Inside The Mind Of A Genius: Hayao Miyazaki On What Inspires Him!

By Nita Deshmukh. Posted on May 02, 2016

Japan is one of the few countries in the world, that has managed to create a distinct style of animation, that is rooted in its cultural ethos, yet manages to transcend national boundaries.

Namakura Gatanaa short made in 1917, is one of the first animated Japanese creations. Since then, Japan has steadily established itself as one of the pioneers of animation. Isao Takahava, Osamu Tezuka and Bob Kuwahara are some of the many animators whose creations made Japan a name to reckon with in the animation industry. And one name that stands out in this long list is that of Hayao Miyazaki.

In a career spanning over 50 years, the animation writer and director enjoyed both commercial and critical success through his movies like Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. Miyazaki's films often contain recurring themes like humanity's relationship with nature and technology and the difficulty of maintaining an anti- violence ethic among others. The protagonists of his films are often strong, independent girls or young women.

Spirited Away, a critical commentary on modern Japanese society concerning generational conflicts and environmental pollution, won the Oscar for Best Animated feature at the 75th Academy Awards. In November 2014, Miyazaki was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for his impact on animation and cinema.

We came across an amazing series of videos at the Academy's event 13th "Marc Davis Celebration of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki" where he talks about his creations, advice on creating original work and much more in these videos.

Given below are some of the most interesting anecdotes and insights shared by Miyazaki on his personal and professional life.

On His Childhood

I think I was doing a lot of imagining then. I was a physically weak child and I read some manga. I wanted to become a strong hero.

On Creating Original Work

Don’t do something that you’ve seen somewhere before. But if you’ve forgotten that you’ve seen it before, then that’s okay (says Miyazaki with a hearty laughter)

On How He Developed Characters For My Neighbour Totoro

"Rather than trying to depict these magical creatures, my intention was to show my appreciation and love for nature, which I had pretty much ignored upto that time. I had a couple of fragments, about somebody waiting at the bus stop with a strange creature standing right next to that person and a small child who sees a partially transparent little creatures. Those two fragments were in my mind for about ten years.

The child at the bus stop needs to be an older child, because a very young child would not be going to the bus stop to wait for a parent to come home. The one who sees the partly transparent creatures needs to be really young child. For a long time I wondered how to connect those fragments. Finally I came upon the idea of making them sisters, and then the story started evolving. But it took me a long time to come to that point.

For those ten years, I walked around the landscape near me and looked carefully at it to see what I could use for such a film. When I presented this idea, it didn’t get an approval very quickly, so it was very good that it took that long for this idea to get approval for me to make this film. Of course the real character doesn’t exist, so I could draw it any way I wanted to. But I wanted to make it a very large character.

You couldn’t tell whether it was smart or stupid and whether it was really there or not, too was a question. So when the animators were working on this, I told them not to have the totoro creature be looking at anything specific to have it seem as if he were looking very far away, or may be not looking at anything at all."

On How He Creates His Villains

"When I create a villain, I start liking the villain and it becomes a being that is not really evil. The Fleischer brothers made Superman and they have a scene where there is a steel mill and iron workers right behind the Hollywood hills. A bad guy, the evil character, who puts so much into creating such a factory and investing so much, is somebody that should be lovable. And villains actually work harder than the heroes.

Making an evil creature that has an empty place or a hole in his heart is very tragic and depressing and sad to draw. And I don’t like drawing them. You can see animators drawing and when they draw a happy face, they are smiling as well. When they draw a bad character, they’re grimacing and looking fierce. I think it’s better to have a smiling face rather than a grimacing face."

On The Future Of Animation

"As long as there are people who are doing hand- drawn animation, I think it will continue to exist. Both pencils and computers are tools to make our stories. Even though the pencil might be an old tool, it is still a tool and we can still use it. So as long as the tool can be a used, I think it will be a way to draw animation.

I had an illusion about computers. I thought that computers would do the tiresome, tedious work of drawing that we didn’t want to do. I realized that was a mistake and people were using the computers to do even more tiresome things that made it more tiresome for us later.

The computer can draw with a certain exactitude and then we think that the animators must hand – draw exactly as the computer does. So the computer methodology enters our brains and the animators who weren’t that good to start with get lousier and lousier in drawing. I wanted to take that computer out of our brains and just be able to draw what we see with our own eyes. So I disbanded the computer graphic section.

I tell my animators now, don’t worry about how many pages of animation you are drawing, don’t try to limit yourself. Even if we draw many, many pages, we still save by not having to buy another computer. Of course we use computer for camera work that we do, and they are coming up with all kinds of techniques to make things look better."


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