Pas­sion, cre­ativ­ity and sweat eq­uity are the only proven in­gre­di­ents for making art that mat­ters

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I’ve heard it time and again from film-in­dus­try types across the coun­try: “We want to cre­ate a movie scene in our city — we need tax cred­its.”

Re­ly­ing on the gov­ern­ment to help birth a cre­ative cul­ture may pro­vide a tem­po­rary spike in work per­formed in said in­dus­try, but it’s short-lived and volatile at best. What has been cre­ated in this sce­nario is an ar­ti­fi­cial con­di­tion; a tem­po­rary busi­ness propo­si­tion that tends to fa­vor the al­ready-es­tab­lished, well-funded film com­pa­nies with agents and pro­duc­ers who are con­nected and have in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the in­tri­cate, in­ner work­ings of high-level fi­nanc­ing.

A re­la­tion­ship based ex­clu­sively on grant­ing and re­ceiv­ing re­bates will quickly and ca­su­ally be ab­solved once the re­bates dry up.

Sure, the ar­gu­ment can be made that offering tax cred­its serves as an in­cen­tive to draw new busi­ness from the film in­dus­try to a par­tic­u­lar state, thereby gen­er­at­ing rev­enue for that state and en­cour­ag­ing film pro­duc­tion on a lo­cal level, but tax cred­its do not a film scene make. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for en­cour­ag­ing and help­ing fund movies, but this sim­ply does not cre­ate a “scene,” no mat­ter how much we wish to be­lieve oth­er­wise.

For Ex­am­ple ... Hear­ken back to the 1990s. Count­less bands were making mu­sic for the sake of making mu­sic, of­ten in­volv­ing pain and frus- tra­tion and the re­sult­ing cathar­sis that fol­lowed. Seat­tle was per­haps one of the most un­mar­ketable ar­eas if not least-likely places for a mu­sic scene to emerge. Peo­ple were making mu­sic and play­ing shows some­times in direct protest and op­po­si­tion of the big hair, big fame, big busi­ness and over com­mer­cial­iza­tion of 1980s pop cul­ture. This one scene lit­er­ally changed the en­tire mu­sic in­dus­try on a global scale, the ef­fects of which are still felt to­day.

Many of the mu­si­cians that con­trib­uted to this scene had no in­ter­est what­so­ever in cor­po­rate Amer­ica or gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives. In fact, they came from a place polar op­po­site to this. They prac­ticed. They re­hearsed. They played tiny bars, cof­fee shops — any­where they could be heard. They got into the scene not nec­es­sar­ily to make money or save 10 per­cent off their bud­get, but for the love of cre­at­ing, play­ing and per­form­ing mu­sic.

If some­one wanted to start a new mu­sic scene, how ef­fec­tive do you think it would be if they took this ap­proach: “You know, I achieved their great­ness not from lob­by­ing gov­ern­ment for tax in­cen­tives, but from a deep pas­sion of their craft and an im­mutable voice that they pro­jected loudly and clearly through their work.

Do you want to know the real se­cret to start­ing a film scene in your area? I can save you years of busi­ness school, headaches from try­ing to ap­ply for gov­ern­ment grants, frus­tra­tions from deal­ing with high-level fi­nanc­ing, and dis­ap­point­ments from count­ing on geopol­i­tics to make your dreams come true. (You can thank me later.) Here it is. Are you ready? Make great films. That’s it. Make movies for no other rea­son than for the love of sto­ry­telling and making movies. Bor­row what­ever money you can from friends and fam­ily. Find peo­ple lo­cally who want to be in­volved in some­thing cool and would be more than happy to help with some of the ex­penses. Sell ev­ery­thing you own that you don’t need any more. Cash-in ev­ery fa­vor you can. Find other like-minded peo­ple that will pitch in with sweat eq­uity. Stay up late, burn the can­dle at both ends, give more blood, sweat and tears than you thought pos­si­ble — all for the sake of see­ing your pas­sion project come to life. That’s how you start a scene.

