Interview: Animator Henry Thurlow on Judgment and Justice

by Mike Toole,

Nine months ago, animator Henry Thurlow's Reddit AMA shone a spotlight on one of the lowest rungs of the anime industry-- the hardscrabble life of an in-between animator (douga-man), trying to get established and start a career at small studios. But since then, Henry's made great strides-- he's worked as 2nd key animator for popular shows like Tokyo Ghoul √A, Naruto Shippūden, and Aquarion Logos, and he's recently completed his short film, Judgment and Justice. Henry's hitting the film festival circuit with his new short—you can see a trailer for it, as well as his earlier works, on his Youtube channel. He's enlisted the help of some of his colleagues in the animation business to create promotional artwork for the film, which you can enjoy as you read this piece. Keep up on Henry's doings at his tumblr and twitter accounts, and don't forget to read his blog. Let's catch up with Henry now!

Q: You've made the jump from in-between animator to key animator. How's the freelance gengaman life treating you?


HENRY THURLOW: I'm working at a new studio now called Bang Bang Animation, which was started up by veteran animator Shiro Kudaka about a year ago. It's a very small studio but everyone's friendly and, unlike some of the other places I've worked, we don't take on soul-crushingly large amounts of work. Hahaha. So it's been a good experience. I work for them though, so I'm not freelance. I don't get to choose my own projects, it's whatever the studio happens to be working on at the time.

Arthell Isom (Background Artist, Letter to Momo / Blood-C / Gintama, Art director for upcoming web-series “She's Cra'shzy”)

Arthell's Youtube link

Ashley S. Benson a.k.a. Asherbee, Illustrator

Brian Kaufman (Director, Welcome to Showside; Animator, Superjail)


Q: Some of your work, such as your in-between frames for several episodes of Gundam Build Fighters, went uncredited. How common is this, in your experience? It's surprising that hard work like that wouldn't earn a screen credit...
It's incredibly common. It wasn't just Gundam Build Fighters either. I worked on Detective Conan, Crayon Shin-chan, the second Tiger and Bunny film, many episodes of Pokémon, some Nintendo DS games, and a whole bunch of other stuff… all of whicAh went uncredited. That's standard though. Pretty much all Douga-man, outside of the parent-companies’ personal in-between animation staff, don't get credited at all. Just the companies name appears in the credits. Everyone (to my surprise) seems pretty OK with it though.
One guy I worked with who's been a douga-man his entire life showed me his portfolio and I swear this guy worked on every single Gundam series and every single major anime title since the mid-1980s. Not only that, but he worked on Disney's Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck, and a ton of other Western series as well-- all the while going largely uncredited. There's a Korean guy, Shin Youngsoon, I work with now at Bang Bang Animation who, before moving to Japan and working on anime, worked in Korea on Cartoon Network shows like Powerpuff Girls and Star Wars: The Clone Wars… and he too, not only on the anime but the Western shows as well, has pretty much never been credited. While many of the people I've met don't seem to mind, it really pissed me off. Maybe it's a cultural thing. In my experience, going back to even the short-film I assisted on as an intern in college (Pat Smith's “Puppet”) I've always been credited. So yeah, after working for a week on an anime episode (all happy and ready to see my name actually pop up on a Gundam series!) I felt pretty let-down when it never happened.

Chen Yanfei (Background artist, Lupin the 3rd vs Detective Conan, The World Is Still Beautiful)

Chihiro Kobayashi, Illustrator

Chris Burns (Animator, Superjail; Original creator, Coin & Boltron Ninja Massacre)

Q: Talk a bit about your new film. How long have you been working on it? Would you say it's a product of your influences as an anime fan and animator, or does it come from somewhere else?

I worked on it (very slowly but surely as a side project) for a little over nine years. After graduating college I didn't see any way I was ever going to get to work on the kind of cool, violent anime I really wanted to… so picking up on the momentum I had after completing my thesis film, I decided to jump right into another short film. But this time, it would be 100% uncut, adding as much craziness as I could without worrying about how a teacher or class would react.


Over the years I definitely had periods of time when I didn't touch it at all… But then stories like Megumi Igarashi getting arrested for her artwork would pop up, and it would inspire me to start working on it again. (This short, I should mention, is a thousand times more offensive then Igarashi's vagina-boat, haha. So all you governments who don't like that can suck it.) I go much more in-depth with this answer on my blog.

Dan Meth, illustrator/animator

Daniel Katz (original creator, Deep Space 69, Bethiffer, Beer Cops)

David Roy (Designer, Freedom (OVA); in-between animator, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star)


Q: Did you employ collaborators to help you with Judgment and Justice, or did you create it by yourself? Either way, what was the experience like? How long did it take, how many frames of animation, etc?
The music was done by Joseph Smith aka "Jwswiss" and "kenken" a member of the band 359°z. You can listen to examples of their work at these links. And all sound effects and sound design was done by Cylight Studios, which I highly recommend for people looking for sound effects for their short film, game, etc. 

As for the story and visuals, I created them all myself. No one else touched it. It was a fulfilling experience to work on a project free from anyone else's influence for once. (Something that simply never happens in the work world) In the future I'll try to make sure personal projects are a bit shorter though. This took way too long.

As for how many drawings are in the film? Not sure. Thousands and Thousands.

