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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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

11:30:42 pm , 28 words, 4275 views     Categories: Animation

Ferenc Cakó

Rather enjoyed the making of videos of the NTT ads made by Hungarian animator Ferenc Cakó available on NTT's site. Interesting thing this guy has developed - performance animation.

Monday, August 30, 2004

07:59:21 pm , 2013 words, 2665 views     Categories: Animation

Dead Leaves Breakdown

Found: Fischinger stills in the Findings section of the latest Harper's.

Not to repeat myself, but the rapturous viewer comments continue to pour in for Mind Game, notwithstanding the disappointing turnout. Someone actually said he felt reborn after seeing the film. Tom Robbins talks about crazy wisdom, "a kind of divine playfulness intended to lighten man's existential burden and promote what Joseph Campbell called "the rapture of being alive"". In a nutshell, that seems to fairly describe the effect of this film on people.

The Japanese DVD with the best extras I've ever seen is probably Dead Leaves. The DVD is regular price, and there's a director's commentary and a whole DVD with two hours of extras. What more could you want? Actually one thing I'd like is the storyboard and key animation books that were put out by the publisher of that recent edge book. The key animation book apparently goes into a bit more depth about the key animators. But really the director's commentary is enough to get all the basics, which I've summarized herein.

After seeing the extras you come away feeling you personally know director Hiroyuki Imaishi, producer Katsuji Morishita and creator Imaitoonz. Those extras are quite something. Very uninhibited, shall I say. I've never heard the word "chinko" so many times in my life. What's hilarious is that the director's commentary was done while they were all drunk at a bar. And one of the extras showed them all getting drunk at a bar. Notice a trend? That's the kind of people that made this film. Bunch of degenerates.

One of the things I find most interesting about this movie is how it came about. Most of the funding came from Manga Entertainment, who wanted IG to make a film targeted at American audiences. It should be obvious how idiotic this idea is, since one of the things that makes most anime popular over here is precisely that it wasn't made with American audiences in mind. Though made with this purpose in mind, the end result, ironically, is a film that goes very much against the image IG has built up in the past with its film, and the head of Manga Entertainment apparently hated the film when he saw it (though he supposedly changed his mind afterwards).

Producer Morishita first scouted Imaitoonz, which I understand perfectly due to his American-influenced illustration style. Then Imaitoonz in turn suggested Imaishi, whose work in FLCL he liked. Imaishi, being a person who focused on the animation, seemed a perfect choice for a film aimed at an American audience, because they though American audiences were used to seeing animation with more movement. Initially Morishita was tentative in his approach so as not to scare Imaishi away, inviting him to draw the storyboard. But one thing led to another, and Imaishi eventually offered to direct while he was at it, which was more than Morishita had hoped for. At that point, Morishita says, his job was done; he was positive the film would succeed with Imaishi at the helm.

Imaishi went on to make it his own film, changing the original script and story and characters. In the various extras, creator Imaitoonz comes across as very understanding of Imaishi's changes, something many creators often are not when their manga is animated. The characters look quite different in the film, which is something that people can be quick to criticize without first bothering to consider that it's only natural for a drawing by a different person to look different. Rather than focusing on making every drawing look like the original, Imaishi was able to create something that came from within himself, and that was why the film succeeded.

Imaishi had become somewhat specialized in drawing his own very particular brand of action in FLCL and other shows over the preceding years, and had been toying with the idea of whether it would be possible to make a whole 50 minute film consisting entirely of action; a whole movie like the long action sequence at the end of the movie The Wild Bunch. (Imaishi is also famously a big fan of Hong Kong bullet operas.) He took this up as his basic approach for the film: to see how much action he could pack in without boring the audience. Although the film is packed with action from tip to toe, the balance between action and story development was worked out very thoughtfully, and in the end the film succeeds in providing constant action while getting across the basic story, the timing of the insertion of the story sections being successfully calculated to provide 'breather' effect.

Imaishi -- who was also the animation director as well as the character designer and one of the storyboarders -- pared down all details in the backgrounds and the drawings so as to be able to raise the number of cels and focus on packing in as much animation as possible into the film. This approach gives the film its distinctive look and style of animation, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen Imaishi's past work. This really is his summum opus.

