Wesley Louis is our guest for this week’s The Animation That Changed Me, a series in which leading filmmakers and artists discuss one work of animation that deeply influenced them.
Louis is an animator and director at the leading London animation studio The Line, which he co-founded. He is the creator of The Mighty Grand Piton, an anime-inspired short film that pays homage to his Saint Lucian origins, and Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit, a comic-turned-spoof-anime project. Louis’s animation credits include The Illusionist and The Amazing World of Gumball, and he has directed projects for clients like Blizzard Entertainment and Nickelodeon.
His chosen film is the anime feature Akira (1988), Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal cyberpunk epic, which the director based on his own manga. Over to Louis:
I think I saw Akira around third year of secondary school [aged 13–14]. A friend of mine had a bootleg vhs copy of that and the Fist of the North Star movie. I instantly fell in love.
I used to read the [Akira] comic in a U.K. publication called Manga Mania. I was blown away by all the detail in the backgrounds: how solid things looked, but also how Otomo was able to capture the worn and weathered feel in his environments. The compositions of the panels were great.
Otomo has an incredible ability to put an insane amount of details in his drawings, and also the confidence to leave them out when needed. I drew my own comics for fun when I was younger and really tried to emulate his style. To this day I haven’t read the comic in its entirety, but I bought them all recently, so I’ll defo do it when I have time.
I think Akira and Disney’s Tarzan are the two films I’ve purchased the most: vhs, dvd, Blu-ray, and digital. The increase in quality has made appreciate just how much work went into the production of the film — the little imperfections on the cel and registration. You see the craftsmanship that went into every frame. It boggles my mind that this was done on paper. I’ve yet to see it on the big screen. I know there was a screening at some point this month [of the new 4k remaster], but due to the pandemic I thought I’d steer clear.
There are films out there with stories I probably enjoy more than Akira. You get the feeling there is so much more to the story [in the original comic]. Characters like the priestess or the large clown leader feel like cameos in the film, whereas in the comic they are featured a lot more. If you’re unaware of the comics, you won’t miss it in the film.
But visually and technically, the film really stands out. It’s held up incredibly well 30-plus years later. I just don’t think we’ll ever get something that game-changing in animation again. Time, budgets, technical skills, etc play a part. Now, you don’t have to draw these crazy solid geometrical bikes moving in and out of perspective, because 3d cgi is so advanced. There are so much more economical ways of making things now.
It’s rare that I work on anything and don’t reference Akira in some way. I think the “Easy” music video I directed with Tim McCourt [for Mat Zo and Porter Robinson] is the most obvious example. The bike, light trails, the movement of the road. It’s a lower-budget and much more economical piece, but we tried to get the same sort of feeling in.
Less obvious is its influence on Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit. Trying to study the cel in detail. Making sure to hand-draw the vehicles rather than use 3d. There’s something about that era of animation that I’ve always tried to get into my work. It feels like there was a pure love for the craft rather than just meeting deadlines.
So I feel like I try to adopt the same attitude. I don’t mind designing characters with lots of line mileage, because I’m excited about how cool it will look when it’s colored, composited, etc. Akira definitely feels like a labor of love.
I haven’t met anyone who worked on Akira, unfortunately. To be honest, I don’t think it would be safe for that person if I did, haha. I think I’d bombard them with all sorts of questions. I also think their stories probably wouldn’t be as glamorous as I’m making them out to be.
In North America, Funimation will release the new “Akira” remaster in a limited-edition 4k Blu-ray disc on December 22.