Production I.G> WORK LIST> The Sky Crawlers> SPECIAL FEATURE> Digital Oshii: from Patlabor 2 to The Sky Crawlers (1)

Digital Oshii: from Patlabor 2 to The Sky Crawlers (1)

Mamoru Oshii
Born in Tokyo on August 8, 1951, Mamoru Oshii is one of the most remarkable personalities in modern Japanese filmmaking. He introduced introspective philosophical speculation into the world of animation, influencing at the same time movie creators all around the globe with his visionary style. Oshii joined the animation industry in 1977. His main works are Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984) the epoch-making Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Innocence (2004, nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Festival de Cannes). Oshii has also directed a number of live-action features, including Avalon (2001). The Sky Crawlers, was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 65th Venice Film Festival, selected in the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival and was greeted with three awards at Sitges 2008. In 2010 he directed Je t'aime, a short film in collaboration with the Japanese super rock group GLAY, that had its world premiere at Annecy 2010.

Part 1

Ghost in the Shell was one of the first Japanese animations to really use CG creatively. Can you tell me how and why you came to this decision to use new CG technologies?
I had already used computer-generated images in my previous movie, Patlabor 2: The Movie, but at that time it was limited to simple data appearing in monitors and things like that. When I started working on Ghost in the Shell, I had the feeling that the time was right to push this technique a little further, and I took the challenge to introduce computer-generated 3D objects in my movie. Everything was quite experimental.

What do you think the legacy and importance of the original Ghost in the Shell was, with regards to its use of CG?
The application of 3DCG in an animated movie dealing with cyberpunk themes was, for many aspects, a natural result derived from a logic necessity if you consider the film's technique, i.e. animation, and the genre. 3D naturally fitted with the movie, and it was somehow obvious that 3DCG would start in animation. 3DCG is animation, after all. Therefore, I think that digital techniques reached their maturity the very instant they started to be applied to "mainstream" live-action movies. However, there is one thing that I clearly recall when I checked the rush film of Ghost in the Shell.

At that time, every element used for animation physically existed and was tangible, whether drawn on paper or on a cel. But in Ghost in the Shell, for the first time in my career I was dealing with something that existed only as a combination of information inside a machine. It was the first movie that we edited in Avid and there was no trace of the 3D parts in the rush film I was checking. In a way, I felt shocked, but at the same time I understood that it was the prelude of what my job as a filmmaker was going to be. It was a revolution in the creation of motion pictures. Movies could be created without having to rely on a physical support, before or after the production process, even if I would use people as actors. And I could foresee how that way of making movies would eventually become prevalent. This actually led me to my next project, GRM, that eventually aborted because at that time in Japan we had not the technology to make what I had in mind. But I kept experimenting in Avalon and Innocence.

By the time of Innocence, 3D CG technology had progressed considerably. How did this influence your approach for the new film, both during the conceptual and design stages, and during the actual production?
I conceived Innocence on the assumption that 3DCG techniques were to be used extensively throughout the movie. This affected the way I wrote the script and the storyboard. The real problem lied in the application of this assumption. The great challenge was in creating almost all backgrounds in 3D. I was sure that that idea would produce a completely different kind of animation. And I was half right about that. We could not have accomplished such detailed pictures without 3D. On the other hand, I could not foresee how heavy the work could be. I was about to lose my hope (lol).

What were the challenges and difficulties in the production of Ghost in the Shell and Innocence respectively, with regards to CG?
Technically speaking, it's quite easy to say. Ghost in the Shell was a mix of existing techniques, and the actual challenge was in the harmonization of such different materials in one picture. Only 10% of the movie was actual 3DCG, and we used a lot of video processing that could actually be mistaken as CG. If I have to compare the two movies to jet fighters, Ghost in the Shell is a Super Hornet, while Innocence is an F-22 Raptor. They clearly belong to two completely different generations, as the movie making system itself underwent a radical transformation during the time lag between the two movies. At the time of Innocence, there were neither cels nor negatives, and I could modify any sequence at almost any production stage.

However, the texture processing for the backgrounds turned out to be a huge amount of physical work. In some scenes, such the introduction or the festival sequence, could require something like 600 textures for one single cut, and took months or years to be completed (NOTE: the festival sequence alone eventually took almost 2 years). Surely, I could move my virtual camera within a computer generated 3-dimensional environment, and by doing this, I created an animated movie using a live-action approach. This was indeed the greatest challenge, and the most difficult part of Innocence. And I hardly believe that we could be able to do the same work again, simply because I could not gather the same staff once again.

(1 - to be continued)

Interview by Jasper Sharp. Partially published in 3D Magazine, January 2009.