Tax cred­its come and go, but peo­ple who are truly in love with making films will al­ways find ways to make films. And if enough like­minded peo­ple live in or are at­tracted to a spe­cific area, city or re­gion — con­grat­u­la­tions! — your scene is born and you are the rea­son. Martin Gre­bing is an award-win­ning an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor and pro­ducer, small-busi­ness con­sul­tant and trainer. He is pres­i­dent of Fun­ny­bone An­i­ma­tion and can be reached via www.fun­ny­bonean­i­ma­tion.com.

When leg­endary an­i­ma­tor Glen Keane drew star char­ac­ters for Dis­ney’s Aladdin, Tarzan, Pocahontas, The Lit­tle Mer­maid and Beauty and the Beast, he had the tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence of putting pen­cil to pa­per. Fast­for­ward to to­day, which finds Keane ex­plor­ing a higher-tech method of cre­at­ing ges­tu­ral art.

In the on­line video Step into the Page, Keane can be seen “draw­ing” in 3D space us­ing vir­tual-re­al­ity gear. The artist wears an HTC Vive head­set and wields Tilt Brush, a VR draw­ing tool be­ing re­leased by Google.

With seem­ingly ef­fort­less strokes, Keane brings Dis­ney’s Beast and Ariel the mer­maid to life. View­ers, mean­while, watch a screen to see what he’s draw­ing in real time.

Keane talks about the process like a kid in a candy store.

“What I love about draw­ing in vir­tual re­al­ity is the feel­ing of im­me­di­acy that you get,” he says. “It’s like a dance. I sense that this is a path for some­thing en­tirely new and very hand-crafted.”

While Keane was a key con­trib­u­tor to Dis­ney’s “sec­ond golden age” of tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion in the 1990s, he’s no stranger to the lat­est dig­i­tal tools. In 2014 he an­i­mated for Google’s Spot­light Sto­ries the short Duet, which turned a cell­phone screen into a win­dow on a love story. Duet prompted an in­vi­ta­tion for Keane to ap­pear at the Fu­ture of Sto­ry­telling con­fer­ence in New York this fall, and he took his Vive and Tilt Brush gear with him. There, he per­formed Step into the Page as a live demonstration.

Th­ese devel­op­ments rep­re­sent a chain of events that Keane could not have pre­dicted for his ca­reer post-Dis­ney, where he spent nearly 38 years.

“When I stepped out of the com­fort zone of Dis­ney, I felt I needed to put my sails up and be ready when the wind started to move,” he says. “Be­cause of the Duet piece, my pro­ducer Gen­nie Rim and I vis­ited var­i­ous SIGGRAPH chap­ters, stu­dios, schools and con­fer­ences around the world last year. I was ex­cited to share the idea of an­i­ma­tion be­com­ing much more di­men­sional — to con­vince ev­ery­body that the draw­ings of char­ac­ters were like lit­tle liv­ing sculp­tures.

“Then last fall I spoke at the Vis­ual Ef­fects So­ci­ety in San Francisco,” Keane says. “Af­ter the talk, I was ap­proached by Drew Skill­man, who was de­vel­op­ing a new tool, called Tilt Brush, along with Pa­trick Hack­ett. His eyes were alive with ex­cite­ment, be­cause they were work­ing on tools to make sculp­tural draw­ing pos­si­ble.” Keane fol­lowed up the con­ver­sa­tion with a visit to Skill­man and Hack­ett’s tiny stu­dio, and saw the beginnings of what Tilt Brush would be­come.

Since then, says Hack­ett, “we’ve had a lot of dis­cus­sions with Glen about where Tilt Brush could go. It’s im­por­tant for us to get feed­back from peo­ple who have ca­reers’ worth of tal­ent.”

