Following last issue's Made in Japan feature, first-time Director Evan Cagle reveals why he's going to steer clear of Hollywood's rehashing of anime tropes for his animated short, 'Honey.'
Evan Cagle is the creator of Honey, an anime-influenced short film about 14-year-old Christopher Perry who has lived for years in the shadow of his father's disappearance. His mother yearns to leave the seaside town where they live, having come to terms with the fact that Dr. Perry will never return. But it's Christopher's acquaintance with a mysterious beekeeper that lets him see the world in a new way.
3DW: On AnimWatch, you mentioned your: "Unhappiness with the slavish rehashing of anime tropes many American productions have hurried to commit." What did you mean?
EC: Imitation is not a punishable offence: a lack of imagination is. To imitate a style that you find appealing is natural, but these meetings where execs talk about the kind of look and feel they'd like for their show don't start with: "How do we make this good entertainment?" They start with: "What's hot now? What will sell?" and end with: "What will be cheap?" But before anyone thinks I'm an exec basher, I want to point out that many American creators themselves typically don't have more than a passing crush on anime. They bring no unique sensibility to the artform, and are happy to ape the look.
If these studios are inclined to use anime stylings in their poorly written, poorly drawn, emotionless cartoons, they first have to answer for that lack of quality. Then we can move on to the aesthetic and stylistic effrontery. So many people grew up associating cartoons with the tired storytelling and lacklustre artwork that Japan so easily and energetically runs rings around, I wonder how it's possible creators today find themselves back at square one. A new Scooby-Doo would absolutely get greenlighted if it came back with three-tone shadows and highlights and, to me, that says something really important about what we think anime is or isn't.
Is it big eyes? Is it giant sweat drops? Is it manga motion lines? Is it giant robots, high-pitched schoolgirls, narrow-eyed bad guys with purple hair, outrageously skimpy outfits, fey heroes, pulsing forehead veins, the 'Yatta!' victory sign, facial tattoos, tentacle rape, spiky hair, feathers and rose petals like rain, reserved but deadly samurai, amorous dragon ladies? Where do you stop? You can't just treat this art form like a popularity recipe. And if you do, Japanese animators will have already moved on to new territory, into new tropes, and you'll be left floundering with their hand-me-downs. Eventually, your audience will tire of it, while their cartoon culture flourishes. Welcome to the reason ripping off brilliant people is a crap idea.
3DW: So how does Honey avoid these clichès?
EC: Firstly, there's the clichèof anime style - the visual aesthetic, particularly in character designs, and I guess I have no defence here - my character designs look more like Speedracer than Superman. Then there are the situational or dramatic clichès and I get around them by not using them. It's never been my intention to use my work as a vehicle for reminding people of the 'anime flavour' they're already familiar with. Many cartoons now act a lot like Tarantino films - a hodgepodge of well-labelled influences and an anthropological need to reference pop culture so everyone's included.
Before Akira detonated people's notions of cartoons, if I talked about anime I could be assured of a response like: "Oh yeah, they all look like Speedracer." Later, in more enlightened company, I could count on: "You mean like Robotech?" We've gone from anime as an American subculture to selling Shonen Jump at 7-11 convenience stores and, although that may mean it's now a part of our popular culture, my relationship to anime and manga wasn't born at Suncoast Video chains. I don't 'add' an anime flavour to my work. It's what I grew up with; it's how I draw - and most importantly, whenever I imagine characters and situations, it's the language I use. If people misinterpret the anime influence in Honey, I hope they expect another American rip-off and are pleasantly surprised.
3DW: What part does 3D play in your production process, and what software/renderer do you use, for which techniques?
EC: 3D is important for continuity and speed. If I can draw or paint a stone-pattern texture once and apply it to multiple elements, I've saved myself many hours that could be better spent on character animation. Because I'm not interested in photorealism (and because I use 3D modelling mostly for architecture) I don't need anything more than 3ds max and Illustrate! to get a look I like. I also occasionally use Paint Effects for grass.
3DW: How do you plan to expand Honey? When and where can we see it?
It's far from complete but, based on animatics, Honey's running time should be about 25-30 minutes. I'm about to begin work on Richard Linklater's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly that will allow me to finance Honey to completion. Time and again my partner and I fund it ourselves, make it ourselves and then distribute it through the website. Guys like Timothy Albee and Brian Taylor are proving the model for a microstudio is valid and yields an exceptional personal vision which can pay, market, and distribute itself.