The latest theatrical release from Makoto Shinkai, the director who began his career with the independent anime film Voices of Distant Star, has topped the Chinese box office, becoming the highest grossing 2D animated film of all time in the country. This is after a record breaking release in his home country of Japan, where he rose to be the second highest earning anime film of all time, behind Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The film was given a special release permission to play in China, which generally only allows 34 foreign films to screen each year in its local box office. There are a number of reasons why this special permission was granted.
While I do believe that we are seeing what will be an expanding trend, as the Chinese market continues to open up, it also, in the end, comes down to money. This is similar to Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge, which was given a one month extension at the box office, (foreign films are typically allowed only one month total) because it was raking in the cash.
According to The Japan Times, "Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials have said the two nations should expand the positive aspects in their relationship…", but Shinkai's film was also helped by it's TIMING, and the potential to make a huge splash. These days, potential demand, among the target audience, can be gauged online before a film even comes out, and, in this case, online buzz was already at frenzied levels.
You have 200 million young people, who are the audience with the most disposable income, and they are driving the box office boom in China. They are increasingly interested in international material, and anime, manga and games are at the top of that list. Makoto Shinkai's film, which is a love story targeted exactly at the age demographic, couldn't have arrived at a more perfect time!
The question of the day is do you have an audience? We will look into this question with some examples of anime that dared to be different, including Aku no Hana and Real Drive. The answer for you as an indie creator may be a very different story than it is for the big studios!
I want to talk about why 2D animation will eventually die. I am speaking entirely from a commercial perspective, as the reason will certainly be because of money.
I know many fans don't like cel shaded, CGI anime shows, but you look at some of the current shows, like Bubuki Buranki, Ajin, or Knights of Sidonia, you can see that the quality of said cel shading just keeps getting better and better. It stands to reason that there will come a day when that quality looks identical to the 2D animation that fans know and love. This has already happened with CGI in other aspects of the industry.
Take spaceships for example. In the old days, spaceships were done with really large and heavy plastic models which had to be hung on a motion control rig in a studio to shoot. Not only that, they had to shoot it in multiple passes, to get the different lights, the glowing parts and so on. This was a tedious and expensive process. Along comes CGI, and while the early shows using CGI for spaceships, like Babylon 5, or Space Above and Beyond, didn't look as good as the models, by the time you get to shows like Firefly, or the new Star Trek films, CGI has 100% replaced models for spaceships.
The same thing has happened with other hard surface objects, like cars or planes in the real world. I recently wrote to a buddy of mine still working in Hollywood and asked him if we have reached a point where it is easier and cheaper to do a plane flying by in CGI rather than go out and shoot a real plane. He said we have long since passed that point.
Another case where we have seen incredible improvement is in human characters. In early work, like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the CGI characters looked a little off, or creepy and there was much talk of the uncanny valley. In more recent efforts, though, such as in Superman Returns, you have many shots where a CGI double is used and people, even some profession artists, can't tell. You see CGI human characters getting more realistic like in Tron Legacy, with the CGI Jeff Bridges, or Terminator Genisys, with the CGI Arnold. The best example might be in Fast and Furious 7, where they needed CGI to finish the scenes involving actor Paul Walker because of his untimely accident. They did nearly 400 shots of the Paul Walker double, using a few different techniques. I have watched the film numerous times looking for them, and I have found lot, but nowhere near 400. This means that there are a lot of shots in there that have fooled us all.
I mention the CGI humans because I believe that it is a lot more involving to create a realistic human character on screen than to make a cel shaded character mimic a 2D drawing. The day is surely coming where they will get there, and audiences will no longer be able to tell. On top of that, once they get there, the only place to go is faster, cheaper and easier.
2D animation has never gotten cheaper. If you read the Disney book, The Illusion of Life, you will see how the company had to deal with enormous financial burdens as 2D animation just kept getting more and more expensive over the decades. It will only continue to get more expensive. There has never been an innovation that made 2D animation cheaper. The reason is there is no technology which can make a human artist draw better or draw faster. To achieve this, you need more time and/or more manpower, and both make the process more expensive.