Also, the freedom you see the in the animation -- a sort of controlled chaos -- is reflected in the other aspects of the production. From the music to the voice-acting, the order of the day was: Go for it. Have fun with it. The voice actors were actively encourage to ad-lib, and most of it was left in the film intact. Kappei Yamaguchi is really incredible in the role of Retro. He says this is his favorite role ever, and it really shows in his performance. I particularly enjoyed the utterly berserk voice-acting of Mitsuo Iwata as 666. In this way Imaishi's personaly as an animator winds up being reflected in every aspect of the film.

In the end, this film was the product of various happy circumstances, so it's unlikely that we're going to see another like it any time soon, at least not from Imaishi. It's a small miracle that a film as crazy as this even got made in the first place, much less by a major "anime" studio like IG. To me it's a triumphant example of the sort of filmmaking we could be seeing more of if imaginative animators like Imaishi had more of a say in things - a movie whose whole purpose is to convey the primal thrill of animation.

Here's a breakdown of the more important sections by animator. Many of these animators were involved with Imaishi's work in the past. For example, Chikashi Kubota, Sushio, Yusuke Yoshigaki (three of the young rising stars at Gainax) and Yo Yoshinari were animators in episode 7 of Puchi Puri Yuushi, produced just before this film; as was Trava Fist, which why in this film we get...

Takeshi Koike (小池健)

Unsurprisingly, the two best fight scenes in the film are those that bookend the film: the opening with the cops by Koike and the closing with Galactica by Gainax regular Sushio. These scenes are distinguished from the rest by the through-composed style of the action, where each movement is followed through in a fluid style contrasting with the point-to-point drawings of the rest of the film.

Yo Yoshinari (吉成曜)
(Evangelion 1-3, 8, 12, 16, 18, 24-26, Jin-Roh, FLCL 1, 3-5, Re: Cutey Honey 1)

Yoshinari's part picks up right after Koike's. Imaishi knows how to draw viewers in: he places two of the best action animators of the age right at the beginning, pampering us with some truly deluxe action, in the process almost fooling us into thinking the movie is actually going to be a serious film; that is, before we get introduced to Chinko Drill...

Yusuke Yoshigaki (芳垣祐介)
(FLCL 1-6, Vampire Hunter 4, Maho Senshi Ryoi 7, Hellsing OP [w/Imaishi], Battle Athletes 8 & 17, Ao Yori Aoshi 4, Abenobashi 1 & 3, Mahoromatic)

...whose intro scene was drawn by this Gainax animator, who has known Imaishi since the very beginning because they joined the studio at the same time. Unlike Imaishi, though, he wasn't an anime otaku to begin with, and he confesses that he only got into anime for the money. He did the crazy bit at the end of ep 1 of Abenobashi and the first scene of ep 5 of FLCL.

Nobutoshi Ogura (小倉陳利)
(Metal Fighter Miku 5 & 13, Evangelion 2, 16 & 20, Rahxephon 15)

This IG animator who did episode 4 of FLCL and will be AD of the upcoming IG series Windy Tales provides the only scene in the film with the jagged lines characteristic of Ohira-school animators, for which reason his scene is one of my favorite in the film.

Shinji Suetomi (末富慎治)
(FLCL 1-3, Generator Gaul 1-3 & 5, Full Metal Alchemist 2nd & 3rd season OP)

Originally a Gainax animator but currently freelance, Suetomi, who was also co-AD, provides this unique scene, which Imaishi says was inspired by a similar sequence in the opening of the old anime Kotetsu Jeeg.

Chikashi Kubota (久保田誓)
(Mahoromatic 4, Abenobashi 1 & 3, Full Metal Alchemist 2nd season OP, Naja OP [dancing])

Kubota animated this delightful bit of "Itano Circus", in addition to the tank action leading up to it. Kubota started out at Xebec in 1998, and three years later moved to Gainax at the invitation of Sushio. Not surprisingly, he animated the Itano Circus you see in ep 3 of Abenobashi. In addition, he animated the memorable part where Masajii almost falls off the building in ep 1 of Abenobashi, and the bit right after Imaishi's shootout in ep 4 of Mahoromatic.

