Presenting at the “Doing things with anime materials: Approaching Japanese animation away from the screen” workshop

On the 21st of November we had the absolute pleasure of participating in the Doing things with anime materials: Approaching Japanese animation away from the screen workshop organized by Dario Lolli, hosted by the Durham Centre for Visual Arts and Culture and sponsored by The British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) and the DAIWA Anglo-Japanese Foundation. The workshop focused on anime intermediate production materials: their range, preservation, circulation, collection as well as their significance for research on anime. Durham University’s Oriental Museum served as both venue and focus for the workshop with its collection of both anime intermediate production materials as well as Japanese popular visual media.

Durham Castle photo by Carla Brain (source via Wikimedia Commons)

The Durham Castle background image from the Moriarty the Patriot anime along with the figure of Moriarty (a professor at Durham University in the story) on a separate cel layer were the perfect starting points in Dario Lolli‘s introduction to the workshop and his explanation of anime intermediate materials (AIM). He explained how the celluloid layers were composed into subsequent shots with the help of the multiplane camera in the animation stand. Although this setup is no longer in use today, since everything has become digitized, the specific aesthetic that this machine provided stays with us as computers are now used to simulate the effects of the multiplane camera instead. Dario Lolli then highlighted how not all intermediate materials end up on the screen. Character design sheets or storyboards, for example, are never used in shooting. He thus introduced the definition of anime intermediate materials provided by Michiko Yamakawa, lead archivist at Production I.G, to further open up the question of what kind of things count as AIM. Although fans, archivists and producers can have different opinions about it, something that unites almost all intermediate materials is that they are dispersed, fragile and deteriorating. Indeed, these materials often represented a burden for their creators, as they were hard to store and preserve, so most were disposed of, incinerated as industrial waste. Interestingly enough, as Dario Lolli pointed out, the materials we now have access to are in part a result of AIM being salvaged by fans, animators and even thieves, with the result that AIM that once belonged together are now often dispersed across varying types of markets, collections and locations. Thus, special archives and research centers, as well as digital archives, are all the more important today for enabling research on this rare facet of anime and anime production.

Photo by Durham University, used with permission

The outstanding keynote presentation “What You See Moving on Screen Is Not What You Think You See: Exploring Kinesthetic and Intermediate Traces of Forces and Labors” by Professor Joon Yang Kim (lead researcher at the Archive Center for Anime Studies at Niigata University) offered an exploration rich in both theory and concrete examples of movement in animation on the one hand, and the use of intermediate production materials in developing our understanding of animation and the work of animators on the other. In particular, the talk focused on flight and aviation in anime, especially in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, a fictionalized account of Jiro Horikoshi’s life, who was the chief designer of the famous “Zero” fighter plane. Drawing on Donald Crafton’s notion of figurative performance Professor Joon Yang Kim highlighted how there are two types of vocabularies in animation, formal and kinetic, with the latter quite hard to describe in words. This is one of the reasons why, if we examine the intermediate production materials and their written notes and directions for animators, we often find similes describing the movement in the shot to be created: “just like when you suddenly go full-throttle on a speeding motorcycle” was an example offered from Starzinger. In a similar way, “lightly like a kite” was used to describe the movement of a plane taking off vertically in The Wind Rises. Professor Joon Yang Kim further contextualized The Wind Rises and the fascination with paper planes, flight and weapons by discussing the way playing with military plane models was introduced in the Japanese curriculum during World War II as well as showing children’s magazines of the era focused on DIY, mechanical tinkering and model weapons. This intimate relationship with toy weapons is further nurtured in today’s children’s culture as well. The various themes explored in the keynote presentation – the way labor relations in the animation industry are also captured in intermediate production materials also among them – were all tied together in the introduction of Kazuhiro Goshima’s Peel-Apart TV Anime art installation inspired by peel-apart film and created in collaboration with the Archive Center for Anime Studies at Niigata University.

Photo by Durham University, used with permission

After the keynote presentations it was time for the Durham University Oriental Museum to take center stage. First, we had the opportunity to both learn about and handle the Oriental Museum’s anime intermediate material collection with the guidance of Carolyn Waterworth (standing in for Helen Armstrong, who unfortunately couldn’t be with us that day). Then, we were introduced to the museum’s then running exhibition on contemporary Japanese popular culture. The museum’s curator responsible for the collection, Gillian Ramsay explained various fascinating aspects of why and how the Oriental Museum began acquiring pieces of contemporary Japanese popular culture, and the challenges the preservation of ephemeral objects, such as plush Pikachus or anime cells, pose for the museum, and how plastic is quite similar to lacquerware in its sensitivity to various environmental factors. Indeed, experimenting with and mapping the best ways of handling and preserving plastic artefacts is an ongoing work of research at the Oriental Museum.

Photo by Durham University, used with permission

Following our two tours of the anime intermediate materials collection and the temporary exhibition on contemporary Japanese popular culture at the museum it was time for the final part of the program. The workshop panel started with Hugo Glover from Northumbria University introducing his artistic journey towards the heart of animation, which was nothing short of poetic. Starting out from a cybernetic description of animation practices and the importance of tacit knowledge for these practices, he introduced his various works attempting to dig down to the most fundamental constituent elements of animation. These works included stones broken up to create an animation wheel; a pot broken, glued back together again, and then broken and reassembled in this way over and over again; increasingly larger zoetropes taking animation away from the computer screen and exploring how to work with things where what you can control becomes more and more limited, with the final cathartic Twelve images of Sisyphus consumed by its own internal fire as a metaphor of both the impossibility of the task at hand and at the same time the drive to nevertheless pursue the ultimate attempt at achieving it.

Photo by Durham University, used with permission

Next up, Zoltan Kacsuk introduced the JVMG project and the further potentials for research opened up by connecting metadata on anime intermediate production materials with the JVMG knowledge graph (see slides below, as well as our previous blogpost on our visit to the Archive Center for Anime Studies).

Finally, the ever-curious and always inspiring Professor Jaqueline Berndt from Stockholm University chairing the closing panel discussion helped summarize and critically frame the many themes that were touched upon throughout the afternoon, and opened the floor to a very engaged discussion with our wonderful audience at the Oriental Museum.

This was a truly unique event bringing together the materiality of anime’s production history and aesthetics with in-depth theoretical discussions, as well as inspired curatorial and artistic thinking. We would like to once again thank Dario Lolli and Professor Jonathan Long, Co-Director of the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture for organizing and hosting the event, furthermore, Carolyn Waterworth, Gillian Ramsay and the Oriental Museum for providing the venue and sharing their collections with us, as well as all the other participants and attendees at the event for the wonderful atmosphere and stimulating intellectual exchange. We look forward to continuing the discussions on the use of anime intermediate materials and their metadata in research on anime and beyond.