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Hayao Miyazaki Stays Dedicated to Hand-Drawing: ‘I Believe the Tool of an Animator Is the Pencil’

Miyazaki is still in production on "How Do You Live?," his first feature since announcing his retirement in 2013.

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2014, file photo, Hayao Miyazaki arrives at the 6th annual Governors Awards in Los Angeles. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is set to open on April 30, 2020, five days after the 93rd Academy Awards. An inaugural exhibit will celebrate legendary Japanese animator Miyazaki. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Hayao Miyazaki

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Hayao Miyazaki is out of retirement and still in production on his adaptation of Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel “How Do You Live?,” and part of the reason it’s taking so long is because of the animator’s painstaking hand-drawn style. Miyazaki is involved in hand-drawing every shot of the movie. Back in 2020, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki revealed it takes Miyazaki and his team one month to complete just one minute’s worth of animation. For this reason, Suzuki projected it would take another three years for “How Do You Live?” to complete production.

While hand-drawn animation takes time, it’s still the only way of animating for Miyazaki. The Oscar winner famously opposes computer-generated animation. In a viral clip from the 2016 documentary series “NHK Special: Hayao Miyazaki — The One Who Never Ends,” the director got a chance to look at new artificial CGI animation intelligence tools and infamously reacted by saying, “Whoever creates this stuff has no idea what pain is whatsoever. I am utterly disgusted. If you really want to make creepy stuff, you can go ahead and do it. I would never wish to incorporate this technology into my work at all. I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.”

In a new interview with The New York Times, Miyazaki put his feelings on the matter in blunt fashion. The director said: “I believe that the tool of an animator is the pencil.”

Studio Ghibli released its first all-CGI animated movie in the U.S. at the beginning of 2020. That film was “Earwig and the Witch,” directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro. The move away from Studio Ghibli’s traditional hand-drawn animation style proved controversial. In an interview with IndieWire, Goro Miyazaki said embracing CGI animation at Studio Ghibli was an integral choice “whether it goes down well or not.”

“It’s not enough just to carry on the legacy of what they have built because it would only be a copy and an inferior version of that even,” Goro said. “And, for me, that was to try the first CG movie at the studio. I’ve seen hand-drawn animators, who have huge talent and have done great work outside of Studio Ghibli, [struggle] because of the pressure. So CG was a good way for us and we made this without the huge pressure.”

As for Studio Ghibli’s return to hand-drawn animation with “How Do You Live?,” not much is known about Hayao Miyazaki’s return. The project is a coming-of-age story that Suzuki has described as “fantasy on a grand scale.” When The Times asked Miyazaki if the movie will answer the question posed by its title, the director responded: “I am making this movie because I do not have the answer.”

Head over to The New York Times’ website to read Miyazaki’s new profile in its entirety.

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