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PA WORKS: Maybe we could talk a little about the different animation 'tasks' you've gone through over the years.
Inoue: It's hard to remember specifically, but what basically happens is that whenever I'm feeling stuck, I don't have to go looking for a task - the task finds me.
PA WORKS: Kosuke Kawazura here, one of my key animators working on GITS: SAC, once approached me with a certain drawing and said, "I can't draw this." What exactly was it that was giving you trouble?
Inoue: That can be hard to express in words.
KAWAZURA: I figured out what it was - my drawing skills.
Inoue: That can be a pretty painful thing to go through, not being able to improve your drawing skills - not being able to draw things the way you want. But, strange as it may sound, that can actually be the first step to getting better. You've got to feel dissatisfied with your drawings, or you won't improve. Figuring out how to do that can be hard. One thing you can do is to find someone who draws the way you're trying to draw, who draws a certain pose just the way you want to draw it. That can help you to find the way out. Though it's not good to just cheat and use that to learn shortcuts to make your drawing look passable. (laughs)
Another technique is to accept the fact that you can't get that one drawing right for now, and be satisfied with getting the surrounding drawings down. After all, the whole point isn't to draw the hardest-to-draw pose. What should concern you is making sure that you get the overall movement down as you wanted. Being stubborn about it and getting held up by one drawing isn't a good thing. Animation isn't illustration, after all. So long as it moves the way you wanted it to move, then that's all that matters. If you get hung up on drawing it the way so-and-so draws it, from this difficult angle, no matter what, then any lack of drawing skill is going to be painfully obvious in the finished drawing.
Because in animation, there are any number of ways of getting a similar result. You don't necessarily have to draw this complicated split-second slice of an action to achieve the same effect. It's not a contest to see who can draw the most difficult drawing. There are plenty of people who don't necessarily have the best drafting skills, but they can still achieve incredible results with the movement. I for one probably couldn't beat Hiroyuki Okiura in a straight drawing contest, but I don't let that get me down, because what's unique about animation is that, if you figure out a style suited to your skill level, then you can create movement that achieves a comparable effect.
If you've got to finish the shot by tomorrow, and you're stuck on this one drawing from this hard angle, then that's no time for being stubborn. You've got to settle for passable. Any other time, you can go back to being stubborn. It's important to have that determination to draw a drawing a certain way no matter what. Drawing skill comes as a result of that process. Even if you can't draw it as well as you want, you're definitely getting better by trying. If you're not struggling to draw a drawing right, then you'll never get better. It's important to have that determination to get better no matter what when you're young, because that's how you improve. Of course, it's also important to learn when to give in and move on, as contradictory as that may sound. Both are important.
PA WORKS: Aside from drawing skills, there's also the pursuit of movement. I once heard that Mitsuo Iso went through all of your animation in Gu-Gu Ganmo one frame at a time.
Inoue: I think he's reading too much into my work. He's too smart for his own good.
PA WORKS: The fact that he should have gone so far as to invent his own personal style of animation that he calls "full limited" would seem to suggest that he had a strong conviction that the current way of drawing animation didn't allow him to create the kind of movement that he wanted to create.
Inoue: That's something you're either born with or you're not. Mitsuo Iso's really a special case. Of all the people I've met, he's a genius among geniuses.
PA WORKS: And yet I think even he's not satisfied with his work. Provided you're not someone who's convinced of his own genius, I think most people have an awareness of their problems.
Inoue: Absolutely. And nobody moreso than people who are already considered 'good'. I for one have almost never been completely satisfied with movements I've made. It's precisely the desire to be more satisfied with my work that acts a major motivation to keep working. Some people might think it'd be horrible to never be satisfied with your work, but it's just the opposite - that's what keeps you going. There's nothing more thrilling. Maybe there are some rare cases of a true animation genius who gets so good that he's satisfied with his work and loses that motivation, but hardly anyone is that good. I really think that's a lifelong task - getting better, getting to the point where you're satisfied with your work. I don't mind one bit feeling like something's missing all the time, because it means I can keep working without getting tired of my work. I wouldn't have it any other way.
