Conference Recap: 2013 SGMS

As promised, I thought I would recap this year’s experience at the Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits (SGMS) conference that I attended, located in Minneapolis MN. This was my 4th year going and my 3rd year presenting. This year I presented on Studio Madhouse, how they got started and how they evolved over the years. Recently I have been intrigued by the collaboration aspect of animation and studios, so I wanted to trace the roots of my favorite studio, Madhouse. Some of their works include, Deathnote, RedLine, and Summer Wars.

SGMS is an very interesting conference, in the regards that it isn’t like a convention like you may think. Instead, presenters discuss a topic that they have researched and share them in panel discussions that are in similar areas. The presenters range from college professors, to fans that want to share their research with the audience. Personally I tend to share animation based content since I am an animator and enjoy researching it. It is nice to hear presentations about cultural and academic aspects of anime, because quite frankly, anime gets a pretty bad stereotype based of a select few titles of what people may have seen or heard.

Anyways, this year there were presentations ranging from the rise of Kpop music in Japan to the retirement of Miyazaki and even the changes of the word “otaku” through the films of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue and Paprika). There were some panels on the evolution of fandom, the anime industry and government regulations. The keynote speaker talked about Fukushima and his work to help the area recover since it isn’t an easy solution. He gave a presentation and later he returned in the weekend for a Q/A panel that he graciously went over time with because we all had so many questions for him regarding Fukushima and other cultural aspects.

At night, we also had some film screenings. This year we saw the live action Kenshin film (review next week) and I also watched the screening of Wolf Children, again. The film gets better every time I see it, can’t wait for it to be released.

I am already thinking of topics for next year’s conference and look forward to seeing everyone again soon.

Recent Viewing: From Up on Poppy Hill

I recently saw From Up on Poppy Hill, the new studio Ghibli film to be released. Studio Ghibli is commonly referred to as the Disney of Japan, creating amazing stories and maintaining a high level of quality in their animation. From Up on Poppy Hill has a limited released so I was very fortunate to be in a city that had showings while it was out. The film was direct by Goro Miyazaki.


Synopsis- A young girl named Umi is living with her grandmother, her younger brother and sister and a couple others in Yokohama. Umi’s mother is studying abroad in America and her father died in the Korean war when the cargo ship he was on struck a mine. The film is set in 1964 when Tokyo was preparing to host the Olympics and a transitional period between old and new.

While at school, Umi meets a boy by the name of Shun, who works on the weekly school paper from the Latin Quarter clubhouse. Shun jumps off the top of the clubhouse and into the school pool as a stunt to promote the paper. The next day Umi’s younger sister wants to travel to the club house to get Shun’s autograph.

While at the club house Umi and Shun become friends and Umi starts helping with the paper. News starts to travel about the club house needing to be torn down and Umi comes up with a plan to clean up and restore the club house.

Throughout the process, Umi and Shun become even closer. While at a gathering Shun sees a picture of Umi’s father during the war. Shun has the exact same picture and starts to piece together his childhood. Do Umi and Shun share the same father and how does it effect their friendship?

Review- Studio Ghibli continues to make great films and this is no exception. The film revolves around the relationship between Umi and Shun who become friends after a crazy stunt and a purposed demolition of Shun and friends clubhouse.

The story is well paced and doesn’t have any drawn out areas and considering the film is 90 minutes that is a good thing. You could possibly argue that the start of the story is bit slow, but it is building the world that Umi is in. The story is set in 1964 Yokohama, Japan is still rebuilding from the war, it is post-Korean war, and they are preparing for the Olympics. We are also shown more of a glimpse of Umi’s everyday life, which consists of cooking the meals for the house, buying groceries and also taking care of her younger brother and sister. It depends on your attention span, I personally thought the beginning had some of the best composed shots of the film and enjoyed the beautiful artwork in the process.

The artwork adds the characters personality and emotions in crucial scenes as Umi and Shun’s relationship goes on a bit of a roller coaster. The relationship between Umi and Shun do not feel like a typical up and down relationship story. The time period combined with the animated aspect and the reasons why their relationship is up and down are a very unique combination. There is a bit of comedy in the film as well, ranging from witty one liners to exaggerated expressions on characters.

Production Quality- Poppy Hill had very well done animation with a few scenes that I would have to see again before I can decide if they were done in 3D or not. The environments are very well painted and have both nice daytime scenes, dusk and even night scenes. Scenes are painted with great detail and seem to be very layered at times.

The character animation is really well done, there are a few scenes of the kids running and walking into school that really help the kids come off as playful. There are a handful of other shots that are animated from an interesting perspective.

There isn’t really any kind of effects in the film since it is based in reality, the visual effects that are applied are used as accents in subtle ways. If you are a fan of well drawn 2D animation without a lot of heavy effects, Poppy Hill is a must see. As an animator, Studio Ghibli films are always must see.

Music- Very light hearted, fit the story of the film well. The choir scenes were a little awkward but that is also in part f the gap between audio and lip movements which is to be expected when dubbing a song for animation.

Dub- Very well done. There are a couple scenes with the students of the school singing as a choir and the singing not matching up that closely with the lip movements, but that is to be expecting in a song dub.

And of course there was no extras since it was in theaters. Check out their Facebook to see if it is coming to a theater near you.

1964 Tokyo Olympics picture from the Edo Tokyo Museum.

1964 Tokyo Olympics picture from the Edo Tokyo Museum. From my trip to Japan last summer, this is the period of “From Up on Poppy Hill”.

Animating Real Life

I was watching Penguindrum last week while working on some artwork and jokingly sending texts to a friend. I was in episode 9 and the episode started with the characters arriving in Ikebukuro. My friend that I was texting was the one that traveled to Japan with me. The reason I texted him, was because after the characters were revealed to be in Ikebukuro they were at an aquarium.

This past summer when we traveled to Japan, we also visited an aquarium in Ikebukuro. This immediately got me sending him texts about how funny it would be if that was the aquarium we were at. Well, it turns out it was.

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Here is the subway signs that Penguindrum uses to let viewers know what area of Tokyo the characters are in.


This was a sign of the aquarium that I took a picture of on our trip. Notice the logo on the top of the poster.
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Does that logo from the above poster look familiar?IMG_1937

Here are the penguins that we saw at the aquarium.
Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 3.10.43 PMThis is what the rest of the penguin area looked like, wooded pathways and a glass facade so you can see the penguins swimming.

Now you may be thinking big deal, but let me proceed with my point from an artist stand point. As artists we typically use reference material for characters, environments and objects. It is virtually impossible for anyone to have intimate knowledge of every item to be able to draw it convincingly all the time. For instance if you had to draw a desktop or car or house from memory, chances are you could but to take those areas to the next level is to make it look like someone uses the desk, the car and lives in the house.

If you were to draw a living area of a house, you could draw the couch, tv, tables, maybe some magazines on the table and a ceiling fan. But when you compare scenes and items that you draw from memory with ones in real life, you will notice all kinds of things that you may have missed. Maybe there is a child’s toy on the floor in the living area. Did you draw a tv remote or a coffee cup on the table? A book? There is so many little things in areas that reference material is needed for artists.

While I was in Japan, our guide told us about an area (that I can’t recall) that was the setting of a manga series, and that this area drew thousands of visitors each year just because of that. I want to say it was a school… I’ll have to look into this. But this is part of the appeal of basing series off of an actual location.

Another film that comes to mind is My Neighbor Totoro from Studio Ghibli. That film is based on locations in the countryside of Japan. On dvd extras it is revealed that other films such as Ponyo and Spirited Away are also. It is through research that these rich worlds are created and it my opinion actual locations help connect with viewers as well.

Japan Adventure Day 8

Today marked the biggest day for me of the entire trip. First thing in the morning we were heading to the Ghibli Museum and as an animator this was a highly anticipated adventure.
I have seen most of the Studio Ghibli films (my top 3 faves: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whispers of the Heart and Princess Mononoke) and was eager to see so much work from Japan’s most famous studio.

On the way to the Ghibli Museum we stopped at a well known bakery and grabbed breakfast. I had a couple bite sized cheesecake bites that were absolutely amazing. When we got to our final train stop we started to see signs pointing us to the direction of the museum. The signs were decorated with various characters and Totoros as we got closer to our destination.

The museum was hidden away in a very green park with vines dangling on the walls. From the outside we could see stained glass windows with characters from all of the films. We entered the museum and were instructed that we were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum. Our entry ticket also was a ticket into the theater room where we could see an exclusive animated short. The short was very well done and executed without any voice over for the characters or subtitles for that matter. On of the things I love about animation is the ability to tell a story through body language alone. It was a very cute film and it is only one of several that are screened at various times at the museum.

The first floor of the museum was very satisfying as an animator because it had several displays and exhibits on the various processes of animation and techniques. They had several stop motion exhibits that varying in pictures but also larger displays that used flashing lights to break up the motion blur on actual moving objects to give you a sense of stop motion. They had 3D models of characters all lined up to replicate the various drawings you would see in a characters run cycle for example. There were multi layered cels in deep frames so you could see the various layers of depth in cel animation. I spent most of my time here checking out all of these exhibits. I was proud that the museum spent so many resources on the first floor to show people the process of animation which sometimes gets overlooked, especially in the digital age. This floor would give anyone a greater appreciation of the animation process.

The second floor boasts several exhibits about the animation process at Studio Ghibli. The exhibits spanned the entire second floor and had concept and reference drawings hanging up on all the walls from various films. The first exhibit focused on the content creation of the films and how each got their starting point/concept. The second room had a replicated desk of an animator with reference materials scattered around. I know how that happens 🙂 The other side of the room had a colorists desk set up, with all sorts of brushes and color tubes scattered around for painting on cels.

In a small adjacent room, there were completed storyboards for each of the films and you could page through several binders for several films. One of the final rooms had some compositing and camera exhibits that kids were enjoying quite a bit. One was a crank that would move the background behind a hot air balloon. Kids were surrounding that station waiting for a chance to turn the crank and see the results.

The third floor had a couple non-Studio Ghibli works and a couple gift shops. At one gift shop I picked up a little stuffed Ponyo and the other gift shop I picked up a book about the museum along with pictures and also a book breaking down the film of Princess Mononoke. The fourth floor was the roof which had a couple sculptures, one was the giant robot from Castle in the Sky and the other was of a cube I believe from Castile in the Sky as well. The museum had several doors, stairwells, bridges and areas that made even the most serious person feel like a kid and want to explore the museum more. I fell in love with the museum on the trip.

I was just finishing up my rounds in the museum as we were preparing to head over to Shinjuku and the world’s busiest train station. At Shinjuku we made a small excursion to the Square Enix store to check out their goods. It was a lot of Kingdom Hearts content.

After the Square Enix store we ventured to an arcade by our meeting spot and played an epic 3D shooter arcade game. The game had rumbling seats, air guns and such to give you an immersed feeling. The air guns would blow in your face when a door opened or when a zombie/creature would jump out at you. Pretty awesome experience, we easily dumped in 700 Yen into that game and played a couple levels.

We left the arcade and went to a nearby rooftop beer garden for a last meal with the group before they would fly back to the states the next day. The garden had little grills and trays where we could make our own food with various sauces and such. We were also allowed to drink as much as we wanted, we started to pile up empty glasses and then found out that we had to return empties for full ones and that workers didn’t retrieve empty glasses like here in the states. It was a rather funny cultural difference. We headed back to to the hotel and got some rest for our final day with the group.

*(First and second images are a couple of the Ghibli Museum signs we saw, the third is the robot from Castle in the Sky on the roof and the final image is our grill at the beer garden in Shinjuku).