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Cinematography in Anime
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Posted 3/16/14 , edited 3/26/14
Cinematography and Anime:
A Meta Discussion on the Creation and Presentation of Anime



Introduction

Welcome, everyone. This is an experimental meta thread meant to explore the topic of cinematography as it relates to anime. If it is successful in generating insightful, thoughtful and civil discussion on this particular topic, I may be interested in creating a similar thread on a different topic.

The target audience for this thread are those who are interested in delving beyond the simple, "I liked this, I didn't like that" method of examining anime into the next level of questions: "Why did I like that? What made it good? Why didn't I like that? What made it bad?" This is not to say that defining anime by whether or not we liked them is unnecessary (or bad or silly or immature); in fact, it is the essential first step before the second level of questions can even be asked.

The purpose of this thread and any future meta-discussion threads that may follow is to better enable us to articulate why we like what we do and why we dislike what we do.

Please feel free (it's encouraged!) to use examples from your favorite/least favorite anime to support your points and ideas. Having evidence on the table helps everyone by providing a common starting point, from which arguments can be raised and counterarguments can be formed.

As always, please keep discussion civil and polite! We're all here to talk about something we love: anime.




Some Basic Information

So, what is cinematography? It is the art form of making motion pictures (or in our case, anime). And perhaps the greatest influencer of the cinematography of any piece is the director, the one who decides how shots should be framed, where the camera ought to be set, as well as the tone, atmosphere and other factors.

It should be noted here that there is a significant difference in the role of the writer/adaptor/series composition and the role of the director. In live-action film, the role of the writer is simply to tell the story with words. Rarely, if ever, is the writer in charge of decided how a scene should be shot or where the camera should be placed, unless it has a direct impact on the story itself. As I am not as well acquainted with the roles in anime production, I cannot say for sure that this distinction is as clear as it is in live-action, but I suspect that it, at the very least, generally follows the same pattern.

Links for Further Reading

Wikipedia on Cinematography
Wikipedia on Film Directors
Youtube: Cinematography Learn from a Master
Sakuga: The Animation of Anime

Beginning the Discussion


I have compiled a number of questions to be considered as part of this discussion, but for the sake of keeping discussion somewhat unified in topic, I have decided to start with just one. When conversation on a particular question wanes, I will update this post with the new question, as well as posting it within the thread. Once we exhaust all the questions I can muster, perhaps we can delve into specific shows (beyond what comes up as evidence) and look at how the cinematography in them works.

Question #1: What is the identity of the camera in anime?


Corollaries to the Question: Is it a character on its own? A character in the story? The director's eyes or a neutral viewpoint? How can/does the camera affect perceptions of what occurs on screen?


I hope you all enjoy this thread and find it useful in helping you to articulate what it is you like/dislike about particular anime. And I also hope it helps you in the future to better understand what it is that you are watching.




Archives for previously discussed questions:

Archives for future questions:
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Posted 3/16/14 , edited 3/17/14
I think the role of the director can vary. In film you have very hands-on directors, and others that work closely with very skilled cinematographers. And if you're adapting a manga, the story is already effectively storyboarded (and fans will in many cases be watching for their favorite panels from the manga to show up as keyframes in the anime).

I'll do this constantly with Fairy Tail since it has so many iconic panels (chapter 284, episode 166):

And then you've got directors like Akiyuki Shinbo (Monogatari, Madoka Magica, Nisekoi), who has a very distinct visual style that he brings to his work, as well as Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days). And Hayao Miyazaki's complete control of his films is legendary.

I wouldn't doubt that there are also sort of babysitter directors who are hired just to make sure the project goes smoothly and the final product is holistic and of reasonable quality while other individuals hold down the aesthetics, and there's always some variation simply due to how Japanese animation is accomplished (see: Sakuga: The Animation of Anime).


The most interesting thing I think is how cinematography can influence how we engage with an anime, just emotionally. Like when HauAreWe was talking earlier about how cameras can have personalities. I'm not sure I agree with him in all respects, but I completely agree that how the camera interacts with its environment will influence how we experience it.

For example, this discussion is coming right on the heels of my watching Kino's Journey, which doesn't have very flashy camerawork (I'll keep using that term with regards to anime, it's just convenient). However, the emotion conveyed by the camera (which I attribute to the conscious intention of the director and animators) fits in with the whole aesthetic.