I am aware that there will always be artistic reasons to want to do 2D. People love to draw and love to see drawings in motion. I love 2D animation and always will. Another thing to consider, though, is that the people doing artistic 2D works, like Richard Williams, Bill Plympton or Glenn Keane, are getting up there in age, and will one day retire. To make matter worse, if the schools around here in Asia are any indication, fewer and fewer students are even bothering to learn 2D. The reason is simple. If you learn 3D, there are more job opportunities and the pay is better. A LOT better.
You can't even survive on a 2D animators wage anywhere in Asia right now. If, however, you learn 3D animation, and get good at it, you got it made. You will have a good salary, a good career and a good life. So in the future, if a commercial publisher or company wants to do a 2D animation project, the manpower may not even exist to make it happen. Yet, there will be dozens of cel shading artists or studios who can make it happen for a tenth of the cost.
Learn more at: http://www.studioartfx.com
The question, is 2D animation really dead? There are some cases, and some places, where this may seem to be the case, but the reason is not what you may think. It's not because audiences out there are tired of 2D, traditional animation and no longer want to see it. The reason is largely because of the cost to produce said 2D, traditional animation.
When you go to make a $150+ million movie, you can't take any risks. This means the studios are going to go with what has worked before. In this case, the animated movies that have made a lot of money in recent history, have all been 3D. But that's not the only reason.
2D animation has survived on television mainly because of Flash or other forms of vector based animation. It is only through the use of these vector based tools that 2D animation can remain competitive in the modern market. You see, the cost to produce a half hour episode of animation in Flash, can be as little as a quarter of the cost to produce traditional, 2D animation, and this is talking about the kind of limited animation used in anime TV series!
The cost to produce 3D animation, however, just gets cheaper and cheaper, as is the case with any form of technology. I talked in the previous episode about game engine rendering. Tools like this are making the production of high quality 3D animation fast and inexpensive. So now you see a lot of shows on television, especially here in China, being done in 3D animation. They are simple, but pleasant to look at and audiences are connecting with them.
This isn't to say that audiences don't connect with 2D, but there is yet another reason. You now have a generation of young people who grew up on video games. They live in a world in which 3D has always existed. Toy Story is pretty old after all. For this generation, 2D animation is something old. They are simply more used to 3D.
On top of this, there are more job opportunities in the world of 3D animation, and they pay more. In some places, a LOT more, which is certainly the case in China and Japan. So what are kids going to study? They are going to go where the money is. This means there are fewer and fewer people even interested in learning how to do 2D, traditional animation.
The famous film director Hayao Miyazaki said that when 2D finally dies, it won't be because people no longer want to see it, it will be because the artists with the true skill to do it will have all disappeared.
All of this can make it seem like 2D is dead, but there is one arena where it doesn't have to be. That is the arena of the independent creator. The indie creator can use the amazing tools available today to create fast and cheap 2D animation, without the restrictions of the big studios. The indie can take those risks! The independent animator can leverage the techniques and software on the market today, some of it even free, to create the way they want to create, and keep 2D alive.
Finally we take a look at Anigen Final Secrets.
This is the fastest and easiest animation technique ever developed, to help any indie creator get started on the road to seeing their dreams come alive on screen!
The animation production software Toonz, developed in conjunction and used by Studio Ghibli, will be released Open Source on March 26th. A Japanese developer, Dwango, has apparently acquired the software from the Italian developer, Digital Video, and will release the "Ghibli Edition" of the tool under the name Opentoonz.
Atsushi Okui, the Executive Imaging Director at Studio Ghibli, said, “During the production of Princess Mononoke in 1995, we needed a software which enables us to create a certain section of the animation digitally. We checked for what was available at that time and chose Toonz. Our requirement was that in order to continue producing theater-quality animation without additional stress, the software must have the ability to combine the hand-drawn animation with the digitally painted ones seamlessly. From then onwards we continued to use the software while going through major updates to make it easier for us to use. We are happy to hear that this open-source version contains the Ghibli Edition. We hope that many people inside and outside of the animation industry will utilize this software for their work. We would like to extend our gratitude to the staff of Digital Video.”
