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Tuesday, November 2, 2004

04:20:13 pm , 7258 words, 7764 views     Categories: Animation, Translation, Interview

Tadashi Hiramatsu interview

The following is my translation of an interview with animator Tadashi Hiramatsu. The original Japanese interview was posted last month on Anata to Watashi no Gainax, a site devoted to interviews with Gainax figures of the past and present. This is the 13th installment in the series. Figures interviewed in previous months include Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki and Hideaki Anno. Everything prior to this interview is no longer viewable. The interviewer is Junji Horita.

PART I:
Notebook Manga & Flipbooks

ATWNG: When did you first get interested in drawing?

HIRAMATSU: Let's see... that would be back in grade school, when I first started reading manga. I went through that typical phase, like lots of people. I borrowed a manga magazine from a friend, and Mazinger Z was in there, and I became a fan of that. Me and that friend would get together and hold contests to see who could draw the best Mazinger Z, or who could draw the fastest.

So the first thing you drew was robots.

Yes. And Koji Kabuto (protagonist of Mazinger Z). I didn't draw people that much. Mazinger, monster robots, that sort of thing. That was my debut.

Was it mainly single drawings? Or did you draw stories?

Well, me and that friend started drawing manga in our notebooks. We would each draw these Go Nagai-ripoff robots in our notebooks at home and then show each other at school, or go over to each other's house and say "Let's draw this today."

Sounds like a nice friend.

His drawings were a lot better than mine. (laughs) We did that for about three years, until middle school.

You drawings must have gotten better over the years, since you did it for that long.

It's funny. I still have most of them. When you look back at them, I started out drawing Go Nagai style, and then suddenly after a while I started drawing with Leiji Matsumoto-style wobbly lines and such. I started adding rivets to the robots, getting more and more detailed. So that started getting a little out of hand for me, and I stopped drawing note manga. If I'd stuck with it I might have become a manga artist. Though what I drew was mainly just robots beating each other up. I didn't pay much attention to the story.

Leiji Matsumoto's influence came in for real when I saw Space Battleship Yamato (1974). After that I started reading his manga like the war series.

So you were basically attracted to artists with unusual drawing styles.

I guess so. Back then I had only looked at Devilman and Mazinger Z, but I took the time to look over his work again recently when I did Cutey Honey, and I was impressed by the quality of his drawings, like the scene where Koji Kabuto discovers Mazinger in the lab, or Mazinger coming to the surface.

So you drifted away from manga when you got into middle school.

Then I started doing flipbooks. A teacher confiscated my manga at one point, which kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm for the whole thing. This was around the time that Future Boy Conan (1979) was being broadcast. Seeing Conan was what got me interested in the idea of making drawings move. So I started drawing little flipbooks in the corner of the pages of my textbooks. (laughs) At first I just did easy stuff like stick man running or shooting a gun. Then I started getting ambitious, drawing Yamato, people and so on. I couldn't draw worth a lick, but that's what got me interested in animation.

What exactly was it that you found interesting - the process of drawing each drawing, or seeing your drawings move when the process was finished?

When I started out, I didn't plan the movements at all. If I was drawing a bouncing ball, I just drew a ball, then drew it slightly higher, that's all. I just eyeballed it. It was just me figuring out, "So that's what happens when I do that." Then after a while I started to figure out the basic rules, like how to pace movements correctly by changing the space between drawings; the fact that you can change the speed of an object just by changing the space between the drawings. That's what was fun about it. I think it's like that for everybody when they first start out.

After going that far with it on your own, it's not too surprising that you became an animator afterwards.

At first I didn't really give it that much thought, it was just doodles. But then I started trying to reproduce these complicated sequences - Yamato flying up in perspective with the earth in the background, Yamato getting ready to fire the beam cannon. Even the whole scene where Yamato gets shot down by the satellite cannon.

But this was a flipbook - you mean you had shots, too?

