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Otakon 2011
Producers and Directors Q&A

by Gia Manry,

Translator Toshifumi Yoshida opened the Directors and Producers panel by revealing that none of the producers wanted to get up in front of everyone, turning the panel into a "Directors Panel" rather than "Producers and Directors." He then introduced director Noburo Ishiguro, Kazuya Murata, and Makoto Shinkai. Yoshida then called upon the panelists to please interrupt one another, discuss, heckle, etc.

Each panelist introduced themselves and their background. Ishiguro revealed that he is coming up on 50 years in the anime industry. He added that it felt like time had passed very quickly and that he hadn't really even done all that much. He ran through a few of the titles he created, like Space Battleship Yamato, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Last year he directed his first anime in 13 years, "and boy, did it flop." He said that he'd had many flops over the years and that he usually doesn't think about them. One of the reasons he found himself at a loss in recent years was because animation was becoming increasingly digital, so sometimes he feels he just doesn't know how to do animation anymore. With changing times has come changing sensibilities, so he finds himself running full throttle in neutral trying to communicate with others. But he doesn't want his career to end in that fashion, so he's trying new things.

Murata listed several of the titles that he's worked on in one form or another, such as Code Geass, Planetes, Pokémon, and Eureka Seven. Sitting between two of his favorite directors— Ishiguro and Shinkai —he said that he feels very honored to be here. Shinkai introduced himself briefly in English, running through his own career and stating that he feels nervous in front of such great and experienced directors.

Yoshida then herded the panel into a question and answer session. The first question came from ANN columnist Mike Toole, who asked about his transition from a solo project like Voices of a Distant Star into group work. Shinkai replied that when he did his first film he had no choice but to do it alone because he was working at a game company at the time. Now with a staff, he said that he doesn't feel lonely anymore thanks to being cheered on by an encouraging staff, which makes the workflow easier. Also, working alone you're limited by what you can come up with, but with a staff the boundaries become almost limitless, which is the biggest difference between the two.

Next came a question about Japan' top selling anime Blu-ray discs: the sales tended to be the collections from new television series (such as Bakemonogatari and K-ON!) and only one or two might make it. Why are those sales so concentrated? Yoshida jokingly asked him to ask an easier question, but translated it anyway. Murata replied that he feels that with the higher cost of Blu-rays and limited number of people who own Blu-ray players, the high-selling titles are the ones that fans will treasure, more than because it was an enjoyable show. Ishiguro added that in ten years Blu-ray would be replaced anyway.

An attendee attempted to ask several questions but was rebuffed; choosing his best question he asked about how the March 11 earthquake affected them personally and professionally, and has it inspired any new anime ideas.

Ishiguro responded first, noting that Japan has a lot of earthquakes, although the most recent one was off the scale, leaving Japanese people still in shock and recovery. One of the producers he worked with on Macross (Hiroshi Kakoi) was taken by the tsunami in a mere instant. Tokyo itself remains affected, with limited use of electricity, darker train stations, trains running in the dark, air conditioning being limited, escalators aren't running. Coming from the age where that was normal Ishiguro is familiar with it, but young people are having a hard time. He feels that people in Japan are not taking the situation seriously enough. On the work front, producers are largely in a "wait-and-see" posture waiting for everything to pass. No one is willing to try and create something new or different at the moment. He doesn't know how long this will last, but he said that he wonders if it's possible to go back to the way it used to be.

Shortly prior to the earthquake, an anime called Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 which featured an earthquake was made, and Murata noted that he had been involved in it. It was about the problems that rise during an earthquake but for an even larger earthquake to take place in real life was simply unimaginable. The reality is that the Japanese people must accept what happened. He said that his view is that upcoming themes in anime will be about seriously considering what it is to live on, and that even at the darkest times there is the possibility of a bright future. This statement attracted applause from the audience.

Shinkai thinks that in Japan, anime and Manga Entertainment is serving as an initiation into adulthood. Young people are vicariously experiencing the pains of life through anime and manga because they are sheltered from it in real life. Shinkai revealed that he himself felt that his initation into adulthood came in this fashion, but now Japan has a reality that is stranger than fiction. For someone growing up with anime and manga, he knows that they must face the adversity in order to overcome it, but he's also realized that fiction and reality are completely different things. He finds himself having a hard time thinking through things. Another possibility is anime's ability to portray some of the lessons that the Japanese are learning after the earthquake, although at this point he's not yet sure how to do that.

An Otakon staffer asked Murata about his work on the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood movie— his first entry in the franchise —and he responded that to put a side story on an existing series, an event that happens in the middle of the main plot, had to be both engaging and to not break the canon. He wanted to feel like it truly happened during the events of that season but the audience simply hadn't been able to see it; the events of the film were carefully written to tie in to the series' last episode.