While Skill­man and Hack­ett de­vel­oped the tool in­de­pen­dently af­ter spend­ing a decade in the video-game in­dus­try, the sale of their in­ven­tion to Google has made them VR play­ers right out of the gate. The few hun­dred de­vel­op­ers who are work­ing with the Vive head­set have re­ceived pro­to­types of Tilt Brush to work with, and Hack­ett says that ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has been lim­ited to those de­vel­op­ers thus far.

“We’ve had a num­ber of peo­ple reach out to us and say, ‘I run an an­i­ma­tion school’ or ‘I’ve been making video-game art for ten years. Is there any way that I can try this?’ Right now, it’s just a prob­lem of get­ting tal­ented peo­ple into the hard­ware. But that will get eas­ier and eas­ier.”

Once Vive and Tilt Brush are re­leased, start­ing at year’s end, Hack­ett expects that a ro­bust pe­riod of feed­back can really be­gin.

“It’s our hope that Tilt Brush will be the ap­pli­ca­tion that peo­ple show their friends to ex­plain how the Vive works. It wouldn’t sur­prise me if de­vel­op­ers use it as a launch pad for show­ing the mass ap­peal that VR could have.” With a con­sumer base in mind, Hack­ett adds: “We’ve tried to min­i­mize the num­ber of but­tons the user has to learn. Ev­ery­one knows how to use a pen­cil.”

Keane him­self sounds sur­prised that he’s been able to get the hang of Tilt Brush fairly read­ily, though he knows he has fur­ther to go. “As won­der­ful as draw­ing in VR is, there is still a learn­ing curve that I see be­fore me. But it re­minds me of what I felt when I first started in an­i­ma­tion. I’m in­tim­i­dated, and hop­ing to learn to be able to mas­ter this ap­proach. It’s ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing to think about how you can sculpt and an­i­mate a fig­ure in space.”

Even as the small group be­hind Glen Keane Pro­duc­tions con­tin­ues to ex­plore new tools and de­liv­ery plat­forms for an­i­ma­tion, the an­i­ma­tor him­self sees it as part of a con­tin­u­ous cre­ative thread.

“In my an­i­ma­tion I have al­ways been turn­ing char­ac­ters in space to show that they’re di­men- sional. This tech­nol­ogy really opens that space up, and lets an artist like me draw what is al­ready in my mind. That’s why I’ve felt strangely com­fort­able us­ing it – like this was nor­mal, in a way. I be­lieved that I could ac­tu­ally draw in VR be­cause it wasn’t so much about draw­ing the edges of a char­ac­ter as it was about be­liev­ing in the form that ex­isted within those edges. You really need to be think­ing in terms of the di­men­sional form that you are defin­ing.”

Keane is in­trigued about the pos­si­bil­i­ties this tech­nol­ogy holds for com­ing gen­er­a­tions of artists – in­clud­ing his grand­chil­dren. Which seems fit­ting, con­sid­er­ing that he is the son of famed car­toon­ist Bil Keane, and the fa­ther of artists Claire and Max Keane. Call­ing him­self “a town crier” for th­ese new ap­proaches to an­i­ma­tion, he says, “I never want to get to the point where I stop shar­ing my dis­cov­er­ies. I find that I al­ways have to teach. Pass­ing on ideas is ‘the comet’s tail.’ And a comet only has a tail if it is mov­ing for­ward.” [

TA­tomic Fic­tion dig­i­tally re­builds the World Trade Cen­ter and 1974 New York for Robert Ze­meckis’ ver­tigo-in­duc­ing

he Walk, which recre­ates Philippe Pe­tit’s amaz­ing high-wire cross­ing be­tween the World Trade Cen­ter’s twin tow­ers in 1974, couldn’t have hap­pened with­out Robert Ze­meckis’ pi­o­neer­ing tech ad­vances in live-ac­tion ( For­rest Gump, Back to the Fu­ture), per­for­mance cap­ture ( The Polar Ex­press) and live-ac­tion/an­i­ma­tion hy­brid ( Who Framed Roger Rab­bit?).

