De-Stress with 30 Minutes of Relaxing Visuals from Director Hayao Miyazaki

What does it mean to describe something as relaxing?

Most of us would agree that a relaxing thing is one that quiets both mind and body.

There’s scientific evidence to support the stress-relieving, restorative effects of spending time in nature.

Even go-go-go city slickers with a hankering for excitement and adventure tend to understand the concept of “relaxing” as something slow-paced and surprise-free.

HBO Max is touting its collection of animation master Hayao Miyazaki‘s films with 30 Minutes of Relaxing Visuals from Studio Ghibli, above.

Will all of us experience those 30 minutes as “relaxing”?

Maybe not.

Studio Ghibli fans may find themselves gripped by a sort of trivia contest competitiveness, shouting the names of the films that supply these pastoral visions—PonyoGrave of the Fireflies!! Howl’s Moving Castle!!! 

Fledgling animators may feel as if they’ve swallowed a stone—no matter how hard I try, nothing I make will approach the beauty on display here.

Sticklers—and there are plenty leaving comments on YouTube—may be irritated to realize that it’s actually not 30 but 6 minutes of visuals, looped 5 times.

Insomniacs (such as this reporter) may wish there was more looping and less content. The selected scenery is tranquil enough, but the clips themselves are brief, leading to some jarring transitions.

(One possible workaround for those hoping to lull themselves to sleep: fiddle with the speed settings. Played at .25 and muted, this compilation becomes very relaxing, much like artist Douglas Gordon’s video installation, 24 Hour Psycho. Leave the sound up and the lapping waves, gentle winds, and chuffing trains turn into something worthy of a slasher flick.

Finally, with so much attention focussed on Mars these days, we can’t help imagining what alien life forms might make of these earthly visions—ahh, this green, sheep-dotted pasture does lower my stress level… waitWTF was THAT!? Nothing on my home planet prepared me for the possibility of a monstrous winged house comprised of overgrown bagpipes and chicken legs lumbering through the countryside!

We concede that 30 Minutes of Relaxing Visuals from Studio Ghibli is a pleasant thing to have playing in the background as we wait for COVID restrictions to be lifted… but ultimately, you may find these 36 minutes of music from Studio Ghibli films more genuinely relaxing.

via Kottke

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Studio Ghibli Makes 1,178 Images Free to Download from My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away & Other Beloved Animated Films

A Magical Look Inside the Painting Process of Studio Ghibli Artist Kazuo Oga

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch “The Stroke,” a Hand-Animated Music Video Where the Visuals Came First & the Improvised Music Second

The idea of a film score seems clear enough. Writers, directors, and editors make a visual story, then composers enhance it with songs, cues, and themes. But things are never so straightforward in practice. Music is always a part of the process, whether in the screenwriter’s choice of accompaniment (Tarantino chooses film music as soon as he has an idea for a film), the director’s mood during filming, or the “temp score” editors use. Musicals are obvious exceptions, but on the whole, story and images come first, if not in the process, then in the viewer’s imagination.

A music video works differently, “scoring” prerecorded music with images, which then become accompaniment, a secondary part added later as enhancement. It is “an undertaking Vincent de Boer knows well,” Grace Ebert writes at Colossal. “The Netherlands-based artist has been working with the jazz quartet Ill Considered since 2017, listening to the band’s largely improvised melodies and creating abstract animations, alongside stills for its 11 album covers, to match.” In his most recent collaboration with the band, however, de Boer got to take the lead.

“The Stroke” began with a painstaking animation that took two years to complete, a process you can see documented in the making-of video above. “With the help of his creative partner Hans Schuttenbeld, de Boer hand-drew 4,056 frames that range from dark, geometric shapes to gangly creatures to scenes that morph from one trippy composition to the next.” De Boer describes the six and a half-minute piece as “the story of a brushstroke: a trace of a movement performed by the artist with his instrument, the paintbrush.”

Once de Boer finished the film, he passed it on to Ill Considered, “who recorded an entirely improvised track on its first viewing.” The two come together at the top in a music video that “matches the jazzy riffs with de Boer’s shapeshifting sequences in a cohesive conversation between the two artforms.” Can we call it a “music video” in a traditional sense? Or a kind of ekphrasis in sound? Would we know, without the backstory, that the images came first?

