Posted on Leave a comment

Otaku Subculture History

A wide range of youth subcultures have appeared in Japan since World War II, many of them shocking polite sensibilities and subverting mainstream society with behaviors considered self-centered, hedonistic and deviant.

Among the subcultures that attract the most attention, both among the public and in academic circles is the otaku, the notoriously obsessive fans of anime, manga, video games and other forms of Japanese popular culture.

Otaku: The Social Phenomenon

Since their emergence in the 1970’s and 1980’s, otaku have become a major social phenomenon, engendering widespread fascination as well as fear, disapproval and misunderstanding.

The rise of an otaku identity in Japan has inspired films, books, and art movements, that both demonize and celebrate fervent fan subculture.

Generally styled as “geeks” or “nerds’”, otaku are pictured in Japan’s collective imagination as socially maladjusted young men dressed un-stylishly (often sporting backpacks and anoraks), physically unattractive (usually overweight and gawky), and unnaturally fixated on some narrow corner of mass culture.

Otaku is a vernacular term used by amateur manga and anime fans and artists to refer to themselves. Otaku is a polite, almost stiffly formal way of saying “you” in Japanese.

Combining the honorific prefix o- with taku, meaning “house”, it literally translates as “your house” and carries connotations of detachment and impersonality.

In English, the equivalent might be referring to someone as “sir” or “ma’am”.

How this word, generally associated in postwar Japan with the kind of scrupulously polite language housewives would use with neighbors and acquaintances, came to describe obsessive, introverted young fans of popular culture is uncertain and continues to be the subject of much speculation and debate.

The first publication of the term “otaku” outside of the fan culture is generally credited to Akio Nakamori, who, in 1983, adopted the term to describe the social phenomenon of hardcore fandom in Japan during this time.

Nakamori chose the term otaku to describe what he identified as the particularly driven characteristics of fandom, in preference over the more conventional term, nekura ( maniac or enthusiastic fan).

Nekura means ‘black’ and ‘dark’ and evokes the quality of a melancholic and extremely introverted character.

Miyazaki Tsutomu AKA The Otaku Killer

The widely publicized arrest of 27-year-old Miyazaki Tsutomu in 1989 was a key marker for the negative perception of otaku in public discourses.

Miyazaki was arrested for the abduction, murder and mutilation of young girls. Searching his home, police found evidence that he had murdered four young girls. They also found a collection of 5,763 videotapes and pornographic and pedophilic anime filled from floor to ceiling.

Public debates focused on Miyazaki as a socially alienated youth who was disconnected from reality and immersed within an otaku fantasy.

Japanese media persistently associated Miyazaki with otaku and dubbed him ‘’The Otaku Killer’’; the image of his room-unoccupied and windowless with videotapes stacked to the ceiling around a small, rumpled bed – became the dominant impression of an entire otaku subculture.

The outcome of his trial hinged on the question of his sanity, with the court concluding he understood the consequence and severity of his crime and sentencing him to death. He was executed in 2008.

The figure of Miyazaki still haunts the public perception of otaku.

Degrading Values over the Decades

This subculture associated strongly with antisocial fantasies and habits both violent and sexually perverted became a lightning rod in intense and histrionic public debates over social decay and the deteriorating values of Japanese youth.

For many Japanese, otaku meant an increasing number of sullen youth who would voluntarily taken leave of reality.

In 1960, youth were involved in radical political movements and new popular cultural activities such as manga consumption.

In the early 1970s in parallel with the expansion of these culture industries, youth were considered to be self-consciously immature, regressive, and dysfunctional, because they emphasized individualism and a lack of affiliations with organizations.

In the 1980’s, the mass media and culture industries were criticized for encouraging youth culture for its individualism.

For example, the ‘crystal tribes’ who were considered to be passionless cultural connoisseurs.

In the mid 1980’s, a new term emerged to differentiate a new generation of affluent, consumer oriented youth – shinjinrui ( new human race).

Otaku culture emerged within these contexts, and came to embody in the public imagination a particular section of youth who were considered the embodiment of fragmentation, individualism, and infantilism.

The interpretation of fans as symbolizing the decline of community, with audiences being passive consumers of mass media, resulting in pathological fans who are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality, is also considered to be an unacknowledged critique of postmodernity.

