2.28.2011

Gainax at Pixar



--> Last Tuesday I was treated to an awesome afternoon hanging with some talented staffers at studio Gainax !! I have been following the exciting work of Gainax since highschool when I experienced the phenomenon that was Evangelion. It truly struck a cord in me and began my fascination with everything Gainax.

I soon discovered their earlier works such as Wings of Honneamise and Nadia. And stumbling upon Otaku No Video was a real treat. It is a glimpse into the beginnings of the fledgling studio as well as hilarious snap shot of geek culture in Japan.


We started the day with a tour for them around Pixars facility and then they were kind enough to show us a quick reel and then answer some questions. Bobby(rubio) and I were very concerned that the turn out would be poor and we’d feel embarrassed but not the case! We were happy to see so many Pixarians show up and ask many great questions!!

On this day we were visited by Sushio (Animator), Akemi Hayashi (Animator), Masahiko Otsuka (Director), Kumiko Sano (production staff), Hiromi Wakabayashi (creator behind PSG), Toyonori Yamada (Director of Photography) and Satsuki Yamashita (our awesome translator in addition to manga/anime translator). Satsuki was so kind to take multiple pictures for everyone! :)


Sushio, a very talented Gainax animator, who was really born to hold high the Gainax style. You can read a quick bio about him here. He generously handed out his latest awesome Doujin with animation cuts from his Gurren Lagann Parallel Works short film “Kittan Zero”! Killer!



Akemi Hayashi is a talented female animator and very much one of the sensitive, emotional hearts of Gainax. I asked her about her short for Ani-Kuri, I was curious about it’s meaning, it is very emotionally suggestive. “I wanted to create a story for women…maybe coming home from a day at work and sitting down to watch this…”
“I’m always trying to push emotion and pull everyone (at Gainax) back toward feeling…Gainax already has so many boys for the big action sequences…”

I was happy to hear this from her. I shared that I felt that Gurren Lagann suffered because of it’s manic attitude toward important emotional moments. They would creep up on touching emotion-filled moments and then spoil it all with some bit of slap stick that I felt was a disservice, at times, to the scenes emotional investment.

Masahiko Otsuka is a true veteren of the animation business. He was an assitant director at Ghibli on Pom Poko and Whisper of the heart. He was such a genuine person, excited to be at Pixar, he wore a HUGE grin on his face the entire time. He has many, many credits including episode director on Evangelion, Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Gunbuster 2!
Enrico threw out a question and Otsuka-san spoke about the difference between his time at Ghibli and Gainax. “ Ghibli is like the father or grandfather’s generation…more serious…Gainax is like the big brother..very playful and light hearted..” Haha.
Later when we were all hanging out I asked Otsuka-san if there would be another season of Gurren Lagann and sadly he said “..I think it is done.”
They also fielded questions about getting things done by deadline! Maybe the downside to the big brother generation? Haha.
This is where Toyonori Yamada jumped in. “ Things have often come down to the last 3 weeks…it makes everyone come together and work hard! I enjoy it really, there is a lot of energy and excitement to do our best and finish!”
I told him their producer’s must be very forgiving… Toyonori made a motion, putting his hands on his head and slumping over, head drawn down. HAHA! Hilarious.



Toyonori Yamada is a Director of Photography at Gainax. Gurren Lagann and Shikabane Hime being some of his credits. He explained the job as, the person who composites the character animation and finished background paintings, CG too? and I’m assuming oversees the exporting of final shots in the film.
Yamada-san had some English understanding so we could have a little light cander between us later, when Bobby and I hung out with them after Q and A. He is a very sweet person and a pleasure to be around. He too was generous with cool shwag! Thank you Yamada-san for the awesome artbooks!!

Hiromi Wakabayashi is the twisted mind behind the initial idea for Panty and Stocking. I immediately asked who was responsible for episode 7 the transformers episode. It was him who wrote the script! Hahaha. Someone asked him about the inspiration behind the show. “ A few years ago I along with other Gainax staffers at an american convention were watching the American tv animation “drawn together” and we couldn’t believe they were showing such explicit things on tv….. I thought…why don’t we do that!” Haha. Everyone laughed.
Hiromi also sighted Power Puff Girls and his love for American shows like Glee and Gossip Girl. Hiromi is also a huge fan of American comics!
I also got an explanation about the big blow-up during Gurren Lagann production in which Takami Akai stepped down from his position Gainax.
Hiromi explained, “…the fans were upset at the quality of animation, but it was completely intentional on the part of Imaishi (series director). He wanted to parody the common occurance, in many productions of the past, to have huge dips in quality during the course of a shows tv production.” That is a great tidbit to know!
I assumed it had to be intentional, because a studio like Gainax could have easily executed Episode 4 just as the rest.
EDIT: A better way to translate what Wakabayashi was trying to say, instead of describing it as “low production quality“, it makes better sense to say that Imaishi was trying to homage the common occurance of TV animation drawings of the past, to go “off model” from scene to scene and sometimes episode to episode.

