Inspiration Corner – Studio Ghibli
As a child I'd seen a feature-length cartoon on terrestrial British TV one afternoon. I'd missed the beginning but immediately it grabbed my attention. I was captivated, I had no idea what it was but it was definitely not Basil the Great Mouse Detective or Thundercats. I didn't have the presence of mind to check the TV guide (give me a break, I was like 8-years-old!) so it would remain a mystery. What was that film with the gangly robot, the sky pirates and the flying castle? Had I imagined it?
It faded into a half-memory. It was more than ten years later when I went to university to study computer animation that I re-discovered the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. I finally managed to see the eternity of Laputa Castle in the Sky, I had finally found that strange and beguiling mystery film from my childhood.
Off the back of my discovery I feverishly devoured the entire Ghilbi back catalogue, I was hooked. Their films made other feature-length animations feel shallow and childish and they had a cohesion of story that I had not yet found in other Japanese anime (which admittedly at this point was restricted to the western dubbed Akira and Ghost in the Shell, both manga adaptations where the story is truncated in their movie incarnations). This was a very exciting time, I'd felt like I'd just unearthed a treasure trove of goodness and the crowning glory was the film that still remains my all-time favourite to date, Princess Mononoke or Mononoke Hime (If you've not seen this film, I envy you, you're in for an absolute treat).
There is so much to inspire any artist, animator or storyteller in any small section of any Ghibli film. The exceptional meticulously painted watercolour backgrounds, the flow, punchiness and economy of the animation, the incredible character design, the killer Joe Hisaishi scores, there is simply far too much to rave about in one blog-post.
Instead I'm going to focus on a single element as it has direct correlation to our work on Röki, that element is 'Shades of Grey'.
When I say 'Shades of Grey' we're not talking about colours or brightness but rather the depth of the characters in Ghibli films. Their characters, even in minor roles, have great depth. They are not simply 'black' or 'white'/'good' or 'evil', they have shades of grey. They are complex, layered and conflicted, believable characters that (IMHO, don't shoot) you simply do not find in Disney films. Their characters are not cardboard cut-out tropes or lazy archetypes and the Ghibli films really shine because of it.
This is because in real life things are not 'black' and 'white' and we know that, we understand it intrinsically as humans. By making their characters have depth and feel complex brings their films to life, it makes their worlds and inhabitants feel believable and feel tangible rather than being just a cartoon.
A great example of this would be Lady Eboshi (the ruler of Iron Town) in Princess Mononoke. She is the mortal enemy of the Wolf Princess San, and they are locked in a long contested struggle.
WARNING! The next part of the blog contains spoilers. If you want to watch the film first then come back it might be a good idea!
Lady Eboshi could easily have been a lazy one dimension 'evil' villain. She is destroying the forest to drive the growth of Iron Town, stripping the ancient land of it's trees to fuel their giant furnaces, so far so evil (and pretty by the book). But as the story progresses you learn there is a great deal more to Lady Eboshi than this. She embraces technology and uses it to make the lives of her people better. She rescues large numbers of prostitutes and gives them a chance to work in the ironworks (which is considered strictly a man's job in the fiction of the world). She secretly houses lepers in her inner fort, they are shunned by the world but she cares for them, treating them with a great deal of respect and dignity, working with them to help refine her gun designs. She doesn't treat her soldiers like disposable pawns, she goes to great effort to try and ensure their safety and she has earned their unwavering respect for it, not out of fear. She's a woman who's chosen to take on the gods and she's doing a pretty good job of it. Sounds like your typical villain? Nope, didn't think so.
Now with Röki (in case you are unaware our game is named after the shadowy monster you see at the end of the announce trailer) this is something we were very mindful of when designing the broad plot and structure of the game. Sure Röki is a monster, but if he was pure 'evil' or 'bad' it's just a bit dull; Where is the interest? Where is the humanity? We don't want a cardboard cut-out bogey man, we want a character that is more complex, that would make you feel and engage the player.
Now you might think that aiming for the depth and complexity of the Ghibli characters is a lofty goal indeed! You're right, it is, but if you aim for the stars there is little danger of shooting yourself in the foot ;)
That's it, thanks for reading, until next time.
Alex & Tom