Yes, a whole sequence with various shots. With a stick man or a ball, all you need is blank space, but I was trying to reproduce stuff I'd seen on TV, so it was hard to do without a frame. First I just drew a frame for each picture, but the frame changed shape every time - so I thought, 'This won't do'. So what I did was I took a compass and punched a hole right through a bunch of pages in my textbook, then drew an accurate frame on each sheet using the hole as the top left corner of the frame. Then I could start drawing with a stable frame. All that so I could draw the whole sequence from the firing of the beam cannon to the sinking of the Yamato. (laughs) Pretty stupid, now that I think about it. I spent all my time doing that instead of studying.

After all that work, didn't you want to show it to anybody?

I showed a few people, but it was mostly just for fun. I didn't want to get too deep into it, because then there's no end to it. I didn't have a background at first, then I decided I'd color in outer space. That's as far as it went.

After going pro I looked over my flipbooks again, and one of the things that became obvious was that I didn't give any thought to the timing of the movement. I wasn't there trying to figure out how to make the timing of each movement interesting, I was just basically trying to reproduce the mood of the image I'd seen on TV. If I'd only given more thought to the timing of the animation, I might have become a different kind of animator. I might have become more like Imaishi.

I think lots of animators had their own particular version of the flipbook experience as kids. It would be interesting to be able to look at what sort of flipbooks various famous animators made when they were younger to see how they each approached it differently. Imaishi, for example, was so advanced even at that early stage that he was already studying extreme ways of varying the rhythm such as pausing a drawing for five frames. That's an amazing difference with me.

There are a lot of fans of your recent work as a character designer, so it's surprising to hear that you didn't actually start out drawing characters.

I was just a kid. I drew what I liked without really thinking about it. I wasn't interested in nuanced acting or expressions. I just loved drawing cars, planes - robots not that much - so I spent all my time drawing that.

Were you already determined to become an animator when you reached high school?

Well, that was a pretty good period for anime, with Cagliostro's Castle (1979) and other famous anime like Aim for the Ace and Tomorrow Joe all coming out around the same time. And I was certainly watching a lot of anime then, more than ever. But I still wasn't at the point where I could make a firm decision that, yes, this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I was still undecided about my future. So I just wound up drifting into an art college without any real ambitions. I was interested in doing some kind of work involving drawing, yes, but I didn't have this unwavering sense of certainty that I wanted to become an animator no matter what or anything like that.

In his book Sakuga Ase Mamire (Cels Covered in Sweat), Otsuka Yasuo emphasized that the fundamentals are crucial for an animator, and really drove home that it was important to go out there in the real world and draw what you see to sharpen your observation skills. For a long time I hadn't been able to get that advice out of my mind, and that was probably one of the factors that motivated me to decide to go to an art college. But beyond that, I hadn't really given it that much thought. I was pretty out of it.

So you learned sketching and all the basics at school.

Yes. My major was oil painting. But it was just an art college, so we didn't go into that much theory. It was mainly just various exercises. Around that time I started spending a lot of time doing club activities. That and going out drinking with friends. I was living in a dorm, so it was pretty wild at times. I haven't changed that much either.

The club was basically a puppet group. I learned how to put on shadow puppet shows. It was actually not even a group at my college. It was a group at one of the major 4-year universities. But I had a friend there who invited me, and that's how I got in. We were the only two from other schools there. Puppet theater is interesting because it leaves you a lot of room for ad-libbing. Movement and dialogue are the two major elements, more than the drawings, but there's a real feeling of life in the drawings. Drawings being what I'm really interested in, in retrospect I learned a lot from the puppet theater. It gave me a chance to learn and experiment with various things that I wouldn't have been able to elsewhere.

The process is sort of similar to the audio recording process in anime. You have sound effects, you have music, you have dialogue, then you have to figure out where each one goes, then you mix them, then you add the movement. I really enjoyed the process of adding the music in particular. I got a taste for it, and now I can't do without it. (laughs) I've been doing that ever since I came to Gainax. So it was a tremendously useful experience for me.

Generally speaking, these puppet plays were lyrical stories rather than action adventures, right?

Yes. We put on plays based on children's books and picture books. The year I entered they were doing Takashi Yanase's The Gentle Lion, and I was really blown away by what they were doing with it. While I was there we did stories for children like Helen Keller and Ryunosuke Akutagawa's The Spider's Thread.

So you actually put on public performances.

