Shinichiro Watanabe #2 [ANIMATRIX DIRECTOR]


MATRIX: Since we last talked [November 2001] a lot of work has been done; can you tell us where we are right now?

WATANABE-SAN: We’re at Studio 4°C in Tokyo, where we’re doing some of the production on THE ANIMATRIX, as well as other projects the studio is involved with.

MATRIX: Final animation is now complete on KID’S STORY; how did you enjoy the process?

WATANABE-SAN: I tried to put some different kinds of angles and styles of drawing that I enjoy into this film to bring a new feel to it. Basically, what I did was use a sketchier style that what is usually done in animation.

MATRIX: What made you decide to go with a process that was more difficult?

WATANABE-SAN: Working on THE ANIMATRIX is a great opportunity for me. I can work on ordinary animation whenever I want, here in Japan, but this is a special occasion. Since KID’S STORY is a short film, we can spend a lot more time on this project than we usually can. On this episode I wanted to challenge myself and to show my ability. Mr. [Shinji] Hashimoto is the key person who designs the characters and who did the key frames for this animation. Actually, he’s the one who came up with the idea of trying this new technique on this project.

MATRIX: What was your reaction when you started seeing the results?

WATANABE-SAN: Animation is a group effort, and since we came up with the idea, I had to first persuade the other animators on the production to try it, which was a little hard at first. To have the episode turn out the way I envisioned, it meant more input at the keyframe stage to get that sketchy look. Because of that, not only the key animators faced more work, but it was hard for the in-betweeners to keep up as well. Making sure that atmosphere stayed in the episode fell to me as Director. I felt sorry for the animators because this technique demanded hard work, but it was necessary.

MATRIX: I noticed the frames get sketchier when the Kid is on his skateboard, when the action starts; was that switch from cleaner to sketchier a conscious decision?

WATANABE-SAN: It depends on what kind of scene it is and where the character is. For example, when he is punching information into the keyboard, it will be cleaner lines, but when he is in the school it’s going to be a sketchy type of picture.

MATRIX: How do you decide what approach to use with a story like A DETECTIVE STORY, as opposed to KID’S STORY?

WATANABE-SAN: After I started on KID’S STORY the chance to work on A DETECTIVE STORY came up, so I wanted to differentiate the atmospheres of the two. I’m very fond of watching detective films filled with hard-boiled types, so I want to put action scenes that felt like that into A DETECTIVE STORY. Through the black and white animation, and keeping the picture a little less sharp than it would be in color, I will try to convey a more traditional or nostalgic feel to the story, but the audience should have a sense of the new at the same time.

I’m working on the storyboards for A DETECTIVE STORY now, and should be finished with that stage soon. The actual story in A DETECTIVE STORY is quite long, so to make it work in the allotted time, I want to have everything go faster. By extracting the essence of what is important to the story, we will be able to use a slightly more innovative kind of storytelling.

MATRIX: Is there any detective fiction — either in movies or books — that you’re drawing from for reference?

WATANABE-SAN: I haven’t used any particular reference book. My memories of films I saw years ago that impressed me, are what I’ve been drawing on. I very much like New York of the 1940s or 50s, so I’m trying to combine some elements of those periods.

MATRIX: Uniquely, both your stories have appeances from actors in the film; how did you approach doing animated versions of them?

WATANABE-SAN: For Carrie-Anne Moss [Trinity], I didn’t have the chance to review her work in RELOADED, so I watched the first movie and referred to that. For Clayton Watson [the Kid], I was able to cature video reference with him on a day he wasn’t on set, which was very helpful in directing the movements of the character.

MATRIX: What is the daily process for the animators?

WATANABE-SAN: I tend to start with meetings with the character designer and the set designer, to let them know exactly what I want in the film. There are many directors who can just design the sets by themselves, but since I am not an animator, I put more value on the specialists. Then I work on the storyboards and go over them with the key animators — there are going to be between ten or twenty key animators on A DETECTIVE STORY.

Now, before the in-between artists get started, I also have regular meetings with the art director and discuss with him in detail the look that he wants to get, so that the message is passed along clearly to the people in the ink and paint division. Then when we make a 3-D animated scene, we’ll have a meeting with the 3-D directors and people in charge of computer graphics. There are so many people involved in making one film, that it’s the director’s job to supervise everything and make sure everyone has the same energy and love of the picture.

MATRIX: Do you have a preference: computer animation or hand-drawn cel animation?

WATANABE-SAN: I don’t agree with the idea that everything should be in 3-D now, so I’ve been using the computer only for the scenes in DETECTIVE STORY that would be very hard for the animators to draw. I’m thinking that I’ll combine both 3-D and line art so you can’t tell them apart – I’d call it 2.5 dimension or 2.5-D. I’ll only be using a small amount of 3-D in KID’S STORY, since I want this episode to have a real human touch and sketchy feel, instead of looking mechanically directed. Even on elements where most directors would use 3-D software, I want to have traditional animation.

MATRIX: You know some of the other animators and directors working on other episodes of THE ANIMATRIX; is there a friendly sense of competition amongst you?

WATANABE-SAN: We don’t really talk about the episodes; when we meet we just talk about usual topics, far away from what we might be doing at the moment. Most people have their own very consuming way of making their films, so they don’t have the opportunity to talk much.

MATRIX: Are shorts or longer feature films more challenging?

WATANABE-SAN: I like the challenge of working on many kinds of productions, both shorts and feature films. There are good points to both, so I don’t have a favorite. When I’m working on longer films, I start thinking about shorter films, and vice versa.

MATRIX: Thank you, Watanabe-San.

Interview by REDPILL

Translated by Isako Shibata

July 2002