Ill Considered has also released “The Stroke” as an LP, “packaged with 12 of de Boer’s original artworks on the cover and inside” (see a selection above and below)–a further challenge to our seeming desire to rank sound and image. Which came first? Does it matter? Can we see what Ill Considered heard when they improvised over de Boer’s swirling drawings? Can we hear what de Boer was playing with the “instrument” of his brush? One thinks of the synesthesia of Kandinsky, who saw music in his paintings, and of David Bowie, sitting in his blue room, wondering about the gift of sound and vision….

via Colossal

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Animations That Changed Cinema: The Groundbreaking Legacies of Prince Achmed, Akira, The Iron Giant & More

Animation is childish. So believe those who never watch animated films — but also, on another, deeper level, those who hold up animated films as the most complete form of cinema. Whatever our generation, most of us alive today grew up watching cartoons meant in every sense for children, and often artistically flimsy ones at that. But even on such a low-nutrition viewing regimen, we could now and again glimpse the vast possibilities of the form. Or perhaps it was just our imagination — but then, as Stephen King once pointed out, nothing is “just” our imagination in childhood, a time when we occupy “a secret world that exists by its own rules and lives in its own culture.”

In order to navigate this reality apart, where nothing is entirely for real and nothing entirely pretend, children “think around corners instead of in straight lines.” The best animators retain this ability into adulthood, harnessing it to create a purer kind of cinema that reflects and engages the imagination in a way even the freest live-action films never can. The work of such animators constitutes the subject matter of “The Animation that Changed Cinema,” a new essay from The Cinema Cartography. In just over half an hour, the series’ creators Lewis Bond and Luiza Liz Bond explore animation produced all over the world over nearly the past century in search of the films that have widened the boundaries of the medium.

Though most video essays from The Cinema Cartography and its predecessor Channel Criswell have focused on conventional film, Bond has already demonstrated his profound understanding of animation in video essays on Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki and the acclaimed cult anime series Cowboy Bebop. “The Animation that Changed Cinema” spends a great deal of time on other works from Japan, the one country that has done more than any other to elevate the animated film, including that of Miyazaki’s Ghibli partner Isao Takahata, Perfect Blue auteur Satoshi Kon, and Katsuhiro Otomo, whose Akira permanently changed much of the world’s understanding of “cartoons” as cinematic art. But as with The Cinema Cartography’s previous “The Cinematography that Changed Cinema,” the cultural-geographical mandate ranges widely.

Among these visionary animators are several previously featured here on Open Culture: the German Lotte Reiniger, creator of the all-silhouette The Adventures of Prince Achmed; Europeans from farther east (and possessed of wilder sensibilities) like Jan Švankmajer; Americans like Don Hertzfeldt, the Brothers Quay, and Wes Anderson (whose filmography includes the stop-motion The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs). That last group includes even Hollywood director Brad Bird, now best known for Pixar movies like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, but here celebrated for The Iron Giant, a picture that sank upon its release, but in the two decades since has come to be appreciated as just the kind of work of art that, as Bond puts it, “makes us forget that we’re watching moving drawings” — whatever age we happen to be.

Related Content:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 36 Short Animations That Tell the Origin Stories of Mexico’s Indigenous Peoples in Their Own Languages

In our efforts to preserve endangered species we seem to overlook something equally important. To me it is a sign of a deeply disturbed civilization where tree huggers and whale huggers in their weirdness are acceptable while no one embraces the last speakers of a language.

 – Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World

Trees and whales aside, we suspect the ever quotable Herzog would warm to fellow director Gabriela Badillo’s 68 Voices, 68 Hearts, a series of one-minute animations that preserve indigenous Mexican stories with narration provided by native speakers.

“It was created in order to help foster pride, respect, and the use of indigenous Mexican languages between speakers and non-speakers, as well as to help reduce discrimination and foster a sense of pride towards all communities and cultures that are part of the cultural richness that makes up Mexico,” Badillo says in an interview with Awasqa.