We put on shows at temples, public libraries, places like that. During the summer I spent more time doing that than attending classes. We event went to Kyushu and spent two weeks putting on shows in various places once. We were doing up to three, four shows a day at one point. Our schedule was packed to the minute.

You must have been real pros with all that practice.

It was pretty hectic. The stage was a basic fold-up backdrop, and we kept the shows short and simple. For example, sometimes the whole show would just consist of us being silly, and then we'd tack on an "everyone lived happily after" ending. But the kids really went for that sort of thing. In the fall, there'd be the school festival, where we'd put on a big show in the school gym. We put a huge amount of effort into it. It was a big event for us. It was kind of terrifying, but at the same time incredibly rewarding.

So along comes this big fall show after the summer tour. We're hyped from all our efforts during the summer. We want to try something new, find a new challenge. The guy who was in charge at the time liked experimenting, and he listened to suggestions of the younger people. But of course, the club had its own traditions, and you'd get this older doyen coming around watching practice - a guy my age - poo-pooing our experiments, saying "That's not shadow puppetry!" ♪

PART II:
Drawing Reality

This club veteran would come around all dressed up in a suit and tie to watch us. He was very traditional, almost medieval. One time he came around and he wouldn't let us uncross our legs at the meeting after the show because he was so angry. He was like, "What the hell do you think you're doing? This isn't shadow puppet theater!" (laughs) For example, in shadow puppetry, one of the basic rules is that the characters are all in profile - it's this flat world without any dimensions - but in Helen Keller what we'd done is to have Helen turned slightly towards the audience to suggest her feelings of loneliness and separation from everyone. So that's what he was reacting to: three-dimensional thinking was antithetical to the very idea of shadow puppetry. We were kind of playing around with the basic concept.

As another example, the director would use spotting as an integral part of the narrative - have the spotlight on Dr. Sullivan while he's talking, then fade out and put a spotlight on Helen's parents in the bedroom - as a way of presenting various actions on the stage at the same time, like they do in the theater. So it's true that we were getting a little away from shadow puppet theater. He was perfectly justified in saying what he did.

Another technique we used in Helen Keller was what you could call 'layering'. Essentially it was a way of representing three-dimensional movement, for example the way the scenery moves slower the farther out you go when you're looking out from the window of a moving train. We used this technique for the climactic scene where Dr. Sullivan is walking around with Helen in the garden explaining to her, "This is a tree. This is water."

The reason we did that was because we were having trouble figuring out how to convey a feeling of the large distance they were walking, which was absolutely essential because it was her encountering these various things around her on this long walk that led to her awakening to the world around her. That feeling of traversing a great distance was totally lacking. So I made the suggestion, "This is a technique used in anime." I asked them to move the cutout of the trees in the background slightly back, away from the sheet, to blur the outline a little and thereby give the objects in the background more of a sense of distance; and to move the trees slowly to the side while moving the objects in front slightly faster, to create the sense of movement. It's absurd, really. I was using concepts from photography in the shadow puppet theater. (laughs) I'm surprised they even let me do it, especially blurring the shadow like I did, which is considered taboo.

Sounds like you've always been blessed with good friends.

In most other ways it was a very strict, regimented group, but it was a rewarding experience working within a group and seeing my little suggestions actually produce concrete results like that.

So after doing that, you graduated and started right away doing animation work?

No, I didn't start right away. I worked for about a year as a salaryman. I was a coward. Or practical-minded, you might say. (laughs) I was afraid I wouldn't be able to earn a living as an animator. That's certainly what my parents would have told me if I'd told them I wanted to become an animator. So I just said, "Forget it, I'll join a company and work like everyone else." But obviously that didn't last long. It wasn't for me. I quit after a year and that's when I started working in animation.

I was a big Lupin fan, so when I quit and started looking for work, one thing I wanted to do was find a place where they'd let me draw Lupin. So I went to this studio called Nakamura Production, which did a lot of subcontract work for Tokyo Movie Shinsha, the studio that produces Lupin, because I figured there I had a pretty good chance of eventually getting to draw Lupin. That was my whole reason. I didn't even know that the head of the studio was this incredible animator who'd done work on Daitarn 3 (1978) and Gundam (1978), Kazuo Nakamura. I was hardly what you'd call an anime otaku.

