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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Thursday, January 15, 2009

10:31:32 pm , 2613 words, 3988 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Shoichi Masuo

The Japanese animation industry has a long tradition of great effects animators dating back at least to the 1940s. But the difference with the west is that there is no clear systemic difference between the two, and as a result, at least until relatively recently, often they haven't been credited separately. Recently, particularly since Steam Boy, it's become more common to see the post of Effects Animation Director. But at least during the 1970s and 1980s, there were a number of great FX animators, but it was hard to pick them out if you didn't know who you were looking for. Also, the concept of FX was often melded with the mecha animation, so that any effects work you got would be on the mecha shots, as the two were kind of synonymous.

Starting in the 1980s, effects seems to have begun to be divorced from purely mecha associations and come unto its own. Toshiaki Hontani was one of the main figures behind the resurgence of FX animation in Japan, with his animation in Akira and on other shows over the preceding years. So was Shinya Ohira. Both of these figures were big influences behind at the very least Takashi Hashimoto, who is the current figure synonymous with FX animation in Japan. Both Hontani and Ohira, of course, were preceded by figures like Hideaki Anno, Ichiro Itano before him, Kazuhide Tomonaga before him, etc, etc, all of whose styles are to some extent influenced by or distantly related to one another - with each figure having made his own distinct contribution to that development. Much of what makes FX animation so great has been all of the inter-influencing that's gone on over the years.

Another figure from the late 1980s who was one of the important figures of FX animation is Shoichi Masuo. I've been reading over the book of key animation drawings that was released for Nadia over the last week or so, and it's afforded me a greater understanding of the style of his work. At a more basic level, it made me realize that he was the figure behind all of the great mecha/FX animation that had always so impressed me in the series. He's only credited as mecha animation director in the last two episodes, so it had never even occurred to me until now that he was the figure responsible. There are almost certainly a number of mecha/FX shots not done by him, but looking over the book made me realize that the bulk of the mecha and effects work in the series was of his hand, and that he was the one who defined the overall style of the mecha/FX animation of the show. The mecha/FX aspect of the show had impressed me back in the day when I first watched the show around 1992, with its distinctive fluid, realistically timed animation giving the action scenes a feeling of richness and realism. The show was nicely animated otherwise, but the mecha animation stood out as very different. It's like suddenly, when the mecha shots came on, the animation became incredibly rich and smooth. It was like a different show. That had always amazed me. The realism of the effects, at least in my case, had definitely been one of the factors that helped give the show its unusual impact. It's nice to be able to connect the dots after all this time.

(Note that there aren't any specific credits for any shots in the book, so I've had to guess what his shots might be based on stylistic similarity.)

I don't really know much about Shoichi Masuo's origins or influences other than the fact that he debuted as an animator at a small but venerable subcontracting studio called Studio Giants. This studio was the training ground for any number of more well-known animators such as Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Yuriko Chiba and Toshiyuki Tsuru. Giants were renowned among fans in their heyday in the early 80s for the loose and crazy work that they always did on their rotation episodes. The work of Tadashi Shida and Masayuki on Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982-84) in particular seems to best reflect that style. (you can catch a whiff of that atmosphere in the wild animation of the boars that Masayuki did for episode 30 of Nadia - getting the keys for which was the whole reason I bought the key animation book in the first place) Presumably sometime around 1985, Masuo left Studio Giants to join another studio, Graviton, where he worked as mecha animation director of Project A-Ko in 1986, which brought him some recognition. It was presumably soon after this that he joined Gainax, where he worked on Aim for the Top and Honneamise as an assistant director, even contributing some animation to Akira, although I'm not sure what part. It must have been soon after this that he set to work on Nadia.

One of the things that immediately sets his work apart, particularly from the rest of the shots in the book, is the time sheets. More than the style of drawing, or anything like that, it's how densely packed the time sheets are. The amazing amount of planning that is bespoken by the intricately devised time sheets is as far away as I could imagine from the sort of freewheeling animation I associate with Studio Giants. It has the distinctive feeling of someone with a director's sensibility, rather than an animator's. He has a clear map in his mind of what he wants to show in the screen, and he breaks the screen down into its constituent components to go about doing it as systematically and efficiently as possible. When you're watching the animation on screen, it's impressive, but it doesn't come across as laborious. The labor that went in is invisible. That's partly because the shots he did often involve rather minute and precise movement rather than wild, outlandish shots of character antics. It's also because, for all the work that went into the shots, they're quite short. Masuo's shots are a classic case of quality over quantity.

