Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thoughts about Studio Ghibli, and also Walt Disney: an accidental essay

San and Ashitaka: two of the most badass cartoon characters ever. 
(Drawing by me- I don't recommend using sketch-and-wash on regular sketchbook paper, like I did.)

Did you know I love 2D animation?! I do. I LOVE it. The films of Studio Ghibli, primarily those directed by Hayao Miyazaki, were a huge influence on me when I was a teenager and an important factor in my decision to study 2D animation (for OBVIOUS reasons).  So I have been having many mixed feelings and stirred-up memories after reading about the state of Studio Ghibli lately.

There’s a thing about “idolizing” the things we love in high school- the work of musicians, authors, film stars, whatever we love; and I think it’s because we cannot fully appreciate them when we’re young.  When we grow older, and begin to learn the skills and working methods that went into creating those things which we idolized, our perspective changes.  We see how they were made, and they often aren’t very impressive anymore. We learn that (BIG SURPRISE) when we were younger, we may have had TERRIBLE taste.  But in regard to both the old and new films from Ghibli, I doubt there were many artists who would say “I liked them more when I was a kid” (the perpetual refrain of the Nostalgia Critic).  I can see now how the films were made, can take educated guesses at the techniques used, but my admiration isn’t lessened at all. There’s too much skill and control of the animation craft, both a deep maturity and childlike wonder in the stories, and relentless production quality from the artists at Ghibli, for the films they’ve made thus far to ever lose their high standing with me.

I'm not terribly surprised that Ghibli's production studio is being temporarily disbanded, restructured, whatever.  Reading about all of this reminds me of a person to whom Hayao Miyazaki is often compared – Walt Disney.  But MAN were they different.  Lots of people have called Hayao Miyazaki "Japan's Walt Disney", and hearing about the state that Ghibli is in without him has thrown a lot of those differences into sharp contrast for me.  I think the main thing that makes people pair them up is that both are/were leaders of 2D animation studios which strove to create imaginative, all-ages animated films and both were successful; but that’s pretty much the only similarity.  Well that, and the penchant for smoking that everyone wishes/wished they would quit.

For instance- Walt Disney worked as an animator when he started his first studio in Kansas City when he was in his early 20s. But by the time that studio went bankrupt and he'd moved to California to start up a new venture with his brother, he’d realized full well that his skills were in determining the structure and emotion of a story, not in drawing. And he gladly handed off those responsibilities to better artists. Miyazaki, though, is a FANTASTIC artist. He started as an animator in the 60s and worked up to the position of director in the late 70s, illustrating some gorgeous manga on the side. Miyazaki is very much an auteur in a way that Disney never was, though he doesn’t draw every frame of his movies* (he’s got a bit more of a realistic outlook on that point than, say, Richard Williams- hur hur**).  He does, however (from what I can tell) draw pretty much all the storyboards for the films he directs and works closely with the concept artists and character designers, drawing a lot of pre-production art himself.  Disney certainly reviewed his artist’s concepts and pre-production artwork, and made suggestions on them based on his artist’s strengths and specialties, but didn’t draw any of them.

I think this is the biggest difference between these two men – the difference in their direct involvement in the production of their studio’s films, and the HUGE difference in impact that their leaving had on their respective animation studios.  Disney’s involvement in animation went in phases depending on the other things he was simultaneously working on – the Disney TV show, the theme parks, the live-action films. (There’s another difference- Disney had his hands in SO MANY different entertainment projects; Miyazaki is solely a filmmaker.) He knew his artist’s strengths very well, and gave assignments accordingly; helping them to realize what they were capable of in the process.  He had the final word of approval on everything the studio produced, but towards the last decade of his life he was generally less and less involved in animated productions.  Because of this, the Disney studio had relatively few troubles in continuing to make films after he died (though their quality for the 20-ish years after his death is debatable). That's a strong contrast to Miyazaki's depth of involvement in his own films, which becomes quite obvious as we can see how the studio seems (to me, from what I have read) to be floundering a year after his retirement.  I’m intensely curious about the methods of production at Ghibli, but I haven’t found much reading material about it.

I know that in past years Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (the other main Ghibli director) have expressed concern about finding directors to replace themselves, to "pass the torch", but have had trouble finding the right people (Not finding good enough animation directors to take their places, IN JAPAN?!!).  I don’t know a whole lot about this situation and search for talent, but it seems pretty evident that they’ve had trouble with it if, without Miyazaki, they do not have the correct mix of artists required to continue making films.  (If anyone else knows more about this lack of directors/artistic leaders at the studio after Miyazaki’s retirement, I’m glad to learn more about it).  If they have had trouble finding leaders they approve of, that leads me to believe that either: A. They were being more picky than is practical in choosing new directors; or B. they were unsuccessfully looking for someone who could continue to create films like Miyazaki (or Takahata).

