WHY NOT PAPERLESS?

BLAME! features Polygon Pictures' best characters yet!


I recently got into a discussion about anime production budgets and CGI versus 2D hand drawn. Because of the BLAME! animated film, which I wrote about earlier, I had been thinking about digital paperless animation. Here in Asia, be it China, Korea or Japan, many studios still draw on paper. They are feeling the economic crunch that affects everyone these days, and in a bid to save money, many are turning to low budget CGI. It looks absolutely horrible and audiences hate it. (I don't mean BLAME! I am thinking Berserk) I think that only because of the prevalence of video games, younger audiences are getting more and more used to it.

One would think to ask the question, wouldn’t digital paperless be cheaper? On the one hand I DO understand why many don’t do it. Many of the veteran animators, the guys you hire when you really need to get things done, work on paper. That’s where their skill is. Because they work in large teams, they always know there is someone to scan that stuff into the computer, clean it up, color it and work with it from there. The artist doesn’t need to be able to do it himself.

The problem with this line of thinking is that when these guys are gone, 2D goes with them. Their skills aren’t being passed on and younger people are mostly into learning 3D, and going into games, because it pays better.

There is also the expense of equipment. Getting every artist a workstation and a Cintiq can be expensive, and then there’s the downtime that would come with retraining them. Most studios work on such thin margins that they are always a hair away from going out of business. They couldn’t afford the process to switch over.

Most TV animation in Japan is done at around $150,000 per episode. The CGI shows are supposedly coming it at $90,000 to $100,000 per episode. They still look horrible though. Also, in the case of CGI, you can’t just do anything. You can draw anything you can think of, but in CGI, you have to build the 3D models, texture them, put bones in them for animation etc. You are limited in what you can do. This shows in some of these programs, because when they come across something they can't do, it is drawn in 2D. The transition is so jarring it completely ruins the viewing experience and makes the show unwatchable. (To me at least, but I read similar feelings from a lot of people on the internet)

There might be some upfront pain associated with making the switch to digital paperless, but I believe in the long term, good quality shows could be made cheaper than, or in the same price range as, the CGI shows.

I may try to develop some courses along these lines and push this idea to studios around here.

Hopefully, coupled with that, I’ll be able to spend my off time working on some longer form animation projects of my own… And PROVE it!

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BLAME!

When I first visited TOKYOPOP, years ago, to do World of Hartz for them, they told me I needed to study manga. They gave me access to the huge library of titles they had. One of the things they handed me was a manga called BLAME! Read More...
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SOMEONE DREW THAT!

I found this incredible Akira blog on Tumblr which features original cels, layouts, backgrounds and other materials from the 'Art of Akira' exhibit. It got me thinking… Read More...
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THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALITY

I don't keep up with anime often. In fact, I don't even know if I could be called a fan anymore. I used to absolutely love it. In the days when it was on VHS and DVD I would buy several titles every week. Now, there's very little I'm interested in watching. Don't worry. I'm not going to go into a rage about the good old days… Read More...
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YOUR NAME TOPS CHINA BOX OFFICE

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. Read More...
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DO YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE?

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! Read More...
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WHY 2D ANIMATION WILL EVENTUALLY DIE

I want to talk about why 2D animation will eventually die. Read More...
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IS 2D ANIMATION REALLY DEAD?

The question, is 2D animation really dead? There are some cases, and some places, where this may seem to be the case, Read More...
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STUDIO GHIBLI TOONZ SOFTWARE RELEASED FREE!

The animation production software Toonz, developed in conjunction and used by Studio Ghibli, will be released Open Source on March 26th. Read More...
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SOMEONE IS DOING IT!



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?

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WHICH IS BETTER? 2D or 3D?

In the beginning, when I created a short film called Understanding Chaos, I used a software called Lightwave 3D to do via cel shading what was generally done in 2D hand drawn animation in that day. I did this because I hadn’t heard of a Wacom tablet, and had no desire to attempt drawing on paper, scanning it in and colouring all those frames. 3D cel shading and Lightwave 3D made possible what would otherwise have been completely impossible for me. It allowed me to make a film. Since that time, I have continually sought to improve upon those techniques, seeking out new tools and better methods. Some of that improvement went into Shadowskin, but I didn’t stop there. I kept searching for whatever could increase my quality and give me greater speed.

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.

World of Hearts animation trailer test

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 cel shading tests

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.

Celles et Ceux 2D hand drawn animation

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.

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YOU JUST HAVE TO BEGIN

Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux from Gwenn GERMAIN on Vimeo.


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.

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NOT COMPLETELY OUT

I wrote some time ago about Studio Ghibli closing the doors of its animation department shortly after the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki. Apparently, the studio was said to be focusing only on managing IP and keeping the Miyazaki museum open. However, it seems they are not completely out of the picture.

Studio Ghibli produces The Red Turtle

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.

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OBAMA THANKS JAPAN FOR ANIME



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.

Macross Anime series debuted as Robotech in America
Even though the US anime and manga industry has shrunken considerably, the terms are now household words. Everyone knows about it. They talk about it in mainstream movies. Even mainstream US properties get manga adaptations now. It really has become a part of culture. I find this funny because one of the first anime to really make waves in the US, called Macross, was all about culture.

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.

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KEEPING IT SIMPLE



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.

Howl's Moving Castle

“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?

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WHEN IT WAS ONLY ANIME

When I was a kid, hot on the bees of Robotech having been broadcast on television in America, me and a group of friends got together with the idea that we were really going to build an amazing robot. Granted, back then, we had no idea of the billions of dollars in research and development that would be necessary to pull such a feat off, nor the physics knowledge necessary to make a huge bipedal machine stand or walk. We were simply going to do it, because that’s what we want to do.

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.

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