Thursday, October 29, 2009

Animation Gear (Part 2)

By: Brian Mah

Many animators also rely on special pencils when creating their work. COL-ERASE Pencils comes to mind as a vital tool for animators. Most animators use two colors (red and blue) when creating an animated character, background, or FX. What is great about the COL-ERASE pencils is the ability to be easily erasable. Plus it is much clearer to see the images on the animation bond paper using the pencils.

An artist wouldn't be without his or her trusty sketchbook. Several paper companies try their best to give what the artist needs. One company in Japan, Maruman, has been a faithful companion to artists in Japan for over 50 years. One reason why the Maruman sketchbooks are so popular is the quality of the paper and the price. Many artists in Japan usually have one or two sizes of Maruman sketchbooks in his or her book bag.

When you have completed the thousands of drawings, you then need to check how smooth the animation will look. You could spend hours and hours scanning the images on a computer or you could do it the old fashion way and use an animation lunchbox and camcorder. Animation Toolworks' animation control panel is the perfect tool when making a low budget animated short. When the lunchbox first came on the market it was just a cool toy for animators to play around. Jump a decade later; the folks behind the lunchbox now have a steady stream of supporters. The lunchbox is widely used in schools and by independent animators. The mechanics behind the lunchbox are simple and easy to use. The lunchbox has a counter for telling how many frames to shoot, a playback feature, and other features an animator needs to create his or her masterpiece.

Designing and constructing animation requires a lot of hard work and dedication. It pays to have the right tools at your disposal.

Animation Gear (Part 1)

By: Brian Mah

Animation like all art forms is in a constant state of flux. Equipment and techniques that were relevant 50 or even 10 years ago are not applicable in today's fast paced industry. The newest 3-D animated movie or FX driven 2-D anime show could enthrall audiences today, could be antiquated relics a year or more later.

Cell paint, for instance has been replaced with computer aided coloring programs. Sleek digital cameras have put the bulky Film cameras out to pasture. With the introduction of newer and faster tools at a studio's disposal, there is one thing that keeps things constant, the animator. An animator is only as good as their tools. It doesn't matter if a person works for a studio, like Disney or Studio Ghibli, or is an independent animator; you still need to have something to work with.

For all animators around the world relies on one thing, which is paper, more specifically animation bond paper. Culver City, California based animation supply company, Cartoon Colour, have been supplying animators vital animation equipment for over 50 years. What is special about animation bond paper as a posed to regular paper is that animation paper is thinner and more translucent. It can be easier to see when making an animated character.

Another key feature of animation bond paper are three small holes on either the top or bottom of the paper. These holes are called animation registration. The animation registration can be held together with something called a "Peg Bar." The animation holes have a three-lined pattern with a circle in the middle. There were two popular kinds of animation registration, Oxberry and Acme. The Oxberry holes were a lot rounder than the Acme, which were more slender. The Oxberry style was eventually replaced by the Acme system. A more in-depth diagram of the animation registration is located on Finnish animator Jan-Eric Nyström's web site ANI-MATO! Coincidently Acme is also the same name of a fictitious company that supplies various props to the Warner Brothers cartoon characters, most notably Wile E. Coyote, created by Chuck Jones.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Astro Boy (Part 2)

By: Brian Mah

There are also some memorable one liners that will have probably have passed over the youngsters. "Is this thing on?" comes to mind when Donald Sutherland's character talks as a robot. Samuel L. Jackson's booming voice says "I'm old school " would bring cheers to the audience. Mr. Jackson is also the voice of Afro in the series "Afro Samurai." It was difficult at first to notice that Mr. Jackson did the voice of the construction robot, "ZOG."

This is sure to be on the shelves of many fans next year when the movie is released on DVD and blu-ray. One can hope that the Japanese dialogue will be in the DVD version.

Astro Boy (Part 1)

By: Brian Mah

(Some of the comments stated below contain spoilers. Please don't read if you haven't watched the movie.)

Friday, October 23rd was the US release of the highly anticipated animated movie, "Astro Boy." Astro Boy is the creation of the most well respected anime and manga artist, Osamu Tezuka. In the US, the movie is ranked 6th with a total ticket sale of $7 Million.

The movie had the best animators from Japan and the US. They also had some talented voice actors, such as Nicholas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Samuel L. Jackson, Nathan Lane, and Charlize Theron. The film had the makings of a great-animated movie. The animation used some of the most cutting edge technology that can be used today. The story stayed faithful to the original series created by Tezuka.

