While computer animation has become the new norm, legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki still relies on hand-drawn animation to tell his stories. While the venerated Oscar winner for best animated feature, Spirited Away, announced his retirement years ago, he has been supervising his company Studio Ghibli’s work on a new movie How Do You Live?, which is being created with such close attention to detail that they have only completed 36 minutes of the animation in 3 years, as the movie’s producer Toshio Suzuki explained recently.
“We are still hand-drawing everything, but it takes us more time to complete a film because we’re drawing more frames. So, there are more drawings to draw than before. Back when we were making [1988’s] My Neighbor Totoro, we only had eight animators.”
“Totoro we made in eight months. [For] the current film that Hayao Miyazaki is working on, we have 60 animators, but we are only able to come up with one minute of animation in a month. That means 12 months a year, you get 12 minutes worth of movie. Actually, we’ve been working on this film for three years, so that means we have 36 minutes completed so far. We’re hoping it will finish in the next three years.”
Spending so much time animating a film would have been considered unthinkable even by Walt Disney, one of the original pioneers of the genre. But as Hayao Miyazaki went on to explain, Miyazaki has already had such a distinguished career that making his new movie had to involve doing something different and more elaborate than anything he had attempted before.
“Many directors make films on and on and on throughout their careers as they grow older. When Miyazaki came back and said that I want to make a film again, I actually said that’s not a great idea because he’s achieved so much already. You can’t come back and do something that you’ve already done in the past, you have to do something different. One of the ideas that came out from that was, why not spend more time and spend more money [to make a film]? So, that’s one of the new approaches.”
How Do You Live is based on Yoshino Genzaburo’s 1937 story. It follows a young boy who has to go live with his uncle after the death of his father. The experience prompts a spiritual change in the young boy’s mental makeup as he comes to terms with his loss.
Suzuki also mentioned that since animators can work from home, the current lockdown has not impeded Studio Ghibli’s work, but given the meticulous nature of the animation, the film is still years away from release. In the meantime, fans can catch up on Miyazaki’s earlier works when much of Studio Ghibli’s library of work arrives on the HBO Max streaming platform upon its launch this May 27. The films were also already made available as digital purchases on Dec. 17 of last year. Entertainment Weekly was the first to break this news.