Did you like it when you first started?

It was relatively similar to what I'd experienced in the group, with everybody buzzing around doing something together, so yes, I rather enjoyed it.

Were you drawing pictures like crazy all the time, now that you'd found a job doing something you really liked?

Well, I liked drawing pictures, and I drew things when I got back home, but not as much as other people. Though I actually started drawing manga in notebooks again, for about about a year or so after I got hired as an inbetweener.

I pictured you practically drawing in your sleep because you loved drawing so much.

No, it never went that far with me. I don't think it ever will.

So, with drawing, is getting better just a question of practicing when you're young?

To put in in terms of my own experience as a key animator, I think there's a point where everything suddely clicks. I only realized this in retrospect. But with some people it's really dramatic, and their whole style suddenly changes. For a long time you'll be struggling to get a certain pose right, and you can't do it no matter how you try. Or you see your work on TV, and you know there's something wrong with the timing, but can't quite figure out what to do to get it right. Well, suddenly one day it becomes clear: "That's what I need to do." I'd say it's crucial to go through that struggle to come to your own personal style, assimilating all sorts of things in the process.

Can this "click" moment come from watching something other than animation?

I think so. In my case animation wasn't the only thing I was interested in. I was also interested in live-action special effects, and I considered visiting studios to look for that kind of job. But obviously nothing came of that. I liked Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I watched all the Godzilla films when they were restored in 1984.

I read books by Eiji Tsuburaya (SFX director of the Godzilla movies), and Cinefex, and I remember that at one point I "clicked" when it suddenly dawned on me that special effects - which is essentially the art of making the unreal seem real on the screen - was incredibly similar to the art of animation, where you create an imaginary world by the act of drawing on a piece of paper. So in my case, special effects was probably another major influence.

Once you started working, was there any change in the kind of work you wanted to do?

I did my first work as a key animator on the show Mister Ajikko (1987). It was a lucky break for me, actually, because in that show you get lots of different scenes - explosions, everyday drama scenes, people eating. So it offered me the chance to learn how to draw all sorts of different things. I think I did about ten episodes in all.

After doing that, I went on to do work in a variety of shows in various genres - action, sci-fi, cute girls. In the process of doing all sorts of things you come to figure out what you like and what you're good at. In my case at some point I realized that what I really wanted to do was everyday drama scenes, though I was stuck doing all these various things for quite a while.

So I eventually went freelance, and joined Studio Curtain, which was run by Masahiro Kase, who had worked at Nippon Animation for a long time prior to forming his own studio. There I had the chance to do work on a number of World Masterpiece Theater shows. That's where I really started learning in depth about everyday drama scenes and how to draw realistic characters.

So in the process of doing all these different shows you sort of discovered yourself.

It really makes a difference in the end product when you actually like what you're doing. You may have started out tracing a certain cute girl or robot drawing because you liked that drawing, but as you start to draw more on your own, you start to realize what it is you really want to draw deep down. But when you start to try to draw that, you realize you're still not good enough, which leads you to try to get better by studying other people, watching movies and observing reality. Reaching that moment of self-discovery is important because that's your real starting point.

It's not unlike learning to play an instrument. You start because you want to play a certain piece of music you like.

Exactly.

With the piano, they say if you don't practice every day you lose three days. Is it like that with drawing?

You don't have to challenge yourself with something new every day, but I think it's like music; you have to play a basic practice tune at least once a day or you start to lose something. It's important just to pick up the pencil and draw so you don't forget what it feels like.

Did you start working on Gainax shows right after the World Masterpiece Theater?

Yes. The first World Masterpiece Theater series I did was Tico of the Seven Seas (1994). Shunji Suzuki happened to see my work on that show, and he invited me to work on episode 15 of Evangelion. After that I borrowed a desk at Gainax to work on episode 19, and sort of never left. Though of course I had worked on Nadia of the Blue Waters (1990) before while at Studio Curtain.

Which episodes?

11 and 15, and a bit in 20. 11 was a slapstick episode, the one where Grandis falls in love with Captain Nemo at first sight and cooks him dinner. Looking back on it now, it's actually scary the degree to which they let me play around on that episode.