Time sheets were actually included almost exclusively for Shoichi Masuo's shots in the book in question. And the reason is pretty obvious. At the most basic level, the intricacy of the planning of the shots means that you need the time sheet to understand what's going on in the various drawings, which are usually scattered over at least 5 layers. His time sheets are a work of art in and of themselves in the amount of thought and planning that they represent. I think the origins of the person who put together the book, the director (himself a famous FX animator), comes through pretty clearly in that sense. He himself knows how to make great FX animation, and therefore knows how to appreciate great FX animation. A few other time sheets were included, and in each case, although the piece of animation is quite nice and well timed, it's different from Masuo's animation in that, usually, everything takes place on one layer. There isn't the need for meticulous planning and division of parts of the kind seen in Masuo's shots. Each of Masuo's shots comes across like a miniature film.

Take for example this shot of the Nautilus being bombarded with depth charges from above by the enemy sub from episode 4. It passes by very quickly, but has that characteristic punch and vividness that brings alive the battles in this series. The contrast with the character scenes is quite striking. Yet it works wonderfully. It's clearly well done, but it passes by quickly, and all of the work that went into it doesn't really jump out at you immediately. But looking at a selection of the keys for this shot, and especially the densely packed time sheet, reveals just how much planning was required to make even a passing shot like this have the intended effect.

The time sheet looks chaotic at first glance, but basically it consists of instructions for, in this case, six layers over the span of each of the 24 frames in roughly four and a half seconds. The layers are indicated by "ABCDEF" on the top left. 'A' would be the cel on the bottom of the stack, and 'F' the cel on the top. Masuo has actually had to write in two extra layers because the default four layers wasn't enough(!). Note that there are two versions of these columns. The first, labeled 'Action', is for indicating the placement of keys vis-a-vis inbetweens, and the second, labeled 'Cell', is for indicating the total number of final, inbetweened drawings.

This is my guess as to the breakdown of the layers:

A. Explosion on floor in middle (starting at second 2.75)
B. Dirt kicked up by the Nautilus (starting at second 0)
C. Not sure - bubbles? (starting at second 3.25)
D. Still of Nautilus rising (starting at second 0)
E. Explosion in the center (starting at second 2)
F. Depth charges falling until sec 2.70, then explosions on floor

One interesting thing here is that he provides instructions for the use of "wave glass" to simulate the water in front of the camera swirling around chaotically, starting from the end of the third second. You can see it indicated as a black wedge near the bottom. "F.I." stands for fade in. Another trick he uses is to blacken the screen for one frame at a time. You can see a total of 8 of these little shaded boxes on the right-hand side, representing the flashes from the explosions of the depth charges. The term he uses to indicate this is "saburina", which is short for subliminal shot. Using a single frame like this for the flash of an explosion is very common, although usually it's with a white frame. At the top he mentions applying a "DF filter", which refers to a diffusion filter. The term "book", incidentally, refers to foreground (i.e., as opposed to background), in this case the ocean floor. It's a drawing painted by the art department, like the background, but it is placed between cel layers. You'll notice that he moved the placement from between layer C and D to the very top. I was wondering why he didn't split the descending depth charges and their explosions of layer F into different layers, but perhaps he was already maxed out.

The indication of the motion of the depth charges falling is rather interesting. Although the drawing isn't provided, he presumably drew the first drawing of the depth charges, and the rest were inbetweened according to the notches shown on the vector line provided for each of the depth charges. From the moment of the explosion, he switches to keys of the explosion. He uses the keys quite sparingly, but cunningly, and through a great deal of careful planning the effect is quite seamless.

