by far superior.
By 2D, you mean essentially animation in the style of traditional cell animation?
Yes. Coming as I do from a background in traditional animation, I find that it is much easier to manipulate the parameters of the frame in 2D. To me, what makes animation come alive is interesting movement and effective use of the frame, yet I find that these are aspects that have proven difficult to handle sufficiently well in 3D.
When was it that you began to implement digital processing in your work?
The first time I used Aftereffects was in Blood: The Last Vampire. Taking hints from an approach that had been devised by Hisashi Ezura for the film, I devised a way of digitally processing the handling of light. In RahXephon, I built on this approach by coming up with a new way drawing an effect: I drew the component elements of the effect myself, and then manipulated these basic elements through multiplication and pasting to achieve the final effect. What I learned from the experience was the importance of instinct for knowing how best to arrange the material. That instinct - knowing how big to make a certain element, or how to finesse a certain movement - is something that you can only acquire through experience with 2D animation.
What prompted you to decide to singlehandedly bear the burden of all of the critical production roles in episode 15 (writer, director, storyboarder)?
What is the single most time-consuming element of animation production? It is having to mold your work around the ideas of another person. In assembly-line animation production, each person has their specialized task, and your duty is to transform the ideas in the head of another person ahead of you on the conveyer belt into visual form, which is very difficult. I talked with the director and was given permission to handle all of the tasks. This facilitated my work by permitting me to handle everything how I felt it needed to be handled. This made the entire process much more efficient, as I was able to visualize every step of the way from script to animation to photography right as I was formulating each scene. As the director, I was also able to handle the processing, meaning that I could deal with retakes promptly, and I was able to do a drawing on the spot when I saw something was missing. The result was a dramatic savings of time and labor. This episode was on schedule and below average in cost (drawing count), and this additional hidden economic benefit of this method is something I would like to draw attention to.
I'm reminded of Hoshi no Koe.
I was very interested to hear that films like that were being made. Although this method may not necessarily be the most appropriate one for every type of visual or for every type of story, digital offers tremendous potential, so I'm surprised that more people haven't taken it up. Not to rush to a conclusion, but perhaps what's happening here is that this episode came along right at a time when people were beginning to feel that a certain something was missing from the typical style of animation production, and filled in that hole.
Any closing remarks on episode 15?
I want to thank key animators Kazuto Nakazawa and Takeshi Honda and co-animation director Yoshiyuki Ito for their tremendous help in this episode. Pak Romi's performance as Isshiki was magnificent. I'm very grateful. If there's anything wrong with this episode, blame it on me. (laughs)
Simply put, I'm not out to become a director or a screenwriter. I just want to make animation. If I'm doing all of this, it's because I found that it was necessary to do so in order to be able to make animation the way I feel it needs to be made. I'd be happy if people could see the inherent potential in this approach. In closing, I wish more people would see the beauty of hand-drawn digital, and join me in making this kind of animation.
Ben, this interview is a true inspiration and hopefully a step in the right direction for animation in japan. Reminds me of the good old days of Hakkenden. A series based on individual director’s input would be spectacualr to see again. Especially if their all as gun-ho Iso is. Any plans on clips of “Golden Bird"? PLeeeaaase?!
Wow, definitely very excellent. Thank you so much for such an inspiring interview! I’m bookmarking this…
I love his attitude, really. He’s just… god. Shucks. A real animator.