The project stemmed from a realization in the wake of the death of her grandfather, a Maxcanu from Yucatan:

Aside from losing a loved one, I realized that an enormous wisdom had also been lost: a language, stories, traditions and customs, a whole world had dissolved with him.

Each animation involves collaboration with the National Institute of Indigenous Language and the community whose story is being shared. Community members choose the subject, then supply narration and translation. Their children draw scenes from the selected story, which steers the style of animation.

Prior to being released to the general public, each film is presented to its community of origin, along with a booklet of suggested educational activities for parents and teachers to use in conjunction with screenings. Boxes of postcards featuring artwork from the series are donated to the community school.

Some of the entries, like the above About Earthquakes and the Origin of Life on Earth, narrated in Ch’ol by Eugenia Cruz Montejo, pack a massive amount of story into the allotted minute:

They say many years ago Ch’ujtiat, the Heaven’s lord, created the Earth with 12 immortal men to carry it. And it is when they get tired that the Earth moves, provoking earthquakes.

At the same time he created the first men, who were ungrateful, so Ch’ujtiat sent the flood and turned the survivors into monkeys, and the innocent children into stars. He then created our first parents, na’al, Ixic y Xun’Ok, who multiplied and populated the Earth. 

That’s how life on Earth began.That’s how the Ch’oles tell it.

Variants of “that’s how we tell it” are a common refrain, as in the Cora (also known as Náayeri) story of how the Mother Goddess created earth (and other gods), narrated by Pedro Muñiz López.

Here is the written version, in Cora:

E’itɨ tiuséijre cháanaka

Yaapú ti’nyúukari tɨkɨn a’najpú ɨtyáj náimi ajnáana Náasisaa, Téijkame jemín ɨ cháanaka ajtá ɨ máxkɨrai, góutaaguaka’a ɨ tabóujsimua yaati’xáata tɨkɨn mata’a já guatéchaɨn majtá tyuipuán iyakúi cháanaka japuá.

Muxáj kɨmenpú góutaaguaka’a tɨ’kí nájkɨ’ta gojoutyájtua. Áuna me’séira aɨjme taboujsimua matákua’naxɨ.

Tɨ’kí aɨjna tanáana Náasisaa, ukɨpuapú guatákɨɨnitya’a, yán guajaikagua’xɨjre uyóujmua matɨ’jmí jetsán guatyáakɨ yán miye’ntiné tajapuá. Kapú aɨn jé’i, matákua’naxɨ máj akábibɨɨ yán juté’e, makaupɨxɨɨ ujetsé matɨ’jmí chuéj kɨj tentyóu metya’úrara, ajtá ɨ Taja’as xu’rabe’táana tiuɨrɨj tyautyájtua ajpúi tanáana Náasisaa tsíikɨri guatyákɨstaka ukɨpuá kɨmen. Japuanpú aɨjna chuéj utíajka tɨ’kí goutaíjte aɨjme tabóujsimua guatáijte máj atapa’tsaren metya’tanya’tɨkɨ’káa ayaapú tiutéjbe máj tiunéitan.

Ayaapú tiuséijre cháanaka. Ayáj tigua’nyúukari Náayeri.

Badillo’s educational mission is well served by one of our favorites, The Origin of the Mountains. In addition to mountains, this Cucapá story, narrated by Inocencia González Sainz, delves into the origin of oceans and the Colorado River, though fair warning—it may be difficult to restore classroom order once the students hear that testicles and earwax figure prominently.

To watch a playlist of the 36 animations completed so far with English subtitles, click here.

68 Voices, 68 Heart’s Kickstarter page has more information about this ongoing project. Contributions will go toward animating stories in the three languages that are at the highest risk of disappearing—AkatekoPopoloca, and Ku’ahl.

As Badillo writes:

When a language disappears, not only a sound, a way of writing, a letter or a word goes away. Something much deeper than just a form of communication disappears – a way of seeing and conceiving the world, stories, tales, a way of naming and relating to things, an enormous knowledge that we should relearn because of its deep respect with nature.

via Boing Boing

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Innovative Pinscreen Animations of Kafka’s “Before the Law”, Gogol’s “The Nose” & Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” (1932-1972)

What do Franz Kafka, Nikolai Gogol, and Modest Mussorgsky have in common? They stand alone among their peers for their darkly humorous sensibilities, fascination with the grotesque, imaginative takes on cultural traditions, and a predisposition for the proto-surreal. Like the odd figure lurching through the first movement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, they are gnomic artists: enigmatic and ambiguous, given to the aphoristic in stories and tone poems of monstrous and marvelous beings. It’s easy to imagine the three of them, or their works at least, in cryptic conversation with each other.