“Ev­ery­thing I’ve done my whole ca­reer has pre­pared me to make this movie,” Ze­meckis says. “It’s a win-win for me and I used per­for­mance cap­ture in­vis­i­bly with dig­i­tal dou­bling. I cer­tainly iden­tify with that pas­sion that Philippe has. The thumb­nail de­scrip­tion of the whole act (110-sto­ries high and 140-feet across) told me that this has the po­ten­tial to be a movie. And so I kept run­ning it down and, of course, when I spoke to Philippe and he told me the story, it was in­stantly ob­vi­ous that this could be a movie. It could do ev­ery­thing that movies are sup­posed to do — that was my in­stinct.”

Ze­meckis’ orig­i­nal in­ten­tion was to make The Walk as a per­for­mance-cap­tured an­i­mated fea­ture. But that was be­fore Dis­ney closed down his ImageMovers stu­dio. How­ever, he still got Pe­tit to don the mo-cap suit and vir­tu­ally pan­tomime his leg­endary high-wire bal­anc­ing act as part of an elab­o­rate an­i­matic of the en­tire movie. That per­for­mance-cap­tured walk ob­vi­ously served him well as a chore­ographed roadmap.

Kevin Bail­lie of Atomic Fic­tion, who’s worked with Ze­meckis since his per­for­mance-cap­ture cru­sade, su­per­vised the cru­cial vis­ual ef­fects.

“We shot the film in Mon­treal,” he says. “For the third-act walk, we built one cor­ner of one of the tow­ers that was about 40 feet long and 12 feet high. That’s all they could fit on the stage in Mon­treal and still have room for about 100 feet of ca­ble for the walk ac­tion to hap­pen (with ac­tor Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt as Pe­tit).

“The rest was green screen in all di­rec­tions. We had to do dig­i­tal ex­ten­sions of the rooftop and the tow­ers and recre­ate those. And 1974 New York looks re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent from to­day, so we couldn’t just take pho­tog­ra­phy of mod­ern day New York. We had to recre­ate New York com­pletely from scratch. What you see is 20 per­cent filmed real and the rest recre­ated. Rodeo did set ex­ten­sions of the World Trade Cen­ter lobby.”

A Dig­i­tal Big Ap­ple Build­ing New York from scratch (in­clud­ing build­ings, hot dog stands, news­stands, cars and peo­ple) first be­gan by get­ting ref­er­ence footage for two days in a he­li­copter to mon­i­tor traf­fic flow and how peo­ple look from that height.

“The un­ex­pected out­come for me was get­ting per­mis­sion to hover right over ground zero at 1,400 feet, which is the ex­act place where Philippe walked. I was able to eval­u­ate ev­ery shot in post around that sen­sa­tion,” Bail­lie re­calls.

The cityscape was achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of Maya and Modo for model making and then they used Mari and Modo, de­pend­ing on the artist, to tex­ture the build­ings.

Atomic did all of the look de­vel­op­ment, shad­ing and light­ing in Katana.

Then it was all ren­dered in Atomic’s in-house cloud-ren­der­ing plat­form called Con­duc­tor, which is be­ing re­leased com­mer­cially at the end of the year.

“We do all of our ren­der­ing in the cloud and it man­ages the en­tire cloud process from be­gin­ning to end, so an artist doesn’t have to think about it,” Bail­lie says. “By do­ing that, we ren­dered about 9.1 mil­lion pro­ces­sor hours in the cloud for The Walk, the largest cloud-ren­dered fea­ture film, which is more than 1,000 years on a sin­gle pro­ces­sor worth of com­puter.”

A Tow­er­ing Task The big­gest chal­lenge, of course, was recre­at­ing the tow­ers, which were de­stroyed in the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “We wanted them to look and feel like peo­ple’s rec­ol­lec­tion of those tow­ers. And the really in­ter­est­ing thing about the tow­ers is that be­cause they are an­odized alu­minum skin, they were like chameleons in a way,” Bail­lie says. “They re­flect and take on the in­ten­sity of the light that’s around them. Even what’s be­hind you has a pro­found im­pact on how the tow­ers look. On sunny days they look white and on cloudy days they look al­most black. So we had to spend a lot of time work­ing on the shad­ing of the tow­ers.