Since this is a movie geared toward younger kids, much of the scenes that involve death were substituted with something less objectionable. One scene that comes to mind is the death scene of Toby. The boy was vaporized because of a rampaging robot. There was no body to be found, Dr. Tenma (Nicholas Cage) used a single strand of hair found in Toby's hat. Bill Nighy (Dr. Elefun) was the voice of reason to Dr. Tenma during the construction of Astro. Mr. Nighy was a good choice for the good doctor.

The likeness of Tezuka and his work were widely displayed in the movie. One of the scientists in the movie looked like Tezuka. One of the billboards had one of Tezuka's famous characters, a pig called Hyoutan-tsug, which was created by his little sister.

It was interesting to see and hear some of the veteran actors, such as Donald Sutherland, really get involved in the voice acting. It was refreshing to see the lighter side of these actors become the characters. At the same time you can sympathize with the actors during the low emotional points in the movie. For instance, you can tell the inflections of remorse and pain in Nicholas Cage's voice when he looses his son. It was also very impressive to hear Freddie Highmore's voice has matured as an actor.
You can hear Asto's pain when his father dejects him. For some younger audiences those scenes may be boring, but this might hit a nerve with their parents.

Nathan Lane was the comic relief as the sinister Ham Egg (In Japanese it would be translated into Hamu Tamago). It was nice seeing Mr. Lane act as a villain. You are so fooled by his coy personality that when you realize what has happened, it is too late.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Anime Music (Part 3)

By: Brian Mah

Recently, a number of foreign and Japanese artists composed lyrics for the Osamu Tezuka inspired anime music video, Ravex. Some well-known Japanese artists, such as Anna Tsuchiya, Namie Amuro, and Yuuko Ando contributed some music. In addition Monkey Majik, DJ Ozuma, BoA, and Lisa were some of the foreign musicians who added their own musical styles into this CD. The basic premise behind the Ravex story focused on three musicians (Fantastic Plastic Machine, Shinichi Osawa, and Taku Takahashi) who try to revive a fallen comrade to help fight the citizens of Tezuka's world from an evil alien race. Some of Osamu Tezuka's greatest creations, for instance Astro Boy, Black Jack, and Princess Knight aided the three musicians.

Puffy is a perfect example of how popular Japanese groups have broken into the US market and had some success to get a wider audience. Tokyo born Ami Onuki and Osaka born Yumi Yoshimura have created catchy tunes in Japan since 1996. They haven't been renown in the US until they got a chance to sing the theme song for Cartoon Network's Teen Titans. In response to the popularity of the Teen Titans song, Puffy was given a chance to acquire their own TV series. The series was called Hi! Hi! PuffyAmiYumi. The series centered on the cartoon adventures of Ami and Yumi on their road trip across the US. The series can also be seen on Cartoon Network's sister station in Japan.

Hikaru Utada made her name in the Japanese music scene in the early 1990's with her New York-influenced music. Ms. Utada is perhaps most familiar among anime fans for singing the opening song "This is love" for the OAV (Original Animated Video) Freedom. Katsuhiro Otomo, the famous creator of Akira, produced the OVA.

Mari Iijima is perhaps most recognized among anime fans as the voice of Lynn Minmay of the hit anime series Macross. Ms. Iijima is currently an independent musician in the Los Angeles area. She reprised her role as Minmay for the English dubbed version of the Macross series. She is currently writing music and performing in the LA area.

Many of these musicians have acted as bridges to help spread Japanese popular culture to many fans around the world. Through their hard work and dedication many of the anime series have found a voice in these talent musicians.

Anime Music (Part 2)

By: Brian Mah

The most well known collaboration between artists and musicians in Japan were between the robotic clad techno duo, Daft Punk and the master of the sci-fi anime genre, Leiji Matsumoto. They created the musical masterpiece Interstella 5555. The combination of the fluid sci-fi animation of Mr. Matsumoto and the digital styling of Daft Punk made the anime an instant classic. The basic story of the Interstella 5555 centered on a group of musicians who entertained their planet with digital music. An evil alien stole the musicians and sent them back to earth. A fan of the group, who was also a solider, tried to get them back to their home planet. There were a lot of references to some of Mr. Matsumoto's earlier works, such as Space Pirate Captain Harlock.

Rapper/Producer, Kanye West and Independent artist Takashi Murakami teamed up on the video, "Good Morning." Kanye created the original story and added the audio soundtrack. Kanye's technique complemented with Murakami's use of bright psychedelic colors and unusual anime character designs. The premise of the video was a bear trying to make it to his graduation. The futuristic setting in the video was homage to "Back to the Future Part II."