You're very popular as a character designer nowadays. Did you already consider yourself to be a character specialist at the time you were working on the World Masterpiece Theater?

No, not at all. In my case I've never looked at my task as drawing a character as cute as possible. I've always felt a real sense of affinity with what Isao Takahata said, back around the time of Anne of Green Gables (1979), about "going to the trouble drawing of a real live person, transforming that drawing into an animation design, and using that design to attempt to recreate the behavior of a real human being. There must be something we can learn by this process." Hearing that was what made me realize, Of course! The beauty of animation is that you can make a drawing feel real simply by projecting your own feelings onto the picture, and you're free to pick whatever pieces of reality you want for whatever given situation. Though I've still got a lot to learn about how it's done.

So reality in animation isn't about merely copying real life.

Lots of people were influenced by Go Nagai, of course, but on the other hand Katsuhiro Otomo's influence shouldn't be underestimated either. His impact on anime was huge. His way of drawing realistic characters provided a very handy tool for figuring out how to make our drawings more realistic. It was after him that you started getting people who drew faces with all the little nuanced angles and planes that make every person's face unique. Someone like Akio Sugino may have been doing something similar prior to that - drawing faces three-dimensionally - but in his case the method probably came from shojo manga.

Around that time there was a growing feeling of wanting to get away from the conventional expressive symbols in anime, of wanting to find a way to get closer to reality, and along came Katsuhiro Otomo's drawing style, which offered exactly the hint people were looking for. He influence me, too, though another equally imporant figure to me personally was Yoji Fukuyama, with his realistic but extremely personal and powerful approach to line and form.

There's a generalized sense among most people that "animation can never win over reality". To me, what's amazing about animation is that each person takes a certain something from reality, comes up with their own interpretation of it, and out of that creates their own personal vision of reality.

That's the act of artistic creation - taking it apart, then putting it back together again. Style is kind of a by-product of that process. The perennial dilemma of graphic artists seems to be this problem of not being able to measure up to reality. For example, performances by actors in the movies are full of all sorts of extraneous actions and movements, which can be a big part of the appeal of the actor, or part of the actor's performance in the role of a character. In animation, it's incredibly difficult to incorporate that sort of extraneous movement. There have been a number of people who have been making efforts to do just that for quite a while now, but it's extremely demanding work and so you haven't seen it done very much in TV animation.

Personally, what I'd like to do is to bring in a bit of that extraneous realistic element as a way of complementing the language of standard anime symbols. Yoji Fukuyama's work is a good example of how this could be done.

Otomo's drawings are easy to turn into animation. Why do I say that? Animation is a long process with numerous stages - key animation, inbetweens, finishing and so on - so it's easy to lose the flavor of the original drawings. But the strength of Otomo's drawings is that they retain their flavor right down to the last stage, which I think is what accounts for a lot the popularity of Otomo's style in anime. To put it the other way around, in my case, what I'm doing is trying to discover a style that allows me to retain the roughhewn line quality of the original drawings. That's been my task, and I think it will be for a while. ♬

PART III:
The Heart of it All

I've heard you're a big classical music fan. I don't know why, but I pictured you being a fan of Mozart or some other genius composer like that.

No... I don't listen to him at all. Everybody always tells me "You'll grow into Mozart."

So, mostly pre-Bach and, at the opposite end, modern music.

The extreme ends of the scale. Everything up to Bach, then skip a century and everything after Wagner. Western music kind of changed after Beethoven. That's what I like - everything after him. Wagner-influenced composers like Mahler, Bruckner, Sibelius...

I'm also told you're into recordings by idiosyncratic conductors like Stokowski.

I could go either way. Stokowski, Furtwangler, Toscanini - I like those old golden age conductors. They each had their own totally different approach to conducting.

All art tends to get stylized with time, doesn't it? Well, the same thing applies to these conductors. With them, it was all about individuality, about building up this storehouse of tricks. So after a while they sort of turned into these walking dictionaries of personal tricks and quirks.

