Studio Ghibli films have a reputation for being visually impressive. As you might imagine, the reason movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service look so good is because they’re the result of tremendous attention to the details. Just how much focus each frame of the movie receives was recently brought to light by Hirokatsu Kihara, who was a Ghibli producer from 1985 to 1989.
He recent spoke with Najinsan.com and broke down some of the reasons why Ghibli films are so visually distinctive, even within an animation genre as stylistic as anime. For example, while a given character will often wear a single outfit throughout a film for the sake of simplifying animation, Ghibli films have a tendency to creatively change the color palette of those clothes, as explained in the clip below.
“It is often said [that] using different colors is something that Japanese people are good at,” Kihara said. “We use different colors for the same things: colors for morning, sunset and twilight. We create time by changing the colors for different times of the day. It sounds obvious, but it has almost never been explained with the actual frames.”
Animating a Ghibli movie truly is a frame-by-frame process, as every single animation is meticulously looked over by multiple people: “The first draft is created by a pre-animator, and Hayao Miyazaki adds his input on top of it, then the animation director authorizes it and recreates the same performance with the detailed characters and the facial expressions. Every single frame has Hayao Miyazaki’s detailed input. As we go through the same process for every single frame, the amount of work required is unimaginable.”
The rest of the interview and video clips are fascinating, especially for those interested in animation as an artistic medium, so check that out here, where you’ll also find some never-before-seen concept drawings and test artwork from My Neighbor Totoro.