We might imagine that conversation as we watch three works by these major European artists—all of which we’ve featured on the site before—animated via the painstaking pinscreen method pioneered by husband-and-wife, Russian-and-French duo Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker. The two invented the technique in the 1930s. Dedicated to this extremely labor-intensive process, they made 6 short films over a period of 50 years, including adaptations of Kafka’s “Before the Law,” narrated by Orson Welles, Gogol’s “The Nose,” and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

We know the Mussorgsky piece as a terrifying vignette from Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Seven years before that marriage of classical music and animation came out in 1940, Alexeieff and Parker released their version, at the top. Steve Stanchfield at Cartoon Research calls it “one of the most unusual and unique looking animated films ever created.” Its “delightful and at times horrifying imagery… challenge the viewer to comprehend both their meaning and the mystery of how they were created.” The same could be said of “The Nose” (1963), whose improvised soundtrack by Hai-Minh adds dramatic tension to the eerie animation.

Each of these films uses the same method, a handmade pinscreen device in which thousands of pins are pushed by hand outward and inward for each frame to create areas of light or dark. The pair intended to move beyond the flatness of conventional cel animation techniques and capture the depth and contrast of chiaroscuro. They achieved this through the most achingly slow process imaginable, yet “the illusion of dimensional drawing in animation has rarely been created better,” Stanchfield writes, not even in the most sophisticated computer-generated imagery.

Alexeieff and Parker’s “Before the Law,” from a parable in Kafka’s The Trial, takes a picture-book approach to the animation that would reward younger viewers. Welles’ narration anchors the production with even more than his usual gravitas. In 1972, they returned to Mussorgsky, in the short Pictures at an Exhibition, above. Here, after a prologue in French and the stylizations of the opening Prelude, the figure of the “The Gnome” appears, a translucent homunculus hatching from an egg and dancing across the piano keys. I like to think Mussorgsky, Kafka, and Gogol would find this imagery irresistible.

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Kafka’s Parable “Before the Law” Narrated by Orson Welles & Illustrated with Pinscreen Art

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

A Magical Look Inside the Painting Process of Studio Ghibli Artist Kazuo Oga

The magic of Studio Ghibli’s films owes much to their characters: the high-flying Princess Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; the World War I-fighter ace-turned-swine Porco Rosso; the spirited ten-year-old Chihiro, spirited away into the realm of folklore; the dog-raccoon-bear-cat forest spirit known only as Totoro. But to understand what makes these figures come alive, we must remember that they inhabit living worlds. A Ghibli production stands or falls (which would still count as an artistic triumph at most other studios) on not just character design and animation but background art, which demands the kind of careful and inspired work you can witness in the video above.

The artist at the desk is Kazuo Oga, a veteran background artist credited as art director on Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, Princess Mononoke, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, among other anime projects. His work begins at about 9:30 in the morning, as he brings out a modestly size sheet of paper and prepares its surface to receive paint.

24 different colors of Japanese-made Nicker Poster Color brand gouache stand ready right nearby, and with them Oga applies the ground, or first layer of paint. Even before he takes a seat, a forest scene has clearly begun to emerge. Then downward strokes become the thin trunks of its trees, which by the early afternoon have branches.