In this shot from episode 21, we have a similar shot of explosions and the Nautilus, but this time in mid-air, and this time of the Nautilus itself exploding. The keys are here. The time sheet is easier to understand this time around. For some reason layer A is empty. A drawing marked A1 (meaning the first key of layer A) shows clouds, but this was obviously done with a background and not an animation drawing. B is a still of the debris trapped by the magnetic field. C is a still of the Nautilus. D is the explosion. E is the flash effect.

The instructions at the top read: Saburina, E cel lith mask backlighting (white), strongish DF. Interestingly, the instructions have been translated into Korean. I checked the credits to see if the inbetweens for this episode had been farmed out to a Korean studio, but there are no credits for the inbetweens for this episode. Presumably either the inbetweening or the photography was done in Korea.

This shot is more straightforward than the previous shot. Basically the only layer with animation here is layer D - the explosion. The explosion comes in just after the one second mark, and you can see that a total of 7 keys were drawn, with a total of 17 inbetweened drawings. You can see saburina flashes again, this time white. The top layer is what is called a toukakou or backlighting mask. More specifically, this is a particular kind of backlighting called lith backlighting. I've read descriptions of the term to attempt to understand the difference, but I'm still somewhat unclear on the specifics of how it's used. Basically, lith backlighting was used to create smaller backlit shapes, such as the backlit horizontal line that appears for a frame at a time in this shot to signify the flash of the explosion.

One of the things that Takashi Hashimoto says he learned from studying Shoichi Masuo's animation is precisely the sort of layering that you see in the examples provided here - the way he splits each constituent portion of the effect into a different layer in order to be able to pile on the various layers and create a feeling of depth and richness. Mitsuo Iso went through a similar process as an animator, towards greater density and complexity. Rather than just animating a character, he moved towards controlling every parameter of the screen. Which is what Masuo was doing many years before in Nadia. Some of the most exciting animation of recent years has been FX animation by latter-day masters like Hideki Kakita and Takashi Hashimoto, and Shoichi Masuo was one of the figures who influenced the development of the current state of FX animation in anime by making his effects not a perfunctory tack-on, but laboriously devised creations that in themselves were worthy of study and admiration.

Shoichi Masuo was a key animator in episodes 8, 21, 34, 36 and 37. He storyboarded and directed episodes 2 and 15, and was the mecha animation director of the last two episodes, episodes 38 and 39. He also helped out a bit with the animation of episodes 22 and 26. (He's the last key animator listed.) The two episodes that stand out as representing the high point of his work on this series are perhaps episodes 15 and 21, which are both climactic episodes. They're the two episodes I remember most impressing me back in the day. Many of the other episodes are great because the story, characters, storyboard and everything are great. But it's through Masuo's animation that the mecha and effects come alive.

Masuo has been quite active since Nadia, of course. He worked on episodes 1, 3 and 4 of Doomed Megalopolis, and was heavily involved in Eva. In the recent remake, he's credited as "tokugi kantoku" (action choreographer), a title that was created for Ichiro Itano on Macross Plus. I was a big fan of Irresponsible Captain Tylor back in the day, and quite enjoyed the opening. I just found out recently that the characters in the opening were animated by Shinsaku Kozuma, and Masuo handled the mecha. It makes sense. The mecha animation has the same feeling of fluidity and weighty timing as Masuo's mecha work on Nadia. He was in episodes 1, 2 and 3 of Aim for the Top 2, and was the effect animation director of Gonzo's Agito and an animation director and animator in Brave Story. He was also heavily involved in two obscure OVAs - Six Angels in 2002 and Submarine 707R in 2003. The latter was one of Masuo's few directing efforts, and the former has quite a bad reputation as a film, but appears to have been one of his major efforts of the last few years in his capacity as an FX animator, so both would seem to be worth a look to see how this great FX animator has developed in recent years.

