Back in the day, hand-drawn animation was how it was done. But then computer-generated imagery took over.
Although most Japanese creators also use CGI, many still cherish the look of traditional hand-drawn animation, and are now able to successfully replicate that look in CGI.
A good example of this can currently be found on cinema screens across Japan.
Jointly produced by Production I.G Inc. and Sanzigen Inc., almost all the animation in the full-length feature "009 Re: Cyborg" was generated with the use of CGI. The animators for the film were able to adopt a technique in CGI that gives the characters a flat, hand-drawn look.
In "Toy Story" and other animated CGI films from the United States, computer-generated characters move in a fluid, realistic way as if they were real dolls.
But in traditional Japanese animation, from "Astro Boy" to "Space Battleship Yamato," hand-drawn animation is the basic principle. Compared to CGI, the images look flat and movement is presented in a time lapse fashion.
CGI technology has made significant progress of late, and has made possible the creation slow-motion effects and other expressions that are difficult to achieve with hand-drawn art.
CGI has been on the increase in Japan for cityscapes and backgrounds, but the majority of Japanese animation works have been "hybrid types" that use the hand-drawn technique for characters.
In "009 Re: Cyborg," the characters were created using CGI, but the computer animators incorporated character movements and expressions that mimic hand-drawn figures. They surrounded the 3-D characters with profile lines, and also painted them with colors in a similar fashion used for illustrations. The characters were also filmed in time lapse photography to compensate for their fluid movements.
"What Japanese anime fans want to see is action rendered in hand-drawn artwork," said Hiroaki Matsuura, Sanzigen president. "If it does not have that look, then it is not a Japanese anime."
The production house was responsible for the CGI in "009 Re: Cyborg."
"The reason behind this may be attributed to a difference in world views, leading to the difference between Japanese and Western paintings," said anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa. "The former is represented in lines, and the latter places emphasis on light and shadow."
The increased production of animated CGI works stems from a slowdown in the Japanese animation industry.
According to the Association of Japanese Animations, 60 member companies produced 279 animated TV series in 2006. But the figure dropped to 220 in 2011.
Sales of animation, excluding related merchandise, plunged to 158.1 billion yen ($1.945 billion) in 2011, from an all-time high in 2005 of 224.4 billion yen.
The association also pointed out that veteran hand-drawn animators are aging.
"Like the automobile industry that has transferred craftsmanship over to robots, we may be able to change things if animators become skilled in the use of computers because more people can play active roles (in the production process)," said Kenji Kamiyama, "009 Re: Cyborg" director.
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