Michiyo Yasuda, a longtime animator and color designer for Studio Ghibli, has passed away at age 77. Her credits at the vaunted animation studio span decades, from its very first release in 1986 (“Castle in the Sky”) to Hayao Miyazaki’s final film (“The Wind Rises”) three years ago; it would be easier to list the revered projects made by both Ghibli and Miyazaki that she did not contribute to.
Yasuda’s collaboration with Miyazaki dates back to her tenure at Toei Animation. “I have worked with Mr. Miyazaki since the 1976 television series ‘3000 Leagues in Search of Mother,'” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “I have respected Mr. Miyazaki since our days at Toei Doga, and I have always loved his way of thinking.” In addition to her other projects with him — “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away” — she also brought her talents to Isao Takahata’s wrenching “Grave of the Fireflies,” which nearly 30 years later remains one of the most acclaimed animated movies ever made.
Yasuda, who was born in Tokyo on April 29, 1939, began her career in Toei’s ink-and-paint department when she was 20. In 1997 she was the subject of Yasuko Shibaguchi’s book “The Color Artisan of Animation,” which has yet to be published in English; she retired once, in 2008, before returning to work on “The Wind Rises.”
“What I like best is when I am building up the colors in my head, thinking of how to get the tone worked out,” Yasuda said of her process in her interview with the L.A. Times. “Color has a meaning, and it makes the film more easily understood. Colors and pictures can enhance what the situation is on screen.”