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7 comments

huw_m
huw_m [Member]

Crikey! Those are really dense and interesting bits of animation. Good work deciphering them. It’s funny how there are shots in animation that pass by so quickly but have had so much thought and work put into them. I can see how this approach is present in Hashimoto/Kakita’s work…as well as Iso. (An example of a similiarly dense but quick shot of his would be the soccer ball being kicked in Umi ga Kikoeru, with a lot of different layers and effects for a really short shot. Insanely detailed) I took a look at the Boars in episode 30 too, which were really nice. As was most of the animation in the episode, especially the gesturing of those two henchmen guys with bowties. I like it how Tatsayuki Tanaka’s influence is so palpable. (I’ve never seen the show before)

Speaking of Key Animation books, did you get the Denno Coil one as well?…and the coil “the META” illegal one? Seems like those would be right up your alley.

01/15/09 @ 23:09
Ben [Member]  

Yeah, Nadia really does have a lot of other nice animation. Nadia was the place that I discovered the work of Takeshi Honda. I believe episode 30 was his debut as an animation director, which would account for why you felt all of the animation in the episode was good. That’s the episode that provided me with the key to his work, from which I figured out his style in the other episodes. He was in episodes 1, 3, 8, 12, 20, 22. All of his work on the show has that character. Very exaggerated, with a great sense of timing and deformation. There were keys for a few of his shots in the book, which were great to be able to see how he makes those movements. And of course, he apparently animated the opening and ending.

I’ve been meaning to get the Denno Coil key animation book for months now, but haven’t had the chance. Really dying to see it. What’s this META thing you mentioned? Yeah, I love key animation books. Although I couldn’t quite be convinced to buy the Mahoromatic one Gainax put out. Really the only interesting thing in those is Yoshinari’s keys..

01/16/09 @ 10:36
bahi
bahi [Visitor]  

Thanks Ben.
This complex animation process of Shoichi is very interesting.

Where can I buy key-animation books (ONLINE)?
If you now other books from other key-animators please tell us.

01/16/09 @ 13:19
DRMECHA
DRMECHA [Visitor]  

Yeahh… Shoichi Masuo is a great animator!!
He founds Graviton in 1984 in a multiple fundation with Gainax (Anno is involved in the creation of the studio of his friend).
The other great animators of Studio Graviton are Tomohiro Hirata, Kouji Itoh (disciple of Masuo), Toshiyuki Kubooka and Yuki Masa. The studio is friend of Anno’s Studio Gainax and Moriyama’s Studio Fantasia.
Studio graviton is founded by people of Studio Giants (Masuo, Masa)plus people of Studio MIN (Itoh, Kumiko Kawana and others). Kubooka before 1985 works in Tomonori Kogawa’s Studio Bebow and Hirata in Studio Deen (with Atsuko Nakajima his wife and friend of Studio Graviton.
Studio MIN with Artland is ones of the majors studios in de period 1982-1984.
Next… the works of Shoichi Masuo (chronological)

01/16/09 @ 15:34
huw_m
huw_m [Member]

Ah, it makes sense now that you mention Takeshi Honda. His style only just ‘clicked’ with me when watching his bit in BECK #7 recently…I will track down those episodes, thanks.

That META thing is actually not a KA book, but a collection of Iso’s concept sketches and paintings for development of Denno Coil. I’m sure you’d get a lot more out of it than me given that you know Japanese, too…But a whole book full of Iso drawings. Fantastic.

http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E9%9B%BB%E8%84%B3%E3%82%B3%E3%82%A4%E3%83%AB%E4%BC%81%E7%94%BB%E6%9B%B8-%E7%A3%AF-%E5%85%89%E9%9B%84/dp/4198626138/ref=pd_sim_b_4

Here is a few pictures from the book: http://halcyonrealms.com/anime/the-denno-coil-project/#more-813

As for the Denno Coil KA book, It’s great of course - All my favorite shots made it in, including the one of Yasako running in episode 20 (Takashi Mukouda?) which I’d have to say is the one I wanted to see the most.