Trivia Addicts

From the start, what seemed to characterized otaku, beyond their apparent social ineptitude and isolation, was the compulsion to amass huge amounts of trivial information on obscure, narrow and often juvenile subjects from animated television series to pop music idols to tropical fish.

What set otaku apart from previous generations of devoted fans, was the power and connectivity afforded by the Internet. It provided new means for collecting information and sharing it with like-minded enthusiasts.

What was also striking about this new social formation of highly wired and technologically adept fans, was its sheer size: from the 1980’s on, Japan was said to have a population of at least 100,000 (and perhaps as many as one million) hard-core otaku.

Some scholars describe a long-running power politics surrounding the subculture. The ‘bad’ otaku shuts off from society, in a room with the objects of consumption, not participating in ‘normal’ forms of social formations.

Miyazaki embodied this stereotype and his prominence strengthened it.

In addition, we think of otaku as a male, but before 1989, they were often describes as both women and men behaved in ways the older fans or outsiders found unacceptable.

Before the killings, the otaku men were often portrayed as failures – economically, socially and sexually.

The term came out of the subculture as a negative self-description, but only after Miyazaki did it take on the stronger implication of social pathology.

Roots of Otaku

Many social critics and psychologists have argued that the roots of otaku behavior lay within Japan’s highly structured, even oppressive, educational, and social systems.

They have suggested that the information fetishism of otaku stems from the rigid routines of Japanese schooling, which emphasize rote learning and the memorization of vast quantities of fragmented facts.

The social awkwardness and reclusive tendencies of otaku, meanwhile, were widely understood to be reaction against the pressure for conformity, emphasis on the group, and elaborate standards of decorum that characterize Japan society.

Japan has always been known to be a strict culture, with high suicide rates compared to other countries, especially in modern times.

Japan’s otaku subculture has evolved in a variety of new directions. While many early otaku were fixated on science fiction, the imaginative and visually rich realms of manga and anime soon became the most widespread obsession.

Gyaru-Ge

By the start of the new millennium, otaku interest became overtly sexualized. There was a proliferation of gyaru-ge (‘girl games’, dating simulation software) and female fantasy characters introduced in manga, anime or as collectible plastic models.

The characters are generally depicted as cute, vulnerable and sexually alluring.

Otaku adopted the almost indefinable term moe (derived from two homophonic verbs meaning ‘to burn’ and ‘to bud’) to describe a kind of profound infatuation for these fictional female creation – perhaps platonic, or rooted in frustrated sexual desire.

The discourses around otaku culture shifted as intellectuals such as Otsuka Eiji and Okada Toshio began to emphasize otaku culture as a symbol of Japan’s information society.

This shift also contributed to and was influenced by a transformation in defining manga, and the promotion of certain forms of manga artistic lineage, as part of national culture within and outside of Japan.

Surging Into The Mainstream

The long-term transition in otaku tastes, from science-fiction and animation to pursuits viewed by the larger society as perverted, pornographic, and pedophilic, was driven by the mainstreaming of anime and manga in the 1900’s.

As the Japanese public came to accept forms like anime, otaku felt compelled to move on to more outrageous and offensive obsessions in order to maintain their distance from polite society and their resistance  to its niceties.

Today, the image of otaku in Japanese media is quite consistent in general. The label has lost some of its sting.

The Akihabara district of Tokyo, known as ‘electric town’ for its high concentration of stores selling household appliances, has become a well-known otaku destination since the late 1990s.

Akihabara now has hundreds of businesses, including ‘maid cafés’, where young female waitresses costumed as servants or anime characters wait on costumers, which cater to fan obsessions.

Local authorities have embraced that identity, welcoming fans and holding frequent festivals.

Increased public recognition has helped broaden culture; no longer confined to the image of a person-less room overstuffed with pop-culture cargo, otaku can take on more positive meanings.

It’s not just the obsessive, withdrawn loner, although that picture may never completely dissipate; now it can be the passionate expert.

Despite the positive image of otaku that is emerging, particularly in relation to the export of manga and anime, attention needs to be given to the persistently negative images of otaku and its continued marginalization within Japanese society.