Read more at AWN.
With so much content out there on the Internet today, it is extremely rare to come across something that actually impresses. Recently, I came across something that did just that. Featuring a very creative mix of 2D hand-drawn animation, 3D cel shaded work, and 3D VFX, this work is one of the most amazing independent projects I have seen coming up in a very long time.
The creator, who goes by the name of Daetrix, posted to the Black Science Fiction Society Facebook group saying:
"I almost never let my sci fi anime out for public viewing due to a few people telling me "Black people don't like science fiction" This labor of love is based on my life and bouts with Sleep paralysis and lucid dreams. I joined a few groups in hopes to find like-minded folks to share it with. "
So why am I so impressed with this? Well, one of the things that stood out immediately for me, was the sheer creativity behind this. Most independent projects out there, including some of mine I must say, are just rips of things that already exist. They just want to copy anime, or Marvel comics, or other properties that we have seen before. That is not the case here. This project is showing some amazing imagery which is really new for our industry.
This creator is also following a true independent path. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of major publishers, he is looking to forge his own road. Hoping to find like-minded people in order to share his talent with, he has set up a page on Patreon. You may remember that I spoke about this service in the Chaos Retro video. This lets creators connect directly with their fans and receive support for their creative endeavors. This means that artists can create what they want to create without editors and publishers telling them how to do it. You can see his Patreon page here.
Seeing this has definitely motivated me to do more, push harder, and be more productive in my own efforts. How about you?
While I have seemingly abandoned Lightwave completely, today, this doesn’t mean I am against it in any way. I still follow it in the industry news and have been getting interested in the most recent versions. One of the primary reasons I don’t use it is simply because I lost my dongle some years ago. I realise the dongle is no longer necessary today, but I also began using Poser. MODO is another tool, created by the original developers of Lightwave, that also kept me from going back to it.
I never had any illusions that Poser cel shading looked as good as what Lightwave could provide. Lightwave’s cel shader was written by a diehard Japanese animation fan. This is a guy I would run into at Anime Expo and other conventions having nothing to do with Lightwave and 3D, and we would chat just about the art. With the possible exception of MODO, whose cel shader is likely written by the same guy, I have never seen any cartoon rendering system that has a look so perfect for anime as was in Lightwave.
My choice of Poser was all about speed. You may remember I used to sell a Lightwave character model bundle. I spent years building up that bundle and only by reusing parts and pieces of it, as bases, did creating new characters for show ideas I had become feasible. With Poser, I didn’t have to worry about that. Everything you could ever want was just there. It was just a matter of moving dials and creating morph targets to change the many existing characters into whatever one might need. All the clothing and costuming options were available on these huge content sites and they were cheap. You could mix and match things, rearrange existing content into anything you wanted, and because it was cel shaded, you didn’t have the limitations common to 3D. You could just smash one item into another and it would work in cartoon rendering.
Poser also had some other speed tools. The walk designer which made walking and running easy; The talk designer for automatic lip sync; Good cloth simulation, and those huge content sites also included many great sets and environments which could be easily retextured, kit bashed and repurposed for any use. There are also huge mocap libraries out there, both paid and free, which easily work with Poser. There are certain types of shows where I could still see an advantage to using the Poser method, especially if you wanted to do a series and release an episode every month or so.
As you know, Gwenn’s Celles et Ceux, which I wrote about in the past, is true 2D animation with very little 3D in it. As you likely also know, I currently do most of my work in 2D, using TVPaint on a Samsung 10.1 Galaxy Note. Fully 3D cel shaded work will never look like Celles et Ceux. The advantage of it is you may be able to get close, and get there much faster. The thing is, back when I started, 2D tech was nowhere near where it is today. You may remember a software I used called Aura back in the days of Chaos and Shadowskin. That was TVPaint version 6 I believe. The latest versions of TVPaint have things which make 2D a real competitor with my cel shading methods now. Also I have been drawing and improving almost everyday for 3 years on this tablet. I have gotten better and faster, which makes 2D even more viable.
