Comic Of The Month
But on Saturday, people learned how to do it right.
The Ridiculously Great Storytelling workshop, at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI) used Spirited Away (2001), directed by Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki, to help illustrate how filmmakers tell stories effectively.
“There’s no better film to learn from,” concept illustrator Vicki Poi said, “and it’s one of the best animated films ever made.”
Poi, who recently worked on the 2014 remake of Godzilla, was drawn to the event because, on top of her interest in the dissection of Spirited Away, presenter Ellen Besen was one of Poi’s teachers when she studied at Sheridan College’s classical animation program.
Besen, who’s worked in the animation industry for over 35 years, is an award-winning director and animation film teacher who teamed up with her former student, Aubry Mintz, to lead the discussion and analysis of Spirited Away.
Mintz, 39, a current teacher at California State University, Long Beach, has worked in Canada and abroad as a director, animator, and storyboard artist and worked for George Lucas’s special effects company in his early career.
Besen and Mintz analyzed clips of the film to show how Miyazaki uses deep symbolism and character development to tell the coming of age story of Chihiro, a young girl who grows from childhood into adolescence after her parents turn into pigs and she journeys through a spirit world.
The speakers, who said that they have seen the movie easily over 100 times, walked the audience through the entire movie, selecting pivotal moments in the film and showing how within the plot of Spirited Away, the art direction is woven together by the meticulous detail the animators put into the work.
“Every frame is literally, perfectly detailed and meaningful,” said Besen.
Mintz admired the Japanese film for taking risks in its visualization of the movie’s fantasy world, something not often seen in American animated flicks.
He particularly admired the pace of the film and told the audience it, “Makes for an experience that leads the viewer throughout the entire movie to the climax seamlessly.”
“Miyazaki isn’t afraid to slow down, which is so rare,” said Mintz.
“Great movies like this resonate with everyone, not because you went to a spirit world, but because of how the story’s told and how everyone can connect to the feeling of growing up,” he said.
Movie director and co-founder of the animation company, Moovix Media Inc, Kushal Ruia, who’s seen the movie, “a few million times,” was also in attendance.
Ruia, who is a huge fan of Japanese Animation, said that he sees many differences between Japanese films and American movies.
“American films tend to be more formulaic and cookie cutter, they make it for the widest audience possible, of course, to make the most money,” he said.
What he admires most about Japanese cinema is that their anime movies tend to be more deeply layered in plot and in Japanese society they aren’t seen as just a children’s format, but rather as a piece of art, for everyone to enjoy, thus allowing animators to create a more satisfying narrative.
His favourite animated movie, though has the uncanny ability to make audience weep is Grave of The Fireflies (1988), another Studio Ghibli production.
John Lei, creative director and owner of Noodle Boy Studios, who has attended the event for the last two years, said TAAFI is a great opportunity to learn different perspectives on storytelling. He also said it’s nice to hear other perspectives of how well movies like Spirited Away set up its characters’ journey, taking notes for future works of his own.
Lei said that the reason he normally prefers Japanese productions is because of the depth of character development that, “North American movies normally don’t tackle because they are afraid.”
He noted that Pixar can be an exception, but that as a director, there’s much to learn from Spirited Away, in its story telling techniques.
When directing films of his own, he finds “the biggest challenge is going from premise to the story’s plot, to eventually guiding the audience with the intended voice and path I’m trying to achieve.”
TAAFI will be hosting events until Monday, with events ranging from movie screenings and workshops, to discussions with Jim Zub, the animator and comic book writer for franchises like Samurai Jack, Street Fighter and Batman.