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Old 2011-09-26, 17:54   Link #1
Reckoner
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Sterile Animation and Art in Anime

I make this post realizing that there is no objectified definition of what qualifies as the best art or animation style, so of course everything I write here is an opinion. The only thing that might fit here are things like internal art consistency and frame rates, but that isn't the only things which determine what we like to see in anime.

After completing the latest "scenery porn" anime that is Hanusaku Iroha, I have noticed just how much inordinate praise this show gets for having the most astounding visuals ever apparently. Similar comments have been made in past PA works shows, as well as Kyoto Animation shows. There is no doubt that both PA works and KyoAni are considered the best in the business by many people when it comes to visuals for these types of shows. That it is their standard of quality that is deemed the highest in all the lands (For TV shows of course).

However, I really have to ask... Why?

I might be missing something, but shows like Hanaskau Iroha or lets say Clannad while having nice visuals were never really quite something that praise worthy to me. Beyond what I deemed as unattractive character designs, there has always been something just a bit off to me about how these studios often constructed their visuals. It was only after some musing that I finally put my finger on it...

These animes look much too sterile. They are almost too perfect. There's no grittiness to any of their settings. There's little sense of actual life to their landscapes and cities. Everything is much too sterile and perfect, and just feels a bit detached from how the real world could be captured.

An example of this for me would be like this shot...

I'm not sure if a lot of this has to do with modern technology like CGI (Which yes, can contribute to this sterilization, but I've seen it put to good use), but I don't feel this way about modern anime in general.

For example form the latest season, I actually thought, dare I say it, that visually shows like Kamisama no Memochou, Dantalian no Shoka, and Ao no Exorcist were better than Hanasaku Iroha to name a few. I felt that there have been several animes that gave out more life, more feeling than HSI.

But even these shows feel more sterile than eras past. I always felt the 90's was better than the latest decade at capturing the essence of a setting. The settings really came alive. I don't know, maybe this has to do with it being more hand drawn.

So perhaps I'm crazy but I must really ask, are shows like Hanasaku Iroha, and Clannad, the end all be all of anime visual quality? Do these shows just look a bit too sterile? Why are other shows treated as inferior or ignored? Is there just a certain of visual style that seems to capture more people's attention for some reason? Should there be any changes to how most animes are done today?
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Old 2011-09-26, 18:08   Link #2
Vexx
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Personally, I'm more a fan of what I'll call "watercolor" backgrounds and art (like the original Stitch movie used or the recent Usagi Drop). I thought the Hanasaku Iroha art was competent but hadn't noticed anything I'd call outstanding.

One of the interesting things to look at is "real photo references" of anime settings and compare them. Almost always the anime setting looks 'cleaner' or 'utopian' even if they draw the junk and dents... I just write this off to the simplification process of producing backgrounds or the desire to enter or escape into a "more perfect world".

A lot depends on the mood the series itself wants to evoke I suppose. An example I can think of is Kamichu! -- the settings are pretty realistically depicted (old, rundown, occasional trash) but since the focus of the series is 'shinto' such things still have a nostalgic aura of a sort to them.

A series I liked very much but had art I'd call pretty damned sterile was Petopetosan. It was obviously produced on a shoestring and the art, animation, and backgrounds show it.... for that matter a *lot* of the grindshop anime ends up looking this way.
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Old 2011-09-26, 18:14   Link #3
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Too bad that there aren't many anime anime using the same art style as Aoi Hana.
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Old 2011-09-26, 18:23   Link #4
mecharobot
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I like the "watercolor" style too and find this really old shoujo show (Hime-chan no Ribbon) I'm watching much more charming than Hanasaku Iroha. I don't think that high-end graphics can't work. They worked in Aria the Origination for one. I blame the dull setting of Hanasaku.
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Old 2011-09-26, 19:43   Link #5
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I don't think your issues extend to the animation in particular, as the stills characters go across are probably the cheapest part of the animation process. Backgrounds that best fit the tone of the series are what work best. Some static landscape that looks awesome probably fits a more thoughtful anime in the way that a washed out and simplistic backdrop may fit a slow-paced slice of life or comedy.