“We ended up us­ing V-ray to ren­der them and they have a rel­a­tively new shad­ing model called GTX, which sim­u­lates mi­cro bumps in a sur­face, and that’s ex­actly what an­odized alu­minum is. When you look at it front on, it al­most looks matte. But if you look at a steep an­gle, like from the side of the build­ing, it’ll be re­flec­tive. Us­ing the GTX model made the dif­fer­ence be­tween look­ing like a CG thing and look­ing real. The first time that GTX has been used in pro­duc­tion on this scale.”

Bail­lie in­sists The Walk is the an­tithe­sis of the mod­ern-day su­per­hero movie. “He’s real and you’re there with him and the vi­su­als aren’t meant to punch you in the face — they’re meant to evoke an emo­tion and to sup­port this guy’s jour­ney.” Bill De­sowitz is owner of Im­mersed in Movies (www.billdes­owitz.com), au­thor of James Bond Un­masked (www.james­bon­dun­masked.com) and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Thomp­son on Hol­ly­wood and An­i­ma­tion Scoop at Indiewire.

GGhosts, man­sions and creep­ing blood-red clay all re­ceived hands-on at­ten­tion from

Guillermo del Toro. By Bill De­sowitz.

uillermo del Toro is back do­ing what he does best with Crim­son Peak: scar­ing up Gothic thrills and creepy ghosts with baroque vi­su­als. It’s a bizarre love tri­an­gle be­tween Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hid­dle­ston and Jes­sica Chas­tain set in a crum­bling man­sion in 19th cen­tury Eng­land — only noth­ing is what it seems.

Mr. X’s Den­nis Ber­ardi, the pro­duc­tion vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor, was tasked with cre­at­ing the ghosts and en­vi­ron­ments. “Guillermo is very hands-on and very much wants to understand your toolset so he can com­mu­ni­cate with you and make it bet­ter, which is un­usual,” says Ber­ardi. “And any­time we did re­views with him, we would have our lead artists in the ses­sions. Half of my job is to parse di­rec­tor’s notes into things that make sense for an artist, but not Guillermo’s. He’s got the abil­ity to speak di­rectly to the artists and move them in the right di­rec­tion and give them ref­er­ence and draw some­thing for them.”

And del Toro knew ex­actly what he wanted, from the look of the ghosts to the look of the red clay ooz­ing up from the mine be­low. “There’s a shot at the be­gin­ning of the mov- Maya and phased it in and out for Mother Ghost, and then added the ec­to­plasm. We match-moved our dig­i­tal char­ac­ter over our live-ac­tion char­ac­ter and ren­dered a skele­tal struc­ture as well as hands and feet be­cause Mother Ghost looks more ema­ci­ated and dis­torted than what was pho­tographed.

“As we kept go­ing, we re­placed the face with hol­lowed out eyes. It’s a ter­rific hy­brid of prac­ti­cal makeup and wardrobe and CG an­i­ma­tion. We used Mantra and the ec­to­plasm was a Hou­dini par­ti­cle sim based on da­guerreo tin­type pho­tos that Guillermo liked where you see ec­to­plasm-like rib­bons.”

There’s also an all-CG badass ghost that floats in the mid­dle of the atrium. It was more com­pli­cated. Del Toro cre­ated a de­sign with DDT and ini­tially put a per­son in suit but went dig­i­tal be­cause the de­sign kept evolv­ing. The ghost has flow­ing hair and holds a baby.