I can easily understand the route of being overly picky, and am inclined to think that’s the issue at hand. Miyazaki and Takahata started the studio and have directed the majority of its films!  Of course it must be difficult to hand over control to someone new!***  And to try and find someone to continue making “Miyazaki-ish” films is pointless.  That's like Wes Anderson saying he's going to retire and look for someone to continue making "Wes Anderson-ish" films. There is no point in trying to forcefully replicate the strong artistic vision of one person after they have stopped; you have to move on to something/someone else.

There’s nothing wrong with moving on from admiring one artist to another – it happens naturally throughout our lives, whether the artists continue to work or not.  Think about the style of music you enjoyed in middle school compared to now; it’s very likely that your taste has changed. :)  The retirement of Miyazaki and the possible stop of production from Studio Ghibli is definitely sad, but I wouldn’t call it TRAGIC – compered to, say, the loss of Satoshi Kon.  It’s been a great several decades with Ghibli, and I’ll miss Miyazaki’s presence there, but - to be honest - it won’t be difficult to move on. Cheers to all the great memories, Ghibli!!

I’ve read in a couple places that Hayao Miyazaki may return from retirement (yet AGAIN!) to help with production of a new short film for the Ghibli Museum.  At this, I can only shake my head and grin – it’s like he can’t stay away.  Maybe another similarity between Walt Disney and Miyazaki will appear if he keeps this up: if he passes away in the middle of working on something. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.


*Though he evidently did re-draw about 80,000 frames of animation for Princess Mononoke. I kind of doubt he ever did that again.

**I am NOT poking fun at Richard Williams
…OK, yes I am. But I LOVE his work. He’s one of the few animators alive that I would say are on the same level of mastery as Miyazaki, and he did animate the better part of an entire feature film with his own hands (The Thief and the Cobbler) - over the course of 30-odd years.  There are other auteurs, Bill Plympton, Nina Paley, Don Hertzfeldt etc., who HAVE animated a whole feature by themselves (MULTIPLE FEATURES in Plympton’s case) - but their respective techniques of animation lend much more readily to that feat than Williams’ or Miyazaki’s.  Plympton/Paley/Hertzfeldt’s styles are all very different from each other, and miles away from the work that Miyazaki and Williams have done; it’s comparing apples and oranges.  TLDR: It’s good for one  to know the realistic limits of their technique.

***But Ghibli is quite obviously BRIMMING with great animation artists, surely one of them could step up to directing??!! Maybe there are artists willing to step up, but aren't allowed for some reason?  It just doesn't make sense, from any angle.  Does Ghibli have much going on in the way of training up younger story artists under Miyazaki and Takahata so that they might build up the experience to be able to direct films for Ghibli as well? It seems appalling to me that they would be shortsighted like that.  That’s how it appears things are done in the story departments at Pixar, and seems really practical to me; somewhat like apprenticeship.  It's sure to be a much more complicated situation than that.  But then, it does also seem like Miyazaki drew the majority of the storyboards for his films; I guess that’s not very conducive to giving younger artists more experience.  Eeeeh what do I know, I’ve never actually worked for a big animation studio; I’ll have to ask some friends to find out more about that. :P

A couple of articles I’ve read lately about what’s happening at Ghibli:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sketch Card Kickstarter Rewards

Yesterday I drew a few sketch cards as rewards for the Transitions Anthology Kickstarter! Some general kid shenanigans with Rona and Will.

I'd love to find out who receives these- thank you so much for supporting us!!




Friday, March 7, 2014

Elf

Amazing, me drawing an elf.  :)  

Ink and watercolor - I put this drawing in a frame on my convention tables, with commission prices in the top right section.  


If a dress like this existed, I would wear it most willingly. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hourly Comics Day 2014

Things have been crazy with my current illustration job for Assailant Comics, but I was able to do Hourlies for Feb. 1!

LARGE SIDE NOTE: The Transitions Anthology is currently on Kickstarter, and I've got a short story in it!  The book uses short stories to follow the cycle of the seasons, and is in full color.  Please check it out if that sounds interesting to you!!