When you consider these things, one must really weigh all the pros and cons when choosing whether or not to do show in 3D cel shading or real 2D hand drawing. One must also weigh which one will be more ENJOYABLE for the artist, as any method is still going to be a lot of work and a huge time investment.
I came across this early in the morning and it got me thinking. Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux is a short student film by Gwenn Germain. Studying at the French school Créapole, Germain lit the Japanese internet on fire last month with this release. Taking her inspiration from Hayao Miyazaki, Moebius and Syd Mead, it is easy to understand why. The short appears to be a trailer for an as yet to made feature film. It seems there is already quite a bit of hope out there that this project will grow into something bigger.
Germain herself said of this film that it was, "5 months of intensive production all alone in my cabin" and the final project for her five years of studying at Créapole in France. If there ever was an example that you just have to do it, this is it. If you have a dream of seeing your own ideas go across the screen, there's nothing stopping you from making them come true. As seen by this short film, which already has people all over the world hungry to see an entire feature made, you just have to begin!
Think about it. From this starting point, she could easily attract funding from a wide variety of sources, even major studios. She could also, however, parlay this into a Kickstarter or other crowd funding campaign that would likely be extremely successful. She could sign up for Patreon, a different model for supporting artistic endeavors and do a series of shorts to continue her story, with people pumping money is as she goes. I suspect any road she takes will lead to success.
If you are looking to make your own splash on the internet. DO something. Begin today. If you're not sure where to start, all of my training, including my 2D animation courses, are on sale right now. There's nothing standing in your way. You can get started on your dreams right now.
It seems the studio will be co-producing an animated feature film by Oscar winning director Michaël Dudok de Wit. The film will revolve around a man who survives a shipwreck only to find himself stranded on a desert island. His attempts to escape his fate are thwarted by a giant red turtle.
The film is also produced by the Paris based film sales group Wild Bunch. Their chief, Vincent Maraval, visited Studio Ghibli some years ago, before Miyazaki made his exit. While there, Miyazaki showed him the Oscar winning short film Father and Daughter, by Michaël Dudok de Wit, and said, “I want you to find the director for me. If one day Studio Ghibli decides to produce an animator from outside the studio, it will be him.”
Maraval tracked down Dukok de Wit who apparently had little interest in doing an animated feature, until he heard that Studio Ghibli wanted to be involved. Imagine doing work that attracts the attention of one of the greatest names in animation history. You never know who your work will reach or who it will touch. Even a short film can have incredible reach and value. Don’t underestimate the power of any art you create. Don’t worry about getting a million views. It only takes one viewer to change everything.
President Obama thanks Japan for all the cool things which it has brought to America, including karate, karaoke, manga, anime and even emoji. This is interesting when you consider the level to which foreign words like manga and anime have infiltrated modern culture. You can say these words and people will actually know what you are talking about. It wasn’t always like this.
When I first got into anime and manga, nobody knew what it was. In fact, back then, the word Japanimation was still in use. We don’t here that much today. Manga was even less well known, since, at that time, there may have been a fw anime shows on US TV, but publishers hadn’t started bringing the printed works over. Things exploded in the late 90’s and the early 2000’s were probably the peak. In those days, anime and manga were taking over mainstream bookstore and video store shelves. Things, of course, crashed big time after that.
Japan is doing something Hollywood has alway sheen known for They are exporting culture. They have people the world over mixing Japanese terms in their speech, regardless of what language they use. Kids want to be samurai and ninja, no matter their own heritage may have to offer. They are making their ideas into our ideas. This is the power of media. This is the power that artists and creators have. Those of us who desire to create should be thankful to those that paved the way.
Anyone who has any level of interest in anime will, by now, know about Mamoru Hosoda. I first learned of his work when I came across The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I immediately noticed the similarities between his work, and that of Studio Ghibli. His work features very simplistic character designs composed with amazing detailed and beautiful backgrounds. His work also features very simple, family oriented stories, not just for a family audience, but often centered on family. I was surprised, however, to learn that there is more to these similarities than one might think.