“It’s creepy, but the ghost also cries,” Ber­ardi says. “It took six months to get the per­for­mance right and make it pho­to­real. The in­ter­nal skele­tal struc­ture also had to be seen. It’s snow­ing through the top of the bro­ken roof so the snowflakes had to go through her and some­times land on her. The rig and hair sys­tem, that was di­rectable. The de­sign was very de­tailed: the length of fin­gers, how thin the bone struc­ture could be, elon­gated legs, curl of the feet, face, scar on face. We sculpted what the hair could look like as a still and that went into the hair pipe­line, which is a com­bi­na­tion of Shave and a Hair­cut and Hou­dini.”

They placed an ac­tor in a suit for pur­poses of a per­for­mance for an­other ghost with a CG body re­place­ment so you could see a lot of neg­a­tive space. It is the most ema­ci­ated-look­ing of the ghosts, in which you can see the ribcage and with­ered legs.

An­other ghost emerges (the mother of Hid­dle­ston and Chas­tain) from the bath­tub with a cleaver in her head and ec­to­plasm com­ing out. This too was a match-moved CG ghost over a live-ac­tion ghost.

In­side and Out The ex­te­rior of the man­sion was CG. “We’re big on im­age-based light­ing and ren­der­ing,” Ber­ardi says, “so when they were on lo­ca­tion, we did HDRI in Photo Sur­vey and cre­ated an im­age-based spher­i­cal model for light­ing and ev­ery­thing was lit in the same light­ing model as the live-ac­tion pho­tog­ra­phy, which helps with the pho­to­re­al­ism. It was then ren­dered in V-Ray.

“In­side the house we see the red clay ooz­ing like blood, which was a very high-res sim in Hou­dini. Guillermo de­cided on vis­cos­ity and speed of move­ment and how it col­lects and folds over it­self. We cre­ated a sys­tem where we could ac­com­mo­date changes in vis­cos­ity.”

The red clay ooz­ing up through snow is a dig­i­tal ef­fect. It was achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of 2.5-D pro­jec­tion clean of red and they cre­ated a red version of that en­vi­ron­ment and then re­vealed the red through the snow shot by shot.

“Guillermo wanted a pro­gres­sion where it grows over time,” Ber­ardi says. “That was on a stage; we LI­DAR-scanned the set, built a full dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment, match moved ev­ery shot and the white en­vi­ron­ment with the red snow con­ing on the ground were dig­i­tal shots.”

It’s pure del Toro, in which mood dic­tates con­tent. [ Bill De­sowitz is owner of Im­mersed in Movies (www.billdes­owitz.com),au­thor of James Bond Un­masked (www.james­bon­dun­masked.com) and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Thomp­son on Hol­ly­wood and An­i­ma­tion Scoop at Indiewire.

Mo­tion cap­ture has be­come ubiq­ui­tous in the in­dus­try — or, rather, in­dus­tries, if you talk about an­i­ma­tion, film, pre­viz and video games. It’s a must. But it’s fre­quently ex­pen­sive. It has lots of equip­ment. It re­quires a ded­i­cated, or at least tem­po­rar­ily ded­i­cated, vol­ume of space. It’s kind of a has­sle, es­pe­cially if you don’t have a sup­port team to do it all.

Well, in the last few years, a num­ber of com­pa­nies have been work­ing on get­ting around th­ese foibles. The most no­ticed of th­ese has been the Per­cep­tion Neu­ron sys­tem, break­ing out of the gate with a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign that got them go­ing down the de­vel­op­ment road. As of Septem­ber, the sys­tems were be­ing shipped to con­trib­u­tors, and artists and an­i­ma­tors through­out the land are start­ing to be­come per­for­mance artists and find­ing out just how hard it is to be a mime.

The sys­tem is compact and por­ta­ble, lac­ing the per­former up in a kind of a sus­pender and strap sys­tem with “neu­rons” at key points of ro­ta­tion (body, head, arms, legs) and em­bed­ded into gloves for fin­ger move­ment — a fea­ture that isn’t pos­si­ble with many op­ti­cal mo-cap sys­tems. The neu­rons cal­cu­late move­ment with ac­celerom­e­ters and gy­ros and trans­late that into data to be ap­plied to a skele­ton in 3D. This data is trans­mit­ted in real time back to your work­sta­tion ei­ther through Wi-Fi or a USB ca­ble — and in the near fu­ture, a Mi­cro SD card. Voila … you have a per­for­mance.