Otaku are also often linked in the public imagination with hikikomori (reclusive shut-ins), chronically unemployed NEETs (‘not in employment, education or training’) and freeters ( youth floating between dead-end, part-time jobs).

All groups are stigmatized in public discourse as symbols of the alienation and drift of Japan’s younger generation today.

The positive image of otaku conflicts with otaku self-definition that emphasizes, as matter of positive subjectivity, their social unacceptability.

Whether it is conceived positively or negatively the continual emphasis is still identifying otaku as different to other consumers of media forms.

Related Videos

Here are two videos related to otaku you might like to watch.  First there’s Akihabara Geeks, the 2005 documentary.

Also, check out the 1994 documentary, simply called “Otaku”.

Posted on Leave a comment

Takashi Murakami – Everything’s Melting

“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami

Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.

Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.

During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically. 

The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.

Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.

As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.

Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work

In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese painting that combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).

Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)

These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.

In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).

In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.

In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.

In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.

The Arrival of Mr. DOB

At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.

Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.

In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.

The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.

The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.

The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.

The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.

Fine Art?

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.

Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?

Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applauded Murakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.

In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.

At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).

Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy. 

The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.

This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.

Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.

Kaikai Kiki Co.

In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.

The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.

In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance. 

In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.

Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.

This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.

Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.

Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.

Mr. Pointy

In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.

The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.

Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.

Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.

This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.

Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.

Luis Vuitton Collaboration

In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.

One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.

Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurring the distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)

In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.

The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.

Everything is Transient

According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.

In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.

Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo is roughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.

Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.

Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.

He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.

Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.

Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?

Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.

He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.

In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.

In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.

Visit: http://www.takashimurakami.com/

Oh, and he has worked with the American provocateur himself, Mr. Kanye West.

Here’s an interesting interview video with Murakami that touches upon how he thinks about things.

Posted on Leave a comment

Animation in 2018 – It’s Not What You Think

For most of the medium’s history, animation meant thousands of hand-drawn and painted transparent cells flashing on-screen 24-times (or less) per second, just the way Uncle Walt used to do it

Nowadays, animation isn’t just hand-drawn Disney films and saturday morning cartoons, it’s computer-generated 3D blockbusters, it’s the dances in Fortnite, it’s Thanos and Iron Man in The Avengers.

The digital age has created plenty of new industries that call for animation, but we’ll focus on the big 3 industries most people think of when they think animation.

We’ll start with the grand-daddy of them all.

Film

What happened to hand drawn movies like The Little Mermaid or Snow White? Pixar.

Pixar is responsible for both pioneering CG animation and popularizing it. We all know Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles.

3D-animated family films are nothing new to us but whenever someone hears “animator” they think of someone drawing pictures. A lot of animators in 2018 can’t even draw, and they don’t need to.

Why spend years perfecting a skill that’s not even required to have a successful career? An animator working in film is going to be using their CG skills much more often than their drawing skills.

There’s another aspect of film animation you may have overlooked: VFX. The amount of computer generated visual effects on major Hollywood releases is staggering.

Consider that Avatar met the qualification for a “Best Animated Feature” nomination. Consider that without VFX, The Life of Pi would have been a movie about a boy talking to an empty boat in an old pool.
 
Iron Man would be a series about Robert Downey Jr. making wisecracks while wearing spandex and pretending he was shooting lasers out of his hands.

 

Consider that the upcoming Lion King remake (https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/get-right-disney-animated-not-live-action-remake-lionking-143343.html) is not a “live-action Lion King” movie, it’s likely a 100% CGI film, even more so than the “live-action Jungle Book” remake which featured an entirely 3D-animated cast with the only exception being the protagonist.

Television and Tweening

Think television is the only safe bastion for hand-drawn animation? Think again. Television studios have ditched a lot of hand drawn frame-by-frame animation in favour of “tweening”:

Drawing each body part separately and having the computer drag that part across the screen from Point A to Point B.

Compare the early 1990s seasons of Arthur to the newer 2010s seasons.

Arthur Season 1:

Arthur Season whatever:

Arms pivot from the shoulder and heads pivot from the neck instead of being redrawn over and over in a slightly-different position each time.

So why use tweening?

Tweening means that animators with poorer drawing skills can still animate effectively. Tweening is faster than doing an entirely new drawing every frame and time is money.