Then in the 70s the authentic performance movevement came along and people started to say, "That's not good enough. What did Beethoven mean when he wrote those notes? How did people in his day hear the music?" Stokowski was interesting because he lived through both periods, so he sort of stood between the two poles. He'd do all this gear shifting in Mozart, mess with scores, do all this extreme stuff. But with him it wasn't a personality cult - he wasn't projecting his demons onto the score. He had his own particular concept of authenticity that has its similarities with the way it's done now. It's kind of the same thing with painting. It gets more and more stylized as time goes on. But when stylization becomes nothing but habit, that's when an art starts to decay. It gets stuck. Stops developing. I like manic, wildly individual art, but on the other hand, there's also something really appealing in art that sticks to the basics, shows you a new sort of beauty you didn't see before, strictly using the old tools.

Take the same score, listen to different recordings by different conductors, and you'll get totally different interpretations of the melody, the tempo and so on. That's what makes it interesting. It's the same thing with animation.

Instead of conductors, you get fans who follow the work of animators: "This part was done by whatsisname."

Just like with conductors: "This recording has the most incredible rubato."

Do you always listen to music while you work?

I try not to, because it's hard to concentrate on the music. I've got hundreds of CDs now, and I keep everything at work: work stuff, personal stuff.

It's your castle.

Everybody's desk like that - their own little castle. My shelves are stuffed with just about everything: manga, fashion magazines, architecture books, musical scores - you name it. It's a total mess.

One thing about your work I've noticed is that each drawing is appealing on its own. You get a sense of a broader stream of events, a flow in time. And it's drawn with your own personal line, so it feels like your own personal interpretation of reality, which adds an appeal not present in straight reality.

I just don't see the appeal of the same old hackneyed poses. Tsurumaki-san and I often discuss photo shoots that appear in fashion magazines, and one of the things we agree on is that usually the most interesting photos aren't the ones shot during the shoot - the most interesting ones are the unplanned ones shot at the end, after the shoot, where everyone's relaxing, sitting around eating lunch or whatever. I try to avoid the usual poses and go for that sort of caught-in-the-act feeling in my drawings.

Both of you draw with a very loose line.

Tsurumaki-san likes that word. He uses it all the time: "Draw it looser." "Try doing it a little looser." It's a nice word. You can make it mean anything you want. (laughs)

Even in fashion magazines nowadays you see shoots with people just walking around like normal, leaning on a fence, everything really casual. The whole point is supposed to be to show off the clothes, but now you can't even see the clothes! I think it's a sign that people are starting to feel bored with the cookie-cutter formality of these pictures. You can see that same evolution in illustration and music, if you look for it.

You're credited as character designer for the anime part of Anno Hideaki's movie Cutey Honey and the recent OVA Re: Cutey Honey.

My drawing style is about as far as you can get from the highly stylized design world of Cutey Honey, so it was interesting trying to reconcile the two.

How did you approach your job as the character designer?

Well, first of all, I'm not really a character designer at heart. I seriously hestitated when Anno first approached me to design His and Her Circumstances (1998). But I like shojo manga generally, and the story was interesting enough when I sat down to read it, so I did the job. But the idea of me being a character designer still doesn't feel right, personally.

There must be special problems involved in creating a character from a manga rather than from reality - figuring out exactly which lines to include, that sort of thing.

I try to stay as close to the original as I can. If there's a particular way they draw the fold of clothes, say, I keep that, even if you wouldn't normally think to draw it that way that in anime. It's a learning experience for me. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to work on Jin-Roh around the same time, and one of the things I came away with was that the two approaches are similar in unexpected ways - the way a real image is simplified into a design using the fewest possible lines in Jin-Roh actually has its similarities with the highly stylized shojo-manga lines of Karekano.

You said you still didn't feel right as a character designer. Wasn't there ever a "eureka" moment when things suddenly clicked?

No. Even while I'm designing, I still wonder if it's really necessary to pin everything down like that. Why not just let it change? I prefer to let things evolve naturally.

While you're designing, your drawings will change when you finally get used to the characters. But often that doesn't happen until after you've finished designing them. So what you see with the design sheets is the most embarrasing step: you trying to figure out the characters. People have this idea that once you've done a bit of character designing, you can just whip it out quickly, you've worked out the characters well ahead of time. I guess it's just that to me personally, character design doesn't seem to offer that much.