(Lee Cherolis is artist of the webcomic Little Guardians)


(the skull drawing taped back of my monitor is by Rickard Bengtsson)



(Chris and Todd and Bob!)






Yup, my husband is a classy man.


This happens a lot. 


Fun fact: size of comic strips is determined by the lid of my pencil box.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

IT'S 2014

I won't go making new year's resolutions about updating this blog more often.  Hopefully, if I actually stick to my other resolutions, I'll be less overwhelmed and stressed and more posts will be made anyway.

So from me, Matt, and the grumpy cat, HAVE A GREAT 2014. :D


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Early New Year's Resolutions

Sigh. Welp, I’ve done it again – I have a very bad habit of biting on more work than I can feasibly chew, which leads to getting stressed out, not enough sleep, making myself sick, and in the long run producing less and inferior work because of it all.  Obviously, this is rather stupid on my part; I seem to get into it every couple years, though the event of getting married last year admittedly has made this time a completely new situation to learn.

At least I’ve got one thing regularly updating, my Cats Talking Words comic:

…Because I have a backlog that I’d built up over the past couple years.  I actually took my update schedule down from Monday-Wednesday-Friday to just Monday-Wednesday, because I don’t want to use up my whole backlog and fall behind on that too (like I need another thing to stress about. Har).

I have come up with a hopeful solution for this issue, to try and get my full-time job, life and freelance work back in balance.  Admittedly a LOT of it depends on my own hard-assing abilities, which are meager at best. My resolution is to, in 2014, not take on any new clients unless the jobs pertain to visual storytelling (comics, illustration or storyboarding); and unless I have met the clients personally.  And I will not take on any work, even paid, out of pity for the customer in question (usually because they need something in a rush, which is most often a recipe for disaster).  I have already made the resolution to not take on any more logo or general design jobs, excluding anything pertaining to music. My reasoning:
  • I have a fairly good list of past clientele for a single artist, and any projects that they come up with for me in 2014 will be more than enough (hopefully they don’t all come up with something at once). 
  • What I WANT to work on is visual storytelling. If I get an offer for illustration, comics, etc. from a new client that piques my interest enough, I MIGHT take it - based on availability.
  • The rule of meeting new clients in person helps me to gauge their commitment to the project (had too many past clients who turned out to be less committed than me).
  • I have made myself miserable working with bad clients on design projects that I don’t give a flying flip about, and would like at least a temporary reprieve. I need to work on things that I can actually show later as an example of my visual storytelling skills.
  • I MUST have time to actually work on one of my own projects, which has sat dormant as a complete script for nearly two years and is driving me mad.
  • The exception of allowing music-related design work is because: I love music. Musicians tend to have more knowledge about visual art/design, and are fun to work with. Design for music-related things often includes use of my drawing abilities. And, a lot of my former clients are musicians.
Obviously, the rub here often comes down to my ability (bad, but getting better) to say no.  I don’t disparage myself for being a nice person, but in this regard I am entirely TOO NICE.  Taking jobs out of “pity”, because I am the sole “artist friend” and the job is paid needs to stop.   My rule used to be “only paid work” to weed out volunteering, which worked for awhile, but even that wasn’t a narrow enough rule.  Even if it’s paid, it isn’t worth the time if the work isn’t a representation of what I want to do in the future, and ruins my evenings and weekends with bad stress in the meanwhile. (Also, the last-minute design-only clients have tended to be the most clueless and difficult to work with).

I need to be MUCH more frugal with allotting my time, as I am exceptionally bad at gauging how long some projects could possibly take.  There is a lot working against me, including (a lot of) defects in myself, but I really REALLY want 2014 to be better than 2013.  I will endeavor to do this, and make my artistic career balance better with my full-time job and home/hippie/husband duties. (ALLITERATION, TA!)

IN CONCLUSION and ALSO: I MUST have time to draw from my own imagination, work on my own projects, and MUST have time to go out and draw from life, or my skill lapses and suffers for want of practice.  I have little to no time for any of these things now, and my freelance work suffers, as well as my mental calm.  And it causes everything else to SUCK.

I am sorry for this ramble, but really… I just needed to get these thoughts down in writing, both to remind myself of my decision, and to remind myself of how miserable I’m getting now, and that in order to keep myself out of this state I need to be much more strict with allowing work to encroach on the little free time I have.  And so, another cycle of work-life-learn begins.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hourly Comics 2013-8-1

I did a self-imposed hourly comics day on August 1, 6 months until real hourly comics day!  I guess it's a practice run. It sounded fun, and it was. :)

So here is my boring life for a day: