Ponyo on a Cliff to be CGI-Free

According to a recent article in Variety, Studio Ghibli is announcing that the upcoming Ponyo on a Cliff will not incorporate any computer animation. The entire movie will be presented in the traditional, hand-drawn way, with a visual style wrapped around pastels and watercolors. Makes a lot of sense to me, considering that Miyazaki wants to create another children's classic on par with My Neighbor Totoro.

Studio Ghibli has never fully embraced CGI, certainly not the way the American studios have. They approached it slowly, carefully. Computers were first used in Takahata's Pom Poko for only three shots, then again briefly in Miyazaki's music video short On Your Mark, and also for one scene in Whisper/Mimi (the Miyazaki-directed flying sequence). Computer technology was always used to augment and support the existing skills. Things like compostions and scrolling, mostly.

Mononoke marked the first great step into CGI, and Ghibli finally found its proper balance. It was also the studio's final film with traditional paints and cells; My Neighbors the Yamadas was created entirely on computers, which was very expensive at the time, but was a crucial investment. Spirited Away continued to move things forward, further integrating CGI into the traditional style.

Even though Ghibli continued to make steps towards computers, Miyazaki always insisted that CGI-assisted shots would compose a small fraction of a total picture, roughly 10%. I don't know if that's a firm number, or a general rule. It seems that there is a greater CGI presence in, say, Howl's Moving Castle, than Mononoke or Sen or The Cat Returns. Then again, maybe I'm just thinking of that great, lumbering castle.

With the studio's short films, Ghibli allowed greater freedom for its artists and animators to experiment, and there's a far greater use of CGI found in Ghiblies Episode 2 than any of the major studio films. Likewise, Yoshiyuki Momose's three magnificent Capsule videos, which chronicle a fashionable young woman of the future, is completely dominated by computers. Another excellent example are the series of very brief House Foods commercials a few years back; the first three ads were directed by Miyazaki himself, and the latter two were directed by Momose.

CGI animation in the West has pretty much copied from Pixar's formula. Everyone's still trying to top Toy Story, and, of course, they can't. Heck, even Pixar hasn't topped it. But there's a creepy sameness to all things CGI these days. I'm burned out on the shiny, plastic-doll look that populates everything. For all its supposed strengths, nobody has even tried to experiment and explore the possibilies of computer animation. Everywhere, ironically enough, except Studio Ghibli, which has always kept the machines at arm's length.

And now Miyazaki will keep those boats tethered to the docks entirely for Ponyo's voyage. Kinda makes me wonder just what would have happened if Disney allowed Howl to be seen in this country, the impact that would have been felt across the public and the animation studios. Just how deep would the influence have been felt? I hear that same phrase from every American animator - "Miyazaki is God." Well, just when are you gonna prove it? For all this supposed reverence, I'm not seeing it in anyone's work. Aside from Toy Story, I guess.


Chris Sobieniak said...

Cool to see this'll all be traditional!

Anthony Tardiff said...

I, too, am puzzled by the worship American animators have for Miyazaki, and their incredible ineptitude despite it! You'd think they would learn something from the man they idolize!

That said, have you seen what Glen Keane is doing with Rapunzel? He looks to be the first person to truly push the CG look into a new, artistic direction. Looks promising — if Disney can follow the visuals with a strong story.

I will always prefer the traditional cel-animated look, though, especially for certain kinds of animated molvies. I couldn't imagine a Miyazaki movie in 3D. A lot of the artistic, introspective feel of the movies would be lost.

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