Hiroyuki Imaishi (今石洋之)

The director himself steps in to get the mood of this very cartoonish transformation sequence just right.

Futoshi Higashide (東出太)
(ZZ Gundam 39, 42 & 45, B'T X, Saber Marionettes, Eat Man)

One of the more unusually drawn sections comes from this animator, who really gets into the character 666 with some silly but amusing antics.

Keisuke Watabe (渡部圭祐)
(Evangelion movie, Iron Leaguers, Konjiki no Gash Bell movie AD, Gestalt 1, Virus Buster Serge 2, Ginga Tetsudo Monogatari 18)

The fight with 777 was done by this animator, reportedly one of the last of the dying breed of animators who love using the sort of extreme perspective typified by Kanada's 80s animation.

Shin Itagaki (板垣伸)
(Jubei-chan II 7, Ninja Scroll 3 & 11, Avenger OP, Inu Yasha 16 & 21, Grappler Baki 9, Full Metal Alchemist 45, Kaleido Star 22, Medarot 14)

This person did the memorable part where a character is pissing in Imaishi's first Abenobashi episode, for which reason Imaishi decided to have him to take care of Chinko in this equally memorable shot.

Masahito Yamashita (山下将仁)

Finally we get to the part done by one of Imaishi's great inspirations and one of the figures of the original karisuma animator boom in the 80s, an animator who was renowned for drawing strange, physically impossible poses and movements - which is really at the root of what you see throughout this film. And which is why it's ironic that his part stands out like a sore thumb from the rest, with its more realistic movement and well-proportioned characters. Not that it's bad, but it's clear that Yamashita has changed a lot as an animator in the intervening twenty years. His part was the only part I was able to correlate definitively to an animator on the first viewing.

Sushio (すしお)
(FLCL 1-5, Kill Bill, Naja OP [running to door], King Gainer 14 [w/Yutaka Nakamura], Cyborg 009 31*, Digimon Tamers 3 & 6, Digi Carat 43, Puchi Puri Yuushi 23, Sister Princess 6, Steam Boy)

The climactic showdown, certainly one of the best action scenes in the film, is provided by this young Gainax animator.

Yasunori Miyazawa (宮沢康紀)
(Hashire Melos, Millennium Actress, Jin-Roh, Vampiyan Kids OP, Prince of Tennis OP, 30, 39, 44, 46, 50, Gakuen Senki Muryo OP [all] & 27, Paranoia Agent 4)

And the most impressive contribution to the whole film was Miyazawa's. He animated the entire sequence from the point where the baby comes out to where the larva explodes -- an amazing three and a half minutes straight done by one person. He not only animated the most shots, but his shots were also the fastest done. The quality and variety and length of his contribution is really something. The larva was designed entirely by Miyazawa, and the uniquely stylized effects in that scene make it one of the most memorable in the film.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

07:24:20 pm , 748 words, 4039 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

Alternative anime at the VIFF

My reply to TenAJs's comment was getting long, so I thought I'd post it here.

I'm incredibly out of it when it comes to stuff like this, so thanks for mentioning this. And no problem at all - anyone and everyone feel free to post like this if there's something you'd like to mention.

Here's another bit that caught my eye:

This year we are also pleased to honour the great Korean animator Lee Sung-Gang with two special screenings. Part One of our tribute is a screening of his 2001 feature, MY BEAUTIFUL GIRL, MARI, winner of the Grand Priz at the Annecy Animation Festival. It concerns a 12-year-old boy living with his mother and grandmother in an isolated fishing village who tries to escape into a parallel world. Part Two of the tribute comprises a selection of the shorts and music videos he has made. ONURI AND OTHER SHORTS includes his music videos for the band Rainy Sun Ocean (co-directed with Nam Ji-Woong of Teenage Hooker fame), his animated sequence for Jang Sun-Woo’s Bad Movie and his latest short, Onuri, based on a Jeju Island creation myth.

Looks like I'll be spending a lot on gas for about two weeks come September 23.

