Proto Anime Cut

Proto Anime Cut is the name of an itinerant exhibition of the works of  some important people in the japanese animation industry: Morimoto Koji, Watabe Takashi, Anno Hideaki, Oshii Mamoru, Higami Haruhiko and Ogura Hiromasa. All of them heavyweights of this art in different aspects.

The exhibition is about the work previous to the final art that we can see in the movie:  image boards, storyboards, production design, layout and background art. It is not a huge exhibition but it has quite a lot of stuff, some of it absolutely iconic as is the case of the Ghost In The Shell background art.

So let´s go step by step and see what we can find here.

As you enter the exhibition the first thing you can see is the work of Ogura Hiromasa. He was the background designer for Patlabor, Ghost in The Shell, The Wings Of Honneamise… He works often with Oshii. As they explain in the book, the Patlabor background art was really groundbreaking at the time, where before this movie the background was usually considered a secondary element in anime. This changed with Patlabor and even more with Akira. Since then, background art can be in many cases called exactly that: art.

We can see Patlabor stuff, also backgrounds from Ghost In the Shell, including some of my favorite moments in the movie: the melancholic and beautiful Ghost City sequence under the rain with that amazing Kawai Kenji music and the final shoot-out in the flooded museum. Seeing the real art just right there in front of you is really chilling. Ogura is a master.

Next to Ogura we can see some Oshii Mamoru materials: mostly Tokyo Scanner, a short film about Tokyo as seen from a helicopter and full of the characteristic graphic design of Oshii´s films and also music by Kawai Kenji again.  I bought this dvd a few years ago in Roppongi Hills but as it is not an easy item to find is cool you can see it here n better quality than YouTube (20 minutes running time).

We can see here also the work of Higami Haruhiko. His position is something called “concept photographer”. This s a role created by Oshii in Patlabor where Higami went around Tokyo and other locations taking pictures of buildings, streets, canals or other elements that can be used as inspiration for the look of the film. For example, Higami went to Hong Kong to take hundreds of pictures as reference for Ghost In The Shell. Many of his pictures were used in the final art in a different of ways: framing, lighting, etc. But the pics were in BW to not interfere in the color scheme later to be created. Besides film Higami also worked with a fellow named Syd Mead, as he was the photographer in the book Oblagon.

After Higami we can see the work of Watabe Takashi. This man is a master of layout and mechanical design. Everything looks real, working and complex.  You can see here his work for Patlabor, Ghost In the Shell, Innocence, Metropolis, Evangelion and what is more interesting: the production design he did for Sarah, this is, the manga “The Legend of Mother Sarah” written by Otomo Katsuhiro and drawn by Nagayasu Takumi. This quite an exceptional thing: the sets and environments and more elements were previously designed by Watabe so when the actual art began, Nagayasu had complete information about where actions took place. The world was created beforehand.

All the Watabe art shown in the exhibition is really of outstanding quality and also you can see some written notes by Oshii about how to design the creation of the gynoid in the main credits scene of Innocence. Good stuff.

Next we find Anno Hideaki. Coincidentally Anno sat just behind me in Tokyo last May in a screening of Battleship in a Shinjuku theatre (bad bad movie, btw). Anno is the creator, of course, of Evangelion. In the exhibition all the material is Evangelion related. We can see some layout art (looser than what you can see usually in this field) and also a selection of the huge photographic archive Anno keeps of all things urban: wires, poles, machines, cables, streets, buildings, unusual architecture… I was happy to find out that Anno has the sames interests in photography as me!

And then finally we have my favorite: Morimoto Koji.  Next to Otomo my favorite anime artist. Master of all the steps of the anime creation process, he has an incredible personal style, sometimes bordering surrealism, where figures float, fall or run defying all laws of physics in complex urban environments, maze-like streets or oniric landscapes. He is the bomb, plain and clear. Frequent collaborator or Otomo (he worked in Akira and also in Memories to name two highlights) also he directed music videos, short films like Noiseman and Animatrix Beyond, and lately he did an incredible piece of work called Dimension Bomb for the Genius Party omnibus. This piece is the  center of the exhibition and we can see storyboards, layouts, character design, image boards, all by Morimoto himself. Also we can see stuff of the music video “Extra” by Ken Ishii. This was a hugely succesful video clip made in 1996 that won the MTV best dance music video of the year.

So this is a tour of the exhibition. It is really a great chance to see materials that are not supposed to be seen outside the production environment and the selection is really excellent. In the introduction of the book they talk about how they tried to get some Otomo Katsuhiro artwork to show too, but in the end it could not be. Well, fortunately I saw the Gengaten exhibition so I am ok with that, but it would have been just great to see some of his stuff here. Same with Kon Satoshi, also mentioned in the introduction. Thinking about having a bit of all my favorite artists under the same roof so near my place just boggles my mind.

Definitely recommended both exhibition (free entrance) and the book (42 euros)

Thank you so much to all the people who made this exhibition possible. It is really a very special and unique event.


Syd Mead´s Kronolog

So, being this one the very first review of this blog, let´s start with a bang, shall we?

