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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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

06:15:45 pm , 150 words, 1973 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Susumu Yamaguchi filmography

山口晋

1990 - Mouretsu Atarou 5, 10, 15, 18, 22
1991 - Gundam F91
1992 - Mom is a 4th Grader 3, 13, 26
1993 - Giant Robo 4
1994 - Akazukin Chacha 30, 36
1994 - Yu Yu Hakusho movie (2nd)
1995 - Ougon Yuusha Goldran 7, 12
1996 - Kodomo no Omocha 25
1996 - Saber Marionette J 7 (AD)
1998 - Outlaw Star OP, 1, 7 (+AD), 14 (+AD), 20 (+AD), 23, 25 (+AD)
1998 - Gundam 08MS Miller's Report
1999 - Space Pirate Mito 3
1999 - Angel Links 4 (AD), 8, 10 (AD), 13
2000 - Gear Fighter Dendo 2 (AD/KA), 6 (S), 8 (AD/KA1), 11 (S), 14 (AD/KA1), 19 (AD/KA1), 25 (S/AD/KA1), 31 (S/AD/KA1), 37 (S/AD/KA1), 38 (KA)
2002 - Shichinin no Nana 1 (KA1), 3 (KA/AD), 6 (KA), 8 (AD), 9 (KA), 10 (S), 12 (KA), 16 (S/AD/KA), 19 (KA), 21 (S/AD/KA), 23 (KA), 25 (KA1)
2002 - Overman King Gainer OP
2004 - AM Driver 3 (S/D/AD/KA)
2004 - Keroro Gunso 21 (S/D/AD)
2005 - Gundam Seed 2 (S/D/Character AD), 7 (CAD/KA), 12 (CAD/KA), 18 (CAD/KA), 21 (AD/KA1), 25 (CAD), 31 (CAD), 37 (CAD/KA), 44 (CAD), 51 (CAD/KA3)
2006 - Keroro Gunso 102 (S/D/AD)

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

11:20:02 pm , 1555 words, 6047 views     Categories: Animation, Animator, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

The Kanada School

As I was watching ep 60 of Urusei Yatsura to see the Masahito Yamashita part, at one point I was taken by the strange feeling that I was watching Lupin. Not so much because of the fact that the scene in question was an obvious parody of the clock tower scene, but because the animation felt like it could only have been done by a Telecom animator. It turns out it was the work of Toshio Yamauchi. They went to the effort of getting an animator who had worked on Cagliostro to animate a clock tower parody. Now that is dedication.

Yamauchi seems to have started out at Oh Production along with Kazuhide Tomonaga. His first job I can find is Jacky at Nippon Animation in 1977, after which he did some New Lupin and the first movie before working on every episode of Conan after 8 in 1978. Both of them transferred to Telecom sometime after this, where they worked on Cagliostro in 1979, the Miyazaki Lupin episodes in 1980, Jarinko Chie in 1981 and finally Holmes in 1982. Finally around 1983 several Telecom people including Yamauchi and Tsukasa Tannai transferred to Gallop, from where Yamauchi later worked on Grave of the Fireflies and Tannai on several Ghibli films. I suppose it would have been after Holmes that he worked on the TV Urusei episodes. He and Tsukasa were also in the second film in 1984.

Yamauchi was also one of the other two animators in Yamashita Masahito's famous library episode, of which Oshii provided an encore performance in his Beautiful Dreamer film. I remember Shinya Ohira saying that he saw the episode on TV when it first aired and almost choked on his dinner, and it was one of the episodes that influenced his development as an animator. Seen today I think it can be hard to appreciate Yamashita's early work, but if you project yourself into the dominant style of the period you can imagine the shock that Yamashita's deranged drawings and aberrant timing must have had on fans. It's hard to imagine what he must have been thinking when he drew that animation. In any case, it was a most curious thing to see the work of a Telecom animator side by side with that of Yamashita Masahito. I suppose you could compare it to the impact of seeing Ohira's scene in Spirited Away - it's two completely different ways of visualizing movement placed side by side. If you can posit an Otsuka school, which there isn't really, then Yamauchi belongs there, and Yamashita belongs to what you could call the Kanada school.

Masahito Yamashita is the most famous animator to have developed under the influence of Yoshinori Kanada (happy birthday), the animator active throughout the 1970s who came up with an original style all his own that combined strange posing, exaggerated perspective and an original and more dynamic approach to timing. Yamashita became interested in animation in part due to the influence of having seen Kanada's work on TV. In an age before VHS, it's a tribute to Yamashita's determination and curiosity about the art of animation that he took the initiative of filming animated films in theaters using a handheld video camera in order to be able to study it and figure out how it was made. Perhaps it's this bootstraps approach to learning animation that led to Yamashita's very personal and intuitive approach. Indeed, the work we see in his early years feels similar in spirit to work of gif-animators-turned-pros like Ryochimo in Noein who we can see appearing today. The internet has replaced the grassroots con movement that created that sort of fan ferment.