As for "Imagination Practice", so far there are only two titles mentioned, and I can only find information about Naoyuki Tsuji. Before now I'd never heard of either of these animators, but that's no surprise, because I'm not very well informed about alternative animation in Japan.

Profile of the artist:

Born in Shizuoka in 1972, Naoyuki Tsuji (辻直之) debuted in 1992 as an independent animator, and has regularly submitted his short films to festivals such as the Golbang Film Festival and the London Film Festival. A graduate of the Tokyo Plastic Arts School, he has been equally active in various other media including sculpture and illustration. Since 1999 he and Takumi Terakami (寺上匠) have hosted a yearly guerilla art exhibition entitled "Scrap Festival" on the streets of Yokohama, planting sculptures and drawings and other strange and wonderful things at various propitious locations in the urban landscape, even being so kind as to provide self-guided tour maps for each year's festival. Since August of last year he has organized a bi-monthly film screening for the Iwasaki Museum in Yokohama showcasing short, feature-length and animated films made by local independents from Kanagawa prefecture and around the world, providing locals with a much-needed venue to see films by local artists that would otherwise remain hidden from the view of the general public. Tsuji submitted his film Rules of the Night to a festival of Japanese experimental animation that toured ten cities in France in April 2003, and it was here that Tsuji came to the attention of a member of the planning committee for the Cannes "Director's Fortnight", who was impressed enough by the film to invite him to submit his most recent film, Feathers gazing into the darkness, which in turn wound up getting him invited to this year's Cannes Film Festival for that event.

Tsuji on his animation:

"One of the main characteristics of animation created using charcoal, oil or pastel is the afterimage. With these methods it's easy to erase or draw over or add details to a previously drawn image, but the previous image never completely disappears. My method is quite simple. I sit in front of the paper and wait for an idea. When I get an idea, I draw it down and click the shutter a few times. Then I erase a bit and redraw and click the shutter a few more times, and so on. So it's random, yet with direction, ordered towards the future. I start with no set idea for the film. Each image I draw and photograph creates suggestions which lead to the next image, and these images build up inside me as the film advances. The reason I take this approach to filmmaking is to pursue the unique possibilities of this particular medium, which doesn't require any special preparation beforehand other than charcoal and paper." (translated from here)


1992 - Wake up (覚めろ / Mezamero)
4 mins / 16mm → DV / puppet+pen animation

1994 - For almost forgotten stories (消えかけた物語たちの為に / Kiekaketa monogataritachi no tame ni)
10 mins / 16mm / puppet animation

1995 - Rules of the night (夜の掟 / Yoru no okite)
6 mins / 8mm / charcoal animation

1997 - experiment
4 mins / 16mm / stop motion+pen animation

2003 - Feathers gazing into the darkness (闇を見つめる羽根 / Yami wo mitsumeru hane)
17 mins / 16mm / charcoal animation

2003 - Breathing clouds (呼吸する雲 / Kokyu suru kumo)
3 mins / 16mm / charcoal animation

Friday, August 27, 2004

08:25:38 pm , 181 words, 2808 views     Categories: Animation

Hosoda satori

It dawned on me reading an article by this person what it is about Hosoda's directing that made it seem so "humane" to me: food. In all three of his Digimon pieces Hosoda goes out of his way at various points to incorporate scenes of eating or drinking - and what inevitably follows - even when there is no dramatic necessesity for doing so. There are dozens of food-related references throughout the films, and something to do with food is going on in the background a large proportion of the time. What is more beautiful and disgusting and pleasurable and human than eating? It's a deceptively simple idea, but it's amazing how much it helps to build empathy for the characters.

Nothing much else to say today, so here's an entry from my diary:

June 13, 1AM.

Bought some milk at a convenience store today. Guy at the register jokes to the guy in front of me, "You look strong, you don't need a bag." Guy leaves, I walk up, guy at the counter says, "I'll get you a bag for that."

1 commentPermalink

Thursday, August 26, 2004

11:12:50 pm , 14 words, 768 views     Categories: Animation

Oh yeah

Just my imagination?

