Monster Master: Jun Awazu on "Negadon"
There are monster movie fans all over the world, but not many will commit years to create their own computer-animated movie, let alone pioneer new techniques in CGI to do it. Luckily, Jun Awazu isn’t a typical monster movie fan. Born on June 4, 1974, Awazu completed a degree in Japanese-style painting before trading an ink brush for a mouse to study computer graphics. After spending two years at a production company, Awazu left in 2003 to form his own company for one purpose: to make his own monster movie. Two years later, Negadon: The Monster from Mars was unleashed. Toon Zone News caught up with Mr. Awazu via e-mail to talk about computer graphics, monsters, and computer-graphic monsters.
TOON ZONE NEWS: You have a master’s degree in Japanese painting. Were you always interested in the arts, or was this something that developed later in life?
JUN AWAZU: I liked drawing since I was a child. I began to learn drawing in real earnest when I was a senior in the high school.
TZN: After getting your master’s degree, you went to study computer graphics. How did that change happen?
JA: I don’t mean to deny traditional Japanese-style painting, but I thought it was difficult to create something new which would appeal to many people of today. Also, as a down-to-earth problem, I had difficulty in job hunting with the expertise of Japanese-style painting. I hit upon acquiring a new skill and decided to study CGI and graphics because I originally had an interest in them.
TZN: Did you have any training in traditional animation in your CGI studies?
JA: Unfortunately, I haven’t received any training for traditional hand drawn animation. So, I picked up the CGI animation (motion) skill little by little from actual jobs.
TZN: What would you say are the lessons which carried over from painting to CGI work?
JA: Japanese painting makes much of a “sense of air” (kuukikan). When I create the images with CGI, I try to be conscious about a “sense of air.” Another essential factor may be color. In Japanese-style painting using unnecessarily vivid color is avoided, but monotone is not necessarily the best. I still pay much attention to controlling the color balance.
TZN: You’re clearly a very big kaiju fan. When did you get into this genre of film? What appeals to you the most about them?
JA: It was when I watched a kaiju movie, Gamera 2. I was a sophomore in a college at that time. I had had some interest in “tokusatsu” (visual effects) movies, but had not been as much of an enthusiast for it before then. Gamera was really shocking in my movie experience.
TZN: When did you get the idea to do Negadon?
JA: I quit a job and started making Negadon in 2003. Even though I got an original idea when I completed the post graduate course at the art college, it took on a more concrete shape after I entered a special school to learn CG in 2000. I joined VFX Production in Tokyo in 2001 and participated in a couple of special effects film projects. After working for the company for two years, I finalized my idea and started making Negadon as an independent film.
TZN: Did you find that you had to wait for computer hardware and graphics technology to “catch up” to what you had envisioned for the movie?
JA: I appreciate that the hardware is getting powerful. As for software, it does not have to be the most up-to-date. What is interesting about CG is that it creates something new by using the existing old techniques. Recent software is getting so advanced and complicated that it is becoming difficult for the individual to handle.
TZN: A common complaint about CGI films with realistic human characters in them (like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within or The Polar Express) is that they look “fake” or “creepy.” Did you encouter this while making Negadon? If so, how did you deal with the problem?
JA: The biggest challenge was how to get highly realistic look and feel of material with 3D computer graphics. I experimented through trial and error for a year and half. I did not achieve a perfect result, but obtained very valuable experiences as a result of this project.
TZN: What was the biggest challenge you felt you overcame in making the movie?
JA: Everything was a big challenge for me, but the biggest was modeling and animating the human characters. With modeling, to give a deep impression while making much of the reality, I added a little bit of exaggeration to it. But, too much exaggeration might make it look like manga. It was difficult to find the balance point. As that was almost my first experience in animating human characters, it took a lot of trial and error to get it right.
TZN: What surprised you the most during the making of the movie?
JA: I was surprised to find it is such a time consuming process to make a film.
TZN: What are you working on now?
JA: I do not have anything to talk about right now. My future plan has not been determined. Future is an element which creates unrest in people, but at the same time, it gives them hope. I do not know what I am going to do next, but what I have will guide me to the future. It is the technology, experience, and wisdom which I got in my short life. I have an interest with the science and culture. Unfortunately, there are not many science fiction movies in Japan. Japanese are more interested with the ambiguous subtleties of human nature than something scientific. But, accelerating development in the scientific technology is the most important event that we cannot ignore. So, what artists should present to the users about the upcoming future may be this kind of tricky guide book to help us travel without getting lost in this drastic era.
TZN: What did you see most recently that you thought was really cool?
JA: Unfortunately, I have not seen a cool image since Mr. Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. I saw Stealth. I thought that the image was really cool, but I wished that the movie itself would be more fun.
TZN: Last question: who would win in a fight — Godzilla or Gamera?
JA: Considering these kaiju monsters’ characteristics, I would say Gamera wins because Gamera is depicted as an existence to maintain the ecosystem of the globe. Yet, you cannot underestimate Godzilla’s vital energy because he was defeated a couple of times, but always came back to life after a year or two.
This interview was translated by Mitsuru Uehira and adapted by Matt Ikegawa and Stephanie Shalofsky of Central Park Media. Toon Zone News would like to thank all three for making this interview possible, and Mr. Awazu for his time. Negadon: The Monster from Mars is available now on DVD, and is still touring the United States in a limited theatrical run; visit www.negadonattacks.com for screening dates and locations.