The Production, part 7: Opening Animation
In taking on the animated sequence that opens our film, top-tier anime director Hiroshi Nagahama and veteran anime production house Studio DEEN’s Kazunori Noguchi agreed, like everyone else who partnered with Pray For Japan, to donate their talents. Studio DEEN in turn asked for and received the services of veteran anime studios Artland, Production IG, and Studio Comet. Further, the Korea-based E-Cho Animation and China-based DEEN and China Animation Co. animation houses that provided supportive services also donated time and skill.
The result was nothing short of miraculous. The imagery flutters like silk paintings of the kind seen in Buddhist temples and monasteries, caught in the wind. The animation is stylized and pared down to essentials, partially because of the speed at which the piece had to be finished, and partially to give it the kind of movement you see in Japanese traditional dance and drama. It is an evocation of antediluvian Tohoku and a wish that the natural beauty of this landscape re-emerge, with the help of willing hands and united hearts.
Hiroshi Nagahama is no stranger to working with Levy: he was the representative of the Japanese animation industry on the selection panel for AMERICA’S GREATEST OTAKU. Calling Nagahama-san from Tohoku while volunteering, Stu began to articulate his vision of an animated introduction to the documentary.
Once Stu returned to Tokyo a few months later, Nagahama-san introduced him to Noguchi-san over dinner and the three discussed the practicalities of creating animation for the documentary. Literally two days later, Noguchi-san and Nagahama-san joined Stu on a planned trip to the Minato-sho Shelter in Ishinomaki to visit the summer matsuri (festival). They met with victims and volunteers – and were able to witness the devastated region first hand.
Noguchi-san was particularly concerned with how the local victims would feel about animation – would it come across as trivializing the tragedy’s gravity? Stu believed that a style based on traditional hanga style paintings fit the culture of Tohoku and paid respect to the people. Nagahama-san begin to envision an iconic, classic tenogui design look and they shared references. In the meantime, Noguchi-san spoke with a Studio DEEN animator who was born and raised in Tohoku – and whose family were victims of the tragedy. She confirmed that the animation would be a great honor to the victims and the region in general, so everyone decided to proceed.
Stu’s goal was to present the film’s real-life heroes in their pre-tsunami state – almost as if these were dream-like memories. Nagahama-san then set to work realizing Stu’s vision. First a storyboard, then an animatic was created from the storyboard and sent over to the production’s offices for approval. The three met at Studio DEEN to discuss Nagahama-san’s work. Then when everything was locked in, animation began. It progressed from the “keys” to the Korean and Chinese studios taking the keys and doing in-betweening, smoothing out the animation and making it all flow.
Finally, Yukari Kaneko worked with Stu to create the font designs for the animation and implemented the motion graphics and compositing of these on-screen words. Stu’s aim was to memorialize the key emotions everyone experienced during the initial recovery period.
While the animation was being produced, musician/composer/producer Okuda Tamio was composing his song for the project, “jp”. When that was finished, it managed to also fit the imagery as if the Okuda song was what animators were working with. The results were pretty much dead on. Music and images were brought together, and the sequence worked.
Hiroshi is an animator, animation director and storyboard artist who began his career at Madhouse drawing key art and in-betweens. He became freelance and moved towards direction by creating the concept designs and storyboards for REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA in 1996. While he’s had a hand in numerous anime titles, Hiroshi’s directing career took off with MUSHI-SHI in 2005 and DETROIT METAL CITY in 2008.
DEEN studio head Kazunori Noguchi was there at the very beginning, when a group of Sunrise Animation all-stars were encouraged to spin off into their own studio. Studio DEEN in turn worked alongside Sunrise on a large amount of the company’s projects.
Studio DEEN was a spinoff of veteran studio Sunrise. They have a long history of being involved with many fan favorite series and Original Animation Videos, from Rurouni Kenshin and Cowboy Bebop; through to newer series and movies like Read Or Die OAV and the Ghost in the Shell Stand-alone Complex TV series; through to very recent series like Hetalia Axis Powers, Persona 4, and Tiger & Bunny.