I thought it might be a nod because of Ohira's involvement.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

09:07:54 pm , 472 words, 1969 views     Categories: Animation

New Lupin notes

It turns out I was right that Ohira had come back to TV animation after fifteen years, I just had the wrong series. Watch episode 6 of Otogizoushi for a good contrast between ordinary and good animation. You see ordinary (ie, no) animation for the whole episode, and then right before the end, wham... Ohira (obviously interspersed with shots by someone else).

Just wanted to take a memo of a few Lupin things from this page. (full list)

New Lupin Telecom episodes

72 - Yoko Sahaku, Michiko Takagi, Masami Ozaki, Keiko Shimazu, Atsuko Tanabe, Harumi Shibata
77 - Koichi Maruyama, Atsuko Tanaka, Eiko Hara, Yoko Tsukada, Yoshinobu Michihata, Toshiyuki Hiruma
82 - Tsukasa Tannai, Koichi Maruyama, Eiko Hara, Yoshinobu Michihata, Toshiyuki Hiruma
84 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Atsuko Tanaka, Yoko Tsukada, Yasuhiro Shida, Michiko Takagi
99 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Koichi Maruyama, Atsuko Tanaka, Eiko Hara, Yoko Tsukada, Yoshinobu Michihata
105 - Yoshinobu Michihata, Yoko Tsukada, Toshiyuki Hiruma, Masanori Ono, Yasunao Aoki, Yayoi Kobayashi
143 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Koichi Maruyama, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Yayoi Kobayashi
145 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Koichi Maruyama, Eiko Hara, Junko Tsutsumi, Yayoi Kobayashi (Albatross, Wings of Death)
151 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Yoshinobu Michihata, Eiko Hara, Ryoko Kashiwada
153 - Nobuo Tomizawa, Atsuko Tanaka, Masako Shinohara, Junko Tsutsumi
155 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Toshio Yamauchi, Yoshinobu Michihata, Masako Shinohara, Atsuko Tanaka, Ryoko Kashiwada (Farewell Lovely Lupin)

Interesting to note that 72 was done entirely by women. This was the episode that Otsuka famously had to redraw almost in its entirety to make it passable. Otsuka apparently was involved here and there in the episodes, such as in 151.

Tomonaga was registered at Oh Pro around this time even though he participated in the Telecom episodes, and he turns up much more often in the Oh Pro episodes predating his involvement in the Telecom episodes.

Oh Pro episodes with Tomonaga

4 - Yoshimasa Yonekawa, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga
8 - Yoshimasa Yonekawa, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga
14 - Kazuhide Tomonaga
20 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Ken'ichi Okamoto
25 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Ken'ichi Okamoto
31 - Kazuhide Tomonaga, Tsukasa Tannai, Ken'ichi Okamoto
63 - Tsukasa Tannai, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Higashi Numajiri, Toshio Yamauchi, Ken'ichi Okamoto
92 - Toshio Yamauchi, Higashi Numajiri, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Joji Manabe
98 - Toshio Yamauchi, Higashi Numajiri, Ken'ichi Okamoto, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Joji Manabe

Obviously of particular interest is the "solo animator" episode 14.

One of the other important animators in this series is Yuzo Aoki, the famous animator who did the car chase in the first Lupin movie, the "Mamo" one. He also did a solo animator episode, 30, after which point he was heavily involved as a storyboarder, while also providing a bit of key animation, often uncredited. Credited episodes are 35, 96 (both with only one other KA), 69 and 74. Yoshio Kabashima, the person who did such incredible work to make Gamba the classic it is, was involved in episode 78. In an unrelated note, I just realized Imaishi animated the opening of the 2001 TV special Alcatraz Connection.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

12:00:12 pm , 746 words, 2284 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Michio Mihara

The dark tones of Gesualdo seem appropriate to this gray morning. The first wave of cold has done wonders for my insomnia.

I made a comment about the fact that one person is responsible for drawing every shot in anime. This was true in the past, but with the advent of digital technology this is changing, and we can now quite often find people specialized in CG, or CG effects, or any number of things. The only reason I bring this up is because probably the most noteworthy example in recent years was done by one of the most important animators of the 90s. In addition to that wonderful episode of Rahxephon I talked about, Mitsuo Iso was responsible for the digital effects work throughout the series. And amazing stuff it is. Although inevitably fundamentally different from his animation work, the work remains totally characteristic of Iso, being clearly the logical development of the realistic style he had pioneered, and it is therefore very satisfying to see.