My main aim when designing is simply to make sure the key animators can do their job properly without running into any problems. In manga, you only get a handful of shots of the characters - one profile shot, and maybe one pose between the profile and the front - so my job is to use those basic poses to extrapolate the other angles. That's all. I don't approach it as a chance for me to set the style of the film. The style should come from the manga if it's based on a manga. I just try to make sure the key animators don't run into any trouble. Beyond that, it's in the animation director's hands to add little touches if he wants to. Even me, the first thing I do as animation director is to change my own character sheet. I was the animation director of the first episode, so right from the first episode the characters are off-model. (laughs) The animation director of episode 2 and 3 weren't happy because of that. They're over there doing 2 and 3, so of course they haven't seen episode 1 yet, they don't know what it looks like, and they're over there really sticking to the character sheet. Then they see my episode, and they're like, "What happened to the character sheet?!" They've got a right to be mad. (laughs)

You've also directed in shows like Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai (2002). Is the attraction of directing similar to that of animating for you?

Not at all. Directing instructions could probably be expressed entirely using stills. Figuring out what sort of movement to do within a frame is also part of directing, but for me the real pleasure is in the shots. Figuring out how to create something interesting by the organization of the shots. Learning how to exploit that moment of wonder and surprise when you go from one shot to another. I know it's just as important to think about the story structure and what sort of visuals would best express the material, but for me, at the moment at least, the organization of the shots is the thing that I find most interesting. A literary analogy would be prose style.

Directing, animation directing, animating, and character design each have their own unique requirements, and each requires a totally different approach.

Would you be more interested in directing action, or regular drama?

Probably the latter. Anno-san and Tsurumaki-san know how I feel, so they usually have me do the more lyrical episodes. And I enjoy that sort of thing.

Tsurumaki-san is known to have said that to be an animation director there are two rules: your drawings have to have charm, and you have to be able to draw cute girls. I got the feeling he was thinking of you when he said that.

When I was called in, I was pretty sure they mainly wanted me for the ordinary drama scenes. I started helping out Shunji Suzuki on episode 15 of Evangelion, and in episode 19 he had me working on the drama at the beginning, rather than the main action at the end. Basically ever since then I've been doing the low-key parts like that. Karekano was something of a turning point for me because that was when I started thinking I probably had add a little something to my drawings, since I was the character designer.

Anime has gained a lot of recognition over the last few years. What are your predictions for the future?

It's hard to say. It's a bit chaotic right now. Visually, the infusion of digital technology has helped out a lot, so I think there are still possibilities. But there's a real feeling of having reached a dead end in terms of the material. Cute girl anime is fine and good, but I find myself wishing the media would broaden its perspective a bit.

Kids nowadays are distracted by all sorts of things. You don't have everyone watching the same show anymore, like when I was a kid, when everyone would run home to watch Ashita no Joe or Candy Candy (though the advent of video technology is partly to blame for that).

The anime world seems to lionize its skilled animators. There's something very Japanese about that.

Disney used to have the most incredible animators, but you almost never heard about them, unlike here. In that sense, Japan is definitely unique.

What do you intend to focus on in the future: animation, character design or directing?

I think I'll only be able to do animation for another 5 years or so, tops. After that I'll probably focus on directing.

There are various types of animators. I'm what you call the arranger type. Rather than coming up with my own story, I'm better at taking a real situation or pre-existing story and seeing what I can do with it, how I can interpret it. That probably won't change.

I've been busy constantly recently, so I'm hoping to take some time off soon. I'm in a dilemma right now: When someone asks me if I've got any ideas for a project, I wind up having to say "no" because I don't want to find myself in the position where I start on a project, and I suddenly realize that I'm just doing the same thing I was doing 30 years ago. I'm at the point in my life where I'm starting to realize all the things I wanted to accomplish, everything I haven't done. So I need some time to recharge. Directing helps to show you what's missing.

And illustration. Always. Have to have that. When you're starting from scratch it helps to express what you're feeling more directly, and there's always that satisfaction of creating something entirely by yourself. That's the whole reason I started my home page, but I haven't had time to draw anything. (laughs) If I could get some work as an illustrator, that's something I'd continue.

