Masa and the CG industry

I met up with my friend Masa at a coffeeshop near a conference center in Kanda, one stop away from Tokyo eki (ironically Masa lives in Kamakura, where I had visited the Daibutsu, but I didn't know that when I went down there!). He and I spent a long, long afternoon dishing on the state of the CGI industry in Japan and the U.S. It turned out Masa had been the Art Director for the CG portion of a series pilot that my friend Scott was doing a test on at the same time -- it's a small world over there, too! One of the thing I talked about with both Masa and others was the full-length CG feature film projects going on over there; they're quite numerous.  

SquareSoft, the huge Japanese video game company responsible for Final Fantasy VII, Bushido Blade, and Xenogears, is underway on a full-length CG feature film. Masa's perspective was that they actually had the most sensible business model of any of the current features: they look at the movie as a promotion for the video games. That sounds like a bad joke to most Hollywood types, but the truth of the matter is that Square can make statements like that with a straight face; when they sell millions of copies of their lead titles, they generate revenues that are in fact greater than the worldwide box office of most movies.

Another rumor is that Katsuhiro Otomo ("Akira") and Mamoru Oshii ("Ghost in the Shell") are collaborating on a feature film all-CG project. This one is supposed to have a mammoth budget. I have to admit, I dished on this one for awhile. Although it's great to see Japanese animation (a la Ghost) take on CG elements -- and often try interesting and innovative ways to integrate them with their cel-based animation -- I'm a little lost as to why they want to move quickly to an all-CG look. I'm sure they'll try some cool stuff with it, but I don't think CG is the greatest medium for the strong camerawork and striking poses that characterize the best in (non-Miyazaki) Japanese animation. And, as long as we're dishing, it's a pretty ballsy move financially. The typical Japanese animation film (i.e., anything not by Miyazaki) plays to a pretty narrow audience in Japan and has no appreciable theatrical revenues outside that country. They're apparently putting in the neighborhood of $30M into the production budget of this film -- not huge by U.S. standards, but 5 times the budget of most Japanese animation features.They're definitely banking on an international cult hit on the order of Ghost in the Shell in order to pay back that budget!

One of the most surprising things I heard about is a phenomenon where folks in the Japanese anime industry are unable to get funding for an aniamted series, so they decide to try and turn the concept into a feature film instead. That's surprising because it's so much the reverse of the usual procedure -- properties in that industry often start as manga in the huge weekly manga magazines; become a television series, thus getting more mainstreamed; may spawn an direct-to-video series (known in Japan as an OAV, for Original Animated Video); and if all those are popular, spawn a theatrical movie, which even the may not be a big money-maker in and of itself. Masa and Scott knew about a couple project which are trying to short-circuit the process, which seems odds given the bad economics of the film release in Japan...


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  © 1998 Leo Hourvitz