Sadao Tsukioka Interview (Part 2/2): Chinese Animation & CG

This is the second part of an interview that was originally published on Autodesk.jp on September 16th, 2016. Click here for part 1. Thanks to @frog_kun for providing the translation. © 2017 On The Ones


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Interviewer: Koichi Noguchi (Toei Animation)

Making CG animation with “soul”

Noguchi: You’re even teaching animation at Chinese universities these days. Have you been watching the latest CG animation?

Tsukioka: Of course. The students submit their work to the Chinese anime festivals, and their CG animation work is top-notch. They use American software, too.

Noguchi: The Chinese animation industry has deep ties with the Japanese animation industry, I believe, but where do they learn their skills from?

Tsukioka: Their 3D CG animation overwhelmingly comes from America, and their 2D animation comes from Japan. Many of the university lecturers have had experience studying in America, and they bring over good software. There are lots of companies that subcontract 3D animation work for American companies and others that perform 2D work for Japanese companies. Around ten years ago, they were learning how to use software that didn’t even exist in Japan yet.

Noguchi: What sort of things do you currently teach in your animation classes in China?

Tsukioka: I teach hardly any techniques. I do teach the concept of “entertaining the audience”—out of all the things I learned from being with Osamu Tezuka, Shotari Ishinomori, Sakyo Komatsu, and so on, this idea of “entertaining the audience” was most important. Because I’ve worked in an environment where anime competes for ratings, I can grasp the concept well, but it’s not easy to teach it to Japanese students, and with Chinese students it’s even more difficult. Maybe it’s because China has had a planned economy for around thirty years or so. The coordinators on both the Japanese and Chinese sides don’t get it. When it comes to technique, everyone has sample prints of characters walking or running, and because of that, everyone draws the same walk cycle. When I teach the walk cycle, I start from the fundamentals. I draw everything in order on a whiteboard, and the students normally take photos and draw them as accurately as they can. I tell them to remember the procedure first. Because they’re just copying something that’s already done, they never improve, and they always produce the same walk cycle no matter what piece they work on. I’m told that there are 2,000 universities in China that teach animation, but they all have teachers who specialize in design or CG, which is pretty much the same thing as saying there are no animation teachers. That’s why I feel that they have room for improvement when it comes to conveying motion. There’s a CG animated series on CCTV called Boonie Bears, but the motions are incredibly Americanized. As for the quality, the expensive-looking reaction shots are Americanized and gaudy to look at. Not to mention that all the characters move the same way. It might be because they use a data bank. There’s not much awareness about how to express characterization through moving pictures.

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Boonie Bears,” which continues to air today. Several films based on the series have also been released.

Noguchi: With CG, you don’t get a feel for the number of drawings, so when it comes to conveying movement, it must feel different.

Tsukioka: Fundamentally, it’s a matter of how to visually express the character’s appeal. If everyone walks the same way, the character’s appeal won’t come through, and because you don’t have to worry about the number of drawings when it comes to CG, there’s hardly any awareness about how to express a character’s appeal through motion, even though that should be what anime fundamentally strives for. Some things may have changed over time, but other things don’t. For example, if you show small children a cartoon drawing and a CG picture that resembles a photo, the children will favor the cartoon. Hand-drawn animation was what they grew up drawing intuitively, so that has a more intimate appeal to them. When it comes to the conveying motion, there are ways of expressing weight and volume, as if you’re breathing life into every individual frame. The rhythm and accuracy require a considerable amount of skill. Children can see those things, and they’re delighted by it. Another technique is to deliberately use pastel crayons when you’re applying the colors. For some reason, this brings out a feeling of warmth. A particular technique has its time and place. That’s what gives it a pleasant feeling. You need to work harder to bring this out with CG. When I was making commercial anime a few years ago, I used CG to simulate clay animation. I imagine that the viewers are in the same boat as the sponsors in assuming that was actual clay animation. (laughs)

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Claymation-style CG by Tsukioka(?) from a 2011 commercial for Meiji Seika’s Isodine mouthwash. Tsukioka designed the product’s hippo mascots in 1985.

Noguchi: Your techniques give your work a handmade feel, which the audience responds positively to.

Tsukioka: The shadows and contours of clay give it a kind of warm feeling. I think that anyone who makes clay animation would understand this but there are slight movements that you can’t calculate. That’s part of what makes it so warm. To elaborate, CG is just like film in the sense that there’s “noise” onscreen, and, as with film, people take it for granted. I suppose people who make films do what they can to control the noise. That’s why, when I was making commercial animation, I added and removed frames, and went out of my way to make some parts look jerky. That sort of thing might not go over well in a long project, but if you’re making a short animation, you can include those effects to evoke a warmer feeling, as if the animation was handmade.

Noguchi: I have a strong feeling that CG expression with a handmade feel will be a thing to watch out for in the future. Thank you very much for the valuable insight you’ve shared today.


SADAO TSUKIOKA

Born in 1939. Grew up in Niigata prefecture. After graduating from high school, he moved to Tokyo and took up work as Osamu Tezuka’s assistant. Thanks to Tezuka’s involvement with the preproduction of Toei Doga’s Alakazam the Great, Tsukioka worked on storyboards and character designs. He joined Toei Doga afterward and worked as a director and character designer for Ken the Wolf Boy, Toei Doga’s first television series. After leaving the company, he participated in Mushi Pro projects and worked on the short animation Shin Tenchi Souzou, which won the grand prize for best short at the Krakow Film Festival, Poland. He also worked on commercial anime with the NHK’s Minna no Uta, and is currently active as an animator. He also works tirelessly to educate up-and-coming animators. Currently, he is active internationally as a university lecturer and assistant at Takarazuka University, China Academy of Art, and the Communication University of China, as well as the board chairman of The Association of Japanese Animations.

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