On November 12, 2016, San Francisco Kinokuniya Bookstore held talk & authograph event for Hirokatsu Kihara: a Japanese horror author, talk radio personality, and former Studio Ghibli production coordinator.
I heard about his visit to San Francisco through email from Kinokuiya and purchased his nonfiction book, "Another Barusu" / 「もう一つのバルス」, one week prior to his visit and started to read his book. For people who don't know what his book is about, "Another Barusu" is about Kihara's experience in Studio Ghibli when he was involved in production of "My Neighbor Totoro", "Kiki's Delivery Service", and "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" as production management and Miyazaki's confidant. For people who don't know what "Barusu/Balse/バルス" is, it's the last incantation spoken by Laputa's main characters Pazu and Sheeta at the climatic scene of the movie. And it's also a record breaking tweeted pop culture word in Japan.
At little past 4:00 PM, Hirokatsu Kihara is showed up with outgoing presence (in Pixar hoodie) and spoke with easy-to-understand Japanese with a translator helping him. Most notably, he brought never-seen-before sketches, cels, background paintings, promotional arts, concept arts, animation drawings. Since audience are not allowed to photograph artworks due to possible lawsuit, I'll leave the rest to your imagination as he described each artworks he brought.
First, Kihara brought out sketches of key visuals/promotional posters used in Totoro, Kiki, and Laputa
A. On Kiki's Delivery Service
Miyazaki is very detail-oriented to the single line. Even a single line in the animation drawing doesn't meet his satisfaction, he makes correction.
On Kiki's Delivery Service promotional art sketches: Fans know that Japanese poster of Kiki's Delivery Service pretty much looks like this:
However, Miyazaki drew the initial sketch which Kiki is sitting on toilet. It was not a joke as I witnessed the initial sketch when Kihara displayed it. Black cat Jiji is more cartoony on initial sketch, but Miyazaki decided to make it more realistic on final version. Also Miyazaki made her ribbon much bigger for final version as Kihara showed before-and-after sketches. Anyway initial sketch of promotional picture got ire from both Kihara and female animators, so Miyazaki revised to what we see it today.
Kihara brought cels and BG of the above cut and showed that clouds are in 2 layers of cel, foreground grass is another cel. Although it's not noticeable, BG artists even painted
tiny waves for the lake.
On this cut, one cel for river and another cels for tree, and another cel for shrubbery.
Each layer of breads are painted in cel.
And of course they drew the jar on the right corner as "Storo" instead of "Straw" berry.
Kihara also brought key animation, cels and BG paint of above cut. According to Kihara, male animators couldn't quite get how female skirt should move which Miyazaki wanted, so it was the female animators who drew Kiki twirling her skirt.
Kihara repeatedly said that Miyazaki is meticulous, but the process takes too much time.
Kihara showed several background and concept paintings used in Kiki. On contrary to popular assumption, he explained that BG artists used ordinary art suppliesy that they could get from any stationary/art store in Japan while displaying BG for Cut 203B. BG paint brand used was called "Turner".
On Cut 203B, which was painted by art director Hiroshi Ono, Kihara emphasized the level of details considered by art director. He pointed out that even small reflections on windows are painted without being overlooked.
Surpirsingly, Kiki wasn't a major success due to fact that the main production concluded 10 days before the premier and they couldn't print enough films on time to make nationwide premiers.
Kiki used 525,000 sheets total which include Miyazaki's key animation corrections, animation director corrections, key animations, inbetween cleanups, and cels. It was finished 10 days before film print date.
B. On Laputa:Castle in the Sky
Kihara brought out cels and background used in Laputa as he tells what happened:
One of the cels is from this scene which castle floats in the sky (sorry, picture quality is from the web). According to Kihara, weeks are spent by doing cut and paste with knife and tape the layers of castle parts and Ink & Paint department painted tiny subtle details around the contour of the castle. Of course, the cut only lasted 3 seconds despite weeks of hard work. He commented that it's lot easier to do it with digital tools on such method.
On cel version of this cut, blurry flapping of wings are actually done with quick paint brush strokes.
Kihara also added that Laputa BG Art is based from England countryside.
Of course, Kihara showed cel and BG of this famous climatic scene that got over 100K tweets per minute in Japan. Really, that black flash is really painted in black paint.
Most cool thing about Laputa was that Kihara has original Miyazaki's E-Konte/Storyboard scene never used in the movie. It was unused scene of Laputa prologue which govenrment officials are having dinner in an airship. One of the change was that they're having roasted turkey/chicken instead of roast beef which was showed in the movie. Also Miyazaki literally cut out storyboard scene if he's not satisfied.
C. On My Neighbor Totoro:
Kihara showed several sketches, cels, and BG paintings from Totoro. One of the fun fact is that Cat Bus's aexpression is based from Kihara.
Of course, he brought cel and BG paint of this famous scene:
And he brought concept sketch of this Totoro promotional art
On the concept sketch version, Totro never smiles. However, just like a Kiki promo art, the obvious change was made.
To everyone's surprise, Kihara showed the audience trashed character model sketches of Totoro. It is one of those rejects that never got stamp of approval from Ghibli and he's been holding it for 27 years.
Lastly, he showed unused concept sketches of Nausicaa disposed by Miyazaki.
Kihara stressed that it's easier to just watch anime than making one. When he was in Studio Ghibli, he worked very, very, very hard. He also stressed that when creating something, artist has to put heart and soul into it.
After the talk event, people lined up for his autograph and photo shoot. At final autograph, a female fan, who did some serious research, gave Kihara LP record set of Hobbit the animation which was coproduced with Topcraft studio. When Kihara started out in anime industry, his first studio was Topcraft studio which did a lot of coproduction with Rankin/Bass Studio. Kihara was very delighted by the gift.