I dunno; it's just something I'll have to keep in mind going forward, it's hard to retroactively analyze past experiences when you weren't paying attention to these kinds of details. But the use of space, framing, unconventional viewing angles and camera placement that puts the action "offscreen" for periods of time can be very interesting and engaging tools.

Example: The focus on Misato and Kaji's interlocked hands during their offscreen sex scene in Evangelion.
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Posted 3/23/14 , edited 3/23/14
Akiyuki Shinbo is inescapable. I'm watching the second Le Portrait de Petite Cossette OVA and besides the early incarnations of things like the Shaft head tilt he's also: inserted horizontal frames (kind of like an extreme dutch angle), shaken the image to give the impression the viewer is a voyeur with a hand-held camera, and splattered the screen with blood. Many viewing angles are also through windows or from behind obstacles, increasing the feelings of voyeurism.
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Posted 3/23/14 , edited 3/23/14

Insomnist wrote:

Akiyuki Shinbo is inescapable.


Absolutely.
And there's another couple of directors that worked closely with him and ended up with their own inspirations.. I honestly can't think of them right now though.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shin_%C5%8Cnuma maybe? I can't remember how the cinematography was in Watamote.
/watamote-no-matter-how-i-look-at-it-its-you-guys-fault-im-not-popular


Question #1: What is the role of the director in anime?

There's probably some good interviews that I should look up as well..

Again, sorry I haven't had the time to add to this topic. I still intend to!

Hm.. probably a lot could be said about anime from earlier days where influence was hard to come by outside of live action cinema, Disney, black and white short cinema cartoons, and Astro Boy/Gigantor.
I'm going to have to take a closer look at a few things..

Manga's also full of interesting cinematography at times since it's essentially a screenplay minus film-making notations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_Ball_Run is a good example. Reading it honestly feels like re-watching parts of Hidalgo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidalgo_%28film%29 even though it supposedly drew inspiration from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cannonball_Run_%28film%29.


Insomnist wrote:
I dunno; it's just something I'll have to keep in mind going forward, it's hard to retroactively analyze past experiences when you weren't paying attention to these kinds of details.


This ^
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Posted 3/26/14
I don't have much to add ( insomnist's reply is awesomely dead on about the role of the "director" ), but I would like to say is that in "live action" films, until the advent of CGI, cinematography in the sense of "where's the camera" was often in the control of multiple people, esp. where acknowledged as in having a "director of cinematography" specifically.

In Animation, however, the "camera" position is entirely the product of artists. There is no waiting for "golden hour" and no messing with filters and backlighting or dealing with nature, it's strictly a product. Until the advent of high-res CGI, live action couldn't compete with that advantage.

I guess except for animation based on motion capture, where you are still tied to filming someone, sort of, animation is totally free in its manipulation of the viewer's eye, or rather that the manipulation is wholly artificial without any bow to Nature, it's strictly created frame by frame by the artist's pen/computer.

Hopefully this isn't too crass an example, but one of the wildest ( to me ) use of cameras, often in a puerile fashion, is "Strike Witches". They at times are absolutely nuts with where the camera is in a way that would be impossible with actual cameras.

Which comes to my only other point: the viewer's expectation of cinematography is different in animation. What they will expect for visuals, and accept for visuals and positioning, is different. Short hand can be used instead of coherent logical flow of shots as is much harder ( or at least is jarring ) in live action. "From the New World" is a good anime example, where in some of the action shots, the camera position tests the boundaries of logic and is impressionistic, without being hallucinogenic like in 2001: A Space Odyssey ( although it does that too ).

I think that's different than when people are forced with illusionist technique to "see" shots that the camera never goes ( as in A.H. Psycho, where people universally insist they saw the actual stabbing with the knife in the shower scene ). Although it may be related.
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Posted 3/26/14
Since we seem to be moving toward stuff about the camera, I changed the question in the OP.

And here's some stuff that I read in book earlier today about ways the camera can narrate the story (which seems to give a very active identity to the camera).

1. The Impartial Narrator

The camera has no viewpoint (although clearly somebody has selected the images and words). We see a succession of things happen as recorded by an impartial eye.