PA WORKS: Maybe it's just that I've gotten better at judging animation, but I'm almost never really surprised by a piece animation anymore. Many say animation has lost a lot of its power since the old days.
Inoue: I think people nowadays are just afraid. They're afraid of angering the director, so they play it safe. It would probably help if companies would set up situations that would actively encourage people to be freer with the animation, to do more with it. I also think that to a certain extent information has made people a little lazy. They know how it's done, but they don't have the drive to try their hand at actually drawing it. They know smoke twirls, but they don't feel an overpowering need to draw it. People who can draw it draw it, those who can't don't. I think a divide has sort of grown between the two. Lately scenes seem to tend to get assigned based on just what you're good at. You hardly ever see a girl getting assigned a mecha scene, for example. Well I think they should. Give them a scene full of really complicated effects.
PA WORKS: Freelancers won't do it if they don't want to. You can't force them. One told me he didn't want to draw a scene because it had a mechanical pencil in it.
Inoue: (laughs) "But I can't draw mecha. There's a phone in that scene. Phones are mecha too."
PA WORKS: I'd like my key animators to be able to draw anything, regardless of preference. Just because one guy likes drawing crowd scenes doesn't mean that's all I'm going to give him.
Inoue: I used to hate drawing smoke.
PA WORKS: (laughs uncontrollably)
Inoue: I'm serious! Until Akira, for the longest time I couldn't get smoke right no matter how I tried. I actually had an inferiority complex about it. Then around the time I was working on Roujin Z I happened to run across a copy of some smoke animation by Mitsuo Iso, and that gave me the hint I needed.
"If I draw this part like that, it'll have the right form". Up until then smoke used to be a big lump with a bunch of bumps for shadows, which didn't have any feeling of three-dimensionality at all. Without a drawing that feels three-dimensional, how are you going to be able to create movement that feels three-dimensional? I was stuck because I couldn't figure out a way over that. Anno's smoke didn't do the trick for me. His smoke was well drawn, but it was lacking in refinement somehow. Iso drew shadows that had a refined form. The second I saw the way he drew the shadows, I had a eureka moment. "That's it! You draw the outline of the smoke this way, but the shadows you can just draw like this." I figured out that if you draw the shadows as little depressions in the cloud, it gives the overall form a feeling of three-dimensionality, and it makes it easier to animate.
I tested it out in Roujin Z and Hashire Melos, but it took me a while to learn how to do it well. Once I finally got the hang of it I actually started liking animating smoke. If I had gone on avoiding it all this time just because I didn't like drawing it back then, I might still not know how to do it. That's how it works. I knew I had a problem drawing smoke, so I was able to figure out a way over the problem pretty quickly once I saw Iso's work. You've got to really feel cornered, to the extent that you almost don't want to draw it anymore, before you can make progress sometimes. Whenever you're cornered, if you put up your antenna and wait impatiently enough for a hint, you'll usually find something.
PA WORKS: Yesterday you talked about how you try to keep your personality from showing up in your work. "I can't hide my personality completely, but I try to keep it from being distracting." You're one of the few people who thinks that way.
Inoue: Well, in my case it's just that I don't have that much inside that's itching to come out. But there seems to be a feeling these days that if it's not individualistic, then it's no good. Individuality isn't something you force out because there's pressure on you to be individual. That's not the real thing. Individuality is something that comes out whether you like it or not after you've been working for years and years to develop your skills. What I was trying to say is that you shouldn't feel frustrated if you're having a hard time forcing out your individuality. Something about that worries me. You can see that struggle especially clearly in kids who've just graduated from art school, where they've been educated to try to find a personal means of expression. I think it'll only wind up being a burden if they come to animation feeling pressured to come up with some new, personal approach to the drawings or the movement. Because, comparatively speaking, animation is hardly the line of work most conducive to personal expression. Say you start working as an inbetweener - you're going to have pretty much zero opportunity for personal expression while you're doing that. So I was just trying to say "Keep your cool". After ten years as a key animator you'll find that your work will be full of personality without even trying.