Q: Is this a 'story' film, or is a purely visual experience? Are there specific pieces of animation you've watched that inspired you to create this?

There's a story. It gets kind of trippy at parts so if people don't “get it” that's fine … but it's definitely got a narrative story. It's not just random imagery.

As for “influence” … that's hard. I grew up loving anime like Berserk, Genocyber, all the Kawajiri films and OVA's, stuff like that … but I never tried to actually model my own style after those films. In New York (Particularly the NY art schools) everyone encourages the “make your own style” approach to art, not only for animation but illustration as well. If someone brought in an amazing anime drawing to class the critique would be, “Well, this is very skillfully done, but someone else in the world is already drawing like that, so who cares?” The critique would be the same if it looked Disney-esque, or Cartoon-Network-esque, etc. I hate to say it (because I'm not sure how productive that “it has to look 100% original all the time” way of thinking is) but I was heavily influenced by that ideal, and so when I approach my own personal art (like this short film) I just let the drawings come out naturally. I don't think to myself, “How would anime artists approach this?” or use someone else's sakuga as reference. I just sit and draw and whatever comes out, comes out… hopefully not looking very much like anyone else's stuff at all.

Elliott Byrne (Background Designer, Superjail & Metalocalypse)

Henry Thurlow (Original creator/Director, Judgment & Justice)

Higashiyama Kyokuyu (Production Manager, Pokémon: Giratina & The Sky Warrior; CGI Production, Danball Senki)

Q: You've described Judgment and Justice as 'unwatchably gory,' which I find very intriguing. What kind of reaction are you seeking from your audience-- are you trying to shock viewers, or do you hope they'll be fascinated and ask for more like it?

Animation is still a very new art form. I don't think it's been explored very much at all yet. There have been live-action films over these last 100 years or so which have hit on a whole spectrum of emotions. Animated films have touched on a pretty wide variety of emotions as well-- comedy, action, drama, to name a few-- but films like Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo, and the Japanese Guinea Pig horror films have legitimately upset people, to the point of causing major incidents. I don't think animation has delved into that territory at all. I don't assume my short film will garner a reaction on the scale of the films I just mentioned, but I thought it would be interesting to see if I could legitimately unnerve people with simple drawings. I'm not looking for a particular reaction, but if it sticks in people heads long after they've watched it… then I think it can be considered a success.

Hiroyuki Kakudou (Director, Digimon Adventure; Episode Director, Dragon Ball GT/One Piece/Toriko)

Hyichi Sakurai, Illustrator

Ioana Nistor (Animator, The Jellies / China, IL / KingStarKing)

Q: You spent some time as an animator in the US before making the jump to Japan. Are there American practices that you wish Japanese studios would adopt, or vice-versa?

Ohh man, this one question alone could set me off on a 3 hour rant, so I won't go into it too much now. All I'll say is that I think both industries have very strong points, and very weak points. The work conditions, schedules, and amount of projects really need to change in Japan, I think. At the same time, more projects need to actually be animated in America to build up the next generation of animators. If projects are only storyboarded in America and then all sent overseas to actually be keyed out and in-betweened, how will animators in America learn and grow in studio settings?

Kishi Yoshiyuki (Animation director, Yū Yū Hakusho; Key Animator, Naruto / Bleach)

Michael Loscalzo, Illustrator

ReJean Dubois a.k.a. Kasai, Illustrator & Character Designer

Rianti Hidayat (Designer, FF7 f-bike mobile game; ex-Ubisoft)

Q: Is this short film just the first step for Henry Thurlow, Director? Are you eager to create another personal work right away, or will you take your time and enjoy bringing the short to the festival circuit?

I've actually directed a few things in the past. Judgment and Justice is really my second short film (The first being my thesis film “Introductions at Dawn”) and I directed a 3 episode web-series which the company that hired all of us never ended up posting online. (But I had to lead a team to get the episodes done on time and all that.) I enjoy directing more than anything to be honest so I hope I have more opportunities to do-so in the future.

Q: Speaking of that, are there any specific festivals or screenings where we'll be able to see Judgment and Justice yet? When do you think you'll be ready to share it online?

I'm going to be sending it out to festivals real soon. Anywhere it's accepted I'll mention on twitter so those interested in keeping track of where it'll be should follow me there. After the Festival run I'll likely throw it online, but we'll see. I'm not 100% sure yet.

Saiko Takaki (Creator/Artist, Vampire Hunter D (manga)

Seijin Thomas (3D animator for Kamikaze-Douga, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure TV OP)

Shin Youngsoon, Animator/Background Artist

Shiro Kudaka (Key Animator, Card Captor Sakura / Yōkai Watch / Evangelion; Animation Director, Trigun / Naruto Shippūden; Bang Ban Animation CEO)

Q: At this point, what's the best part of the gengaman beat? Any career highlights you'd like to mention?

The best part is how much I'm learning on a daily basis. There was a boost of new skills when I started working as a douga-man, but that became very repetitive very quickly. Genga is different. I'm constantly learning more and more about perspective, composition, timing, etc. This last half a year I've mainly been training (I.E. helping out other animators with their Naruto, Lupin III, or Pachinko game sequences) 2016 is when I'll be given a lot of my own stuff to work on and can hopefully start making a name for myself.

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