Tweening means you can have the best artist draw out all the body parts you need and then that character will always appear consistent.

In the hand drawn days there was always the risk of someone drawing a character “off model”. A large group of different people all trying to draw the same character several thousand times throughout a project would inevitably lead to a few frames where that character didn’t look like themselves.

Sometimes there’s a nice mix between hand-drawn and tweened, a recent example being Rick and Morty. Sometimes hand-drawn still lives on strongly in Adventure Time and Legend of Korra (animated in South East Asia), but it’s done digitally now.

Animators are drawing in ToonBoom animation software instead of on paper.

That means artists can be more accurate in drawing new frames, colours don’t flicker due to paint-mixing, and you can always throw in a 3D car (because 2D animating a car is a job no one wants to do).

Video Games

If you’re at a AAA studio (Think Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty) it’s 3D animated and motion captured with a few exceptions like Overwatch’s delightful hand-keyed cartoony animation.

Despite some Andy Serkis controversy stating otherwise, motion capture is not just a matter of an actor moving around and then the animation is done.

After an actor’s movements are recorded, there is a lot of cleaning up to do. Sometimes the motion capture camera isn’t able to see one of the markers on the suit. You’ll have arms spasming in 3D space or maybe a head that’s offset from the neck by a kilometre.

You also rarely have any animation on the fingers, and facial animation is recorded separately but more commonly the face is animated manually by animators in 3D software.

If you’re an indie studio, 2D animation is much more common. Cuphead is every animation nerd’s dream right now as it was drawn onto animation paper (a huge rarity in film much less in video games), but even then it was scanned into Photoshop and traced and coloured digitally.


 

Conclusion

So what is animation in 2018? Ditch the image of the man in the suspenders drawing with a pencil and replace it with the image of someone working in front of a computer using a drawing tablet.

Animation is found in the 3D films of Pixar and Disney, but it’s also hidden in every major modern Hollywood film in the form of VFX.

The weird-looking 16-frames-per-second (or less) saturday morning cartoon is gone and has been replaced (for better or worse) by digitally animated, sometimes handdrawn kids’ shows that aim to appeal to girls and boys instead of only one or the other.

Animation is your gun firing in Call of Duty, your candy exploding in Candy Crush, and even the way a window expands on your OS.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Kids Animation Tutorial – Part 1, Idea Board with Powerpoint

Today I’m chatting with Carlos Campos, professional freelancer and animator of many, many projects about what you might call his “workflow” when it comes to designing an kids animation project for a client using Powerpoint to start things off.

In this case, that client is…well, technically it’s me, since I commissioned it, although we are more like buddies in this animated endeavour.

What’s going on is that Carlos and I are working on a new animation channel for Youtube called Kindertunes featuring children’s nursery rhyme songs, which requires us to come up with animations of various lengths to provide content for the channel.

I wanted to talk to him about how he gets his inspiration going, and he gave me the lowdown on these first crucial stages of planning. Now I want to share all that with you!

Check out our Youtube Channel called Kindertunes here!

Generating Ideas for your New Animated Video

Carlos is a fan of coming up with what you might call his “storyboard” or “idea chart” in Powerpoint, where he can design the characters who will appear in the animation, and then do some editing of those characters to work on their aesthetic looks and expressions.

He can also design background elements and play with those as well. This would essentially be the first step in what will become the animation that will be used for the video.

So it’s an important step to take, but it can also be one of the most fun because it involves creating a lot of the visual elements of your cartoon, or animation and doing a lot of brainstorming.

For instance, our new video is for a Christmas song (as Christmas is around the corner), and here’s his version of Santa Claus.

I don’t know a whole lot about Powerpoint myself, so I’ll let Carlos jump in here and say a few things about what he’s up to in this first stage of planning your animation.

I will also jump in and ask a few questions to get more info.

Interview with Carlos Campos on the first stages of animating using Powerpoint

Carlos: Alright! So, I took a bunch of snapshots of my “workspace” you could say. This is basically showing what the project files look like. It shows the first and second stages of the creative process.

First comes what I call the “mood board”. I know some people call it different names. I just go with that, because I like it. It’s pretty much any external source of inspiration.

