26 June 2009

  • 12:20 Today is the last day for SIGGRAPH Asia 2009 Computer Animation Festival submissions... watching the counts, answering emails... #
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24 June 2009

Great Product Ideas on YouTube

If you've ever had to deal with British standard plugs, you will apprecitate this a lot!


11 June 2009

Awesome - Become a Socialist Hero

Have your face painted into a Chinese propaganda poster

Not sure what I think about commissioning all these Chinese art school grads to paint the posters. But the idea is awesome!
Many people wonder what it's like in the Japanese animation industry. While in the 3D part of the industry, where I work, things are slightly better, in general it's quite different from the impression westerners have of working conditions at Pixar or DreamWorks.

A recent Harvard Business School report focused on innovation in Japanese companies looks at three case studies: packaged software, mobile phones, and animation. Their comments about the animation industry are devastating, and accurate. Here are a few select pull quotes, but it's well worth downloading the original from their website to read for yourself.

The Japanese anime market was worth ¥234 billion (approximately $2.3 billiion) in 2005 in revenues.

That is to say, the entire anime market in 2005 was smaller than the revenues of Uniqlo, a single Japanese clothing retailer. Anime revenues have been slowly shrinking, so in 2009 the comparison wouldn't even be close.

Toei Animation, the largest animation production company in Japan, had revenue of only ¥21 billion ($175 million). Whereas Disney and Pixar spend in excess of ¥10 billion to produce one anime movie; Japanese anime production companies’ average budget is ¥0.2-0.3 billion (Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli is an exception: it invests ¥1-3 billion in one production). And while Japanese animes are omnipresent in global markets, Japanese anime production companies have virtually no international business presence.

08 June 2009

Death of Newspapers, cont'd

More good (if somewhat rant-y) words on the newspaper industry's accelerating their own decline:

The Newspaper Suicide Pact

06 June 2009

The Great Japan Beer Festival

I think Japanese beers taste just fine (especially with Japanese food), but they all taste virtually identical -- light lagers. Since I came to Japan, I've been on the lookout for more interesting beers comparable to American craft or microbrews.

It helped a lot when I found Ushi Tora in Shomikitazawa, which always has 17 microbrews on tap, many of them Japanese product. It turns out that although craft brewing started late in Japan, it has given rise to quite a number of local breweries. Those breweries came to show off their product at The Great Japan Beer Festival.

The festival format is that you pay a fixed fee to get in, receive a small memorial glass, and are then free to sample as much beer as you like. The event lasts four hours, so if you get there early your stomach (or alcohol tolerance) will probably run out before the time does.

The Tokyo version was held in the Ebisu Garden Hall (ironically next to the Tokyo headquarters of one of the big three generic breweries) and it was packed -- in fact, the single worst thing about the event was that getting around the hall was brutally difficult. There was a place to buy food from Dean & Deluca up front, but other than that area the lines waiting for sample crossed all the way across the room. I ran into some people from Otaru and some people from Ushi-tora there, and generally had a pleasant couple hours before wandering back down the hill to home (fortunately the event is held ten minutes' walk from my house!).

I had quite a few tiny glasses of beer, but the best beers I tasted today were:
  • いわて蔵ビール / Iwate Zou Beer's IPA
  • From Gotenba Kogen Beer (御殿場高原ビール), both the IPA and the Aijiwai Ale
  • and the big winner,
  • 箕面ビール / Minoh Beer's W-IPA: this was a "real ale", a phrase used in Japan for hand-pumped beers. It was delish!

Fantastic Photography Exhibit

From now through July 5, 2009 there's an exhibit called "Press Photographer's Story" at the Tokyo Museum of Photography in Ebisu. It's a great show featuring 5 photgraphers who were all associated with the Asahi Shimbun during their professional careers. Most of the photographers worked during the Speed Reflex era, when press cameras were giant boxlike objects that openly stated the profession of the holder, and that's spirit of the exhibition.

Kouyou Kageyama / 影山 光洋 is the first photographer featured. He worked starting in the militaristic era of the 1930s, but he photographed his family constantly -- he was clearly paving the way for Craig Gilbert and An American Family a few decades later. However, his story is especially poignant as his third son lived only five years, and he collected the photographs taken over this time into a photo album called "Life with Yo-chan", excerpts from which were some of the most powerful photographs in the show.

Gen Ootsuka / 大束 元 is a contemporary of Kouyou's and the second featured photographer. He was heavily influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson and would eventually organize the first shows of Bresson's work in Japan, as well as taking several famous shots in which Bresson appears. Despite the emphasis on the moment of the photo you would expect, his photographs are amazingly well-composed; balance, perspective and focus all coinciding with the perfect moment.

The postwar political photography of Senzou Yoshioka / 吉岡 専造, the 'photographs from high places' of Katsu Funayama / 船山 克, and the striking Vietnam War photography of Keiichi Akimoto 秋本 啓一 comprise the rest of the featured work. As a final section, the Asahi Shimbun archives yielded up a trove of photographs from the Japanese War in China in the 1930s, as well as the paper's coverage of the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

The exhibit is only 500 yen and takes an hour or two depending on your interest level. It's well worth it and recommended for all.

01 June 2009

These are the Good Old Days

In discussions of movies, I frequently take the usually-unpopular point of view that the era since I've been in the business (roughly since 1995) have been a relatively good era for movie in general. I was reminded about this today because I noticed that in the current weekend's Top 10 Box Office there are 3 movies rated higher than 90% on Rotten Tomatoes:
  • Up, 98%

  • Star Trek, 95%

  • Drag Me to Hell, at "only" 94%

I can't remember the last time that happened.

Usually, people respond with some variation of, "Oh, they made so many more great movies back in the 30s/40s/50s" (perhaps so, although I'd still dispute whether the number of great films per year was really higher: now we're operating from the benefit of picking things over) or more commonly, "But most films are such crap!" That is true, but in fact most films were always crap: Hollywood made a lot of movies back in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1937 Hollywood released 778 movies, a number that's never been equaled.

In particular, for animation I don't believe there has ever been a 20-year period to correspond to the time from 1989 to now. Not only does that include everything in the Disney revival (Little Mermaid, Aladdin, etc.) and the entire Pixar oeuvre, we get Henry Selick/Tim Burton, Wallace and Gromit, and occasional winners like Kung Fu Panda thrown in as well. Seriously, enjoy the bounty!

P.S. Very interesting statistics page on Wayne Schmidt's Box Office Page.