PA WORKS: You know how animators prefer certain character designs? It's so hard finding animators these days that before I accept work now I give some thought to how many people the character design might attract.
Inoue: The animator shortage has reached the point that each animator gets a lot of requests, so naturally they're going to choose the designs they prefer. It's interesting because that has even started to influence the kind of designs the production side tends to choose.
PA WORKS: Whenever I look through magazines, honestly I'm struck by the gap between the design-as-product that I'm seeing and the kind of designs that animators go for. My reaction is, "I have to work with that?!"
Inoue: You shouldn't let that concern you. If the customers demand a certain thing, then the production side has no choice but to pass on that demand to the production floor. People know what they're getting into when they enter this line of work, so I think there's no need to worry excessively about it. To a certain extent there's even a kind of pleasure in putting up with certain things to eventually do what you want.
PA WORKS: That may be the ideal, but the fact is that animators today have reached the point of exhaustion from constantly having to force themselves to put up with those things. They may understand the principle, but in the end, constantly having these things forced upon them from the top down only has the effect of wearing down their motivation.
PA WORKS: I think many people enter this line of work simply hoping to earn enough to put food on the table. Nobody becomes an animator to get rich. If you want to improve that situation - so at least people think they might be able to earn enough to buy a house and not just scrape by - I think people have to start thinking of themselves more as workers in this sector of industry, so to speak. Company policy should do something to reinforce that consciousness.
Inoue: But people today are definitely more concerned about the pay than before. In my day I never worried about whether I'd make enough to eat, because I saw that other people were eating, so I assumed I could too. I was just happy to be able to work in animation, so I didn't care if I even made enough to eat - I loved it that much. That might not have been a good thing. I probably should have thought about it more seriously, as a way of earning a living. Anyway, I get the feeling there's already more consciousness of what you're saying than there used to be. People have a stronger consciousness of wanting to work in animation and get a good pay for it. But as to whether they're putting in the commensurate effort, I'm not so sure. There's a feeling of wanting more pay for the same amount of work. It's accepted without question that the unit price is in animation today is too low. It's certainly low, but to a certain extent it feels like they're hiding behind that as an excuse for why they're not earning enough. The unit price is much better than it used to be.
PA WORKS: Meaning it's more a lack of horsepower?
Inoue: Well... There are people even today making a good living doing piecework, so if you do the same you should be able to earn the same. But it's definitely true. The unit price today is extremely low. It's anything but high. But then is the answer to demand that the unit price be raised higher and higher? I think that would only make the situation worse.
Say you raise the unit price. As a result, you don't have to do as much, so you do less and less. But then it starts spreading around that the unit price is too low again, so people start asking for a higher unit price, and the unit price gets even higher. The end result is that productivity only keeps getting lower and lower. It's hard to find the perfect balance.
PA WORKS: Hardly any of the GITS: SAC key animation was turned in any faster despite the higher unit price, at least compared with the regular "low" unit price for TV key animation.
Inoue: To them, that's probably the right price to earn a living at their natural pace. Not higher, just right. Even if they were to draw more just because the unit price was a little higher, they still wouldn't be able to get by. I'm guessing that's what it is - they can't make a living at the normal price, but at the GITS: SAC price they can finally make a living at their own pace.
PA WORKS: But I'm not just talking about the balance between turnover and unit price. What I'm talking about is key animation so bad that it has to be totally redone by the director and the animation director. Some might say that's what the director and animation director are being paid for, but at the very minimum we have to be doing the kind of "amalgamated work" that Isao Takahata talks about, otherwise the situation gets totally out of control. There's a phrase that was invented recently to describe when the animation director is overloaded: killing the animation director. Well, the situation has gotten to the point that we're not just killing the animation director - we're even killing the director. There's a real sense of impending crisis, like it's almost gone beyond our control. Japan has built up a great store of animation knowhow over the last few decades, and we've got to transmit that to the younger generation.