You include it within your space (be it physical or digital) and keep going back to it while designing. It’s a lot of fun, ’cause you start connecting the dots, so to speak, and create different relationships between the chosen objects.

So if I’m creating, let’s say, a logo, for a company called Evil Apples Entertainment (nice name right?), I’ll take into account whatever the client wishes to include in the design and see how we can work it in.

In some cases, I might advise them to drop certain elements or include certain others, maybe just change a thing or two about the ones they mentioned.

Dave: Can we take a look?

Carlos: Yeah! So this is the mood or idea board for this particular project. The song will be “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – a Christmas classic.

So the animation, being mainly for kids but also adults too, has got to be fun, colourful and festive!

Dave: Looks cool! Looks like you’re working with a few templates to get some ideas.

Carlos: Thanks, that’s right. I take a look at those items and see what vector shapes might help me better represent the style and ideas behind the project at hand.

In this case, since the graphics in the previous video lacked an outline (referring to our Itsy Bitsy Spider video), I’ll try to steer away from using them here, to keep the graphic theme consistent.

We want to have a visually similar look from the last video to this one, I think. It will make it all look more consistent. We’re basically coming up with our style of how the cartoons or animations will look.

Next, I look at icons, logos or vectors already on the web and maybe inspiration outside of the target field.

So, not just Christmas maybe but also actual pictures of deer to see if there’s any anatomical features that any drawing may be missing (e.g. spots, a tail, more realistic antlers…)

Then see if I wanna include that. Next I go to creating shapes, editing them, etc. I’ll show you that now. The idea is to make them “easier” to edit.
 
Here’s a Christmas tree that will be part of the video. As you can see, certain shapes repeat.

Dave: Nice, yeah I see. Lots of different shapes…

Carlos: Yep, a few different elements here. I am just kind of working on the fly a little bit. Some people do it in a way that’s more rough-and-ready.
 
Some are super nit picky.

I consider myself being sort of in-between. Hahaha. But yeah, I mean, the creative part is not something you can teach or reproduce just by having the knowledge.

Dave: All part of the workflow I guess. Getting some ideas going. No need to be super picky right away.

Carlos Campos: It does help to be somewhat organized. Otherwise it’s chaos. Lol.

Dave: Never hurts to have a plan eh?

Carlos: Exactly. Anyway, as you can see in the “Model: Rudolph (elements)” slide, I create a bunch of shapes and then put them together to create the actual model which will then be animated.

So if I want to make the arm pivot or move or something, I have to keep it on a separate “layer”, so to speak. But yeah, even if they might resemble elements from my mood board, I have to come up with all sorts of crazy ways to make them work on my project.

Carlos: Also, on that one you can see how I name every element to be able to track it down when there’s tons of shapes and pictures all over the place. It’s not rocket science, but it does take patience, creativity, organization…It can be very time-consuming, too, haha, but I like it.

So in the snow slides you can see I get to select the elements, edit them (make them bigger, taller, larger, change colors, shadows, dimension, glow, position…), animate them…There’s the Santa model which is more recent.
 
I made that yesterday.

Dave: So this is all in Powerpoint?

Carlos: Yes. So far, it’s all on PowerPoint. And for the tree, I wanted it to have some cool, fun decorations to avoid it from looking too traditional.

I thought that a funny way to generate interest with the decoration would be to make the connection between Rudolph’s nose, Santa’s nose (they’re the exact same), and the Christmas tree spheres.

I’m gonna let the viewers know that they’re the same thing (noses) by using the same animations. It’s just an idea.

Dave: Well, I see you’re coming up with a lot of ideas at this stage in the process. Nothing is moving yet, but I can see how it will soon enough.

Carlos: Won’t be long! I really hope this can give you a better perspective of how I work and what goes into the designs and creation of the videos!

Dave: Once you’ve got enough ideas, then what?

Carlos: Yup. Once these ideas are ok’d, I move on and create the settings and start the animating. Add music, then edit the video file…it’s not necessarily a long process.

Dave: Cool. So what do you call this stage in the process…character development? Storyboarding? Idea board? Is there a name that covers what this is?

Carlos: Storyboarding might be a good way to put it, but there’s no plot progression yet. So character development might be the best term. I just consider this my idea board and I work off of it for now.

