Report by the artists “Animation Artist in Residence Tokyo 2015”

Alex Grigg

( Male / Australia / 27 )

1) summary of production

I was hoping to use my time in Japan to focus on a new film exploring the idea of “strangers”. I’d only just begun developing my thoughts on how I’d approach this before applying for the A-AIR program so I came to program with a very open mind.
Originally I’d proposed a film called “In My Bones”. It focused on the relationship between a man’s bones and his flesh. It seemed like an interesting conflict and presented some compelling visuals. Before making my way to Japan I’d done some initial drawings and sketched out a few story ideas but the specifics of the narrative were very unclear to me. I was weary of spending my entire stay on something in such an early stage so I set my self a schedule of four weeks to try and find this story out the best I could and see how I felt about it.
I spent those four weeks drawing and writing in various ways. Typically I write with story boards but for this project I experimented with writing monologues as well as with more well established story structures. At the end of the four weeks though I was still lost. I’d come to a point where I’d written two stories that were complete films, but wasn’t moved by them. I spent the next week making animatics for both film and really trying understand them better.
During the time I was writing “In My Bones” I was experimenting with visuals unrelated to the film. Being in Japan meant access to lots of new tools and visual influences so I made sure I took some time out each day to play with new drawings. One night after developing “In My Bones” I sat and developed one of these new drawings, which quickly became a series of a dozen or so storyboards.
This was the start of the second project I began developing in Tokyo. The working title for the film is “Into the Heart of the Sun” and follows the story of a being alone in an imagined space as he meets another for the first time. The story is a little more abstract than anything I’ve made before but it felt clear and immediate to me. It is very much focused on tactile interactions and consciousness. It also bears a heavier reliance on music than my previous work. I felt a much stronger connection to this new film than the bones idea that I was developing.
As I designed the look for the film I decided to use a point of view perspective for the telling of the story. I felt this would help the audience experience the characters tactile discovery of the world around him as well as his inevitable consciousness. 
Once I had a story in mind and some designs drawn, I began animating some test shots so I could get a feel for how the film would come together in the end.
For now I still plan to use the narratives I’ve written “In My Bones,” but I feel that they would be better told through printed medium rather than animation.

2) Feedback on A-AIR

Being a part of the Residency Program was an incredible opportunity for a lot of reasons. 
I typically find it hard to have time to focus on my own projects, so spending 70 days with the soul aim of creating work for myself was really exciting. Having that uninterrupted time meant that I could let ideas compound day after day and constant new experiences meant there were always new things to fuel those ideas.
Having the chance to interact with so many established filmmakers all in one place definitely gave me a lot of new perspectives to consider. Not only on my current project, but the long-term practice of producing animation. After leaving university it can be difficult to find a forum for receiving feedback and ideas from other directors, especially well established ones. The A-AIR program has been well designed to introduce us to everyone from Japanese students, commercial filmmakers, enthusiasts and legendary independent directors so this sharing of ideas natural and effective.
Being exposed to many independent Japanese animations was really enlightening for me as well. The films were so varied and powerful. Being from Australia is it difficult to see a lot of these films as they often only exist in established festivals. It had a powerful effect on helping define what it is that I enjoy in film and what I want to try to do with my work. I think this confidence is the most powerful take away from the A-AIR program, and it is invaluable.
Undoubtably the chance to visit the Ghibli Studio was an experience that will stay with me for a long time. Seeing the space that so many of my favourite films were created was both humbling and inspiring. It was so interesting to realise how down to earth everything at the studio was in comparison to western studios like Pixar, and how simple and effective their approach is. There was something profound about the lack of mystery to their process – it’s just drawings of ideas done with incredible discipline and skill. It was of course a little melancholy to see the studio so empty but it made me value the experience even more.
We had the chance to see many traditional Japanese art forms. I particularly enjoyed Kabuki theatre and the sensation that it imposes on audiences. The theory underlying it and the differences between western and eastern theatre were fascinating. I enjoyed disciplined and contrived elements that are pieced together into beautiful immersive show.
Beyond the animation and art that I was exposed to in Japan, the simple act of living in Japan also had a powerful influence on me. Culture clash is an extremely inspiring experience for me. Being bombarded with new sensations, awkward interactions, being lost without a map, tasting strange things, all get my brain working overtime. Japan is a perfect place to be working on new ideas because everything is so alien.

3) Contribution to future work

My time with the A-AIR program will undoubtably shape my future work. 
The combination of all the different experiences I was exposed to in Japan inspired a lot of new thoughts on filmmaking. It also went a long way towards developing my confidence in producing personal work. As I’ve mentioned it feels rare to have a chance to receive guidance after leaving university and I really cherish that opportunity. The chance to reflect on my own practices and experiment with new ways of writing developing projects is also something that I’m looking forward to bringing to my future work.
I left the program feeling revitalised and excited to take on the new projects I developed during my stay.


