Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea - 160,000 Drawings

Miyazaki's upcoming movie, which has now been rechristened Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea for Western audiences, is nearing its final stages of production. Voice work is now under way, which for Japanese animation is done after the principle work is completed. American and Western animation, conversely, usually records the voice actors before animating.

According to Ghibli's production diary for March 15, the number of drawings (or animation cells, to use the old term*) for Ponyo exceeds 160,000. This would make the movie Ghibli's largest and most animated; an interesting twist for what many of us assumed would be a smaller, more intimate film, than Miyazaki's last three epic blockbusters. And remember, folks, that every frame in the film is hand-drawn and painted in watercolors. No computer animation will be present whatsoever.

For the traditional animation junkie, this will be a cause celebre, as the great master of world cinema, Hayao Miyazaki, once again shows the world how it's done. After the past several years of noisy and dumb Hollywood Studio cartoons, I'm more than ready. I'm about to hop on a plane to Venice for the Western premier...how any of us could possibly wait another year or two for the John Lasseter/Pixar US version boggles the mind. I feel like a child waiting away those final weeks before Christmas. Augh!

Back to the animation cells, here's a short comparison. Horus, Prince of the Sun in 1968 used 140,000 cells. Most Ghibli features used somewhere around 60,000-70,000. Princess Mononoke featured over 140,000 drawings. My Neighbors the Yamadas used 170,000. Spirited Away has been credited with 110,000 cells (although I thought that number was much higher). And Howl's Moving Castle is credited with 148,000 drawings.

Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (glad to see Ghibli directly translate their poetic titles this time) is really going to be a sight to see. The summer release date is still holding as best I know. Afterwords, I'd expect to see the Western premier at the Venice Film Festival in September. After that, the US version via Disney and Pixar would follow in 2009 or 2010. My guess is that we'll see it next summer. There's no way Lasseter will hesitate for a moment to bring his great teacher's latest symphony to the States.

By a good grace of timing, 2009 marks the end of the Sci-Fi Channel's holding rights on Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea, which means we'll finally get...sigh, Goro's Tales From Earthsea on DVD. Expect to see more Ghibli DVD's headed our way within the next year or two. If Disney uses the same three-release schedule, what then would be the two other DVD's? I Can Hear the Sea? Omohide Poro? Wishful thinking, I know. Somebody ought to point out Gauche the Cellist, Jarinko Chie, and Yanagawa Monogatari....more wishful thinking...

(* A quick note about animation cells. These were the traditional method of creating animation, by drawing and painting on cells, which are photographed one at a time over the backgrounds. Since moving entirely to computers during the production of My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999, Studio Ghibli has moved away from painting on cells. But the term is still used, particularly in regards to traditional, hand-drawn animation, as opposed to computer-generated.)


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