Many have said that Hosoda may be the next Miyazaki, but what I did not know was that he actually worked at Studio Ghibli in the past. In fact, he was set to direct Howl’s Moving Castle. The film, of course, went on to be completed without him.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get along with the staff on an artistic and logistic level, but still, I’ve learnt many things during my short time there…I thought to deliver a message I had to make tortured works. But in fact, while working on Howl’s, [I] realized being simple and clear was more satisfying to deliver the message. Even if it looks better, complicated things can’t reach the audience as well as simple ones…The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars are the results of this observation.”
Hosoda now has his own successful studio from which he directed and released Wolf Children. If you have seen this film, you know that it epitomizes that stated quoted by him above. He also went on to receive some very impressive awards. He is now preparing for the release of his next feature, Bakemono no Ko, or The Boy and the Beast. The film looks to continue along the lines he started with his previous efforts with very relationship driven stories and simple, beautiful artwork.
I wonder if his statement above has any bearing on why many of the anime properties I like, shows like Jin Roh and Real Drive, do not find a great level of success. They are anything but simple and clear after all. I watched Jin Roh many times before I could really understand it, and this is not just because of the language barrier. It is a complicated world and story. I happen to like that, though. That is what I want to see more of. It is also what I want to make. Does this mean I am hurting my own chances of reaching the kind of audience I want?
When I got older, I eventually went on to study mechanical engineering in university, still holding on to this idea that I would create amazing robot technology. At this time, however, I had also already been introduced to CGI and was slowly developing techniques that would allow a single artist to make their own anime. It soon dawned on me that what I really wanted to do was learn how to draw anime about cool robots rather than make them for real. After all, the technology just wasn’t there. The cool stuff I envisioned was never going to happen in my lifetime, right?
Fast forward a number of years and I eat crow. Of course, the exoskeleton above, from the Japanese startup company Skeletonics, is far from the amazing robots of anime, but I think that is an important point. This product is being created solely for entertainment purposes. It is a toy, for people who probably had visions, like me and my friends did when we were kids, except now they can get in a cool suit and really play those visions out. Their plan is to sell these suits to vendors, rather than individual users, and those vendors could rent them out to people, for an hour or two, to play with. This is by no means, however, meant to imply that the real stuff isn’t happening.
As I mentioned in Anigen II, companies like Boston Dynamics, in the USA, and Perceptual Robotics Laboratory in Italy, whose video you see above, are making it happen for real! The robot exoskeleton pictured in the video above is truly a mechanical wonder, giving the user super human strength. IT would, for example, allow the user to life extremely heavy items and control them with accuracy if the user were, for example, working on an aircraft. It has been claimed that companies in this field are experimenting with directly controlling the technology from the user’s brain.
In Japan, there is another robot creator who makes no secret of his sci-fi influences. He called his lab CyberDyne and was inspired as child by novels such as I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov and the anime TV series Cyborg 009. This creator is Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai of Tsukuba University. His robot suit, unabashedly called HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) , is the epitome of bringing anime and sci-fi into the real world. Built on the idea that the brain sends tiny electrical signals to the muscles of the body, his suit can analyze these signals and perform its tasks. It also greatly increases the wearers strength.
Professor Sankai’s robot suit also contains complex programming related to A.I. which works in conjunction with the analysis of signals from the brain. This means that if the user, for example, had lost the use of their legs, the suit would be able to compensate for that and being able to perform the tasks given the legs via electrical impulses received from the user. That is a huge difference in comparison to other such robot suits currently in development. In fact, that sounds a lot more like something out of an anime such as Ghost in the Shell.
While Professor Sankai can’t name names, he has been contacted by certain militaries who would desire to gain his technology for use in future weapons. The idea would be to use his HAL suit to create what is essentially a super soldier. If that isn’t an anime story waiting to happen, I don’t know what is. Luckily, the Professor believes that robot technology should be used to help people, allow the elderly to work, or the disabled to walk and function. He does not believe it should be used to hurt or kill people. For this reason, he has refused such offers.
Even though I personally chose to learn how to draw anime about the technology of the future, rather than pursue a career trying to build it for real, it is happening. Stories right out of science films are playing out right here in the real world today. While I don’t see myself attempting to return to that field in any real sense. I would definitely like to further explore these concepts through my own art.