But, in the end, the heart of it all is definitely the joy of creating movement. The pictures don't always have to be perfectly drawn. Even in the old Disney films, a character's face could get all squashed, or people would go out of proportion - that was no big deal. Just the opposite, adding that sort of thing made the images that much richer, and the films that much more interesting. To me, that's what animation is all about. ♫

Filmography

(from Tadashi Hiramatsu's home page)

Early work

Mister Ajikko
    #53: key animation

Nadia of the Blue Waters
    #11 part B: animation director

Chuka Ichiban
    season 3 ending: storyboard, director
    #22: storyboard

His and her circumstances
    animation character design

1999

Then and now, here and there
    #1: storyboard
    #6: storyboard, director
    #13: storyboard

2000

FLCL
    #1, 3, 6: animation director (+storyboard in 6)

2001

Earth Defense Family
    #2: key animation
    last episode: layout

Argent Soma
    #25: key animation

Fruit Basket
    #8: storyboard, director
    #26: storyboard+alpha

2002

Abenobashi Maho Shotengai
    animation character design
    #1: storyboard, animation director
    #7: storyboard, animation director
    #13: director, animation director

The Cat Returns
    key animation

Witch Hunter Robin
    #15: key animation

Puchi Puri Yuushi
    opening: storyboard, director
    #7: key animation

Sister Princess Re Pure
    Rinrin part B: key animation assistance
    Shunka part B: storyboard, director, animation director
    Sakiya part B: key animation

Witch Hunter Robin
    final episode: storyboard, key animation

2003

Puchi Puri Yuushi
    last episode: storyboard

Texhnolyze
    #12: storyboard
    #22: key animation

Mahoromatic Summer TV Special
    key animation

Innocence
    key animation

Gad Guard
    #24: key animation

Kuromi-chan
    #2: key animation (3 shots)

Ghost in the Shell SAC 2nd gig
    key animation

Cutey Honey
    animation character design, animation director

2004

Paranoia Agent
    #5: key animation (14 shots)

Jubei-chan 2
    #12 part A: storyboard

Kaleido Star: New Wings
    opening: storyboard, director
    #51: key animation (1 shot)

Peace Maker Kurogane
    #24: key animation (5 shots)

Kono minikukumo utsukushii sekai
    opening: key animation (2 shots)

Re: Cutey Honey
    animation character design
    ending: storyboard, director, animation
    #1: animation director
    #2: animation director assistance
    #3: animation supervisor, key animation (14 shots)

Aim for the Top 2!
    #1: key animation (28 shots)
    #3: storyboard, director

Beck
    opening: key animation (1 shot - closeup of characters singing)

Bgm

- La Pellegrina - Music for the Wedding of Ferdinando De Medici and Christine de Lorraine, Princess of France, Florence 1589
- Music of the Gothic Era
- Res Musice: The Passion of Reason
- Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame
- Venetian Vespers 1643

Permalink

7 comments

tim_drage [Member]

Wow, thanks for continuing to bring us this kind of interesting stuff!!! :)

11/02/04 @ 17:22
iamNataku
iamNataku [Visitor]

I second that. Incredible stuff.

11/02/04 @ 18:48
jay smith
jay smith [Visitor]

good stuff!!! :)

11/02/04 @ 20:11
Otaprince
Otaprince [Visitor]

wow- thanks for the excellent translation! i need to ask you to do things like this more often :)

has anyone archived the older interviews at the Japanese site?

11/03/04 @ 13:18
Pedro M. Polanco
Pedro M. Polanco [Visitor]

very nice, i see lots of similarities with myself too :)

thanks for the great work :)

11/03/04 @ 19:34
Jari Lehtinen
Jari Lehtinen [Visitor]

Invaluable stuff.

11/04/04 @ 04:13
gwern
gwern [Visitor]  

I spent the evening & afternoon digging through the Internet Archive looking for these old interviews; I found pretty much all the text (except, ironically, this interview!). You can find the links compiled by figure (Anno, Higuchi, etc.) at:

http://www.gwern.net/otaku#anata-to-watashi-no-gainax

09/18/11 @ 15:04