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‘Possessions’: The Art of the Oscar-Nominated Shorts

In this special Cartoon Brew series, we asked the five nominees of the 2013 Best Animated Short Academy Award to discuss the artwork of their films. Today we continue this exclusive look at the short contenders with Possessions, a Japanese film directed by Shuhei Morita. The film initially appeared in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Short Peace film omnibus.

(Click on any of the images for a closer view. See the artwork of the other short nominees: Feral, Mr. Hublot, Room on the Broom and Get A Horse!)

Shuhei Morita: Stories that are written in old Japanese folk stories usually don’t have big actions or surprising tricks. They are very simple, but attract people somehow. I thought this is one style of entertainment. I really like it. I believed that the challenge of creating Japanese folk stories as a style of entertainment could only be done in by short film.

We made Possessions very simple, nothing extra is added. I’m attracted to flashy styles such as “Hyakki-yagyo” or “Utagawa-Kuniyoshi,” because I really like Japanese ghosts. But the time format is too short for that, and it meant I can’t create the Japanese ghosts that I imagined. It was very hard to make it short, but I think I was able show the entertainment that is expressed through Japanese folk stories.

This is a unique idea that things have souls. For example, when you lose an important thing on your desk, without becoming frustrated you should think of it this way. “It is trying to come back to me!” Then you won’t get so frustrated or you’ll be happy when you see them again.

Shuhei Morita: In the past few years, we have been creating a “Theatrical Plan” for a film themed on ‘Things.’ At the time, I met Mr. Keisuke Kishi and his sculpture art attracted me a lot. Ever since, I’ve wanted to work with him somehow.

Finally this time, I got a chance to work with him, and I asked him to create ‘plot design’ and ‘the original plan.’ The reason the design has been changed is he had worked on it before the title Possessions was decided. I received his idea, and made up the script and design.

Shuhei Morita: “Stuff” such as characters and items in the anime cannot be ignored, so I used the sounds such as “Ding,” “Bang,” and “Crack,” and expressed its presence. I came up with the idea that they look three-dimensional.

Shuhei Morita: As you see in the design, I was particular about the details. Interesting thing is I used a Sumo wrestler from Ukiyoe-art in Edo period as reference on how to draw the muscles.

(above: Kouzo-gami for skin texture, Japanese paper for hair texture, Chiyo-gami for clothes texture)

Shuhei Morita: Japanese paper or Chiyo-gami were used for all characters in Possessions. The idea came up when I saw Chiyo-gami which my wife bought for our kid. I was looking for texture something warm for “Thing” at the time. Kouzo-gami which was used for skin of the man. Kouzo-gami is made of fiber of wood skin. During final checking, I found ‘Freckles’ and ‘Moles’ on his skin which were dust in Japanese paper. But I liked it and told everyone not to erase it. These are just on the best spot and made the character more attractive. Japanese paper has various texture—we even used Japanese paper for tree and hair.

Shuhei Morita: At the beginning, it was eight seconds for the yawn scene. Eight seconds is usual time for the scene, but no impact… Mr. Horiuchi, an experienced animator, told me about a movie having a looong yawn scene that had a big impact. Then I challenged to create a super long yawn scene for 1 minute! I thought it would be hard for a voice actor to handle such a long yawn. But the voice actor for the man, Mr. Yamadera, finished it at once. That’s incredible!!!

Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees:
Mr. Hublot
Get A Horse!
Room on the Broom
  • Sarah

    I really loved this short. I was skeptical about the animation style at first, but once all of the umbrellas and fabrics started whirling around the screen, it was amazing. The yawn was really funny too.

  • Inkan1969

    Of the five, this was the personal favorite of mine, mainly for the theme. The mischief of the spirits of the objects was a form of “torment” for them. The short then becomes a story of the artisan’s effort to give the spirits redemption and peace, either by repairing the objects or appreciating their usage. We all want to be useful, and hope that people will remember our work when we’re gone.

  • Definitely one of the more interesting and creative uses of CGI I’ve seen recently. Will this win against Get a Horse? I doubt it, but I’m thrilled to see another anime director nominated outside of Hayao Miyazaki.

  • Matt Norcross

    Looks like a Toei production.

    • I watched this (Oscar animation reel) over the weekend. I was a little stunned that the animators didn’t nail or keyframe the feet better. The main character ‘skated’ around the set. Otherwise I liked it very much.

  • Dungeonmaster Jim

    This was gorgeous. I am surprised that it was not cell animated.

  • Guest

    If you enjoyed Shuhei Morita’s work on Possessions, you might want to check out Gatchaman Crowds, a series for which he directed the CG animation earlier this year. Most of the show is conventionally-animated, but Morita’s CG work looks great and blends in surprisingly well, especially considering the meager budgets most TV anime have to work with.