After Kanada influenced the generation of the 70s, then, Yamashita in turn influenced a whole new generation of folks, but ironically over the years he did a 180 and mostly abandoned the indiosyncratic style that had characterized his early work and attracted fans. Probably a lot of that had to do with pressure, as I'm sure there are some directors who didn't appreciate their animators changing their storyboards and designs and overanimating shots into the red. When Ohira started out he was something of a Yamashita epigone, but similarly found pressure on him to abandon that style, which is what led to him discovering his own.

Yamashita himself staged his debut as a key animator at the precocious age of 18 after a few months as an overimaginative inbetweener filling in the spaces with movements the key animators hadn't indicated. This was in 1980 at Studio No 1, a studio Yoshinori Kanada was involved in. After working there for about a year he left with Hirokazu Ochi to form his own studio, Studio Oz, in 1981, to work on Urusei Yatsura. The "studio" was in fact simply a room where the five animators/friends worked together, not necessarily on the same projects. Studio Hercules, which recently handled a large portion of the work on Basilisk, is a contemporary equivalent - not really a studio in the traditional sense but rather a handful of freelance animators with a similar mindset who work together in the same space, often not even on the same project.

Other animators at Oz included Shinbo Akiyuki (!) and Shinsaku Kozuma. They changed their name to Studio Tome (an ironic title meaning the ubiquitous "still") after they were getting too many phone calls mistaking them for another studio with the same name, and finally formed an actual company called One Pattern in 1984, where Yamashita worked for several years before joining Yoshinori Kanada's Studio Nonmaruto in 1989, rejoining many of the people he'd worked with at Studio No 1 years before. The studio actually took over the space that had up until that point been occupied by Studio 4°C, which had presumably just moved to its present location.

Another "studio" formed around this time was Kaname Production, the studio most famous for producing Birth. The studio was formed by seven young people who left Ashi Production in 1982, and worked on the animation of various shows until 1983 when they produced their own show, Plawres Sanshiro, which featured work by Kanada and Shinsaku Kozuma. The next year Kozuma worked as an animator on Kanada's Birth alongside Yamashita Masahito and Hideki Tamura, another animator who was making a name for himself at the time pushing the Kanada style in new directions. Both Kozuma and Tamura then worked on Kaname's Leda in 1985, and in 1986 Tamura did the piece that perhaps best encapsulates his approach, the opening of Prefectural Earth Defense Force. The same year Kozuma created his own summum opus in the opening of Toei's Ikkiman. A great later piece by Kozuma, and the piece that introduced me to his work, is his animation in episode 54 of Yu Yu Hakusho in 1993, where he worked under ex-Studio Oz comrade Shinbo Akiyuki.

A decade later we can still find people carrying on the style, like Keisuke Watabe, who worked at Studio Z5 for some years in the early 90s before forming his own "studio", Studio Hercules. Studio Z5 was formed in 1980 by two people who had learned the ropes inbetweening Yoshinori Kanada's keys at Studio Z - Hajime Kamegaki and Satoshi Hirayama - together with Hideyuki Hashimoto, and was one of the more famous of these small collectives/"studios" active in the 80s, working on shows like Goshogun, Baldios and Cat's Eye. After being involved in shows like Tetsujin 28 FX, Zenki, Tottemo Lucky Man (with an op by Kanada) and Ray Earth, in 1995 Watabe did some work on Idol Project, including the animation near the end of the opening, that is among his more characteristic.

That same year Hiroyuki Imaishi debuted as an animator on Evangelion, and after a whirlwind development directed his first feature film 8 years later, inviting Watabe and other like-minded animators from all over the place to take part, including... Yamashita, which brings us back full circle. Imaishi, of course, also animated the recent opening of the Musashi game storyboarded/directed by Yoshinori Kanada. So in a way the "school", which is not really a school but more a mindset, is very much still alive.

The concept can be a hard one to define, but if the Telecom school would favor a more stable form, even frame rates and realistic treatment of weight and effects, the Kanada school would favor deformation, unusual frame rates and flashy, geometric effects liberally used. Obviously not every animator is going to have the same approach, as everyone is an individual and an aggregation of influences - many seemingly Kaneda-school animators were just as influenced by Kazuhide Tomonaga, to say nothing of the plethora of other animation out there in the world - and the style has infiltrated the vocabulary of anime to such a degree that almost everyone could be called a Kaneda-school animator to an extent. You can see Kaneda touches almost everywhere now. An upside to the overproliferation of programs right now is that the sheer volume seems to give young animators room to play a little, and there are still people appearing on the scene who seem to be carrying on that playful spirit.

