7 Aug 2010

Creator Spotlight: Ohira Shinya

Genius Party Beyond: Wanwa the Doggy (2008)

My first taste of Ohira Shinya was his weirdly wonderful Wanwa The Doggy (part of the "Genius Party Beyond" compilation). To say that he has the most recognizable animation style of this decade is, possibly, an understatement.

He did not start off like that right off the bat. He wouldn't exist if he did. Ohira's style is unconventional and would not go down well with majority of anime viewers. Influenced by many great animators (including those from Disney) in the 1980's, Ohira strived to achieve realistic animation in a country famed for animation shortcuts. Some of his most outrageous experiments never made it out of incubation. Examples include:

1. 1000 drawings, 14 layers, for a single cut in anime "A-Ko".
2. Took 1 month to draw 300 key animation frames for a 3-second shot of a laser beam.
3. Took 6 months to create 3 minutes of animation for the pilot of "Junkers Come Here".

And the results?

1. Deemed impossible to film. Rejected.
2. No idea where it went.
3. Fired from his job, though still credited in the eventual movie as the character designer.

Since I can't find any video of the first 2 animation, let's take a look at Junkers (go here to view it). You can easily see his attention to detail in the way the sleeping dog is animated. The human-like qualities of the dog animation isn't an accident, as we find out later on that it can speak to humans (or to that girl at least). But Ohira spent the majority of his 6 months observing and eventually perfecting the walking animation, as evident in the scene where the girl runs to catch up with the dog, and the scene where she moves out from behind her cover (right in front of KFC). The floating and flying animation (often one of Studio Ghibli's strength) towards the end was also wonderfully done. But these aren't the thing animation company executives are looking for. Sure, the floating scene could be a good investment, but spending so much time and money on walk animations isn't something a lot of people would pay for. If you were working on a family-friendly anime movie and your name isn't Studio Ghibli, you better cut your loses early by spending as little as possible but still getting the desired effect (entertaining the whole family). Nevertheless, Ohira's work here was important to the industry as a whole. While it still costs too much to emulate such movement, his study in walking animations let others take it and adapt it into something much cheaper to animate, and yet almost as elegant.

So how did Ohira go from something as elegant as Junkers (1993) to something more trippy like Wanwa (2008)? Because Ohira's style evolves over time. In fact, go back to the pre-Junkers era and you would see a style even more different, a style that has, and still continues to, characterize Ohira.

Out of all the animation styles he has drawn, nothing screams OHIRA more than Hakkenden (1990, 1994), Ghiblies (2002) and Windy Tales (2005).

Hakkenden episode 10 (1994)

Watch the above clip starting from 1:20. Notice how the style suddenly changes at around 1:29? That's Ohira Shinya. At 1:40 you will see Ohira's style in full force. The jagged lines and weirdly fluid motion gives a surreal feel to this "dream" sequence, but that's just Ohira doing what he does. The scene from 1:54 to 2:05 is just amazing to watch in action.

Ghiblies 2 (2002)

A side of Studio Ghibli unfamiliar to many, since short films like these were only shown in Japanese theatres before a Studio Ghibli film (much like Pixar's shorts, except it never appears on the DVD). Here we see Ohira's signature crazy lines and shapes that move and evolve in every frame, giving birth to motion that seems awkward at first but somehow also very realistic.

I think after seeing the video above, you can see how Ohira came into his current style in Wanwa. When restricted to more traditional looks, he is capable of drawing fluid movements as seen in Hakkenden and Junkers. But when unrestricted, his work often look like Ghiblies, Wanwa, and FLCL (2000).

FLCL episode 2 (2000)

The playfulness with which he animates the cat is a joy to watch! The director gave Ohira a scene of his own and put subtitles of the character names because they don't look like the original character designs at all. Brilliant animator no matter the circumstances, but I still prefer to see him animate without restraint.

To wrap off, here's a compilation of some of Ohira's most famous scenes:

If you like to see more of Ohira Shinya's work, I recommend watching Windy Tales (TV series) and Wanwa the Doggy (OVA). These are the only two works I know of that fully encompass Ohira's style from start to finish. Enjoy!

p.s. Intentionally wrote this for my 100th blog post!

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