PA WORKS: The production costs are set beforehand, so the only way we can raise the pay is if the show's a hit and we get revenue from that. I'd like the company to give the staff a taste for that, sort of as a way of bringing out a more proffessional attitude. But to do that, we have to become a player, a company that can produce results. It was so nice when I was just another worker and didn't have to think about any of this stuff. (laughs)
Inoue: It's always nice to have a guarantee in place like that. If the series hits a home run, then that bounces back on you in the form of 'success pay'. Of course, I don't think that accounts for even half of people's motivation to do good work. But I don't think it would necessarily be a bad thing if people came in just for that reason. That aspiration to make a hit is something that's been missing lately. If a series does hit it big and that doesn't even slightly bounce back onto the staff, and on top of that the pay is low, it's hard to feel motivated. We'd be getting closer to the ideal situation in commercial animation if a show were popular on video or in the theater and that were to ricochet back onto the staff. We've got to try to figure out what people actually want to see, even if it's a little forced for now. For the longest time it felt like the industry didn't even give the slightest thought to what actually interested people. Say you're doing storyboard on a gag anime. When you're given the script, ask yourself: Is this script funny? Did it make me laugh? If not, what can I do to make people laugh with my storyboard? Of course, it sucks if you make people laugh with your storyboard the pay only comes back to the writer, but we've got to take it one step at a time. At the very least it would be a healthy improvement if the people involved in the production were to become the ones to profit from any popularity of their work.
(turning to animator Kosuke Kawazura) You're not in it to get rich, right? You just want to earn enough to get by respectably well?
KAWAZURA: Actually, a lot of people coming in these days do seem concerned about living a good lifestyle.
KAWAZURA: Personally, I'm just happy to be able to be working in animation.
Inoue: That's how it was with me. I spent years just scraping by doing piecework, though suddenly now I find myself at a fixed salary. It's normal to want to live as well as other people. If anything it's unhealthy seeing all this wealth all around you and not being able to touch any of it.
KAWAZURA: Some people are doing pretty well for themselves.
Inoue: Absolutely. Some people are working their asses off and making a lot of money. So it's not impossible. It's just become polarized. And what's more, back when I was starting out the people making a good living were the ones pumping out low-quality key animation by the bucketfull, but now you've got people like Norio Matsumoto drawing huge amounts and keeping it all extremely high-quality. Don't just shrug and say, "Oh, they're special" and give up trying to figure out how they do it. Ask yourself, "How could I draw that much that good?" That's my own 'task' right now - figuring out Norio Matsumoto's secret. (laughs) He's got to have some kind of secret.
PA WORKS: Drawing by intuition? I know he's really fast.
Inoue: Really fast. It feels like he doesn't do any sort of planning. I go through with a light line first to get down the basic shape, but it feels like he just gets right to the drawing and does it all in one go. Otherwise I don't see how he could draw that much. And yet it always feels like he took his time. Mysterious.
PA WORKS: I know you work on a fixed salary for films, but what surprises me is that someone of your skills still does piecework, with a fixed price per shot. The upshot is that you earn less per key, but still have to draw just as much. You've already done so much to contribute to raising the quality of films and keeping them on schedule, so why don't you focus on salary work, which would allow you to do less volume and focus on raising the quality?
Inoue: Well... the reason is simple. I just want to draw as much as possible. You're right that if I did that, I'd make more per drawing, and then I'd be able to spend my time more as I wanted. But would I use that extra time to focus on improving other areas? No. Because in the end all I'm interested in is drawing as many good shots as possible. I've never even thought about the money. If you do it the right way, the money will follow. That money would have absolutely no effect on the way I do things.
PA WORKS: What's your biggest problem when you're teaching the techniques to younger animators?
Inoue: That's easy. Figuring out how to clearly convey the information in my head. Finding the right wording.