If you watch some making of videos where the camera follows the production team in taking reference shots, or take a look at comparisons made by otaku who have gone on pilgrimages, you can see that the differences like removing weeds from roads, rust from signs, mold from walls, maybe converting a corrugated metal shack into an empty lot, removing the web of power and utility lines that hang between buildings. What do these add to the series for you? I personally don't feel like it takes away from the character of a location, especially for series that are trying to present some idealized setting.

What shows of yore are you referring to in particular? And what would you call grittiness? Something gritty like GiTS with its dystopian cyberpunk future or gritty like dirty overbloomed shooter games?
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Old 2011-09-26, 20:07   Link #6
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I don't think sterile is the best word. Sterile would be a lot of the upper world scenes from Texhnolyze. Sterile conveys a set of emotions that the creators may or may not be aiming for, and I don't think is the only emotion that is conveyed by the style of backgrounds you refer to.

I would call the backgrounds clean. Fairly objective word.

Some times I think it works. CLANNAD I think is an example of this working for the most part. Its primarily an idealistic series filled with love and family, and the clean and utopian style contribute to its atmosphere positively. That said, I think the "darker" arcs could have used a bit more dirt than Key/KyoAni gave them.

Some times it doesn't. Now that you mention it, KamiMemo looks a lot too clean. The backgrounds and art feel sterile, and unlike the upper world in Texhnolyze, the sterility does not contribute positively.

I also think that the clean art style is considered the peak of quality since there hasn't been many high quality examples of other styles in recent memory.
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Old 2011-09-26, 21:12   Link #7
ahelo
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Nah in my opinion, Hanairo is a visual feast (period). The character designs did look great and the characters do move very well. Its not that its faraway from reality, but that its so good that if I didn't pay attention, its as if I wasn't watching an anime but real life. This is what I think Hanairo gunned for in terms of animation which it did particularly well.

I think sterile doesn't apply to background art, but to the movements of the characters themselves. An example of anime that I would call sterile is BLOOD C.

I don't think CLANNAD would work for the meaning of "sterile" you are looking for, because animation-wise, Kyoani is quite different from PA Works. Kyoani makes their characters "move", something other studios can only dream of copying (Fractal). If you've watched K-ON!!, you know what I mean (they really perfected it there). CLANNAD just has nice scenery, and I don't think that makes it become sterile when the characters move so vibrantly.

Besides PA Works and Kyoto Animation have totally different outputs. PA Works go for "Perfect Everything". Perfect Backgrounds, Perfect Character designs, Perfect animation. Kyoto Animation goes for the details (which is almost scary to a point) and vibrant character movement.

And I'm saying this because you people forgot the most visually stunning anime of the year. NICHIJOU.
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Old 2011-09-26, 21:44   Link #8
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Sterile would be a place that it looks like no one lives there. It is the old sci-fi look where you have prestine rooms and ships and nothing seems used at all.

The "lived in look" is what makes a place seem more real.
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Old 2011-09-26, 22:18   Link #9
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I remember being wowed by the visuals of Hanasaku Iroha and Clannad when I watched, and I actually feel that the shows got much of their character from the scenery and character designs (although I'm not fond of certain elements of Key character design) so its pretty hard for me to consider them sterile.

However, since I was interested in seeing if I could figure out what Reckoner meant, I actually did rewatch a bit of Hanasaku Iroha episode 1. And I actually did notice a few spots where some of the shots of man made structures came across as jarringly sharp looking, particularly in motion shows - but only if I was concentrating on picking out those spots. It's not something I would find remotely noticeable in normal viewing though.

Other scenery and character designs were absolutely fine.

So you aren't crazy but apparently you're a wayyy more suspectible to the effect than I am.

Not going to comment much on the other shows you mentioned because while I've heard good things about them, Memochou is the only one I've seen enough of to judge (freaking postgrad workloads...). And while I thought the visuals of that were decent I can't say they floored me much, other than the times I was wondering how much Alice's gear costs and how she actually uses so much of it. Who uses bezel correction (look at the screensaver) on a work oriented multimonitor setup anyway?
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Old 2011-09-26, 23:11   Link #10
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We're talking about the scenery and not the overall animation huh?
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Old 2011-09-26, 23:15   Link #11
solomon
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Um yea welcome to the cut throat soul crushing world of TV cartoon production.