I don´t think Syd Mead needs any introduction to anyone who is reading this lines. So I won´t give any. Let´s just say he is The Master.

So here we have today one of the jewels of my book collection, the original japanese box of Syd Mead´s Kronolog. This was a very limited set published in Japan in 1991 by Bandai and it contains 2 books (Kronovecta & Kronoteko) and 3 Laserdiscs (Kronovid, totalling 1 hour of video).  It was later re-released in even less quantity with 1 VHS tape instead of the Laserdiscs. Original retail price was 45.000 yen, which was quite expensive at the time (and still is).

I had been looking for a reasonable-priced copy of this set for years (and in good condition) but it seemed to be an impossible search. You can find some in Amazon or eBay but never at an ok price (some lunatic is trying to sell a copy in at 10.000 pounds!!!). Usually you find them at around 1000 us dollars or so. Way too much for me, so I always thought that this would be like an impossible item to get.

Cut to May 2012. I am in Tokyo, Japan. I went there to see the Otomo Katsuhiro exhibition in Chiyoda and even though usually I travel alone, this time I met my friend and co-worker Salgado who was also there for the exhibition. Having a walk to Akihabara he told me:  “You know, there is this big box of Syd Mead books for sale in Mandarake Nakano”. My heart jumped. He continued: “and it is 21.000 yen (around 200 euros)”. I asked why the hell he did not buy that and he said he wanted to find “The Art of Steamboy” book, so he was saving the money for that. Ok. It will be MINE then.

So about Mandarake. This is a chain of second-hand shops, where they sell all kinds of anime, manga and geek in general goods: books, toys, t-shirts, vintage materials, cd, dvd, blu-ray, cosplay stuff, you name it. They are all over Japan but the biggest shops are in Tokyo and Osaka. In Tokyo you can find the best ones in Nakano Broadway, a place that could be described as otaku heaven. This is a 5 floor mall full of all the japanese geek stuff you can wish and then some. Besides the multiple specialized Mandarake shops you can find second-hand dvd shops, toy shops, custom figures shops…. It is quite an amazing place to spend a whole day.

So Mandarake Nakano has lots of shops in this mall and one of them is about art books: illustration, movie, anime, character design… Everything. All is second-hand so the condition varies. But one thing you should know: you can trust japanese second-hand market.

So I rushed to Mandarake and there it was, in the rare and expensive stuff area, behind a glass, the nice Kronolog box. Excellent condition and at 21.000 yen. Not exactly affordable (it took a huge chunk of my 2 weeks trip budget) but I did not think I could ever find it again in such good state and at that price.  So I got it right then, right there.

It is a huge box and heavy, so that limited the amount of books and stuff I could buy in this trip, my luggage weight was 20 kg. max. But it was worth every yen and gram.

So let´s take a look at it, right?

The box comes wrapped in a brown cardboard box with a sticker in front of it. It has pictures of the content and descriptions, and on the sides and the top you have descriptive text.

Inside this box comes the proper Kronolog box, with metallic inks and cool design. Behind we have the index of contents (in english and japanese). This box opens on one side, and an inner box slides out with the good stuff inside it. Let´s check it out.

First we have the book Kronovecta (labeled item number 1 in the index). This is a thick book full of sketches and is just way too awesome to describe! Sketches of all sizes, some crude, some very detailed,  spaceships, planes, hardware, film props, cars, sets, landscapes, architecture… This is a feast for the eyes and definitely gets your creative juices flowing, incredibly inspirational. Around 330 pages, some of them in color and with english and japanese text by Syd. Soft-cover.

Then we have the Kronovid set, this is, the Laserdiscs, item number 2.  Here, in 3 small discs we have Syd preparing, sketching, drawing and painting the cover of t the Kronoteko book, a pretty cool piece called “Entering Stargate”. The Laserdiscs run for 1 hour or so, and also contains an interview (thank god my old Laserdisc player is still working!). All of this is english-spoken with japanese subtitles. This is interesting piece but nowadays you can find an even more comprehensive and in-depth look at the process followed by Syd in the 4 dvd series released by Gnomon Workshop.

And finally we have the third book, Kronoteko, which is simply amazing. Loads of art, from car design to landscapes, yachts, film design (The Grid, Blade Runner, 2010, Star Trek…). This is really a must have book if you really love Syd Mead´s creations. It is a hardcover book with excellent paper and english/japanese text by Syd himself and around 140 pages.

And this is it. At least about this book but not about Syd in this blog, because  I have more of his art books ready to review here: Oblagon, Sentinel I & II, Sentury I & II, the Studio portfolios… Most of this stuff is long out of print, so I think it is about time someone re-releases all Syd´s books at normal prices. Being a Syd Mead fan is easy but getting his stuff can break your bank.

Thanks to Syd Mead for creating such a wonderful art and such amazing books and to Salgado for not buying this when he had the chance. Unfortunately he did not find “The Art of Steamboy” book, but worry do not, you´ll find it!

Well, I  hope you enjoyed the review. Back soon with some japanese stuff!