One of my favorite recent discoveries was Michio Mihara, who just prior to doing PA was animation director of the bonus short included on the Nasu DVD. (He was also co-AD of the film and animated the opening sequence.) In an interview with the Yomiuri he spoke of director Kitaro Kosaka's opposition to the whole idea of saddling the already short film with a short; but in the end, the director was not displeased with the final product. The short is apparently done in a highly accentuated graphic style, in accordance with Mihara's overriding preoccupation with stylistic experimentation, stemming from his desire to show people that there are different drawing styles out there. Could it be Mihara who was behind the idea for the various graphic styles of Etc? I hope we have a chance to see some major work from Mihara in the near future.

It's funny how this movie came about. Kuroda was one of the major new manga artists on the scene in the late 90s, by far one of the most original manga-kas of the period. Well, Miyazaki had apparently enjoyed his Nasu, and made a comment to that effect somewhere, so the publisher was smart enough to pick up on this and published the comment on the cover sleeve when the manga was re-issued in pocket format. And voila. Shortly thereafter we get a movie version. The lesson: Try to get your manga endorsed by Miyazaki.

In terms of challenging an animator, you can't go much higher on the difficulty quotient than a crowd scene. Animators tend to run the other way, in fact. Hiroyuki Okiura's fame as an animator came in part from being one of the animators turned to when it came time to animate the riot scene in Akira. When it came time to animate the riot scene in his Jin-Roh, who did he turn to? Michio Mihara. Mihara was assigned probably the five most difficult shots in the entire sequence, which feature dozens upon dozens of people running across the screen. (And this in addition to the 31 other shots he animated.) Okiura couldn't hold back guffaws of amazement when he saw the animation Mihara turned in, so obvious was the incredible effort Mihara had put into coming up with a personality and personal history for every single individual that runs across the screen. Coming from a "super animator" like Okiura, this is praise indeed. Mihara is an avid biker, and when he was forced to work from home during prodution on the film, he would bike with the finished keys all the way from his home to the studio rather than obliging a runner to come by. Good exercise, he said.

It should be added that Mihara was not only the animation director of episode 4 of PA; he also drew most of the key animation in the episode. (There was only one other key animator needed.) So this episode should rightly be added to that ongoing tally of tour-de-force "solo animator" episodes. His drawings of the main character in this episode are a very convincing and compelling personal interpretation of the original designs (Ando was reportedly extremely impressed and happy with Michio's drawings), full of detail and nuance, while also staying close to the original designs and therefore fitting nicely within the overall style of the series, for which reason this episode provides the best of both worlds -- one of the most balanced and individualistic episodes in the series.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

09:01:46 pm , 1296 words, 2905 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Tokyo Godfathers

Part of the fun of trying to figure out who did what is sometimes making mistakes, and it turns out that apparently the shots of the truck crashing into the building and the taxi skidding out, among my favorite in the film, were done not by Inoue, but by none other than the very mystery figure I just got through talking about -- Hisashi Mori (his real name is Hisashi Nakayama). Also present as an animator in Tokyo Godfathers was Takaaki Yamashita, who was the other animation director on Children's War Game. And of course, the animation director of Tokyo Godfathers, Ken'ichi Konishi, was also an animator in Children's War Game, as I mentioned before. (He also animated the scene in Millennium Actress where Genya saves Chiyoko from a falling debris.) The connections aren't coincidental. It was working under Hosoda on War Game where he got to know them, and was greatly impressed by their work, so he invited them to this movie. That's how the animators were brought together for this movie. You don't hear about Tokyo Godfathers being a Studio Xyz movie. It was animated by people from lots of different places. The animators were pretty much hand picked one by one by Kon and Konishi based on who they knew and liked.