Next came a question for Shinkai, specifically about his mecha design in Voices of a Distant Star: does he enjoy designing mechs and are there particular mechs that inspire(d) him. Shinkai replied that he doesn't have much experience with mecha design and he's not especially a fan of it, but in creating Voices of a Distant Star he wanted to take on the technical challenge of taking a 3D mecha design and turning it into a 2D animation. He said that he went out and bought Gundam and basically copied the mechs there. When he later met the mech designer from Gundam he was called out and apologized profusely.

Murata was asked about his favorite character from To-Heart, and he replied that he likes Tomoko. Her position in the story was very similar to what he experienced in junior high school, so he felt a connection with that character.

The next question was about what the panelists thought should be "anime canon," titles that everyone should watch (other than their own). Ishiguro said that he hadn't watched anything recently, but when pressed he stated that all the titles that come to his mind are non-standard and not commercially available, like Czechoslovakian puppet shows and the works of Norman McLaren. He also suggested a Chinese title called Muteki, which was done with sumi art (ink and wash painting) in the 1950s. He said he was amazed by the techniques used in it and said that at the time it made Japanese animators think that the Chinese were very smart.

Murata suggested Hayao Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan and highly recommended that everyone find and watch it if they haven't already. Shinkai swore it was a coincidence, but by sheer coincidence a DVD he just recently picked up was Ishiguro's Legend of Galactic Heroes. He spoke about the show, noting that it's "really long" and therefore really expensive, but that he watches a couple of episodes during meals. He started producing anime in the digital age, so he has feelings of nostalgia towards "analog" ways of making anime and during the show he finds himself noting particular effects that he feels were really cool.

In response to a question about nonverbal communications, Ishiguro spoke against the trend to having characters speak every thought and feeling and explain to the audience what's going on, instead of having more nonverbal communication. When he was in film school, one of the projects they had to do was to film a scenario in which two people get together. They had to express the idea that they do so periodically using the fewest lines of dialogue possible. Ishiguro wasn't the one who came up with this example, but there was a scenario with a man and woman meeting on a corner. One character handed the other a suitcase and just said "until the next time" and left. Ishiguro noted that this is easier to accomplish in live-action, so maybe asking animators to do it is too much to ask for.

Murata said that how characters communicate without words has to do with their expressions and at what angle they're shot. In terms of the shots, for example, characters can look at each other eye-to-eye and one can avert their eyes, or one can not meet the other's eyes while fidgeting. They compose shots full-on, side-profile, or focusing on the eyes, in order to convey emotional backgrounds behind a scene. Since there are so many ways to do it, there's no "correct" way to compose a nonverbal scene.

Shinkai also responded that since he never formally studied how to portray scenes like that; he taught himself. So he said he's not very good at expressing his characters' emotions with this method, so he's learned a lot just sitting listening to the others. Murata responded that he thinks Shinkai does it very well, and Shinkai thanked him.

The next question related to digital animation and what advice they would give to Ishiguro on working with the younger generation of animators. Yoshida joked that he didn't want to translate that one, so the asker attempted to rephrase the question slightly. Ishiguro said that he really wanted to hear the answer, and Murata replied that it would be difficult. Ishiguro then stated that since they're working with new technology, he's sure the others have been through some of his hardships, but they do know more about what's new and is curious as to what information they would provide.

Murata responded first since he has actually done traditional cel animation as well as digital animation, and has felt the hardships of every cel having to be placed properly with the backgrounds behind it, photographed, and repeated, because once it's on film it's done. But now with digital animation things can be changed, whether they're minor adjustments or major changes. Having felt that freedom from the confines of cel animation he feels that there's a brighter horizon ahead of him.

Shinkai stated that he's the opposite because he started learning animation in the digital age. But even today most animators still draw with pencil and paper and then scan onto a computer and becomes digital from that point on. So there's a great deal that digital animators can learn from analog animators. He's currently working with analog animators and there's a lot he doesn't understand about the process, such as measurements for moving a character on the screen. Analog animators write in millimeters per frame, but because he's digital he needs to know how many pixels they move per frame, so he has to convert it. But he doesn't want to just tell the animators to change, but rather feels that digital animators should learn the older ways as well. As long as animators draw with pencil and paper there will always be an analog base to animation. So he feels that Ishiguro should just tell digital animators to learn how to animate analog.

The audience responded with applause and Ishiguro replied that switching from millimeters to pixels really threw him off. As for moving a character across the screen, in Macross it was always three frames per millimeter because their machine couldn't handle anything smaller than that. He wondered how many pixels that would be. Shinkai responded that it depends on the resolution that you scan the picture in, so it's kind of complicated. Ishiguro said that he supposes he has to learn it or he'll be thought a fool.

Unfortunately the panel was already over time and had to end at that point. The audience gave a standing ovation to all three directors.

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