Limited Animation sucks unless you have interesting design and posing.

Since the 90s, anime production for TV is hit or miss but at least interesting. Scenery wise they actually feel like real environments which is nice. Character Design is different, that is a crap shoot. A lot of anime design is highly repetitive and not imaginative but what are you gonna do.

Anime design tropes aren't gonna change much cause that's what the public wants. However animation is suprisingly good overall. Much better than 15 years ago.

Kyoto, Bones, I.G., Brains Base, some J.C. Staff stuff. It's more interesting that the sterile crap you see Americans contract from the Koreans or pump out of their Flash programs.
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Old 2011-09-27, 00:29   Link #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by solomon View Post
Um yea welcome to the cut throat soul crushing world of TV cartoon production.

Limited Animation sucks unless you have interesting design and posing.

Since the 90s, anime production for TV is hit or miss but at least interesting. Scenery wise they actually feel like real environments which is nice. Character Design is different, that is a crap shoot. A lot of anime design is highly repetitive and not imaginative but what are you gonna do.

Anime design tropes aren't gonna change much cause that's what the public wants. However animation is suprisingly good overall. Much better than 15 years ago.

Kyoto, Bones, I.G., Brains Base, some J.C. Staff stuff. It's more interesting that the sterile crap you see Americans contract from the Koreans or pump out of their Flash programs.
Heh.. well if we're going to even put US cartoons on the radar, even the worst anime usually runs circles around them (we made the mistake of watching children's programming one weekend recently ... oh... my... gods ... )
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Old 2011-09-27, 01:27   Link #13
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Well, from what I gather this thread is another example to the old saying that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. A nice background will always help in immersing the viewer into the experience, but sometimes they resemble illustrations more than something animated into the scenery. And when the character models (which are usually pretty cookie-cutter, from what I've noticed) are moving against art of such quality, I can't help but think the focus ends up going to the background instead of the foreground; nooot the kind of direction a show should take most of the time, IMO.
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Old 2011-09-27, 01:30   Link #14
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Don't know if I'll get screwed by saying this... but some H-anime have better animation designs nowadays.
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Old 2011-09-27, 01:59   Link #15
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There are many anime that have lovely but completely non-photorealistic background artstyles. Take Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls:
http://i.imgur.com/xiaEy.jpg
http://i.imgur.com/TusLO.jpg
http://i.imgur.com/IlkY0.jpg
Say what you will about the plot/characters, but I think the painted texture and thick black brushstroke outlines of the show make for a unique, beautiful artstyle (particularly in 1080p).

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahelo View Post
animation-wise, Kyoani is quite different from PA Works. Kyoani makes their characters "move", something other studios can only dream of copying (Fractal). If you've watched K-ON!!, you know what I mean (they really perfected it there).
This. When people who love Kyoani rave about their visuals, they're mostly talking about the animation fluidity: the way the characters and the camera move smoothly and without any really-really awkward deformations. Kyoani is good at doing this pretty consistently.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Akito_Kinomoto View Post
Well, from what I gather this thread is another example to the old saying that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. A nice background will always help in immersing the viewer into the experience, but sometimes they resemble illustrations more than something animated into the scenery. And when the character models (which are usually pretty cookie-cutter, from what I've noticed) are moving against art of such quality, I can't help but think the focus ends up going to the background instead of the foreground; nooot the kind of direction a show should take most of the time, IMO.
Spot on.

In Hanasaku in particular, you can really tell they had one process for making the buildings (CG), one process for making the natural parts of the landscapes (2D, high texture), and one process for making the characters (2D, low texture) and then they stuck all these three parts together to make the show.