This could be taken as a drop in quality at the hands of less talented animators(and would be considered so by a director or animation checker) but is also sometimes tied to the strong individual style of animator's who were more concerned with great movement or action than about maintaining a characters likeness. This makes all the more sense coming from Imaishi as his biggest influence is none other than Yoshinori Kanada, one of the true “individuals” in animation history. Kanada was someone who frequently tossed out “likeness”, drawing off model, in favor of some dynamic movement or action.

Kumiko Sano was very quiet and not used to being in front of the public as her role keeps her behind the scenes more. But she was very sweet.

I want to thank Satsuki Yamashita for her AMAZING translation services. She made it possible for us to have conversations with all the staffers about whatever was on our minds! So professional and down to earth at the same time! Thank you!! She is also an accomplished translator working on many cool projects such as FLCL, Paprika, Code Geass. She was such a big part of making the day awesome!!!

I also want to thank Bobby Rubio for his passion and effort in pushing this visit foward!!! Thanks Bobby!!!

This was such a treat and dream come true for me! I’ve had an emotional attachment to Japan through this pop culture medium of anime and being able to meet some of the staffers at a company that I consider to be at the heart of animation/geek culture in japan was truly an honor. More importantly it was so nice to put faces to some of the very human people behind many of my favorite pieces of animation. I hope one day I can collaborate with Gainax on a project!!

GOOOOO GAINAXXXXXXX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

18 comments:

I-ray said...

I honestly find Wakabayashi's explanation of episode 4 a little bit questionable... Imaishi and Osamu Kobayashi (the man responsible for the weird style of that episode) are very good friends, and episode 4 was a very good example of Kobayashi's personal style (used in a lot of non-satirical works including a Studio 4C short). Imaishi loves insane animation like that (Big Building was his favorite Parallel Works 2 short) and I find it hard to believe that he would approach one of his animator friends and basically tell him "hey, I want someone with a really ugly and unlikable style to direct a terrible-looking episode of Gurren Lagann and you're just the right man for that!"

I-ray said...

Not to mention, the episode had some (very good) animation by Seiya Numata in it... not to mention other bits that looked like they had a lot of effort put into them. Why would they waste a good scene by a very talented animator on an episode that's meant to be hilariously awful?

I honestly think there was a translation mistake somewhere in there.

Robot said...

Gainax/Pixar, biggest collaboration since mega14.

Grant said...

I-Ray,

Thanks for your thoughts. I think I should reword my post in light of your reply.

A better way to translate what Wakabayashi was trying to say, instead of describing it as “low production quality“, it makes better sense to say that Imaishi was trying to homage the common occurance of TV animation drawings of the past, to go “off model” from scene to scene and sometimes episode to episode.

This could be taken as a drop in quality(and would be considered so by a director or animation checker) but is also very much tied to the individual style of animator's who were more concerned with great movement or action than about maintaining a characters likeness. This makes all the more sense coming from Imaishi as his biggest influence is none other than Yoshinori Kanada, one of the true “individuals” in animation history. Kanada was someone who frequently tossed out “likeness”, drawing off model, in favor of some dynamic movement or action.

So we can make the assumption that by asking Kobayashi to take over episode 4, Imaishi was in fact doing exactly what Wakabayashi was describing.

His drawing style is “off Model” with the established look of the show. And if, in the typical animation hierarchy, the lead/directing animator was to check and fix the drawings , we would have never seen such “off model’ drawings in the first place, which further convinces me that this was indeed intentional on the part of Imaishi.

I-ray said...

Now that I can certainly agree with. I really like the idea of animation going intentionally off-model for expressiveness, so the “low production quality“ comment rubbed me the wrong way (especially considering the intense hatred this episode received from the fanbase). The looseness of Kanada-school animation is what made me love it to begin with, especially since I used to be very prejudiced against Japanese animation as a whole because I wrongly viewed it as boring and soulless for quite some time.

So... thank you for taking the time to respond, this really cleared things up for me.

Nicholas said...

Now I'm sad that I'll probably never see a GAINAX x Pixar co-production. The idea's too unbearably awesome to ever happen.

Grant said...

I-Ray,

No, thank you for your love of Gainax! :)

Grant said...

Nicholas,

If Pixar doesn't hopefully one day I will!! :) I told Otsuka-san and Yamada-san that I wanted to collaborate someday.

Who knows! It would be a thrill for me.

Nicholas said...

As thrilling as a NAXar co-production seems in concept, the two companies have very different approaches. GAINAX likes to focus on frenetic action and transgressive themes. Pixar likes simplistic, mainstream-friendly stories and content the church groups will approve of. Would the two companies combine mecha style into a behemoth with the powers of both, or would the disparities in approach result in something halfway between the two that isn't quite as satisfying either way?

Would a cooperation between Pixar, one of the few companies to still consistently release theatrical films with G ratings, and GAINAX, a company that includes sexualized depictions of teenage girls in practically everything it makes, be seen by the media as inherently scandalous?

Grant said...

Nicholas,

haha, NAXar? Hmm.

I don't think anyone is arguing that there would actually be a co-production between the two companies.

I like to think a few individuals that form the soul and spirit of these two companies, working together, just might achieve a very satisfying masterpiece!