The setup is easy. We had it up and run­ning in un­der an hour. All the soft­ware seemed to just work prop­erly, al­though oc­ca­sion­ally we would have to cal­i­brate a couple of times be­fore it locked in. Wi-Fi trans­mis­sion seems to be in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive to en­vi­ron­men­tal in­flu­ences and fac­tors. Keep other de­vices off the sys­tem while cap­tur­ing — or have a ded­i­cated net­work — or else you run into drift­ing and per­for­mance lag. USB pro­vides a cleaner sig­nal, with the re­stric­tion that your per­former is teth­ered. Hope­fully the Mi­cro SD will give you the best of both worlds.

Re­gard­less of th­ese nit­picky things, the con­cept of hav­ing a mo­tion cap­ture sys­tem in your liv­ing room to work out ideas on a whim is well worth a $1,500 in­vest­ment.

Hiro­masa Yonebayashi’s sec­ond fea­ture for Stu­dio Ghi­bli, When Marnie Was There (2014), is a gen­tle story that fo­cuses on an un­happy hero­ine com­ing to terms with her­self. As he did in The Se­cret World of Ari­etty (2010), Yonebayashi sug­gests magic may lie hid­den just be­neath the sur­face of ev­ery­day life.

In a re­cent in­ter­view con­ducted via email, Yonebayashi talked about Marnie and his ca­reer in an­i­ma­tion, which be­gan when he dropped out of col­lege to work at Ghi­bli.

“When I was a stu­dent, I was al­ready as­sist­ing on an­i­mated com­mer­cials, so it was quite nat­u­ral for me to go into an­i­ma­tion,” he writes. “I loved the Stu­dio Ghi­bli film Whis­per of the Heart, which had been re­leased the year be­fore I started work­ing there, so I took the en­trance exam to join the stu­dio. Ghi­bli doesn’t take new hires ev­ery year, so I was very lucky in my tim­ing.”

Both of Yonebayashi’s films are based on Bri­tish ju­ve­nile books that had been cho­sen by di­rec­tor Hayao Miyazaki and pro­ducer Toshio Suzuki. Ari­etty is adapted from Mary Nor­ton’s The Bor­row­ers se­ries; Marnie is based on the epony­mous novel by Joan G. Robin­son. “I like Bri­tish chil­dren’s nov­els,” says Yonebayashi. “Al­though they’re writ­ten for chil­dren, many of those books treat themes that are very thought-pro­vok­ing. In the case of When Marnie Was There, I was es­pe­cially drawn to the sen­si­tive and beau­ti­ful way the hero­ine’s in­te­rior psy­chol­ogy and the land­scapes were de­picted.”

Af­ter she suf­fers a crip­pling asthma at­tack, Anna Sasaki (voice by Hailee Ste­in­feld), the alien­ated ado­les­cent hero­ine of Marnie, is sent by her foster mother Yoriko (Geena Davis) from her home in Sap­poro to re­cover in a small sea­side town. She stays with her ec­cen­tric Aunt Setsu (Grey Grif­fin) and Un­cle Kiy­omasa (John C. Ri­ley) while she re­builds her strength.

Anna strives to stay away from her rel­a­tives and the lo­cal peo­ple, wan­der­ing the shore alone. But she’s in­trigued by the Marsh House, an ap­par­ently aban­doned man­sion hid­den among the trees. When lovely blonde Marnie (Keir­nan Shipka) emerges from the house, the two girls be­come fast friends, shar­ing con­fi­dences, laughs and com­plaints. Anna re­sents her par­ents and grand­mother for dy­ing, leav­ing her with Yoriko, whom she be­lieves took her in for the gov­ern­ment sub­sidy. Marnie’s glam­orous par­ents leave her in the care of an au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­erness and in­dif­fer­ent maids while they travel and en­ter­tain on a grand scale.