The most interesting thing about this film to me is the fact that one animator played a major part in its inception. It's a known fact that the film was actually in large part conceived by Kon as a vehicle to showcase Shinji Otsuka's talents as an animator, and consequently, in terms of the animation, Tokyo Godfathers is essentially his film. Not merely so because he animated the most scenes in the film, but more decisively because his very particular, extremely expressive style of animation -- combining realistic movement with highly emotive performances and unpredictable deformation -- had a defining influence on the animation for the film by the rest of the animators. Otsuka is not just an incredible animator, he is also extremely fast, and his shots were the first done. His work was referenced throughout the film and acted as a guiding example for the rest of the animators regarding the film's animation style.

This process produced a first in anime: a theatrical anime, where the crux of the film is dramatically expressive character animation. If virtuosic editing provided the narrative flow in Kon's first two films, here the director steps back and slows things down and lets the narrative information be conveyed by the animators. There really has been no anime up until now that can quite compare with the richness of character animation in Tokyo Godfathers. Besides the animators themselves, Konishi is largely to thank for this. His policy was to maintain the individuality of each animator while adding just enough to keep things looking even throughout the film. So despite the fact that each animator provides very individual work, it isn't jarring, and general audiences aren't put off. And the distribution of the hilights is done in such a way as to provide the film with an appealing variety and keep the animation hilights surprising when they arrive. A good contrast to this is Ohira's Hakkenden episode, where no effort is made to appease the audiences, and all animation throughout is a hilight and extremely individualistic.

Easily the most famous scene in the film is Otsuka's monologue in the hospital corridor. He animated innumerable other scenes, including the wedding assassination scene, the scene early on where they're feeding Kiyoko, and Gin riding on the bicycle looking for Kiyoko. Most of them were animated entirely by Otsuka - in other words, no inbetweens. Every drawing you see is Otsuka. (This feat was most famously done by Yoshifumi Kondo in the early 80s, then Iso Mitsuo started doing it in the 90s with his own innovative style, and Otsuka has been doing it a lot lately to great effect.) And every drawing (and movement) is so interesting! You can rewatch his sections over and over and they don't get old, like any well crafted artistic creation. It should be emphasized that scenes such as the monologue in the hospital corridor existed only in rudementary form in the storyboard. (Edit: Andrew Osmond brings to my attention that Kon's storyboard is in fact much more detailed than I make out in regards to the acting of this particular sequence, although I know that Otsuka still managed to add his own little flourishes that surprised the staff.) I All of the details you see in the scene are thought up by the animator in question. That's what makes this film special. That the animators are finally really tapped for all their inventiveness and potential, and they're given not just one little shot but long scenes to animate, so you really get to appreciate the work of a great animator in unprecedentedly generous helpings.

Hideki Hamasu was probably the next most important animator in the film, providing numerous memorable scenes including the one where Kiyoko is discovered and the one where Hana tries to sweet talk the taxi driver. His animation is quite different from Otsuka's. Where Otsuka's animation is limited because he draws every drawing himself, Hideki's is fuller and more flowing. One of my favorite animators, Shinji Hashimoto, provided one of the most individual and memorable scenes of his career, and certainly the most distinctive in the film. Konishi had a policy of "hands off" for good animation, which becomes obvious in Hashimoto's scene, because it's clear that not a single drawing in Hashimoto's scene was corrected. With the big animators like Inoue and Otsuka, you're seeing all their sections in the raw. Hashimoto is one of those animators correcting whose drawings is sort of redundant at best, and could be fatal at worst. What makes his animation great lies precisely in the uniqueness of his drawings. Besides, I can imagine that it might be hard to figure out how to correct something like Hashimoto's section without totally messing it up because the feeling of the movement is inextricably tied to the original lines.

It should be remembered that Konishi was the animation director of Yamada-kun, a film in which Hashimoto played a role analagous to that played by Otsuka in this film, setting the pace for the film's animation in the section he animated for use as a promotional "preview", the dorayaki/banana scene (which was used in the film as is), which is the section that exemplifies the type of animation Konishi was attempting to acheive with the film. His section was drawn entirely by himself, with no inbetweens, setting the precedent for the animation in Tokyo Godfathers. This allowed Hashimoto to maintain control over every single miniscule movement in the scene. Rather than motions that go from point A to B, here we have constant motion between various motions, like in real life; animation whose entire raison d'être is showcasing the irrelevant details and unintended movements (like the dad's soporiphic swaying) that are in fact the very core of real life movement. Satoru Utsunomiya had been developing something similar for years already before this.