Though this is merely a rushed and far from a complete overview, and there are surely a lot of other people who have made their own contribution to the development of the style, hopefully this gives a sense of the interconnections.

Filmographies: Yoshinori Kanada / Masahito Yamashita / Hiroyuki Imaishi

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

11:10:53 pm , 120 words, 1614 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Shinsaku Kozuma filmography

上妻晋作

1983 - Tokimeki Tonight 21
1983 - Minky Momo 9, 14
1983 - Miimu 5
1983 - Urusei Yatsura Only You
1984 - Plawres Sanshiro 4, 9, 15, 19, 23, 28, 33, 37
1984 - Urusei Yatsura 133, 135
1985 - Goshogun Etranger movie
1985 - Birth (underground moto chase)
1986 - Go Q Choji Ikkiman OP (all animation)
1987 - Gegege no Kitaro Third Series 3
1988 - Borgman
1991 - Minky Momo 5, 15 (storyboard)
1992 - Yu Yu Hakusho 54
1992 - Tekkaman Blade II 3
1993 - G Gundam OP
1993 - Irresponsible Captain Tylor 12, 19, 22, 25
1994 - Fatal Fury movie
1994 - Yu Yu Hakusho movie
1994 - Metal Fighter Miku 13
1995 - Dokkan! Robo Tendon 7, 9, 15, 22 (storyboard) 25 (directing)
1996 - Evangelion 16
1996 - Meitantei Conan 13
1997 - Lupin III Walther P-38
1998 - Bakuso Kyodai Lets & Go OP
Final Fantasy VII game (2D animation support)
Final Fantasy X game (art storyboard designer)
Final Fantasy XI game (animation designer)

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

11:01:16 pm , 211 words, 1813 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Tokyo Loop

For those of us who couldn't get enough of Winter Days and The Planet, we now have a new art animation omnibus to look forward to: Tokyo Loop. Koji Yamamura reports that the Image Forum, which brought us Thinking and Drawing, and has regularly presented avant-garde cinema to the public via its homegrown video releases and screenings at its Shibuya Theater, is now producing an original omnibus that will bring together animated shorts by 16 Japanese creators. Due for completion this year, the film is being made to celebrate the centenary of James Stuart Blackton's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, the seminal animated film, and the theme of the shorts, as indicated by the title, is the Japanese capital. The old guard is present in the persons of Nobuhiro Aihara, Keiichi Tanaami, Yoji Kuri, Taku Furukawa and Koji Yamamura; and the young guard is represented by Atsushi Wada, Tomoyasu Murata, Mika Seike and Kei Oyama, most of whom will be familiar from Thinking and Drawing. Most interestingly, however: It's not all just animators. The rest of the contributors are artists of various other persuasions - from manga-ka Kotobuki Shiriagari to experimental filmmakers Takashi Ito and Toshio Iwai - so it will be interesting to see what stimulation they bring to the mix.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

08:40:01 pm , 665 words, 3061 views     Categories: Animation

The Red Bird

Illustration from Hakushu Kitahara's TOMBO NO MEDAMA, 1919, a collection of children's songs first published in AKAI TORIThe 70s saw a wave of literary/folktale-inspired animation in Japan. Moomin started it all in 1969, leading to Heidi in 1974 and the World Masterpiece proper at Nippon Animation. In 1975 Group Tac started their Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, and Madhouse followed with Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi in 1976. About a month before the latter show ended its roughly two-and-a-half-year run, in February 1979, Shinei Doga joined the fray. Shinei had been formed not long before when Daikichiro Kusube's A Production split away from Tokyo Movie after a long relationship. From 1980 on they earned their keep producing Doraemon and then Crayon Shin-chan. But before the shows that the studio became known for came one small series that tends to be forgotten these days: Nihon Meisaku Dowa Series: Akai Tori no Kokoro, or Classic Japanese Children's Stories: The Heart of the Red Bird.

The title made little sense to me until I discovered that The Red Bird or Akai Tori was the name of a seminal children's magazine published between 1918 and 1936 by Miekichi Suzuki. Suzuki, a student of Soseki Natsume, was fed up with the pandering tone of children's literature and the inanity of government-sanctioned children's songs, and determined to create a magazine that would breathe an artistic and literary tone into literary production for young people. A panoply of the major literary figures of the day either published works in the magazine or voiced their support for it, including Jun'ichiro Tanizaki, Kyoka Izumi, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Haruo Sato, Takeo Arishima and Hakushu Kitahara. The magazine published many classics, including stories like Akutagawa's Spider's Thread and Tu Tze-Chun, and paved the way for a slew of similarly inclined children's magazines that appeared on the scene over the next decade. The children's songs published in the pages of Akai Tori, especially those by Yanagawa-born poet Hakushu Kitahara (who was evoked in Isao Takahata's documentary on the canals of Yanagawa), were precursors to those published in Kodomo no Kuni, one of those follower magazines.

