Here are a series of imageboard sketches created by Hayao Miyazaki for the title sequence on Laputa: Castle in the Sky. This is an especially inspired piece of filmmaking, so I'm glad to have the opportunity to examine it in closer detail.
Castle in the Sky is an interesting movie. Its roots lie in the cliffhanger adventure serials that Miyazaki loved to create in his youth, the zip bam bang fun of Animal Treasure Island, Lupin III, and Future Boy Conan. You could almost think of this film as Conan performed by the road company. But this is not the work of a young man, but a veteran artist at middle age. The wit and imagination is now joined by deeper, more serious contemplation. Issues of power and the tragedies of human nature abound, especially as the movie progresses towards its climax.
This title scene is wonderful. It's arguably my favorite of all the Studio Ghibli films, and it certainly matches Nausicaa for grandeur. Watching this, you are aware that you are seeing something truly special. The visual style is very similar to Miyazaki's manga drawing style, with the staccato drawing lines, heavy sepia tones, and densely packed picture frame. It doesn't look like stereotypical anime. It doesn't resemble anything from American animation, either. There's definitely a French influence, particularly Moebius, whose style greatly impacted Nausicaa. But Laputa is wholly original.
Joe Hisaishi's romantic sweep is so essential in this scene. Even now, looking at these imageboards, can you honestly say the movie's theme isn't playing in your head? C'mon, be honest. A gentle, romantic nostalgia pervades these drawings. It's as though Miyazaki harkens back to a lost era, a fabled golden age of aviation from another world. This is how life with the Wright Brothers should have been, if they grew up among Heidi's mountains and valleys.
Miyazaki's great love of airplanes has never been so vibrant. I can't think of anything before this point where his passion for flight took center stage. There were various aircraft seen on Future Boy Conan and Castle of Cagliostro and Sherlock Hound, but nothing on the scale of this. Porco Rosso may match it, though. But that film is heavier, weighted down by Miyazaki's struggle between youthful romanticism and midlife pessimism. Castle in the Sky sits alongside Nausicaa as the film director's great "doubt" statements, raising hard questions and providing few, if any, answers. And he struggles with that, without any sense of resolution.
I think that's why Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky are such great adventure movies. They are the works of an honest, personal filmmaker who isn't content to provide simple escapism. He needs to ask questions and seek answers. It's almost as though Miyazaki tells his stories solely for himself, and we just happen to be sitting nearby, listening.