2. The Active Narrator

The camera overtly presents us with opinions on what is happening, or on the views that are being expressed (the camera pans along a wall of china ducks while a character is heard saying, "I've always prided myself on my good taste"); or a character glances to the camera nad winks [...] or speaks directly to the camera.


Citing, because why not:
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Posted 3/26/14 , edited 3/26/14
I'm trying to remember long shots in anime uninterrupted by jump cuts. The only one I can think of is the running scene in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and I haven't even seen that movie yet (I should, maybe later this week).

It's almost a minute long, 52 uninterrupted seconds of Makoto just running alongside a camera.
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Posted 3/26/14
I've had to edit a lot of videos professionally so something that strikes me at times is how often anime employs the use of what amounts to a Ken Burns effect (moving the camera over a single picture) to cheaply be able to portray the concept of motion to a static scene.

Add in an inner monologue to whatever character or event you're showing, and you can have a 20 second shot just by doing that alone. And the interesting thing about it is that they pull it off really well. Like, better than most documentaries. I only ever notice it because of my familiarity with the effect. If the backgrounds are pretty enough, that's the only thing that really pulls any focus- rather than the lack of real motion.
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Posted 3/26/14 , edited 3/26/14

Balzack wrote:

I've had to edit a lot of videos professionally so something that strikes me at times is how often anime employs the use of what amounts to a Ken Burns effect (moving the camera over a single picture) to cheaply be able to portray the concept of motion to a static scene.

Add in an inner monologue to whatever character or event you're showing, and you can have a 20 second shot just by doing that alone. And the interesting thing about it is that they pull it off really well. Like, better than most documentaries. I only ever notice it because of my familiarity with the effect. If the backgrounds are pretty enough, that's the only thing that really pulls any focus- rather than the lack of real motion.


This is a really good point, a lot of cinematography in anime is about saving money for the product.

Usually when you say cinematography you think about the "best" stuff, but actually, so much of anime's techniques are dedicated to the opposite, "What can we get away with to lower production costs/time?"

The infamous Gainax/EVA elevator scene always comes to mind. It's a fine example of the camera never moving, but a whole lot of tension building up. Yet I'm pretty positive at least half the motivation was also "think of the savings". I'm not one who doesn't like that scene, though, I absolutely love it. It drives some people crazy but I think it's great. Hitchcock would be proud.

I also can't help but notice how often in anime, character "introduce" themselves and each other, naming every person in the scene while no one moves to fill some time. Now that I recognized what it was, it hits me every time. "Hi Ichigo. Rukia. X. Y. Z. What are you up to?" "Oh, Hi 1. 2. 3. We were just ( summary of the last 2 minutes preceeding ). What are you doing here?" All while there is a still life with lip flaps.

I now can't help but see a "budget gauge" floating about most animes, I'm always watching to see when they seem to be running low on money/time. Doesnt' take away from me enjoying them, it's like an added feature. I'm almost disappointed and proud when an anime keeps an even quality right to the end. Like, how long before they start going static?
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Posted 3/26/14

crypticcrunch wrote:
The infamous Gainax/EVA elevator scene always comes to mind. It's a fine example of the camera never moving, but a whole lot of tension building up. Yet I'm pretty positive at least half the motivation was also "think of the savings". I'm not one who doesn't like that scene, though, I absolutely love it. It drives some people crazy but I think it's great. Hitchcock would be proud.

I haven't seen the NGE, but I've heard a lot of people talk about how the budget constraints for the show forced the studio to be extremely creative with the way they were using the camera.

I personally think that some limits can really help people bring out extra creativity.

There's definitely some uncreative cost cutting that happens in anime (or maybe a lot), but then there's stuff that uses what they have and does really interesting stuff with it because they have no other choice.
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Posted 3/26/14


Citing is good! I should probably cite frames and times in the animes I'm looking at... but wow, I don't know, lots of time to get those. I'll seriously consider it though, it helps if people can go and "see". Maybe I'll edit the posts in post, so to speak, if I have time later.

I wonder if the camera can ever really be impartial though. I know it's just a term of art, it's just the name sort of nags me somehow. Of course, you've chosen your shot. Even in Cinéma vérité or lifestreaming or game cams, you have picked your location and some of the misc-en-scene. Impartial is a really funny word when things are so contrived. But it's possibly a matter of degree.

