Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas

Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas
Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas
Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas
Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas
While we await the final hours before Ponyo's premier here in America, I'd like us to take a good look at Isao Takahata's last feature-length film, the magnificent 1999 My Neighbors the Yamadas. As an artist, I was left awestruck by the watercolor designs of this movie, the sensation of capturing quick washes of color on paper, the broad swaths of color, the rough pencil sketches that come alive in Ghibli's brilliant animation.

People in the West often talk as though Hayao Miyazaki is the sole creator of all his works. They easily forget that his vision could never be realized without the skills of these great animators and painters. And for Takahata, the "director who does not draw," doubly so.

Yamada-kun was the first film at Ghibli created entirely on computers. This enabled the watercolor style to come alive in a way that would be impossible with cels. It also features two spectacular sequences that perfectly fuse hand-drawn animation with CGI. I've never really seen anybody else create animation quite like this, this fusion of 2D and 3D. Perhaps I could point to Persepolis the closest cousin. But Ghibli's approach to computer graphics was unique. Their goal was to treat computers as another tool in the collection, an equal to the paintbrushes and pencils.

How much longer will Americans tolerate the increasingly stale plastic doll look of Hollywood CGI animation? It's obvious to all that rival studios are merely copying Pixar, without adding nothing new to the artform. Wouldn't it be wiser to strike out in a different direction, to find a unique style to call their own? I understand this goes against the "minimize all risks" mindset of the conglomerates who own the Hollywood studios, but it's such a short-term way of thinking. This is why I continue to champion Pixar as the great movie innovators in America. They are the only ones who continue to push the envelope at all.

Pixar's artists should closely study Ghibli's CGI experiments. Now that Miyazaki has scuttled the computer graphics department, it is deeply unlikely that we will ever see similar works again.


GW said...

Pixar is not the only animation in America that pushes the envelope. There's also July Films, coming out with a film called My Little World. Paul and Sandra Fierflinger are directing My Dog Tulip. Bill PLympton's Idiots and Angels and Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues are films that recently came out.

Then there's the early 60's. In 1962 there was Heaven and Earth Magic. In 1964, John Hubley directed Of Stars and Men. Not much of real artistic merit happened until the TV musical adaptation The Point in 1971.

Also, there's the TV special that John Hubley directed for CBS in 1975, Everybody Rides the Carousel.

Etc.. etc...

Far too many of American animation's greatest achievements have been completely glossed over, and you don't see them playing in any multiplexes or put on AFI's lists. I respect your blog and I'm going to the theater to see Ponyo, but you really can't expect all of American feature animation to fall under such a hasty generalization.

I agree that Hollywood CGI films have proven to be generic and uninspired. I've stopped watching Hollywood CGI films indefinitely. I just don't think that all American feature animation should be dismissed along with the worst of it's well publicized CGI films.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

You are correct. There is much in the realm of independent animation that is excellent, compelling, brilliant. I remain hopeful that the age of digital distribution and vendors such as iTunes can open up that market to the masses. I don't see a great demand for compilation DVDs, but cheap downloads of individual works would be excellent.

When writing this post, I was thinking largely of the Hollywood studios and their blockbuster formulas. But I'll take the good stuff wherever it comes - art, trash, doesn't matter.

rubi-kun said...

It seems there's a lot more visual experimentation going on in video games than in CGI movies. Take a look at Wind Waker, Okami, or Madworld if you want to see some top-notch visual design.

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