The British Indie group, Bôa, was best known for the opening song, "Duvet", used in the anime series Serial Experiments Lain created by Yoshitoshi ABe. The approach of how Bôa harmonized together with Mr. ABe's characters and story was a hit with fans that still enjoy listening to the song.

Korean born artist BoA is another foreign musician who entered the Japanese music scene. BoA exploded into the Japanese music scene back in 2001. It wasn't until she sang the closing song "Every Heart" for the anime series Inuyasha that anime fans took notice.

Anime Music (Part 1)

By: Brian Mah

In Japan, music and anime have been together since the beginning. Just as their counterparts in the West, much of the first animated films in Japan relied on live musical scores or simple audio tracks during the screening of each film. TV made it possible to combine complex music with animation. Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy is a perfect example of how music and anime blended together. The opening sequences of the original Astro Boy is the genesis of how the anime industry has used music in their TV series and films.

Adding modern music, made the shows more appealing to a wider audience. For instance, Space Battleship Yamato, Macross, Gatchaman, and Cowboy Bebop are some examples of how modern music and anime created a global fan base.

Musicians from the entire world have added segments of anime series into their music videos. For instance, in the Michael and Janet Jackson video, "Scream," incorporated sequences from the series Akai Kōdan Zillion. Matthew Sweet utilized sequences from the anime series Urusei Yatsura in the song, "I've been waiting", and Space Adventure Cobra in the song, "Girlfriend." Both songs were broadcasted numerous times on MTV when the videos were released in the late 1990's.

Maid Cafe (Part 2)

By: Brian Mah

Another notable cafe is Pinafore. These ladies always have a smile on their face. They have two cafes. One cafe is near the Akihabara Yodobashi Camera. The maids are very friendly and they serve the best cup of coffee (500 Yen). The bartender, Suzu, can make a tasty parfait. Her pigtails add more to her cuteness. Pinafore was also in the movie, "Train Man", starring Takayuki Yamada and Miki Nakatani

If you want to bring your camera and take pictures of these nice ladies, you are forbidden to do so. Wakana, an experienced maid at Pinafore explains when the cafes first started there were some not so nice folks who took pictures of these talented ladies in pink. She said some of the ladies were displayed on tobacco products without the consent of the maid or her cafe.

In addition to the various maid cafes, there are an increasing number of butler cafes. These cafes are more for a female clientele. The butlers are girls dressed up as a male servant. It is similar to the Tarazuka Revue, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. The most well-known butler cafe is Swallowtail, which is located in Ikebukuro. Another butler cafe is Checkmate.

Detailed listings of the various cafes are located on the Akibanana web site. It gives a detailed listing of what each cafe specializes in, the cafes range from the basic maid cafe to a clinic-style cafe where you get a head massage. If you are wondering what the name of the massage place, that massage place is called Reflangel. Tabi, Simona, KイKイ, and Gina are the web-mistresses who maintain the website.

So, if you are tired from shopping at all of the anime stores in Akihabara, make sure you stop by at one of these cafes. By the way, the cafes can take a picture of you and the waitress of your choice. Who in turn will decorate the photo for you. These gracious waitresses are here to make sure your stay in Akihabara is a memorable one.

Maid Cafe (Part 1)

By: Brian Mah

You see them walking around Akihabara. Cute girls wearing big frilly Goth-Loli dresses or maid costumes. They hand out flyers along Chuo Street along Akihabara's "Electric Town" with a smile saying, "Onegaishimasu" (please). These are not full sized Victorian dolls, but rather the hard working ladies behind the maid cafe.

The concept of the maid cafe started in 2001. The first owners of the maid cafes found a niche market with the weary anime and manga fans that had no place to call their own. The girls at the various cafes provide companionship, a lively chat, or maybe a place to play some cards with the socially impaired men who walk around the vast streets and side streets of Akihabara.

The most popular is the cafe @Home. This cafe is always busy, even on weekdays. When arriving to @Home on the weekends, long waits are expected. As the customer gets seated, one of the brown and pink maids will seat you. One of the maids, Nicole, is happy to explain the menu to you. The English speaking maid is normally on duty from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm. Customers can play a game or have their photo taken for an additional charge of 500 Yen ($5). When the food comes, the maid plays a game with them called "Moe, Moe, Moe." Moe means to love something deeply, usually an inanimate object. After the patron is done eating, the maids gives them a point card. The cards are determined by the customer's level of "Otaku-ness." The cards range from the following levels: Bronze (Lv. 1 My Master), Silver (Familiar Master), Gold (Eminent Master), Crystal (Glorious Master), Platinum (The Paragon of Master Excellence), and Black ("The Legend").