Oh and Bahi: You can get KA books from Amazon Japan among other places. Here is a link to the Denno Coil one:

http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4197202563/mdial-22/ref=nosim/

01/16/09 @ 15:42
DRMECHA
DRMECHA [Visitor]  

SHOICHI MASUO WORKS

FOR STUDIO ¿?:

81_GODMARS_KEY EP 31
81_GOSHOGUN_KEY EP 18

FOR STUDIO GIANTS:

82_RAINBOWMAN_KEY
82_GAME CENTER ARASHI_KEY EP 23AND 26
82_SASUGA NO SARUTOBI_KEY EPS
83_ORGUSS_KEY EPS 3, 9, 14, 25 AND 30
83_DORVACK_ (AS “GIANTS")
84_GU-GU GUNMO_KEY EPS 6, 13 AND 20

STUDIO GRAVITON:

84_URUSEI YATSURA_KEY EP 156 W/ANNO
84_MACROSS MOVIE_DIR.ANIM.ASIST
84_SOUTHERN CROSS_KEY EP 18
85_LEDA_IN-BEET (¿?)
85_MEGAZONE 2 3_KEY
85_ICZER-ONE_KEY
85_DIRTY PAIR TV_KEY EP 2 AND ENDING OVA
85_MAGICAL EMI_KEY EPS 1 Y 18 (H.ANNO HELPS)
85_DREAM HUNTER REM OVA 1_KEY
85_DANCOUGAR TV_KEY EPS
85_URUSEI YATSURA 3 “REMEMBER MY LOVE"_KEY
86_PROJECT A-KO_DIR.ANIM.MECHA Y KEY
(PROYECT A-KO IS THE FIRST GREAT WORK OF ST.GRAVITON WITH ST. FANTASIA… THE CITY’S NAME…GRAVITON CITY!!!
87_PROJECT A-KO 2_KEY
87_STEEL DEMON_DIR.ANIM.SUP Y KEY
87_MADOX-01_KEY
87_ZEORYMER OVA 4_KEY
87_HONNEAMISE NO TSUBASA_DIR.ASIST
87_DIRTY PAIR OVA SERIES_ENDING
88_PROJECT A-KO 3_?
88_GUNBUSTER_DIR.TEC
88_AKIRA_KEY
88_DRAGON QUEST FANTASIA VIDEO(GAINAX)_KEY
89_BAOH_DIR.ANIM.ASIST Y KEY
89_DANGAIOH_KEY OVA 1
89_CRUSHER JOE OVAS_KEY
90_NADIA_MECHA/ STORYB EP 2 Y 15/ KEY EPS4, 8, 21, 22, 26, 31, 36, 37
90_NADIA EXTRA CLIP 1_STOYB
90_GALL FORCE EARTH CH. 3_LAYOUT DIR
90_BATTLE MODE (GAINAX)_DIR.TECNICO
90_DAKANEI WOMAN (STUDIO 88)_STORYB
91_SILENT MOBIUS 1_KEY
91_SUKEBAN DEKA_KEY OVA 2
91_DOOMED MEGLOPOLIS OR “TEITO MONOGATARI"_KEY OVA 1
91_EXPER ZENON_KEY
92_OTAKU NO VIDEO_STORY AND DIR.TEC
92_GIANT ROBO_KEY OVA 7
93_CAPTAIN TYLOR_MECHA Y DIR.ANIM.MECHA
93_NUKU NUKU FASE 3_DIRECTOR TECNICO
93_CRIMSON WOLF o 紅狼_DIR, KEY Y STORYB
93?_ANGEL COP 4, 5 Y 6_DIR.ANIM Y STORYB OVA 4
94_CAPTAIN TYLOR OVAS_DIR.ANIM.MECHA (POR GRAVITON)
94_YAMATO 2520_VISUAL EFECT DIRECTOR- ILLUST OF SINGLE (CONCEPT MECHA: SYD MEAD)
95_COUNT DOWN (MANGA OF UTATANE)_DIR Y STORYB
95_EVANGELION_DIR EP 23 Y KEY EPS 2, 20 Y 26 (EVERY W/ANNO)
95 o mas?_GUNDAM 08 MS TEAM_KEY OVA 11
96_UROTSUKIDOJI 5_KEY
97_VAMPIRE HUNTER OVA 4_KEY
97_LUPIN 3 WALTER P-38_KEY
97_EVANGELION: DEATH_KEY
97 (96)_SHAMANIC PRINCESS OVAS 3 Y 4_KEY
97_MACROSS SEGA SATURN_KEY (ANIMATION)
98_POWER DOLLS OVA 2 (OLM)_KEY