PA WORKS: What about the fact that studios aren't set up for that sort of thing? And attitude, experience, that sort of thing?
Inoue: Naturally those are also issues, since my audience consist largely of young people. But in the end the main problem isn't out there, it's in here. It's never being able to find a clear way of organizing my thoughts. Reading books like The Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams and The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, I'm always amazed how they can verbalize the absolute minimum of necessary information about animation in the clearest fashion. Not just amazed, but embarrased at my own inability to do so.
PA WORKS: I understand that you've never been in a position to educate people in a work situation.
Inoue: That's right. I've never even trained inbetweeners. I never did anything like that even when I was at IG.
PA WORKS: IG has people like Takayuki Goto and Kazuchika Kise to do that, and at Junio you were out of the studio most of the time. What if you were to finally be put in charge of a workplace like that, so you were responsible for maintaining the level of animation quality?
Inoue: With me as the animation director? I don't know. I never do animation directing, and I've never even taught new key animators, so I think it might rub some people the wrong way.
PA WORKS: I hope it'll happen someday. I don't mean lecturing. I hope someday you can have a place of your own where you can finally settle down and help train the next generation. But I know there are a lot of films that still need you, and you yourself still have a lot you want to do.
Inoue: And I don't think I'm going to run out of things I want to do until the day I die. So I just can't picture myself ever reaching a point where I'm satisfied enough to give that up to focus on training people. People might say that's selfish of me, but it's my entire reason for living, so it's a little hard to give that up. I wish I could just say, "Hey, just do like I did" and be done with it, but if I say that, it'll be like saying that the people who are already good can get better and everyone else is on their own, which isn't right. That's the reason I've been taking time out recently to take on responsibilities unrelated to work, like lecturing. I want to say that sort of thing isn't my responsibiliy - because in the end all I really care about is leaving behind proof of my existence - but still, it's lonely not having anyone to compete with. That gets to me. There may be some, but they're definitely fewer. So it's a tough call.
my goodness, thank you so much for this interiew with Inoue.
It was inspiring and very interesting in many ways.
in the end when he’s talking about lecturing or show his skills to younger animator i kindof dream about a day he could come to my school and do that!!!
him or norio matsumoto…
this year we had Glen Keane doing a lecture and a demo of his skills (he animated a cat trying to catch a leaf).
this experience was soooo inspiring and fun to look at, i’d love to see this kind of genius at work.
anyway thanks again!
Thank you so much for part 2 of this engaging interview! I highly enjoyed reading it. I have a much better understanding of Toshiyuki Inoue’s character right now (I can perfectly understand his sentiment of “I just can’t teach people"), and that he recognizes that many people are getting too holed up in their one specialty, and also that animators are forced to listen to the director too much.
Really, thank you so much. And Mitsuo Iso really is a genius. How many animators really can invent animation techniques…
Thank you for this amazing interview Ben!!!!
Wow, seven year old post… But glad you still find it of use. Those PA Works interview with Inoue are a treasure trove. Wish I had time to translate more.
I was skimming over it after your comment and got to wondering how relevant some of the things Inoue talks about still are… for example he talks about how very few young animators seem to develop a personal style at a young age anymore. The emergence of the GIF Animator Generation occurred after this interview, and kind of upturns that assertion. Although I doubt there has been much change in terms of the basic motivation aspects that make this interview so interesting.
Oh, I just noticed the formatting was messed up (probably happened during the transfer to the new server), so I fixed it.
I’m very curious about this part: “Reading books like The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams and The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, I’m always amazed how they can verbalize the absolute minimum of necessary information about animation in the clearest fashion.”
Have these books been translated into Japanese? It’s rare to see Japanese animation follow all of the Disney principles or most of the tips Williams offers and I’d be surprised if I learned they were recommended to Japanese animators as they are American ones.
On the other hand if the books haven’t been translated, Inoue’s comment indicates he’s fluent in English, which makes me eager to see him communicate with foreign fans…