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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« Azur et Asmar etcBOO 2006 »

Monday, February 5, 2007

03:41:45 pm , 1294 words, 1995 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie, Movie, TV

Recent viewing

A quick look back at some things I've seen recently. IG's Chevalier 18 stood out for a number of reasons. First of all, we have young IG animator Naoyoshi Shiotani (whom I first noticed from his work first on the Tsubasa Chronicle movie and then the 3rd of of Blood+) doing what I believe is his debut storyboarding/directing an episode. As happened with Toei animator Tatsuzo Nishita's debut as AD on Gaiking #13 at Toei, we see a few big names coming together to support him, including Kazuchika Kise and Norio Matsumoto. I'm not sure, but I would assume Kise animated the opening section. Matsumoto's section was quite wonderful, as usual. There was another nice action piece near the middle, and I would guess it was the work of another young IG animator, Toru Okubo, whom I remember drew a nice action sequence showing off his talent for timing in the Tsubasa Chronicle movie. The climax of the episode was one of the more memorable sequences I've seen in an anime in recent memory. Sound, art, animation and directing all combined to create a very moody and captivating sequence. It's where I felt we were really seeing where this young animator's talent lies, as with the Blood+ opening. I get the impression he drew quite a lot of animation as well, mostly of the old man. What I really liked about this episode was that it felt like a showcase of a lot of people's talent, in every position, not just the animators. It felt like you could pick out the good work of each individual contribution - art, animation, fx, directing, etc - , yet it all melded into a perfect whole. It was a good episode illustrating the real potential of the collective artistic effort that is animation, where the combination of a variety of talent in different areas can create sparks in rare moments when all of the elements cross perfectly. Shiotani's directing combined with Izumi Hirose's orange-saturated coloring and the wonderful art of Hiroshi Ono to establish a perfect mood in those last moments.

But most of all, I came away from this episode with was a newfound appreciation of Hisashi Ezura's work. Ezura obviously has to have animated and manipulated the effects for the scene where flames are launched against one of the characters. It's obvious because it feels like suddenly we've shifted into a different film. We go from relatively straightforward flat anime tones to a wonderful, dynamically shifting texture of light and dark. I was immediately reminded of the explosion in Blood, which I had previously entirely attributed to Mitsuo Iso. But of course Iso admits how much he was influenced by Ezura's approach to 2D digital effects on that film, which gets me to wondering how the work was split in that scene. Iso obviously animated, but how was the digital manipulation handled? Being familiar with Iso's digital FX from Rahxephon, the influence suddenly became quite obvious when I saw the scene in this episode, and it immediately made me want to learn more about the man. He is clearly one of the geniuses of the last decade or so who has developed a new and very individual approach to animation using the new tools available. This is one of those instances when you can definitively trace a particular innovation that expanded the palette of visual expression in a certain field to a single individual's personal devotion to researching improved working methods in that field. In retrospect, what made Blood feel unique wasn't the directing, the story, or the animation; it was Hisashi Ezura's innovative approach to the manipulation of the parameters of the screen through digital lighting. He showed that, by simply manipulating how a light was shining, you could completely change the entire impression imparted by an image to achieve a never before seen degree of presence and atmosphere. I'm hoping Ezura isn't tied to IG so that he can help Iso out on Denno Coil. Perhaps not coincidentally, Ezura was also the 'photographer' of Shiotani's Blood+ op.

One shot in the episode got me to wondering about something probably rather pedantic. A character is punched, and three drawings pass by very quickly as his face moves out of the frame from the force of the punch. The drawings are on screen for no more than a frame or so, so they're pretty much invisible, visible subliminally at most in real time, but looking at them one by one reveals that they're not throwaway drawings as you'd expect for inbetweens for that kind of motion. They look like the work of the key animator. But it doesn't seem to make sense for the key animator to have drawn them. It seems like something that would be better left to the inbetweeners. If they were inbetweens, the quality is quite impressive, which I guess speaks to the quality of IG's inbetweening. Also, it was interesting to see Shiotani use another 'eye blink' effect in the episode, as if in another tip of the hat to Ohira's influence.

I recently had the chance to watch a bit of a later Lupin special, the Nostradamus one. I was somewhat excited to discover that it was a Telecom film. I was under the impression that the last Lupin Telecom had handled was Fuma Clan, so I had half lost interest, as Lupin is synonymous with Telecom in my mind. So this was a nice surprise. It was good to be able to see this material handled in the good old Telecom style again after all these years - the whimsical and energetic vibe, simple forms, flowing action choreography, and lively movement, just like in the old Lupin. But it was also curious to note how their many years of working on foreign co-productions had seemingly seeped into their other work. Much of it looked far too westernized, like watching one of Telecom's Batman cartoons, which felt unfortunate and out of place.

