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Drawing and Thinking with Koji Yamamura

"Many people ask me whether I use 3D techniques." The filmmaker gave a half-grin. "The answer is no. The way I get the 3D effect is that I draw a shade drawing at the same time as the normal drawing." As one of the festival judges, filmmaker Koji Yamamura (Mt. Head, Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor) presented a lecture on his working methodologies. He also had an extensive graphic art show and a retrospective of his films.

Mainly drawing directly on paper with a myriad of colored pencils, Koji scans the artwork and arranges the layers -- sometimes 10-20 -- using Japanese animation software....

"Many people ask me whether I use 3D techniques." The filmmaker gave a half-grin. "The answer is no. The way I get the 3D effect is that I draw a shade drawing at the same time as the normal drawing." As one of the festival judges, filmmaker Koji Yamamura (Mt. Head, Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor) presented a lecture on his working methodologies. He also had an extensive graphic art show and a retrospective of his films.

Mainly drawing directly on paper with a myriad of colored pencils, Koji scans the artwork and arranges the layers -- sometimes 10-20 -- using Japanese animation software. He works directly with his wife, who is his principal colorist, and an assistant who works with the computer systems, although that expanded to two on computer and an inker as well on Franz Kafka's Country Doctor.

Koji also explained that the remarkable harmony of soundtrack and image is a result of his working methodologies. "I like to work out the storyboard first," he explains. "When I have finished about 50% of the graphics, I do the voice recording, then time the voice to the animation." For Mt. Head, he sought out a famous singer of Japanese traditional music, who improvised the entire musical track in three takes. For Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor, he brought in traditional Kyogan comedy star Sensaku Shigeyama ("a national treasure") for the voice of the doctor. What sounds like a reverb effect in the doctor's inner monologue was achieved with two actors reciting at the same time and working on the harmonics of their voices. Koji also takes great care with the timing and emotional effect of the music, and is intensely involved in the recording sessions.

Why a comedy star for Kafka? "There are many black-comedy elements in Kafka," Koji explains. "I read it out loud. The soundwave of Kyogan style fits the rhythm of Kafka's prose." Indeed, though it may sound declaimed to western ears, the effect is extraordinary, allowing the character to seem at once maniacal, pathetic, and finally even weirdly heroic as he rides through the snow on horseback, naked, in the final scene.

"I have always done hand drawing," Koji concludes, showing a picture of his desktop covered with hundreds of pencils, scissors and paper. "3D animation is a different world. I don't feel part of it. While I'm making drawings, all these thoughts come into my head. I like to think while I draw."

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