An interview with Pixar storyboard artist Enrico Casarosa about Studio Ghibli

There’s an interesting interview on GhibliWorld with Pixar storyboard artist Enrico Casarosa, who worked on Ratatouille and now on the upcoming movie Up. I found in interesting to read about the differences in the storyboarding process at Pixar and at Studio Ghibli.

I storyboarded on [Ratatouille] for almost 4 years. The job shortly put entails helping making the director’s vision come to fruition. It can vary quite a bit in spectrum… ranging from visualizing already scripted pages to brainstorming gags or exploring certain beats or action scenes. Ultimately we wreck our brain together with the Director to try and tell the best, heartfelt story possible and to tell it in the best way possible.

Typically here at Pixar what that means is going through several screenings in which we put up the film on reels and look at it still in storyboard form (roughly drawn but with temp voice, sound and music). We call that an animatic or a storyboard reel (like Miyazaki’s e-conte drawings in film version). That gives us a chance to sit back and look at the whole movie. What works, what doesn’t, what can be better? After one of those screening we regroup, sort through the feedback here in the Studio and get back to the drawing board to try and make the movie better. That’s how storyboarding works in most Studios in the US. It’s a gradual and teamwork oriented process. Very different from Japan’s studios.

[The process at Pixar] is very much one of doing and redoing, making things better step by step. It involves a willingness to pick apart the movie and its themes. This constant editing and refining can be frustrating at times. The huge difference is that at Ghibli storyboards are done by the director and they are followed without exception. So you find a very different way of doing things there, the studio and its artists are following the leader’s vision without deliberation, editing or feedback necessary. Incidentally it sounds like Suzuki-san might be the only person at Ghibli able to have a discussion with Miyazaki-san regarding the story or characters of the movie they’re producing. In this setting though Miyazaki is free to go on his own journey finding the movie he wants to tell, bit by bit. The result are stories that are more fully personal and hold an authenticity and uniqueness which is close to impossible to achieve in the US, where a story, in the best case scenario, is well crafted by several gifted people while in the worse case scenario is made by committee. I think that’s what is great about many projects coming from Japan, with their own merits or faults, they possess an unwavering will to stick to their director’s vision. The stories are allowed to be more idiosyncratic that way and that is what I personally find inspiring and refreshing.The whole reality of making animated movies in the US seems quite different.

These films are expensive and thus need to appeal to a wide audience. That in itself tends to make many studios and their managers tense up. That is the unfortunate catch 22, the bigger the budget the more the results need to appease a huge audience and usually have a blander the flavor. Pixar overall is a wonderful exception within those terms but it still works with high stakes at hand.

Emphasis mine. Sounds familiar, no?

Comments 1

  1. tobe wrote:

    I’m going to sound like a broken record in remarking that exactly the mentioned japanese one-person driven approach helped creating such strong games as Ninja Gaiden, Metal Gear and even the (admittedly one-man-show) amazing Cave Story.

    What remains to be proven is how such hierachical structures can translate into those huge project sizes as we are currently seeing, and if they need to do so in the first place.

    Posted 03 Mar 2008 at 1:52