I like to think I've seen a lot of animation from around the world for someone who doesn't go to festivals, but ironically one area where there's a distinct lacuna in my knowledge is US animation. I only just recently had the chance to see a few classic UPA shorts for the first time, and I was quite impressed. They went against every negative stereotype I had of US animation, full of great design ideas, a consistently original approach to directing and storytelling, and daring use of brilliant avant-garde soundtracks. Each film I've seen felt like a perfectly conceived whole. Be it Gerald McBoing-Boing or Rooty Toot Toot or Unicorn in the Garden, the music and visuals always attack interesting new ways to tell a story. One is an unexpectedly sly and ironic musical retelling of a murder trial, one a seemingly simple film with the tone of a children's rhyme but with a satisfying poetic message about the breakdown of relationships, one a film that uses sound effects as a key element of the story. All of the films have a great catchy rhythm and a vibe that seems unique to the studio. After all these years the vibrant freedom and joy with which they were made still comes through. All of the films are uniquely meta, too - always aware of the medium, with deliberately non-naturalistic, abstract backgrounds unusually drawn entirely with lines and flat colors, and extremely stylized designs, loose drawings and very limited but effective movement. It was a new experience for me to see distinctly American animation from that period that was full of so many interesting ideas, though of course I was familiar with the work of the Hubleys. The films achieve a sort of formal beauty I associated only with European animation.



William Masssie
William Masssie [Visitor]

Wow, Shiotani seems very talented. This show has been high quality from the getgo however, in all forms. A crackerjack production (Wowow has been funding some interesting stuff lately).

02/07/07 @ 16:12
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Wow, excellent writeup about Chevalier 18! I agree with you about the quality of Shiotani’s directing; it most certainly stood out among other episodes in the way shots were framed and such.

I was also impressed by Ezura here; I think there was also some good work by him in Ergo Proxy 1? I hope he appears in Denno Coil too… I’ve noticed, like you said, that he tends to handle the processing of his own animation like what Iso did with his, and I do believe he’s even won a prize for his digital effects work. The first Otogizoushi OP was a good example, I think. It’s amazing how he made Blood so sucessful as one of the earlier long digital animation features and it still looks better than a lot of stuff today.

Just another heads up, it appears that episode 21 features none other than Tetsuya Takeuchi…

02/08/07 @ 05:29
Ben [Member]  

Was there? I’ll have to have another look at Ergo Proxy 1 then; didn’t remember that. And thank you for the heads up on the latest Takeuchi.

An interesting thing is that Ezura’s progression kind of mirror’s Iso’s. Ezura started out as an animator, and then as digital technology started to advance he started learning about digital processing (AfterEffects etc) and started to move more in that direction, eventually combining the two - which is very similar to what happened with Iso. The one piece I really remember Ezura’s name from as an animator during his early years is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. We can see Iso and he working together on the last episode. One of my favorite Iso sequences comes from there. It was also a Kitakubo joint if I recall correctly, so it’s kind of the Blood team in embryonic form.

02/09/07 @ 13:38
wildarmsheero [Visitor]

On a slight technicality, I’d just like to note that Nostradamus was actually one of the theatrical films, and not one of the specials.

But I do see what you mean with the slightly western styled animation, it put me off as well. Actually as a whole I didn’t like the movie that much. I mean, it was decent, but it really wasn’t one of the better Lupin feature. Then again, I’m mostly a sucker of the original comics and the first two TV series. I enjoy the specials to various degrees, and a few of the films.

02/09/07 @ 20:52
Ben [Member]  

Thank you for the correction. I actually knew that, so I don’t know why I wrote that.

I didn’t think the film all too bad actually, though it does feel kind of insubstantial. I appreciate the different approach from the other specials/films of the period, going back as it does to the roots of animated Lupin in terms of the designs and animation. That said, I find that I liked the film in parts more than as a whole. Every once in a while there would be a set piece with very good rhythm. I wonder if those were the parts storyboarded by Kazuhide Tomonaga. Also, the tower theme was interesting. I see it was made in 1995, so I wonder if they were inspired by the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, pushing it in an ironically prophetic ‘what if’ direction…

Based on what little I’ve seen of the comic, I’ve always been struck by the gap between the original comic and all the various anime adaptations. None of them look even remotely like the original, with its great vigorous and dynamic line and insane unpredictable actions. I could understand how fans of the comic would be dissatisfied with most of the anime versions. Gisaburo’s pilot might’ve been the closest of them all, though from what I recall Gold of Babylon also seemed to have a bit more of that loose spirit of the comic.

02/10/07 @ 18:13
Daniel Zelter
Daniel Zelter [Visitor]

“Also, the tower theme was interesting. I see it was made in 1995, so I wonder if they were inspired by the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, pushing it in an ironically prophetic ‘what if’ direction…”

Someone told me the film was a jab at the AUM cult.

“Based on what little I’ve seen of the comic, I’ve always been struck by the gap between the original comic and all the various anime adaptations. None of them look even remotely like the original,”

If, by, original, you mean the 60’s version, I’d agree. But the anime does take after the 70s version of the manga.

02/16/07 @ 03:17
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Just a trivial heads-up in case you don’t happen to know; we’ll probably next see Shiotani in action as animation director for episode 5 of I.G.’s upcoming Reideen. For what it’s worth.

02/21/07 @ 06:57
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for the heads up. Looking forward to it.

02/27/07 @ 18:36