Anna Budanova

( Female / Russia / 26 )


1) summary of production

I have arrived to Japan with an idea for my film and first animatic. I began working on it about four months before and had some animation tests made on paper. I was inspired by an ancient legend about people that have drowned and turned into seals. They come out of the sea one night a year, throw away their seal skins and dance in the form of people.
It was a surprised to know later that Japan also has similar legends.
During the weeks in Tokyo I was trying to collect as many visual analogues, textures.
It was interesting for me to make something not similar with my previous work to create new backgrounds and character designs.
I had some first sketches made by black ink and I wanted to see how this material will look in movement.
I packed a full suitcase with frames drawn on paper with hopes to make the finished episode with the material during the Residence.
I have been interested in Japanese visual culture for a long time and had a lot of folders with works of Japanese artists and illustrators on my laptop which I found on the internet. It was wonderful for me to plunge into this culture in real time.

2) Feedback on A-AIR

During the residency, I never ceased to wonder anew, every day I look forward for a new opening. Sometimes in this megalopolis, I felt myself like a little fish deftly floating in a flock of other fishes. But I could always escape from the bustle in one of the beautiful parks.
It was interesting to show my materials to other people to hear their opinions. My animatic has changed a bit in the working process in Tokyo. I added a new episode that helped to better understand the relationship between the characters, their motivations.
Here in Japan, I discovered a lot of cool materials, various kinds of paper and calligraphy brushes which allowed me to experiment with the image.
I opened Japanese contemporary dance taking their roots from Kabuki. I have some dance scenes in my new project and watching of these performances was so inspiring for me.
One of the most important events for me was my exhibition at the Japan Media Arts Festival. I had never exhibited my drawings before and would never have thought that my first exhibition will happen in Tokyo. It was great.
We also had the opportunity to show our work in progress to public on a big screen, it was so exciting. One of our presentations was in Kyoto; it was a wonderful city of artists with a lot of cozy streets and galleries.
After returning, I will continue to make animation and experiment with my drawing style in parallel.

3) Contribution to future work

It was wonderful to visit Art University to see how students work there. All of the students’ films had different styles and a lot of freedom in the choice of plots. I have always been inspired by artists’ working places so I saw a lot of it here. In Robot studio, we had the opportunity to visit the home studio of Koji Yamamura. I think every artist can dream about such a house, where it has a separate floor for a cozy work space, a museum shop on another floor with a collection of books, and an exhibition hall.
By a lucky chance, we met a sound engineer of Ghibli studio at the bar, and he invited us to see the studio of Miyazaki. I felt like a child. I have never watched his short films and was delighted watching them.
In Ghibli museum I was inspired of optical toys and I immediately wanted to make something like that with my characters in future.
Now I may say that I really love Japan, It was hard to get back home after Residence finishing. I have met lots of interesting people here, friends, artists. I am really lucky of this opportunity and hope this experience will give me the strength and inspiration for a few more years in future.


Natalia Chernysheva

( Female / Russia / 30 )

1) summary of production

I applied for the A-AIR program with a 4-minute animation project for children, called “Spiderweb”.
By the beginning of this art residency I already had my first draft. I planned to start drawing a background and to learn different printing techniques. During the residency I was affected by my environment by a great deal. That is why I got interested in a new storyline, since the first one didn’t seem too convincing to me anymore. Thus, the whole storyline changed and only the main character, a Little Spider, stayed the same. There were two characters earlier and everything was based on the conflict between them, now the action is in different context – in the woods, and many new characters are involved. I was working on the design of these personages. I’ve tried the technique of ink on paper. The active and vibrating lines that come out of this technique make me want to try to create the whole film in this manner. Although I realize that it would take more time to produce, some of the scenes can be made without draft animation.
After visiting the Museum of Print, I discovered many new things, like some nuances and technical specialties of Ukiyo-e and other printing methods, etching for example. I have bought some necessary instruments to experiment with this technique. I will continue to work on the backgrounds at home.
Most of the time is consumed by the preliminary period: animatic, storyboard, and excogitation. There are many unsolved aspects and details of playfulness – the film is still being formed. As soon as I finish the animatic, I will proceed to start with animation.

2) Feedback on A-AIR

No doubt, my work was strongly influenced by Japanese children literature, especially by illustrations in books. It was a true discovery for me! In Japan I visited children’s libraries, bookstores, and even a large publishing company. I looked through many books, and the thing that I often noticed was the free-styled, slightly naive drawings, and the very special relationship between space and composition. I think all of those have influenced my project deeply.
I appreciate that Japanese animation is often done very traditionally, by hand. Now I understand why it feels so good and natural to use Japanese paintbrushes, pens, paper and ink. I was moved to make my project solely using paper and hand, and barely any computer work.
There is always something to be amazed about in Japan. At the beginning of my visit I was in awe and surprised every single moment. Then various discoveries still kept blowing my mind just a little less frequently, like finding new food tastes or observing technical innovations in different fields, for instance wardrobes for umbrellas….
When in Japan, one needs to completely rebuild the thought pattern: to read books from another end, to pay attention to reversed movement of cars and people, to find oneself in completely different scopes. The culture in Japan feels completely different from my native culture. Such phenomenon as Kabuki and Bunraku with their viscous rhythms, incredible combinations and sensations of light, golden backgrounds, costumes, decor, details in depth were very impressive for me. I felt the desire to experiment with color and its symbolism, even though my previous work was more graphical.