Se­crets and Laugh­ter Yonebayashi and his artists do an im­pres­sive job of cap­tur­ing the in­ten­sity of ju­ve­nile friend­ships. When Anna and Marnie share se­crets and pledge eter­nal devo­tion their tears are as gen­uine as their laugh­ter. The film­mak­ers en­rich Anna’s char­ac­ter by making her an artist; she be­comes fas­ci­nated with the Marsh House when she sketches it.

“The orig­i­nal story was writ­ten al­most com­pletely from the per­spec­tive of Anna’s in­ter­nal voice,” Yonebayashi says. “It wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble to make the en­tire film a mono­logue. As an an­i­ma­tor, I wanted to show the char­ac­ter’s in­ter­nal psy­chol­ogy through her be­hav­ior. I thought I could do that by making her a girl who likes to draw.”

The film­mak­ers also tighten and fo­cus Robin­son’s ram­bling story, making the char­ac­ters more sym­pa­thetic. This Anna is more un­der­stand­able and ap­peal­ing than the stub­bornly an­ti­so­cial girl in the book. Her aunt and un­cle are also more fully re­al­ized sec­ondary char­ac­ters than the Peggs, an ef­fort­fully color­ful lower-class couple who have no plau­si­ble rea­son to take Anna in.

“The Oi­was have a leave-things-alone way of think­ing, and they live as they like, in a care­free man­ner,” says Yonebayashi. “Anna is dis­tressed that her step­mother wor­ries about her, so the Oi­was’ way of think­ing is a re­lief. When she be­comes aware of it, Anna real­izes she’s sur­rounded by warmth.” De­sign­ing a Sen­sory

Over­load Yonebayashi’s de­sign­ers sug­gest that warmth through the cheer­ful clutter of the Oi­was’ home. Odd pieces of bric-a-brac are piled every­where, and no one would mind — or even no­tice — if Anna set her teacup down on a ta­ble with­out a coaster.

“I asked the art di­rec­tor to draw the Oi­was’ house so that Anna would be able to see the history of a fam­ily that she didn’t know at all,” he says. “This might look like a lot of fun, but for Anna, who is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive, it’s prob­a­bly too stim­u­lat­ing — too much in­for­ma­tion. It was dif­fi­cult to por­tray this gap.”

Anna spends her time vis­it­ing Marnie and day­dream­ing over her sketch­book. Yonebayashi skill­fully blends light, color and sound to sug­gest his hero­ine’s rich in­ner life.

“I showed Anna’s dreams, fan­tasies and re­al­ity as if they were am­bigu­ously min­gled to­gether,” he says. “Anna is aware of her own tem­per­a­ture, the smells, the chill of the wa­ter, with a height­ened sense of re­al­ity — even in a dream. I thought that a child like Anna, who is strug­gling from a loss of her spirit, needs to feel things with her own body. It would make me happy if the au­di­ence can ex­pe­ri­ence with her the time she spend with Marnie and in the marsh­land.”

When Marnie Was There was well re­ceived by both crit­ics and au­di­ences on both side of the Pa­cific, so it’s not sur­pris­ing that Yonebayashi is al­ready at work on an­other fea­ture.

How­ever, he cau­tions cheer­fully, “It’s still in the pre­lim­i­nary stages, so I can’t talk about it yet. I hope it will be fun to watch, so please look for­ward to it.” [

The toys are back in town! In this new com­edy ad­ven­ture, Buzz, Woody et al. take on a group of dan­ger­ously delu­sional ac­tion fig­ures dur­ing one of Bon­nie’s af­ter-Christ­mas playdates. If the gang hopes to get back to Bon­nie’s room, they’ll have to rely on Trixie

Hiro­masa Yonebayashi The rich in­ner life of the char­ac­ters is re­flected in the blend of light and color in

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