Arrietty Behind the scenes at Studio Ghibli

We chat to the director of new animation Arrietty

Studio Ghibli is one of the most respected animation studios in the world. Refusing to work with 3D, the studio holds onto traditional hand-drawn methods. They received wide acclaim with movies like ‘Ponyo’ & ‘Spirited Away’, which won an Oscar in 2003. Hiromasa Yonebayashi started work at the world famous studio aged just 21 and climbed the ranks from a clean-up animator to being the youngest director ever at the studio. His first movie at the studio ‘Arrietty’, based on classic novel ‘The Borrowers’ is currently showing in Irish cinemas. We met up with the Japanese director, (aided by an English/Japanese interpreter) to chat about his work at the famous studio.

You are the youngest director ever at Studio Ghibli, is there a certain set of rules or guidelines that you have to follow so that your movie fits in with Studio’s infamous standards?
All films released are always of a certain quality, the most important part of the process is the story of the humans, to show the life and relationships among characters. We try to make them as real as we can – we know what real life is like and films sometimes don’t convey that.

How long would you normally spend on developing a Studio Ghibli script?
This project started in 2008, the script took one month and it took 11 months before finishing the film.

11 months sounds like a quick time, some animations can take up to 4 years, is that an average amount of time for your films?
11 months is quick – but in delivery we work on the film one by one each at a time. For this film I made it quickly as I was passionate and the studio’s resources really helped speed the process up.

How many people work in Studio Ghibli? Is it tough for a new person to join the studio?
There are 200 people working there, for young people it is not impossible to get into the studio. They don’t regularly hire new people, but they do like hiring talented young people.

Your new film ‘Arrietty’ is based on the 1955 book, ‘The Borrowers’. What did this particular story have that was of interest to you?
This film was a passion of (studio boss) Miyazaki’s, he started 40 years ago, but it was impossible to make back then. We’re making it now, as we’re reaching the end of mass consumption among films. For us, right now small films are more real and human than large films. There’s a lot more creativity and inspiration. That’s why we’ve made this now.

How much of the original 1955 novel was changed to appeal to a larger audience?
The difference between the original novel and this film is the relationships between the characters. We made the film in 2008 not really knowing that it would be released in 2011. Talking with Miyazaki’s, the economic situation is now different with the crisis around the world, so we wanted to reflect this in the film and how characters interacted is very important.

Have you seen Disney’s movie ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ from the 70’s? It’s a very stereotypical Irish Movie about tiny people – similar to ‘Arrietty’ and ‘The Borrowers’?
No, never heard of it! We’ll have to check it out.

How do you think that studio Ghibli compares to some of the western animation companies such as Pixar, Dreamworks and Aardmann. Do you perhaps look at what other studios are doing abroad for inspiration and to get ideas?
Yes, I go to the cinema to watch their films and see what’s happening with the other studios and the work they’re producing. I’m not a big fan, but their films can be interesting.

You prove that there’s a big audience for traditional hand-drawn animation in Japan, where as in Europe the trend has moved towards digital. What is your opinion on computer animation and the 3D craze? Can we expect Studio Ghibli to release a 3D film?
Miyazaki says that the studio won’t be making 3D for the near future, we think traditional animation is dynamic, giving a stronger message to people and the audiences.