Sunday, August 16, 2009
Here are my notes from The Marc Davis Celebration of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki event that took place on July 28, 2009.
John Lasseter moderated and the night was setup likewise: Play 2-3 clips from Miyazaki’s films, and ask various questions ranging from his early life to specific film-related information. I’m going to post it in a similar manner, with the question that was asked followed by the answer Miyazaki gave.
How did you get into animation?
I went a university to gain time to study drawing. I received bare minimum grades just so I could draw more.
What was your first job out of school?
I was 22 years old and my first job was an in-betweener on Wanwan chushingura(Bark, Bark.) However, I still wanted to be a manga artist. I would spend my time during the day working on the film and had thought I could work on my own projects at night. However, when trying to work on my manga work, I’d fall asleep immediately after work.
What was the first project you storyboarded?
I worked on a variety of TV series. I made the transition when I suggested that I could redraw the storyboards better than the initial pass, so I was moved into that department.
Here Hayao Miyazaki went into a discussion about drawing. Not exactly related to the question, but this certainly helped shape his career:
I realized that no matter how many times I drew something, the thing I couldn’t draw—I couldn’t draw. I would spend hours drawing after my other coworkers had left. After my first film I worked on was released I realized I needed to learn how to draw. I wouldn’t even see Wanwan chushingura or Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon. I was still focused on becoming an animator and not even thinking about a job as a director. I grew more concerned with making the drawings more interesting. At the time I didn’t know about the other aspects of filmmaking---just drawing.
What was your first directing job?
It was Lupin the 3rd. I convinced the managers that I could direct it. Four and a half months were given to complete it. During that time, the energy on the team was at its peak. Those days, everyone wanted to be directors and our system was flexible enough to allow for me to move up.
How was Studio Ghibli founded?
After Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, we realized we needed a studio. I realized the people who invested money into films were very conservative. They were not trying new things, so I set out to try and get the money to try and release these new ideas. At first, a building was rented and the staff would come together for a project, and then scatter after production.
(This is the only video I could find of this particular sequence. It has been slightly edited...and the title is definitely not what Miyazaki had in mind...)
What was the inspiration behind Spirited Away?
Make a really frightening movie. I wanted to focus on girls that aren’t apathetic (uncaring) and dwelled on various folktales that all had a similar story about appearances that deceived (like the market the parents eat at towards the beginning.) I modeled a lot of the characters on people I knew/know(especially the main female character along with her Dad.)
You depict your characters eating in such a way that I’m hungry while watching it. Why is eating included in your films?
It’s simple, I like to eat.
Do you set out to depict in your films a concern towards the human impact on the environment?
It’s not that nature is a growing concern in my films. It’s all around us. I exaggerate elements like smog, rain, etc. to help portray them properly as the landscapes we are used to living in. Saving the environment should be a concern in real life, not film.
How do you set out to create believable “magic”/supernatural—it all seems to have a logic to it.
If it’s going that well, then it is natural. But I often worry about the believability. Reading about fairytales helps inspire me because they’re rooted in the flow of human civilization.
Was the legend of Totoro based on something?
My intention was the show my appreciation of nature, not to focus on the creatures. I started out with just fragments. The first being at a bus stop and a strange creature was there. And the second involved a child seeing a transparent creature. These two fragments remained in my head for 10 years before I found a way to connect them together. The solution was to involve two main characters---an older and a younger sister. However, this idea didn’t get approval very quickly.
I thought about the actual Totoro creatures as these large beings, that you couldn’t tell if it’s smart, stupid, or if it’s really even there. To achieve this, I told the animators to not have the creatures looking at anything specific.
The catbus just came up. I was drawing randomly and it just came out on the page. The bus stop scene was inspired by the idea of a ghost bus where ghosts came on and off. This was also fueled by Japanese folklore about a ghost cat(he didn’t go into specifics about the tale.). These were all starting points.
Why do your villains still have appeal/character?
When I create them, I start liking them, so they don’t become very evil. You’re investing so much into them that they should be lovable. I tend to believe that villains work harder then the heroes. Making an evil character with a hole in their heart, etc. is depressing and hard to draw. I believe animators emote while drawing. A lot of animators smile while drawing a happy character, or look incredibly angry while drawing a mad character. I feel it’s better to have a smiling face than a grimacing one.
Can you describe the storyboarding process in Japan?
The system is much looser than in the U.S. The director draws it himself before the rest of the crew become involved. Also the division of labor isn’t as exact. I feel one should be flexible in the way one works.
How often does the staging change from story to animation?
It happens occasionally, however I try not to tell others to fix it. I try not to burden others with the changes. I prefer to redraw it myself. The problem is, if an order is made then they have to spend time thinking about it because they don’t have as clear of a vision. It’s best for the person who knows how to do it, to draw it himself, it prevents any further interruptions in the process.
Then came questions from the audience:
What were you interested in when you were 11 years old?
I spent a lot of time just imagining things. I was a physically weak child, but read a lot. I always wanted to be a strong hero.
What advice can you give to growing artists?
Don’t do something that you’ve seen before. But if you’ve forgotten what you’ve seen, then do it.
What do you think the future holds for hand drawn animation?
As long as there are people doing it—it will continue to exist. Pencils and computers are just tools to make our stories. There’s always a use for a tool like a pencil.
Can you tell us about the use of computers and the change that took place at Ghibli?
Early on we had this illusion about the computer---that they’d do the tedious drawings we didn’t want to do. The computer actually made it even more tiresome for us in the end. The computer can draw with a certain exactitude. To create a seamless blend between the work the computer did versus human, the animators must also be able to draw that well, but those that couldn’t draw at that kind of level ended up getting worse due to the challenge. The crew began to only think like the computer and we needed to just see what we saw with our eyes. I now tell my animators to not worry about the amount of drawings they produce—we are still saving money by not having to buy another computer. However, we do use the computer for camerawork.
How did you create the water effects in Ponyo?
I found that the ocean is more believable when drawn with wavy lines, just so long as it’s moving. If you stop the continuous movement then the scene dies and all the flaws/weaknesses became very apparent. Overall, the main thing was to draw like a child, but keep it moving.
What keeps bringing you out of retirement?
The first time I announced I would retire was after my first film, but just to my wife. Now that I’ve said it so much, no one believes me---I think I’ll just stay quiet on the matter.