I completely disagree with your portrayal of Pixar as "simplistic". That seems a bit patronizing, immature and kind of insulting.

There are very common human themes running through almost all Pixar films and Toy Story 3 is no different. Pixar of course is not explicit and yes must be careful about skirting a line of taste/decency, which you could argue might waterdown a films potency, but I actually find many explicit moments in anime to be completely unnecessary, strangely self-destructive, and while admittedly somewhat intriguing, for some films is one of the elements that has kept anime in the dark in the U.S. for so long. Do I want anime to cater to the U.S., no, but poor story/animation choices are just as damaging in a Japanese film as they are in an American film.

Just as I expressed to Hayashi-san, I think Gurren lagann could have been much stronger if not for some ill-placed humor during emotional moments. But it's the directors vision and is a personal choice. Imaishi wanted to throw everything but the kitchen sink into that show, for better or worse. I love it for what it is, not for what I think it should have been.

I would say it's NOT the toilet humor but the common human theme of bravery/loyalty/never giving up/fighting to the end, that really makes Gurren lagann and it's characters so engaging. If you want to call those ideas "simplistic" then I don't know what to say because they are themes you find any many Pixar films as well.

Yes, the two studios have slightly different goals and audiences,but remember it's all cyclical.

Tezuka was copying Disney as a boy, I grew up watching shows on Saturday mornings I had no idea were animated by the hands of Japanese artists, but I saw the value even then. It developed a taste in me for that particular aesthetic and style of shooting which I would later rediscover in Akira, Vampire Hunter D, Evangelion, Mononoke etc...

We are connected in ways we cannot fathom. You could even go back to the War.

Japan and America are inextricably linked now, exchanging culture back and forth for decades. Human beings connecting in "simple" ways.

Nicholas said...

A thousand pardons. I never meant to insult Pixar's films. They're among my favorites, animated or otherwise. Ratatouille and Wall-E may be the only movies I've ever seen after which I immediately thought "I want to watch this again right away."

By "simplistic" I meant "easily accessible to average filmgoers", not "lacking in depth or emotion". I also was not praising GAINAX or other anime studios for pushing the skirts of taste. I really wish there were more G-rated movies, actually. Far too many family films include rude humor just to get a PG rating to attract older children.

I don't think you'll disagree that Pixar films have plots that are easily summarizable. I don't consider this negative. Conversely, GAINAX's best and most famous works have plotlines that can't be accurately summarized in one sentence. Neon Genesis Evangelion? "Children pilot robots to fight giant monsters" may work as a pitch, but it's downright wrong. "A boy's coming of age and struggle with depression presented through a post-apocalyptic setting in which children pilot giant cyborgs to kill alternate versions of humanity" works better and is one sentence, I guess, but it's plodding and still heavily oversimplified. A lot of people find Evangelion, FLCL, and things of that sort overly convoluted and pretentious, so depending on who you ask that sort of design isn't necessarily desirable.

Grant said...

No worries! Sorry for the rant. :)

Yes, I think accessible is a good term.

I think film and art in general, at it's best, puts a spotlight on the human condition and how we all, as human beings, have many of the same hopes, dreams, fears, longings etc...

At it's worst you get Jackson Pollack. Haha, that's a whole other can of worms that I don't want to open right now.

And to back track, despite what I said in the last post, I am intrigued by the sometimes bizarre, wild imaginings found in Japanese Animation and I would never want to censor or Pixar-ize them. Truly it's that singularity of directorial vision that is it's strength and at times weakness. Flawed gems, but gems none-the-less.

Such is life!

Los gerentes said...

Enjoyable post and experience! I'm glad these two groups of artists & technical staff had a meeting like that. The magic word is 'respect' and mutual admiration for a well-done work. I love Pixar and Gainax's films. Loads of hard work there... Greetings from Spain.

Colonylaser said...

Thank you for the post. Love Pixar. I don't think Pixar is ever simplistic as Nicholas had mis-worded and later explained; however, I would love to see domestic animation completely aimed at adults without taking the "Jackson Pollack" solution, or the dishwasher-safe of a satire (Simpsons to South Park).

By the way, have you seen "Karekano" (His and Her Circumstances) by Gainax? That's a strong emotional shoujo entry, albeit Hideaki Anno's signature is still plenty obvious.

Grant said...

Hey Colonylaser,

Yes, I too would like to see more risks being taken at the big studios. It's tough because there is so much money invested in these things. Many of the Japanese studios like Gainax benefit from being a smaller operation who can do practically whatever it wants. Although I think Gainax has done some pandering "moe" type shows in recent past. Maybe that helps fund the more director oriented stuff.

Yes! KareKano is one of my favorite Gainax productions! I own it. Love the character development, the comedy and the drama. Great Stuff!

Chris Palmer said...

Hey Grant, a quick question, do you know the title of Sushio's book with the animation cuts?

Chris Palmer said...

Found out the title, and actually was able to track down a copy online. Thanks for this post, Grant. Would have never known about the book otherwise!

Grant said...

Hey Chris,

Sorry I missed your post. Glad you found it. It's a nice book.