I mean, to me, it’s just sort of drafting I guess. I know it’s not that actually, haha, I guess I never give it too much thought, I just do it.

Dave: Well I feel like I’m learning a lot here, man, thank you! Hopefully my readers on the site enjoy this as well.

Carlos: Cool! We’ll have to document the process as we go along. This is just Part 1. We’ll come back with the next step in the process, and I’ll share that as well.

Dave: Sounds good. I’ll leave people with our first video so they can see what we’ve been up to lately. See y’all next time!

Carlos: Bye!

Read part 2 of our animation tutorial with Carlos Campos


 

Posted on Leave a comment

A Short History of Anime – Translations and Appropriations

There’s a long history of anime in North America – stretching all the way back to 1964 and the debut of Astro Boy at NBC. And there’s been a wealth of content exported since.
 
Shows like Speed Racer and Star Blazers, while becoming cultural juggernauts in their own right, managed to remain reasonably faithful to the original scripts. But it hasn’t always been perfect.


It seems like as long as there’s been anime in North America, fans have debated over how faithful a shows been to it’s source material. There’s always been a rabid fan base that clamors for “authenticity” in its shows.
 
People who will nitpick over every misplaced piece of punctuation in a sub, or refuse to listen to a dub. And while there’s a lot to be said in support of that approach, it does a lot to ignore some of the fantastic work fans and creators put forth.

 
There are countless examples of shows from the last four decades that were heavily edited or changed to fit American audiences. Astroboy is a good example of this even, where it was apparent to NBC that the original ending could never be aired here.
 
Speed Racer had any number of fatal car crashes removed.


Perhaps more famously, Sailor Moon, as it was presented to American audiences, is radically different than its original Japanese incarnation. Much of the violence, nudity, and homosexuality was dropped. The entire theme of the show was changed from one of love to something closer to a straight shonen superhero romp.

At worst it’s blatant censorship. And while it will be forever disappointing that an entire generation of kids may never realize how good Sailor Moon really was originally, there’s something to be said for the show they did get.
 
For many it was a gateway drug in the same way Astroboy was before. And it had a quality that was in some way injected through the changes DiC made at the time.

 
In 1995, unprepared children were introduced to Teknoman, a story of Nick Carter (not that Nick Carter), a mysterious man who is the only hope against the Venomoids and their leader, Darkon. Teknoman featured some of the best voice actors for its day, had plenty of action and great animation.
 
But the show we got was heavily changed from its Japanese origins. Entire episodes were dropped. Scenes featuring death and alcohol were cut and the dialogue was changed, making for a far less mature experience.


But you know what? It was in many ways the superior version. Or at least that argument can be made. While some of the voice acting in either language was somewhat bland Simon Prescott as Darkon in the english version is exceptional.
 
The sound effects for much of the weapons is improved and the theme is amazing. And while the translation certainly removes much of the nuance, it also streamlines the experience.

 
It’s important to remember that shows like Teknoman and Sailor Moon were the tip of the iceberg at the time. While it would be a stretch to say that the anime fanbase was coming into it’s own, there was a clear growth and desire for more.
 
Who remembers reading photocopied transcripts along with their favorite shows? Some older anime fans prefer subs because they grew up consuming content this way. There were businesses that sprung up around the acquisition and distribution of tapes and translations.
 
It was so prevalent that the nascent industry created an entire legal arm to deal with these fans that were rapidly tracking down new shows to import themselves, and possibly threatening the future of the industry.

 
And we can see that tradition carried into today, with huge communities springing up around the internet. Many subgroups have earned (rightfully) a sort of reverence from their followers for the dedication they have to properly representing a show etc.
 
Now we have debates over whether an official translation is better than something you can find somewhere like HorribleSubs.


Is this what all cultural appropriation looks like? Because every translation is necessarily an interpretation. There are aspects of Japanese culture in anime that will (may?) never translate. At what point does it stop mattering?
 
Do we need the racist aspects of Astroboy faithfully reproduced? Or care that Mr. Popo is blue for that matter?

 
The truth is that there is no easy answer, and that the industry and its community will continue to deal with the issue moving forward. The best part? That we live in a time when there’s such a wealth of content and options that we can stop to have the conversation.