The difference between animating from pose to pose and animating straight ahead is an enormous one. They are what they sound like:
- In one you create poses, key drawings, and you put drawings inbetween the poses. Tex Avery was all about his poses, as was Bob Clampett. In animating this way, you plan out every motion and submotion. It’s all organized and ready for an inbetweener to complete. The animator is in absolute control.
- In animating straight ahead, an animator starts at the beginning and gets where (s)he has to – one drawing at a time. It’s hard to control the shape of the character: they start small and grow large or start with a bigger head than they end with. It’s hard to control the exact placement of the character, and it’s hard to figure out how to have an inbetweener help you. But, for some animators, with straight ahead animation the character lives and breathes on its own. A life form starts to exist, and a singular relationship can form between animator and animation. This process was part of the reason Ub Iwerks left Disney’s studio – he did not want to be forced to use an inbetweener.
Last night I watched My Neighbor Totoro for the umpteenth time on Turner Classic Movies. The new voices were sterling. Dakota Fanning is alway beyond professional; she has nuances in her voice that can’t be taught by an acting coach. Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister, was the surprise. She brought such joy to this little animated girl, everything Miyazaki could have hoped for in the animation was there , echoed in the voice. A brilliant choice and brilliant voice production by Rick Dempsey. The kids are an enormous part of this film.
In last week’s screening of Laputa, Castle In The Sky, John Lasseter suggested that Miyazaki does the storyboards completely, himself. In this way he can control the shaping of the film. He works in chronological order and builds his story. In fact, Lasseter told the story of Miyazaki getting lost at one point, in that he didn’t know where his storyboard was going to take him.
Putting this in animation terms, it’s the equivalent of animating straight ahead. He knows where he has started; I’m sure he has a pretty good idea of where he wants to go, but he’s letting the story take him there on its own.
Suddenly, I realized all of Miyazaki’s works were composed of set-pieces. In the best of his films, like Totoro, these set-pieces are ingeniously controlled to build to an enormous whole, delicate and human. In Princess Mononoke, the set-pieces intertwine in a complicated web to create an epic vision of all of nature and human interaction with it.
Now, I had a small insight into why and how they were structured this way.
This is not unlike Disney’s Bambi or Pinocchio. The adaptations of these two books forced this structure on the final films, but the enormous skill with which they were devised into final films is extraordinary. (Animators usually talk about the excellence of the visual aspects of these two films, but the story is just as wonderful.
In films I like less, such as Laputa, these set pieces – to me – feel episodic. There’s always the stunning visual imagery; the individual parts can be magnificent (such as the chase in this film with the railroad tracks and bridges collapsing behind the vehicles), but in the end it can get tiresome.
All of Miyazaki‘s films, however, have a singular vision – an auteur at the height of his craft. We know a lot about him, just by viewing his films. It is miraculous that one person (with an army behind him) could have done so many great works in animation and, at the same time, have had such success in the marketplace.
It’s a pleasure to have been given a small insight into his process and to see that it has such an enormous effect on the final film. Thank you John Lasseter for your introduction.