Suzuki's magazine was also the first children's magazine to bring foreign children's literature to Japan in translation. A famous anecdote surrounds poet and watakushi-shosetsu writer Sato Haruo's translation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, which appeared in the magazine starting February 1920. At one point he lent an English translation of the book to an acquaintance, who translated the story into Japanese after dinner to read to his children as a bedtime story. Upon finishing the book he spurred his daughter, Aya Nishimura, to write out what she could remember of the story, which she promptly did - with amazing accuracy. So much so that they decided to published it, and it appeared in book form in May with illustrations by the author herself. It was an instant hit, in the face of which the hypochondriac Sato abandoned his effort in September. And so it was that Pinocchio was first introduced to Japan not by one of the Taisho period's leading translators and poets, but by a twelve-year-old girl. As a longtime fan of Sato's, I really feel for the guy.

The series was short-lived, running for only two seasons. Stories adapted include the two mentioned by Akutagawa, as well as one based on a poem by Hakushu, but they're not limited to actual stories published in Akai Tori, as Osamu Dazai's Hashire Melos is also there, so the series is therefore a precursor of Nippon Animation's Seishun Anime Zenshu. The show won numerous awards including a Monbusho recommendation, and was released on video a few years back. It's mainly of interest as the liminal piece bridging the A Productions period with the Shinei Doga period. Ironically, it was the first thing produced at the company after all the famous staff left for Nippon Animation to work on the World Masterpiece Theater. Tenguri, the final piece featuring Kotabe et al, came immediately before. It would be interesting to see what kind of work the staff did at this stage, as Kusube has said that they enjoyed the work and put great effort into it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

11:20:15 pm , 486 words, 4469 views     Categories: Animation

Iso Fun Pack

As a thank-you to readers I wanted to upload a little something I threw together for my own edification some time ago - the key animation for one shot from episode 19 of Evangelion, drawn by Mitsuo Iso, an animator about whom I'm kind of passionate, as most people probably already know. I meant to do this for New Years, but it's a little late, so I'll do it for the Chinese New Year instead.

Kung hei fat choi!

Inside is an image of each of the 24 keys in the shot; an swf allowing you to play or step through it; and the shot from the final product. A caveat: The swf doesn't play at the correct speed because I wasn't able to figure out the right timing from the copy of the episode I had, which was confusingly interlaced, making decyphering difficult. The Groundwork book didn't contain the time sheet for Iso's shots, which would have told me how long to hold each frame. The movie from the final product is there to help you see the correct timing, and of course to compare with the keys.

Well, enjoy. This is one of my favorite shots of animation. Of course, I could say that about many shots drawn by Iso, but this is one of the few for which I've found the keys, so I thought this would be ideal as a study item to see how one of the true greats active today works. (or worked - remember this is from ten years ago, and his style has changed considerably since)

As with the shots surrounding this one, I feel the shot shows how Iso differs from other animators. He seems to come up with the movement using the whole screen rather than simply plunking a character down in one spot, and draws most of the movements himself with very few inbetweens, leaving the movement less fluid but giving him more control and allowing him to fill the movements with lots of lifelike nuance. (the little hash marks you occasionally see on the keys are indications of where to draw the inbetween(s) vis-a-vis the surrounding keys)

Iso can obviously draw, but the forms are always supple and loose, and you never get the impression of Iso trying to 'fake' a realistic image, so to speak, by simply drawing it as perfectly and meticulously as possible. Just the opposite, Iso's drawings are always full of vitality and the unexpected. Though it's not as obvious in this shot, much of Iso's animation is full of deformations that help to give a feeling of weight to the motion. And yet he remains one of the most quintissentially realistic animators out there. It's a wonderful contradiction.

As a final bonus, here are the early designs drawn by Shinya Ohira for Junkers Come Here. Apologies for the low quality of the second tier. The source images were very small.

Monday, January 30, 2006

11:34:16 pm , 1026 words, 8072 views     Categories: Animation

Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi

By chance I noticed that a new book involving Yasuo Otsuka comes out tomorrow: Otsuka Yasuo Interview: Animation Juo Mujin 大塚康生インタビュー アニメーション縦横無尽. It appears to be a book-length interview. Otsuka's interviews never fail to be fascinating, so I'll have to check this out.

Apparently the classic Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi AKA Once Upon a Time in Japan has begun re-airing from the beginning on NHK. I'm not sure of the total episode count, but since the show aired for twenty years I suppose they must be showing an episode a day if they want to get through it within a reasonable amount of time. I'd very much like a chance to revisit the show, as I remember being so impressed by the handful of episodes I managed to find at a Japanese grocery store long ago that I recorded every one. Other fans seemed to look at me cockeyed at the time for recording the show, but the show's spirit of experimentation is unrivalled in anime as far as I'm concerned. Even then I already knew: To me this is what was animation is all about. As an avid reader of folktales I was already predisposed to liking the stories, and the stories are indeed wonderful in their simplicity and directness - and the delivery by the two voice-actors who narrate/voice-act every character in every episode is magnificent - but it's the variety of graphic/storytelling styles that makes the show so irresistible. Only later did I learn about the big names involved, headlined by Group Tac co-founder Gisaburo Sugii, but each episode is interesting without even knowing who made it.

The basic concept of the series - and this is what makes it unique - is that a completely different design and look is adopted for each story. Each broadcast episode consists of two ten-minute stories, and in each story, a single person handles the animation, the directing and the art - sometimes the same person, sometimes a different person for each task, but always a single person. The animation is necessarily spare, but the visuals are always inventive and refreshing as a result, and the show never becomes monotonous. That perpetual renewal is surely the secret of the show's longevity, running as it did to nearly 1000 episodes from 1975-1995.

As happens every time I do so, going through the list of credits makes me begin watering at the mouth. There are many names I know very well - Gisaburo Sugii, Rintaro, Tsuneo Maeda, Norio Hikone. Hidekazu Ohara was involved later in the series. There are a lot more names I remember seeing in the past and wondering where they'd gotten to. Teruto Kamiguchi was involved heavily throughout the series right from the beginning. Just before beginning production on this series, Group Tac produced their first full-length feature, Jack and the Beanstalk, in which Maeda animated Margaret and Kamiguchi animated the giant. Like many of the main staff, Kamiguchi came from Mushi Pro. I remember his name primarily from his exhuberant animation of Lupa in Cleopatra, several years before Jack. Hiroshi Kanezawa I don't know much about but remember being impressed by an episode of Gamba (1975) that he animated singlehandedly. I've long suspected that Oh Production animator Kin'ichiro Suzuki, who's involved heavily here, is the person who did the wonderful FX in the Little Twins movie. Yusaku Sakamoto was one of the leading animators at Mushi Pro, co-directing Tale of a Streetcorner with Eiichi Yamamoto. Like Sakamoto, the late Chikao Katsui started out at Toei and moved to Mushi Pro when it opened. At the time he was famous for animating the birds at the beginning of the Jungle Taitei opening. He was also chief director of Ribon no Kishi. I particularly remember his work on Gisaburo Sugii's typically ill-fated Dororo. As in Goku, Sugii only managed to do things his way for the first season, and the rest is unwatchable. Another person I recognize is Hideo Nishimaki, who did a number of episodes in Goku. I've always kind of felt sorry for him, because clearly a lot of effort went into the episodes, but having your episodes shown side by side with those of Hata and Dezaki acts as a kind of cruel litmus test of whether you've got it or you don't, and Nishimaki don't. But he's really the only other person in the show who actually understood what Gisaburo was doing besides Hata and Dezaki. Curiously enough, Yoshiyuki Tomino even did an episode in the fallow period right before Gundam.

Particularly interesting is that a number of episodes are credited to Asia-do. This is interesing first of all because the studio was founded in 1978, yet they're credited right from the beginning, in February 1975. Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi are also credited alone on some episodes, so presumably they must have used the title as a collective pen name of sorts for a while before formally establishing the studio of the same name. Second of all it's interesting because Shibayama and Kobayashi came from A Productions, the studio formed by Toei expats that sort of carried on the Toei spirit of creating interesting movement in the TV era. So here we have the best representatives of the latter-day incarnation of rivals of old Toei Doga and Mushi Pro working side by side on the same show - the best of both worlds. A Productions was renamed to Shinei Doga right around the time the show started, and was also involved here and there.

One of Sugii's episodes is entitled Hyaku Monogatari. Hyaku Monogatari was a sort of pasttime in Edo Japan where people would get together, light 100 candles and tell ghost stories throughout the night, blowing out a candle for each story. A ghost was expected to appear after the last candle was blown out. My favorite book by Sugiura Hinako is a Hyaku Monogatari of her own. The animation in the episode was done by Marisuke Eguchi and the art by Mihoko Magohri, and the episode was aired in September 1983, so it would seem to have been a sort of warm-up for Night on the Galactic Railroad for the team.

Related: Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

07:55:20 am , 2222 words, 2259 views     Categories: Animation, Translation, Interview

Marisuke Eguchi interview

It's been a while since I've run across an interesting interview, and I've been eager to see Gisaburo Sugii's On A Stormy Night for a while now, so I thought I would translate the interview from the official web site arayoru.com with the animation director of the film, Marisuke Eguchi, who was also the animation director of Gisaburo's masterpiece, Night on the Galactic Railroad. His enthusiasm for his job was vicariously invigorating as well as refreshing to me personally, tending as I do only to focus on the animators. He has genuine enthusiasm for his art, knows how to transmit that to his animators, and clearly put the commensurate effort and thought into coming up with these characters, which are among the most interesting I've seen in a Japanese animated film in a while (at least judging by the stills I've seen) so I am looking forward to seeing how they look in motion.

I'm especially eager because of Gisaburo's concept for the film. At the opposite end of the streamlined simplicity and minimalism of line of much of the great animation being made now in the country, here Gisaburo the iconoclast comes up with his own original approach to the animation, as usual. Here his goal was to create a dense texture for the characters. This was achieved by stacking several layers of independently moving fur over the basic outline of each character, or as he explains:

"To animate these characters the first thing that occurred to me was that they couldn't be drawn with an ordinary, flat-toned drawing of a wolf and a lamb. They had to be drawn in a way that would emphasize their predator/prey relationship so that the audience would feel the unnaturalness of their friendship. This being the much-touted digital age, I put the challenge to animation supervisor Tsuneo Maeda of coming up with a way of digitally creating a feeling of texture for the fur rather than having usual flat coloring.

What Maeda came up with was to cut up the body into different parts. First there's the outline of the body and the fur. Those are separate. Under those we add a bit of "noise" and then some pieces to add shadows. The result is that unlike in normal anime here the body and fur are different colors.

So for example, most of the time Mei is made up of at least 3, usually 4 or 5 layered drawings, which is more than twice the usual 2. And since Mei and Gabu are different colors, that works out to about 8 drawings when they're on the screen together. So the total count for this film is probably something on the order of 130,000 or 140,000 drawings, though we haven't actually bothered to count. That's about twice as many drawings as your average anime film, which might have on the order of 70,000 drawings."

---

Let's start from the beginning. When were you first approached to adapt the story into film?

Last year... Actually, at the end of the year before that.

What was your first thought for the characters after reading the book?

Well, what usually interests me the most is first to hear what Sugii is thinking.

Sugii's interpretation?

Yes.

So he suggests a general direction and asks you to see what you can come up with?

That's right. My first question was whether we were going to go with a realistic animal form or not. My debut was Night on the Galactic Railroad, where the cats stand like humans. Coming up with characters standing like humans would require a completely different strategy than coming up with characters with a realistic animal form. So that was my first question. His answer was a realistic animal form, and that's when I started thinking about the characters.

Did it take you long to come up with the characters?

It took less time than I expected. As a director, Sugii tends to want to come up with a new way of doing things for each project. Something people have never seen before. His approach this time was to use "matiere" - individual pieces of textured material. So I tried to find a method that would be most conducive to creating a feeling of texture in the final product. Naturally coming up with the actual characters presents its own problems, but the bulk of my time was spent testing different ways of creating a texture that would be unique to each of the characters.

Did the director have any specific requests?

Not this time.

He left it up to you?

Pretty much, yes. The first design idea I drew was actually fairly realistic. Gisaburo's comment on it was, "We could go with that." So it was back to the drawing board.

I don't understand.

Well, when I'm conceptualizing the character, I go through reams of drawings as a way of asking myself the question: "Am I OK with that?" Literally boxfulls of drawings, testing all the different possibilities. Those first designs I showed him were the first ones I drew in the first few days, just testing the waters. His comment was his way of saying: Would you really be satisfied if we had to make the movie with those designs? Maybe you should give it some more thought.

As the director I don't mind, but you might not be satisfied with that, so you might want to give it a bit more thought...

I think that's what he meant. That was really the first design I'd come up with in the first few days, so I had no intention of going with that design. When you're desigining a character, it could go any number of ways - from the super-realistic to the hyper-cartoonish - so that first idea was just my way of testing the waters. Seeing his reaction at the beginning of that designing process.

So the final design was completely different?

Completely different. For my second idea, I thought about the concept of the film - "matiere" - and modified the design appropriately in that direction. At that point my mentor, Tsuneo Maeda, said that he might be able to figure out a way of creating the movement of the hair using digital technology, and I started to get a sense of the direction we were headed.

So that technique was an important factor in deciding on the final design?

Yes. I naturally gave a lot of thought to coming up with a design that would hover midway between the realistic and the cartoonish, but I spent a lot more time thinking about the problem of how to create a feeling of texture in the final product.

From that point on, what gave you the most trouble?

When I started out on Night on the Galactic Railroad I was still a kid, so it felt like I'd given birth to a child when the film was done. Many of the people working on this film were also kids with very little experience, so they were very lucky in a way to be able to work on a film at so early a stage. I wanted those young people to experience that same feeling. I wanted each and every one of them to feel that the film was their child. In the end many of them made tremendous progress, to the point that they could look after their drawings completely on their own, which made me very happy.

So they really got into it?

That's right. Normally in an anime movie you don't have just one animation director. That's not enough in this day and age. Normally you have a chief animation director and three or four veterans working under him - sometimes even another person to check the layout. But here there was only me. I couldn't do it on my own, so the only answer was to raise my "children" to the point that they would be self-sufficient. And luckily it worked. Everybody set to work and really fell in love with the characters, so I was sure that things would work out.

And so a 107-minute film was born. What were your impressions watching the finished film?

All we can do is do our best while working on the film. Afterwards we can wish we'd done things differently, but the important thing is to get as much into the film while we're making it and do our best not to have any regrets.

What's your advice to young people who want to do the kind of work you do?

It's a wonderful job. Just draw as much as you can. Everyone draws when they're a kid, but most people stop after a certain age. Those who don's stop are the odd ones... (laughs)

Did you draw a lot as a kid?

Yeah. I think you've got to if you want to survive in this line of work.

Often when a film is completed, it takes on a life of its own. What do you hope will happen to that child in the future?

I hope people take good care of her. It may be presumptuous of me to say so, but the labor pains were considerable. Gabu the wolf I understood. I could see why he behaves the way he does. But I just couldn't get into the mind of Mei the goat. What do you think attracted Gabu to Mei? (laughs) I couldn't figure it out. If I can't get into the mind of a character, I can't draw him, so that was a big struggle for me.

Gabu is a predator, so he should be Mei's enemy, but he decides to be his friend. I'd say it's almost kind of stoic...

Exactly. Early on we had a lot of discussion about this topic. In the end what provided the key was Marilyn Monroe. Tsuneo Maeda and I would go out drinking and we'd exchange ideas. So once I confessed, "I just don't get Mei." I could draw him, no problem. I'm talking psychologically. I didn't understand his motivation. Well, there's a point in the original book where Mei walks a certain way waving his fanny. Maeda asked me who it reminded me of. Being a Marilyn Monroe fan, I responded: Marilyn Monroe. (laughs) "Then think of her when you draw Mei," he told me. From that point on I felt I could draw Mei with confidence. I felt I wanted to draw him as cute as possible. But I must say, goats aren't the cutest animals...

I know what you mean. Sheep are cuter.

Much.

Did you study goats?

Till I had it up to here with goats. But I really wanted the children watching the film to find the characters cute.

Aren't goat eyes...

Horizontal. Yeah. I tried drawing the eyes that way, but it just didn't feel right. For me, if I can visualize a single scene, the rest tends to follow in a torrent. So Mei walking in front of Gabu is actually Marilyn Monroe swaying her hips in Niagara.

Marilyn Monroe swaying her hips.

Absolutely. It was the goat version of the Monroe walk. Of course, most of the young animators were like, "Marilyn Monroe? Never heard of her." So we borrowed some videos, did some studying, and Marilyn Monroe it was.

Were they as convinced as you?

It probably took a little time to sink in because they had to practice it a few times before they got it right. But once they got it, it was downhill from there. So don't forget: Goat version of the Monroe walk.

So once you'd gotten the hips down, did the ears and eyes and the rest sort of follow naturally?

No, the design itself was already complete by that point. It's just that I wouldn't have enjoyed drawing it if I hadn't found that mental key. Once I discover the key to the character in a single scene, everything else follows, and it changes the character's whole range of expression. Once each of the staff finds their key, they get excited about drawing Mei, or get motivated to draw Mei as cute as possible, and they get that much more into the character. By that time I can tell just by looking at a single drawing that someone has "got it". So what my job as the animation director consists of, really, is motivating the staff to get excited about their work, then adding a dash of my own excitement to get the right balance so that it melds perfectly with what the background and the photography people want to do. It's figuring out how to combine all that energy.

So if someone were to ask you: What is the job of the animation director? You would say...

