Interview: Studio Eallin Japan and Director Kenji Kawasaki

by Callum May,

Although the anime industry is open to new forms of creativity, there's always space for creative animation outside of a TV series. Eallin Japan is one such company that offers avenues for creative animated projects within advertisements, music videos and short films. Whilst they were recently credited for 3D animation on Geno Studio's Kokkoku and Fate/Grand Order: First Order, the majority of their works aren't what anime fans would normally be aware of.

Eallin has locations throughout Europe where they work with a global staff of creatives on award-winning short films and commercial projects. For example, they worked with London-born animator and director Andrew Khosravani to create a series of scientific education videos for The Royal Institution. They also worked together with Argentinian director Carlos Lascano to celebrate the anniversary of Amnesty International with this short film:

Standing Up for Freedom from EALLIN on Vimeo.

In 2010, Eallin set up a new branch outside of Europe named Eallin Japan. The idea was that they would be able to produce the same sort of creative projects for the Asia/Oceania region by utilizing unique Japanese talent. One of the directors they teamed up with was Kenji Kawasaki, a short film creator known for his 3D character animation and a history of internationally recognized independent film-making. One of his most famous films was Chiruri, a short 3D film with no dialogue that viewers have taken different messages from. To find out more about his animation process and independent storytelling, I reached out to Eallin Japan and Kenji Kawasaki.

How did you first get involved working in animation? And what sort of inspirations did you have when starting out?

Kawasaki: I got into animation because I wanted to convey myself through pictures over words, and through animation over pictures. I have many favorite films, anime, and manga, but none of them were my inspiration. I chose animation because it was the style of expression that best suited me.

What made you want to create your original film, Chiruri?

I wanted to portray this being that could give something to any human, and be given something in return.

When you start on a new project, how do you develop a story without the use of dialogue?

The neat thing about animation without dialogue is that it leaves a lot of parts to the viewer's imagination. When there are no voiced lines, you need to have something more compelling for people to latch onto, so it's important to make the visuals distinctive and attractive.

You've since directed both 3D and 2D short films. Is there a difference in the sort of stories you can tell with each medium?

The difference between 2D and 3D is merely a matter of the process, so I don't think that there is any big gap between them. In the end, it's a matter of putting pixels together, so I sometimes think about the best way of assembling them to convey my vision. I want to make animation that doesn't make the audience feel conscious about what is 2D and what is 3D.

3D models and 2D animation can sometimes appear odd together. What are your techniques for blending the two together?

Because there are a lot of possible ways to express things in 3D, people tend to expect a lot of things from it, but I think it's important to omit some details and focus on the main point. For example, putting in a lot of specular highlights and reflections can make the image look richer, but that makes it harder to blend with the 2D animation. It's important to gather the information and make judgments on a case-by-case basis.

Would you recommend other directors build experience in compositing and 3D animation as well?

The boundary between 2D and 3D is disappearing. Currently, there are many young creators who use the two styles indiscriminately. I think that, as long as it's possible, people should challenge themselves to create what they want to express. It's the same philosophy I would recommend for a 3D creator approaching 2D animation.

Who in your opinion is the most effective director at combining 2D and 3D animation in the anime industry?

Among 2D animation directors, Ryo-timo has been experimenting with Blender's grease pencil to draw animation directly over a 3D environment. I've been keeping an eye on experimental directors who break down the barriers between 2D and 3D in this way.

I'm a big fan of the opening shot of CHRONICLE's "Kimi no iru basho" music video. What was the biggest challenge in creating something like that?

It's based on illustrations by loundraw, a famous artist in Japan. I consciously tried to recreate his work in a 3D scene without losing the ambiance.

How much freedom you generally have in your commercial work? Is there anything you've had to argue for?

I get a lot of different types of projects, but many of the decisions were made with my artistic style in mind. If your visuals are persuasive, presented well, and have the power to produce results, then matters quickly get resolved nine times out of ten.

In what ways has working for Eallin Japan affected your way of creating animation? If you had the freedom to create anything you want, what would it be?

As a creator who isn't particularly an all-rounder, the studio has been important in making up for where I lack and offering general support.

If I had the freedom to create anything I want, it would be a longer-length animation. For a big project, we would need a bigger budget, more time, and more people. For that to happen, I would need more people to learn about my work, so I just need to keep at it.

You can follow Kenji Kawasaki on Twitter over at @Knji_K. He occasionally posts original 3D animations like these ones.

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