We also see many of the animators who would go on to work in Paranoia Agent directly afterwards: Michiyo Suzuki, Ai Kagawa, Norio Matsumoto, Masashi Ando, Kumiko Kawana, Takeshi Honda, etc. And of course: Toshiyuki Inoue, who provides the most animation after Otsuka. As in Paranoia Agent, here also he was tapped for animation directing help, as he often is in films he's involved in due to his uncommon drafting skills. (He was also co-AD in Peek, for example.) I don't know for sure, but it looks to me like he did the final scene in the stairs and on the rooftop.

Monday, August 23, 2004

11:15:01 pm , 577 words, 772 views     Categories: Animation

Tomonaga's Sherlock Hound

Been reading a transcript of a recent discussion between the people involved in Sherlock Hound, and one of the things that came up was that the staff were revved because they felt this was their chance to make a fun action adventure like Animal Treasure Island. That's what it was about this show that I couldn't pin down. That feeling that's shared between the two - and the animal characters, of course. The scene at the end of the Treasure Under the Sea episode where the sailors all climb on the ship - remind you of anything? It was done by Tomonaga, who says he saw Treasure as a teen and got the idea from the last shot in Miyazaki's scene. Can you imagine animating that? Tomonaga is also the one who did the car action at the end of the Small Client episode, with all those incredible fast pans, which Miyazaki apparently storyboarded with Tomonaga in mind. And the scene with that truck full of an improbable number of chickens in the Blue Carbuncle episode was done by Atsuko Tanaka.

This reminded me of another thing that I like about Japanese animation compared with western: that you don't have ten people working on a scene -- say, one to draw the character, one to draw the effects, one to draw the shadow, one to draw the eyes, etc. etc. etc. -- but everything in a shot is drawn by one person. One of the more interesting things I learned was that Yasuo Otsuka is the one who animated the great part with the steam car tearing up the pavement, even though he's not credited. I've always wondered who did that part, but I never expected it to be Otsuka. Apparently his keys were extremely rough, and have always been, something that contrasts with most animators nowadays, who feel they have to do everything so perfect. He muses that it's a good way to train inbetweeners. In similar fashion Miyazaki was reported to have often sat down to show an animator what he wanted, drawing one then two drawings, only to wind up drawing the whole thing himself and handing it to the inbetweeners. Finally, I also learned that Tod is Tomonaga, and Smiley is Kondo!

It was right after this that Tomonaga and Kondo and Tomizawa and Tanaka and Nizo did the Nemo pilot, which is like three and a half minutes of the best action of Hound honed to perfection and done in full animation. Kondo directed it, but in terms of the content, this is really Tomonaga's film, his summum opus of sorts. Kondo's personality as an animator comes through better elsewhere, namely in Tom Sawyer, Sugata Sanshiro, etc. Tomonaga is the best action man of the period, with an unrivalled genius for nailing perfect split-second timing. Toshiyuki Inoue is among of the more important of the many animators influenced by Tomonaga, and you can see the legacy of Tomonaga's brilliantly timed action in Inoue's scenes in Kiki (Tombo & Kiki on the bike) and Akira (Tetsuo chasing after the clown, Tetsuo crashing through the alleyway) and elsewhere. Inoue is allegedly able to analyze real life movements with such split-second accuracy as to be able to reproduce a movement accurately down to 1/24 of a second. If he animated the scene in Tokyo Godfathers where the truck crashes into the building, as I suspect he might have, I'm a believer.

Japanese word of the day: ダメ人間

Sunday, August 22, 2004

07:41:51 pm , 83 words, 917 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Mind Game


"The world looked different when I stepped out of the theater."

A recurring theme in viewer comments about Mind Game.

And yet: two weeks. That's it. That's how long Mind Game played in Fukuoka.

I think this is a first: Telecom is going to be putting up the storyboard for each episode of its new series Robo Crosser.

Spent the day walking in the rain. Feeling rained on, literally and figuratively. Saw black bear with cubs a few days ago in a park.

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