It looks nice most of the time, but sometimes it looks awkward. For instance, the main thing that bothers me about with the image Reckoner posted is the way they blended the CGI and non-CGI parts of the background. I don't like the contrast between the way that the CG adds shadows and reflections to the building as if it were made out of gigantic glass-like flat planes and the completely flat looking watercolored trees in front and behind.
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Old 2011-09-27, 02:22   Link #16
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I guess there comes a point where it looks so good that it almost feels fake. Then again anime is the idealization of various objects. It's the same reason why most characters, particularly the female leads, look attractive.

But I guess it's why I prefer a more darker and gritty design that shows some disarray without being excessively polished.

That being said, I didn't have much problems with Hana Iro's graphics; honestly it was the character designs that were on the meh side.

I suppose a good example of being overly sterile was Yosuga no Sora. The backgrounds, while extremely good looking didn't really feel alive.

Compare this to something like Kanon 06 where there's people around and seemingly doing stuffs in the background, instead of being stuck in a painting. There's also Hana Iro's predecessor, True Tears that didn't get me the whole "wow pretty but is this a painting or a part of their world" feel.

I guess it's also anime where CGI becomes a big deal where it reaches the uncanny valley, and stops working.
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Old 2011-09-27, 02:24   Link #17
Westlo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genjichan View Post
We're talking about the scenery and not the overall animation huh?
Yeah pretty much, OP asks why KyoAni is considered to have the best animation and than talks about how sterile/clean their art and scenery is. Really nothing after Reckoner says "However, I really have to ask... Why?" has anything to do with actual animation. He just talks about how some recent shows and especially older titles look more gritter than the clean looking HSI.

This is like people who think great sakuga like those Naruto episodes are bad animation due to the designs. (And alot of people thought that back when Naruto 133 aired) You're both completely missing the point, you're not talking about animation but art(style).

And Reckoner you're right, it is due to digital painting as opposed to hand that you see a more clean, clinical look. Obviously some studio's can and do a more "messy or gritty" look but it's not KyoAni or PA Works style and doing it in such a manner has no bearing on their actual animation quality, just like with character designs you don't like.

Maybe a good idea to reword the OP to what this is really about, clinical vs gritty.

Quote:
Originally Posted by genjichan View Post
Don't know if I'll get screwed by saying this... but some H-anime have better animation designs nowadays.
If you're talking about the actual cover art than yes hand downs lol, in anime... depends... but actual animation, not even close.
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Old 2011-09-27, 02:37   Link #18
Reckoner
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I'll give a more complete reply to everyone tomorrow, but I'll say this quickly.

The title of this thread is sterile art and animation. It's the whole package visually.

Like Ithekro said:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ithekro View Post
Sterile would be a place that it looks like no one lives there. It is the old sci-fi look where you have prestine rooms and ships and nothing seems used at all.

The "lived in look" is what makes a place seem more real.
Meaning that I often find many shots in HSI for example to look completely lifeless because it looks way too clean, too utopian, or w/e term you want to put.

Because art is often simplified greatly by many modern techniques it also makes the animation process cheaper and easier, but at what cost? If the art doesn't look great, this also affects the animation. Take any heavy CGI integrated show lately, a lot of them sometimes look very awkward at times even when they are very good (Take Tiger & Bunny for example).

Anyways, that's all I have to say for now, but I hope that clarifies a little more.
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Old 2011-09-27, 02:50   Link #19
0utf0xZer0
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reckoner View Post
Meaning that I often find many shots in HSI for example to look completely lifeless because it looks way too clean, too utopian, or w/e term you want to put.
Are you sure this is a "modern techniques"l issue and not a art direction one? I've seen "run down" looking computer graphics before, it doesn't strike me as difficult give the level of detail in many of the CGI bits of Hanasaku Iroha.

I can certainly agree that from a logical standpoint Kissuiso should look a bit more "worn" given its age... but again, its something I didn't really notice until it was pointed out.

And I'm really surprised to see complaints about HSI's character designs. They're among my favourites in recent memory.
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Old 2011-09-27, 03:10   Link #20
Westlo
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reckoner View Post
If the art doesn't look great, this also affects the animation.
The problem with this line of thinking is that art is subjective, whereas great animation is always great animation. See that's the problem, you want to know why people think KyoAni has the "best" animation yet your main point of contention is an issue that is completely subjective.
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