The director of the drawings. Simple as that. In other words, establish the direction for the drawings among the animation staff - draw Mei as cute as possible, draw Gabu kind of scary but likeable - while at the same time listening to what the staff want to do. That's the job of the animation director. That's why I love this job. (laughs)

Now that this is over, what's next? Any plans yet?

Yes. I have several ideas in the planning stage.

I look forward to it. Thank you.

Related: Gisaburo Sugii vs. Hiroshi Masumura

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

07:12:38 am , 595 words, 1231 views     Categories: Animation

Izumi Kyoka × Yasuhiro Nakura

When I was studying Japanese literature as an undergraduate, one of the authors I remember being particularly taken by was IZUMI Kyoka. He seemed to embody all the gothic wonder of the supernatural Japanese imagination that exterted such a fascination to me at the time. I have a particularly clear memory of writing a windy but earnest paper interpreting his story Osen and Soichi, based on the translation by Charles Shiro Inouye available in the book Japanese Gothic Tales. I don't even remember much about the story now, apart from something having to do with a frog and a bathing woman. I tend to be that way with my reading, remembering one small bit that had an impact on me for the prose or for the oddness of the situation, and blurring over the outline of the overall story. Having liked Kyoka so much, I thought it would be great to be able to read him in the original. Same goes for many of the other great authors I read at the time, among them Toshio Shimao, who retains the top spot in my canon. I had a wonderfully naive fantasy when I was younger that each language was merely a repository of literary classics just waiting for me to come acquire them, and that's one of the things that led me to learn this language. I still find the language beautiful and think that it exercises the brain to read regularly in a language other than your native tongue, but that early wonder definitely wears off. But for Shimao it's never worn off. He's one of those authors who's made it worth it; one of those people who writes with a prose that embodies everything that attracted you to the language. Well, what about Kyoka? I've heard many great things about Kyoka's prose, and enjoyed his stories, so I was very curious to have a stab at his writing. So I did. Then came the surprise of finding out how much the Japanese language changed in the first few decades of the 20th century. For some reason I've never been able to read his work, or that of any other pre-Showa Japanese, even though I've made efforts. I don't blame the education system that never taught me classical Japanese, because his work was written in the Taisho period when the patois was infiltrating literature, and I'm sure I could sludge through it if I made the effort, but I find I've become rather lazy in my old age. All of this reminiscence was brought on by hearing that one of his stories, Tenshu Monogatari, was recently adapted into an episode of animation in the Noitamina series. I was taken by the urge to try again to read him in the original, and even found an online text, but upon perusing a bit I'm afraid that I might not get very far and may wait for the cliff notes of the adaptation.

Sweetening the pot is the news that Yasuhiro Nakura of Tenshi no Tamago fame returns to animation with the piece as designer and animation director. By this point I never actually expected to see him come back to animation. There will be two other episodes, and I'm equally eager to see the adaptation of Bakeneko (by ?), which features FX animator Takashi Hashimoto as CD/AD. The excellent and underrated Satoru Utsunomiya/Shinji Hashimoto episode of the Hakkenden OVA series (#9 in total count) told the story of a bakeneko or demon cat, so it will be interesting to see if/how the two compare.

Friday, January 20, 2006

07:35:37 am , 358 words, 935 views     Categories: Animation

Forum

I haven't had time to do much here lately, but I'm thinking I'll get back to posting regularly again starting sometime next week. In the meantime I thought I'd mention that I've put up a BBS so that people can discuss whatever they might want to discuss without having to worry about whether it fits within the scope of my latest post.

Haven't had time to watch much lately either, but I hear Satoru Utsunomiya is going to be doing a bit more Noein... great news. I think the DVD containing episode 19 of Aquarion is coming out soon, so it will be interesting to see if/how/what parts of the episode he corrected, as he has stated that he was working on correcting the episode for the DVD release. At the same time I've heard contradictory claims that Kawamori has refused to make any corrections. We'll see. I think people can sometimes take for granted that their voices aren't being heard when they post on the internet, but you'd be surprised who reads what. Never take anything for granted. I get the impression that industry people tend to listen to all comments. Higuchi Masakazu, who currently works as a mangaka and recently completed a strict manga adaptation of the Bible, at one time worked on the long-running Nihon Mukashibanashi (Classic Tales of Old Japan). As he recently related on his blog, the show was originally only aired for three months and would have disappeared completely had it not been for voices calling for its continuation, which is what led to its incredible life span, running as it did for more than twenty years. The production side of Aquarion may not have even wanted to correct the episode, I don't know, but Utsunomiya has never been one to ignore fans, and he wanted to because it bothered him personally. I think it's going a little far for him to feel he has to even correct his recent work on Noein for the DVD release, which apparently he says he wants to do, but it certainly shows his dedication to perfecting every single little piece of work he does.

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