Since the start of the animation industry, many great animators have come into the spotlight and have created visuals that have inspired and amazed audiences everywhere. With so many techniques and styles, more and more animators have come though to show their skills and talents all around the world. Looking specifically at the country of Japan, there is one person that has captured the attention of many viewers throughout the world thanks to his approach to animation. That person being Hayao Miyazaki, cofounder of studio Ghibli. Working his way up from an in-between artist at Toei to becoming one the creator of the staple styles of Studio Ghibli, he has always found a way to amaze his audiences. By using different stylistic choices in his animations and applying certain techniques to his stories, he has created a well known brand for himself.
Overall, Hayao Miyazaki has a focus on hand-drawn animation, which is animation where each frame is drawn by an artist rather than created by a computer. Miyazaki has personally drew thousands of frames for his movies along with directing them (Ebert). All of his movies start with hand drawn frames and cells, which are then digitized at the end to “enrich the visual look” (Ebert). Over the years, Miyazaki and his company have slowly adopted some digital animation technologies, however the main focus and ideas still revolve around “classic” full cell animation (Lamarre 70). Due to it being still primarily hand drawn, the color of the scenes are directly derived from the painted backgrounds and the colors are not kept on a “rigid digital standard” because of it (Ebert). The backgrounds are painted separately and the characters drawn and painted on cells, which are then placed over top of the backgrounds (Lamarre 191). Overall, drawing by hand gives Miyazaki more control over his tone and pacing, allowing him to develop a certain quirk known as Ma that is seen in many of his films (Toscano 27).
Looking more specifically at the parts of hand drawn animation that Hayao Miyazaki uses are techniques called full animation and cell animation, full cell animation for short. Miyazaki and studio Ghibli are often given the credit of being one of the “last true practitioners of full animation in Japan” (Lamarre 66). In a technical sense this is not completely true as he has been know to use full animation with hints of limited animation techniques within it. For example, his character motion is almost always dynamic and in full animation, however his painted backgrounds would be considered limited in the way they are moved on a layer (190). Miyazaki has also been known to use a tilt technique when animating his characters, a technique that is considered to be a form of limited animation (191). In the technique, you put each image of the character “off kilter” to give the motion more energy and shift the body into other planes of the frame (74). The only problem that can arise from this technique is that, if used carelessly, it can make it appear to the viewer that nothing in the animation is grounded (74). However Miyazaki counters this problem by angling the bodies in flight to react to gravity’s pull and wind resistance (75). So for the most part all of his work is full cell animation with some limited animation techniques that he picked up from his days working at Toei.
Moving back to one of the quirks Miyazaki has developed, sometimes one might notice that in a Miyazaki film, there are some points in the film where the story seems to stop. The story stops progressing and the characters just stay still and breathe or look at the scenery for a moment. This emptiness, or “Ma” specifically, is put into his films intentionally for a couple different reasons. This restfulness gives the films breathing space, something a film with nonstop action lacks (Toscano 27). It puts a break in the busyness and gives the story time to pause (27). Comparing to Disney, which is known for its busy, moving, fluid and always active films, Miyazaki takes time to “breathe deeply” between motions (27). This might seem like it would give some weird pacing and boring moments to an animation, however it can serve to change the tension (Ebert). It allows the tension to grow instead of being at constant height throughout the entire movie (Ebert). It also allows room for underlying emotions and tones to become present and come through in an animation (Ebert). The scenes where this emptiness is most noticeable is in scenes where deep nature is presented in silenced (Toscano 27). Moments like this are seen in My Neighbor Totoro where Satsuki and Mei are waiting at the bus stop for their father to come home. Despite this scene being a few minutes long, nothing really happens story progression wise aside from the introduction of the catbus. Satsuki and Mei simply stand in the rain with Totoro with little movement aside from a few small parts with totoro and the raindrops themselves. Other than that there is very minimal character animation and the story does not really progress at all. Despite this, there is a lot of emotion and feeling that gets expressed though this scene is immense despite the lack of really anything happening. Another scene where Ma is prevalent is in the movie Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind after Nausicaa crashes with Asbel and the fall into the cavern underneath the toxic jungle. When Nausicaa awakens, she takes her time getting up and looking at her surroundings before the story continues with Asbel entering with her glider. These are just big moments of Ma although the technique is seen throughout his works in both smaller and larger scales.
In terms of Miyazaki’s character design I have seen a pattern that is quite prominent within his works. That pattern is a sense of roundness in his characters within his cast’s designs. Aside from a few exceptions, within a typical cast of characters the generic face shape of many of them tends to be very round, with soft edges. Along with this, I have seen many times where a character’s hair is animated in a way that it seems to “float” or defy gravity, even if momentarily. I noticed it generally happens during intense scenes or in scenes where something is building up, like magic. It is seen throughout his films with a specific example being right before Satsuki jumps onto Totoro for the aerial ride, her hair begins to rise as she becomes visibly more excited. Even though, in a physics standpoint, this does not always make sense, I see it quite often in many of his works and it has sort of become one of his trademarks to me. His works also seem to often feature strong female characters and young female protagonists. Miyazaki spoke of one of his reasoning of this being that when something becomes generic, it is hard to focus an audience’s perspective, but by mixing stereotypes, for example giving the girls guns and tools, you can pull back this focus (Lamarre 70). Strong female leads are seen in both Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, with Nausicaa herself and Princess Mononoke, with San. In terms of Young female leads, the movies Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro both fit this category with Chihiro leading in the first and Satsuki and Mei leading in the second.
When looking at common themes and style choices of Miyazaki’s, he seems to always try his hardest to get his characters into the air and falling from the sky. This is seen in many of his works, and his films always seem to feature at least one aerial scene where his displays his . One famous scene where falling was involved was in Spirited Away when Chihiro and Haku are flying back to the boat house and Chihiro helps Haku remember who he is. Miyazaki even includes flying in his movie My Neighbor Totoro, by having Totoro take the two girls from an aerial ride over their hometown after helping them with their plants in the middle of the night. His love for this kind of flight in his films is extremely evident in his film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind where the a large portion of the movie takes place in the air whether with personal gliders or with large aircraft. Miyazaki also seems to have a soft spot for animating in nature, and having immense natural worlds. His characters seem most at peace when they are outside in the world and they show their appreciation for it. He also like to display nature’s connection to spirits and living things at these moments.
The brand Miyazaki has created for himself by using different techniques and quirks will always be prevalent went looking through anything he is involved with. He was able to move through the ranks and become the well known animation genius he is today. And his approach to animation has influenced many people not only in Japan, but throughout the world as well. Hayao Miyazaki has been able to shine through in the animation and film communities thanks to his techniques and styles. I’m certain that he will remain as an inspiration for everyone in the animation industry to follow, for a long time.
Ebert, Roger. “Hayao Miyazaki Interview | Interviews | Roger Ebert.” All Content. Ebert Digital LLC, 12 Sept. 2002. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis, MN: U of
Minnesota, 2009. Print.
Toscano, Michael. “‘Something beautiful for Japan’: the moral imagination of Hayao Miyazaki.”
Books & Culture 2015: 26. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.