Citations ( slightly )



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Posted 3/26/14

crypticcrunch wrote:
I wonder if the camera can ever really be impartial though. I know it's just a term of art, it's just the name sort of nags me somehow. Of course, you've chosen your shot. Even in Cinéma vérité or lifestreaming or game cams, you have picked your location and some of the misc-en-scene. Impartial is a really funny word when things are so contrived. But it's possibly a matter of degree.

Well, first off, I should say that I don't necessarily agree personally with those quotes. I just dumped then in for the sake of discussion and because they were relevant.

It is an interesting question, whether or not the camera can truly be impartial. After all, cinema is a voyeuristic, vicarious medium (perhaps the same could be said of all media); we view (read, etc.) the lives of those who we are not, invade their worlds.

And the camera is the enabler that allows this to happen.
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Posted 3/26/14 , edited 3/26/14

iblessall wrote:
Well, first off, I should say that I don't necessarily agree personally with those quotes. I just dumped then in for the sake of discussion and because they were relevant.

It is an interesting question, whether or not the camera can truly be impartial. After all, cinema is a voyeuristic, vicarious medium (perhaps the same could be said of all media); we view (read, etc.) the lives of those who we are not, invade their worlds.

And the camera is the enabler that allows this to happen.


I think what is meant by the camera being impartial is that it is just a recording device. It adds nothing to what it records other than how it is used by the people manipulating the camera. The camera itself can't choose who is important, what the action should be, what to focus on, or anything. All it does is make a recording based on the choices people make.

Personally, however, I've found the claim to be disingenuous because, clearly, the people controlling the camera are not impartial and never can be.
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Posted 3/26/14 , edited 3/26/14

Balzack wrote:

I've had to edit a lot of videos professionally so something that strikes me at times is how often anime employs the use of what amounts to a Ken Burns effect (moving the camera over a single picture) to cheaply be able to portray the concept of motion to a static scene.


Most anime is just limited animation. You can think of it like Rocky and Bullwinkles' shortcuts spread out over a long period of time (refined, of course.)

Sometimes, I'm honestly astonished at how MUCH is animated when it's unnecessary.

Kinema Citrus does this a lot:
Characters are mostly talking in the anime (mouth movements are usually a swap between a couple of overlayed frames.)
Suddenly, the character will do a fully animated turning gesture with their arm moving and hair moving in a unique perspective while they do something mundane in real-time. And it looks like it's all done by the artists rather than rotoscoping a 3D character model.

Often this fluid animation is for absolutely no reason and hardly lasts long enough for someone to get an impression from it (and no, I'm talking about those slow-motion "whoa~m" moments. Just general actions that occur while characters are being mundane before they exaggerate their actions.)

Strangely, other actions that seem like they should have looked impressive are limited to jumps between extreme poses (like how a slap can occur with 2 frames of exaggeration and perhaps a quick blurring.)

It's really funny when you keep an eye out for the "money shots" in anime, since they can sometimes be strangely wasteful and hardly noticeable




I've done video editing as well. "Cuts" are like strobe lights now -.- (since I used to be obsessed over making cuts as fluid as possible). It ruined the joy of watching some old favorites. And most .gif pictures are like watching a song skip wildly because the CD is broken
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Posted 3/26/14 , edited 3/26/14
Some more camera stuff:

    Of the directors who started making films since I came on the job, the best is Martin Scorsese. His camera is active, not passive. It doesn't regard events, it participates in them. There is a sequence in GoodFellas that follows Henry Hill's last day of freedom, before the cops swoop down. Scorsese uses an accelerating pacing and a paranoid camera that keeps looking around, and makes us feel what Hill feels. It is easy enough to make an audience feel basic emotions ("Play them like a piano," Hitchcock adviced), but hard to make them share a state of mind. Scorsese can do it (Ebert, 2006, p. 390).

Ebert, R. (2006). Awake in the Dark: Forty Years of Reviews, Essays, and Interviews.
    Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.



Edit:

Meanwhile, talking about putting cameras in awkward places...

A frame from Death Billiards, a 25-minute "movie" by Madhouse.

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