98_KUROGANE COMUNICATION_?
98_GEOBREEDERS_KEY
98_KAREKANO_KEY
98_LOST UNIVERSE_MECHA
98_POKEMON 1ER PELI: MEWTWO STRIKES BACK_KEY
99_MELTYLANCER (GONZO)_MECHA Y DIR.ANIM.MECHA
99_POKEMON PELI 2 O 3?” O “POKEMON 2000″ EN AMERIA O “LUGIA’S EXPLOSIVE BIRTH” O “OPERATION RUGIA” (MOVIE)_KEY (ESTA GRAVITON)
00_GATEKEEPERS (GONZO)_?
00_VANDREAD (GONZO)_MECHA
00_JOJO OVAS NUEVOS (APPP)_KEY OVA 1 (ADVENTURE 1)
00_POKEMON MOVIE 3 O 5?: “SPELL OF THE UNOWN” O “LORD OF THE UNKNOWN TOWER_KEY (ESTA GRAVITON ENTRE COOP)
01_SAMURAI GIRL REAL BOUT HIGH SCHOOL (GONZO)_MONSTERS
01_FINAL FANTASY UNLIMITED (TV_GONZO)_KEY EP 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 13, 18, 23 AND 26 / LAYOUT ART
01_POKEMON 4TA O 7MA PELI?: CELEBI’S ENCOUNTER THROUGH TIME_KEY (C/MATSUO) ESTA GRAVITON)
02_SIX ANGELS_DIRECTOR.MECANICO YT DIR.ANIM.MECHA
02_YUKIKAZE (GONZO)_?
02_LETHAL WEAPON? (最終兵器彼女_GONZO)_KEY EP 1
02_FULL METAL PANIC (GONZO/DIGIMATION)_KEY
02_TREE OF PALME (PALM STUDIO)_KEY
02_GATE KEEPERS 21 (GONZO)_KEY 2DO OPENING Y OVA 4
02_POKEMON 5TA O 9NA PELI?: “POKEMON HEROES” O “GUARDIAN SPIRITS OF THE WATER CAPITAL: LATIAS AND LATIOS"_KEY
03_SUBMARINE 707_DIRECTOR (OPENING: ANNO)
04_BAKU-TEN (OHATA / GONZO)_KEY EPS 13 Y 18
04_GUNBUSTER 2 (GAINAX)_DIGITAL DIRECTOR
05_TALES OF LEGENDIA (RPG FOR PS2)_KEY
06_GIN-IRO NO KAMI NO AGITO (GONZO)_EFECT DIR.ANIM
06_DEMON BANE (OVA)_DIRECTOR
??_DIRTY PAIR AN OPENING!!!
??_?_DIR.EP 7
??_SUPER ROBOT TAISEN? (GAINAX)) W/ANNO
??_ELVES
??_LUNAR_KEY
??_CYBUSTER_KEY LAST EP (OTHERS?)
??_AKA-CHAN TO BOKU (PIERROT)_?
??_ワルP (?)_KEY
??_CUTEY HONEY NUEVA GAINAX_KEY
??_TALE OF THE ABYSS (JUEGO? NAMCO)_KEY DE LA PARTE ANIMADA POR PRODUCTION IG
0?_TERRA E (SERIE TV)_STORYB OF THE TWO OPENINGS

ST. GRAVITON ARE ONE OF THE FAVORITE STUDIOS OF DIRECTOR KOICHI MASHIMO WHO SUBCONTRACTED HIS PEOPLE

01/16/09 @ 15:55
drmecha
drmecha [Visitor]

Recently I watched the whole series of Orguss (1983) and I was surprised by the air combat scenes. Obviously some are made by Artland (Hiroshi Kakoi, Morikawa Sadami or other). But in chapters animated by Studio Giants I found that the scenes were animated by Shoichi Masuo with a pretty good quality for such early years of the career of Masuo. One of these scenes reminded me quite a fight scene animated in Project-Ako, three years later (1986). I was very surprised. I fully recommend see those Orguss scenes.

10/24/11 @ 17:31