3) Contribution to future work

I was profoundly impressed when visiting the studios of Koji Yamamura. It is always interesting when a person can peek into process of creating something that she has been fascinated by. Studio and Museum Ghibli were completely magical places where any adult could turn into a child. This is the great transformative power of animation. It is very inspiring to find out how the masterpieces such as Hayao Miyazaki films are being created! I was surprised to know that he works without animatic and scenario, makes the storyboard while the production is in progress and completes a feature-length film in one year. This kind of approach delights me.
My suitcase was huge on my way back from Japan. It was full of creative ideas, impressions and stories. I feel lucky and thankful for this journey. I am very inspired to work as I sense that my perception has changed dramatically.

Animation Artist in Residence Tokyo (A-AIR) 2016 – Application Guide >>
Report following the conclusion of “Animation Artist in Residence Tokyo 2015” >>

Interview: Kei Oyama

We recently had an opportunity to speak with Kei Oyama, a creator of animated films who was awarded a “Special Prize” at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival.

Kei Oyama: Graduate of the Image Forum Institute of the Moving Image. Graduate of Tokyo Zoukei University and a master’s program at that university’s graduate school. Member of the Japan Animation Association.

JAPIC (J): Congratulations on winning this Special Prize. You were the only Japanese person to win one of these awards [this year].

Kei Oyama (O): Thank you. I was excited just to have been selected for the competition so I am very happy to have won this prize.

J: You have been invited to many overseas film festivals this year, haven’t you?

O: I’ve been to [festivals in] Annecy, Zagreb, and Oberhausen, where I won a prize. I have also been invited to go to Ottawa. The Hiroshima festival is the largest animated film festival in Japan, and I was even more nervous than I usually am because so many people came to the screenings. At the same time I also had a feeling of satisfaction at finally having reached this point.

J: Is the atmosphere at overseas festivals different from at festivals in Japan?

O: Whether in Japan or overseas I think there are differences in the atmosphere at each individual festival. Annecy is very large, and it is impossible to distinguish between filmmakers, critics and regular audience members. Zagreb and Oberhausen are more relaxed and I was able to get to know other filmmakers and concentrate on appreciating the excellent selection of works that were screened. I was even approached by many audience members in the street. It was also interesting to me how audiences at different festivals reacted differently to the same film – the things they found funny, the timing of their laughter, the parts of the work they reacted to negatively, and so on. But I was really pleased when I was able to communicate a feeling directly using only images and sound without the intervention of language.

J: Did you have a chance to talk to other filmmakers in competition here in Hiroshima?

O: Yes. I’m not very good at English but I was able to talk with some of the other filmmakers. I was especially pleased when Estonian filmmaker Priit Pärn praised my work. I had been worried because HAND SOAP contains a lot of details that can only be properly understood by Japanese people, but I actually got the impression that he had a deeper understanding of the work than most Japanese viewers.

J: How was the reaction of Japanese viewers?

O: My work contains some disgusting scenes, so I don’t think it can be received favorably by most people, but there were some audience members who talked about it very passionately and even some who asked for my autograph…

J: Your autograph!?

O: Yes! Students, for example…

J: Students come from all over Japan to attend the Hiroshima International Animation Festival. You are no doubt one of the people they want to emulate.

O: After Koji Yamamura’s generation, it seems like the next generation [of animators] to emerge is people my age who are in or near their 30s. I recently formed a label called CALF with two people close to me in age, Atsushi Wada and Mirai Mizue, and just by chance all three of us have been able to take part in four major animation festivals this year: Annecy, Zagreb, Hiroshima and Ottawa. This sort of thing might never happen again, so we are planning to take advantage of this opportunity to do a good job of promoting CALF in Ottawa as well. I don’t know about being emulated, but I do feel that I have been getting a lot of attention.

J: You will be starting a one year artist in residence program in Vancouver next month. Could you tell us a bit about how this residence came about and what you plan to do while in Canada?

O: Short animated films are difficult to distribute as commercial products, and at this point it is difficult to say that they have established deep roots as [elements of] culture. At the same time, however, festivals for these works are held all over the world, and on a global scale the number of fans is not small. I have therefore thought for a long time that I must look to the world at large and become active internationally. I heard about the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ overseas residence program for emerging artists and decided to apply. As for what I plan to do during my residence, I will of course be absorbed in working on a film of my own, but as Canada is considered a leading country in the production of short animated films I also plan see many of the high-quality works being produced in Canada and get to know Canadian animators. I also hope to create opportunities to introduce Japanese filmmakers to people in Canada and conversely to introduce works I encounter in Canada after I return to Japan. Of course, I also hope to be able to successfully realize the work I will complete during my residence.

J: Thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Hiroshima Animation Festival
Image Forum Institute of Moving Image