The Animatress Pipeline

Filmmaking Adventures

Lupin III (Red Jacket): the Two Great Directors

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Of the green and red jacket Lupin III series there are two directors who are amazing at layout and therefore produced the most technically perfect episodes: Hayao Miyazaki and another fellow. You can tell which episodes Miyazaki directed because he re-designed the characters to suit his personal aesthetic, mostly Fujiko, but there are a few episodes that he directs where she wasn’t changed, but his personal stamp was still and clear on everything else: the acting and tight models on Inspector Zenigata (who seems to be Miyazaki’s favorite character) and the strict adherence to perspective, yet not necessarily to scale for sometimes the characters appeared too large in vehicles. Hey, Miyazaki san kept the volumes from changing at least. Something had to give on those impossible television schedules!

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The other talented layout artist is someone I don’t know by name, but if anyone can read kanji, by all means give him credit in romaji! For he knew who to adhere to the original production design AND maintain quality control. That’s great layout! And by layout, I mean both the BG and characters tied down and pulled on model and properly drawn in perspective from scene to scene all the while assuring proper continuity throughout the film. Think of it as stitching shots, sequences and scenes together. That’s tougher than you think.

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In the theatrical shorts method the director would do character layout, while partnering with BG layout artist who do the background layout. Such great teams of note are Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble and Friz Freeling and Hawley Pratt. I don’t know if Miyazaki and the second-great-director worked under the same arrangement, but however production is set up, they seem to pull off great episodes.

When I worked in character layout on Futurama, the director didn’t so much as draw, but guide a team of BG and character layout artists to assure that the quality was consistent and we all had the challenge of drawing in the style that the production design (art style) dictates. 15 scenes must be completed in 8 days and each episode was budgeted to take 6 weeks to lay out. This was either doable or brutal depending on how complicated the scenes were. You can’t really have the Warner Bros. theatrical shorts arrangement on a half-hour show for it took 6 weeks just to knock out a six minute short. Studios don’t have that kind of money anymore, so the directing a crew of layout artists replaced the director laying out the project himself.

On an action-adventure show like Lupin the process of even more expensive, for there are crowd scenes, industrial BG’s of cities and characters with far more line mileage than a two-character comedy series like the Pink Panther. How Miyazaki san was able to pull off Wings of Death and Thieves Love the Peace, I don’t know, but he did it—possibly using Chuck Jones’ trick of making a cheaper, simpler episodes under budget and using the surplus of time and money from those episodes to execute the crowd scene episodes successfully. I think the cheaper “sacrificial lamb episodes were, To Arrest Lupin: the Mission at Highway and  Money from Heaven. Jigen and the Hatless Pistol looks like Miyazaki san, as well. You can tell because he always puts more meat on the character’s bones than the model sheets dictate. They don’t have that scarab beetle look.

The best episodes to watch for great directing in the red jacket series are the following:

92, 99, 126, 133, 138, 141, 143, 145, 151, 155.

See if you can determine Miyazaki from the other great director. It’s pretty obvi, but some people may get have trouble–or are simply biased in favor of the better known Miyazaki. Remember: the BG’s carry the film aesthetically and the layout process assures proper technical execution. The stronger the layout the stronger the staging and  animation in regards to physics: volume and timing.  If you’re sloppy at this stage, you’ll get a mess further down the pipeline that will ruin your film.

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Good: draw from life for more complicated staging or “push” the gestures and stance or characters. An artist can not devise every scene entirely from his mind. Get some reference, be it from life (the best, but not always doable) or from live-action. I’m sure there is an obscure B-movie that provided the reference for this scene.

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Bad: Don’t try to execute stories with locales you can’t find near the studio to help you with ground planes–unless travel is included in the budget. I’m sure the writer of this episode that takes place at the Great Wall is really disappointed that the story and layout crew could not take a trip to China to layout this episode out properly. This resulted in sloppy layout which led to bad execution in the end. Such a waste!

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I hope that director grew as an artist on subsequent gigs…



Back to proper layouts!

Miyazaki: Notice the pre-Porco Rosso aesthetic?
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Clue: Miyazaki’s Zengata, even when not Lupin in disguise, is always “apple cheeked” as indicated by the hatching that defines them. For acting, Miyazaki san’s Zenigata also has that “cute blink”.

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The other awesome dude: He has a great love of perspective. This sequence was well researched and executed.

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Uneven execution (from Pink Jacket Lupin): the first act of this episode was stellar, but fell apart from the second act onwards. It harkens back to green coat Lupin when the production was trying to figure out how to allocate resources on such a complex series using a television budget. It’s tough to know where to cute corners for efficiency yet pull off a great episode. It takes a while. Looks like the director of this episode spent most of the budget on the first act. Either that or his crew burnt out…

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Lupin III is a great series to study for solutions to drawing men using affable male characters. I’m grateful that Crunchyroll has the entire series available on streaming to supplement my dvd library. Not all of Lupin III, including the popular red jacket Lupin is available on DVD in the U.S. That’s a shame for many who are new to red jacket Lupin, who snear at the “green crew” production quality of the first 79 episodes that aired on the Adult Swim, will never know that the crew, hence seasoned, became so much better at executing the episodes from episodes 80-155.
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