Broadly speaking, Oga works from the large details in toward the small, arriving midway through the 2:00 hour to the stage of adding light purple flowers. These are Paulownia, called kiri in Japan, where these “princess trees” (that also appear on the official Government Seal) carry a certain symbolic weight. The final painting, Paulownia Rain (or kiri same), emerges only at 3:40 in the afternoon, after six hours of painting. This evocative forest landscape attests to the truth of an inversion of the Pareto principle, in that the parts of the job that seem smallest require most of the work to achieve — and to the truth of the Ghibli’s apparent artistic principle that every pain is worth taking.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Animation Pioneer Lotte Reiniger Adapts Mozart’s The Magic Flute into an All-Silhouette Short Film (1935)

When Lotte Reiniger began making animation in the late 1910s, her work looked like nothing that had ever been shot on film. In fact, it also resembles nothing else achieved in the realm of cinema in the century since. Even the enormously budgeted and staffed productions of major studios have yet to replicate the stark, quavering charm of her silhouette animations. Those studios do know full well, however, what Reiniger realized long before: that no other medium can more vividly realize the visions of fairy tales. To believe that, one needs only watch her 1922 Cinderella or 1955 Hansel and Gretel, previously featured here on Open Culture.

It was between those productions that Reiniger made the work for which she’s now best remembered: the 1926 One Thousand and One Nights pastiche The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the very first feature in animation history. Nine years later, she turned to source material closer at hand, culturally speaking, and adapted a section of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

You can watch the result, the ten-minute Papageno, at the top of the post. A bird-catcher, the title character finds one day that all the avians around him have become tiny human females. Though none of them stick around, an ostrich later delivers him a full-size maiden, only for a giant snake to drive her away. Will Papageno defeat the serpent and reclaim his beloved, or submit to despair?

“The magic of the fairy tale has always been her greatest fascination, yet her own interpretations attain a unique quality,” says the narrator of the 1970 documentary short just above, in which Reiniger re-enacts the thoroughly analog and highly labor-intensive making of Papageno. “The figures she cuts out and constructs were originally inspired by the puppets used in traditional Eastern shadow theaters, of which the silhouette form is the logical conclusion.” This hybridization of venerable narrative material from Western lands like Germany with an even more venerable aesthetic from Eastern lands like Indonesia has assured only part of her work’s enduring appeal. “Ms. Reiniger will continue to have a strange affection for each of her figures,” the narrator notes. This is “an understandable affection, for in their flexibility they have almost human characteristics of movement.” It’s an affection anyone with an interest in animation, fairy tales, or Mozart will share.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Studio Ghibli Makes 1,178 Images Free to Download from My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away & Other Beloved Animated Films

Studio Ghibli make lush and captivating animated films. So, on occasion, do other studios, but of how many of their pictures can we say that each and every still frame constitutes a work of art in itself? As a test, try putting on a Ghibli movie and pausing at random, then doing the same for any other major animated feature of similar vintage: chances are, the former will far more often produce an image you’d like to capture in high resolution and use for your desktop background, or perhaps even print out and hang on your wall.

Now, Studio Ghibli have provided such images themselves, in an online collection (click here and scroll down the page) that offers more than 1,100 stills from their films, all free for the download. This trove has grown considerably since we first featured it this past fall here at Open Culture.

In that post, Ted Mills quotes Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki as instructing visitors to use the images “freely within the scope of common sense.” It was Suzuki, you may recall, who once taught us to draw the eponymous feline-ursine star of My Neighbor Totoro, the most beloved of the studio’s works — downloadable frames from which Ghibli put up only in November.

Along with Totoro came images from the acclaimed (and highly successful) likes of Spirited Away and Porco Rosso, as well as its lesser known romantic drama Ocean Waves, made for television by the studio’s younger animators in the early 1990s. The most recent update, made earlier this month, includes images from 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is now considered Ghibli’s honorary first picture, having been directed by co-founder Hayao Miyazaki before the studio’s foundation. There are also stills from 2016’s The Red Turtle, the stark, wordless feature produced by Suzuki but directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit.

Though the site is only in Japanese, anyone who’s seen at least a few Ghibli movies should have no problem finding their favorites, from the aforementioned residents of greatest-animated-films-of-all-time lists to highly respected but lower-profile works like Only Yesterday by Miyazaki’s Ghibli-founding parter, the late Isao Takahata. There’s also plenty to delight Ghibli fans of a more die-hard persuasion: take, for example, the visual materials from “On Your Mark,” the futuristic, nonlinear animated music video made for rock duo Chage & Aska. Whatever your own level of investment in the work of Studio Ghibli, you’d do well to assume that they’ve only just got started putting up their archives.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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