By Susan Claire Agbayani

He was calling to his mother as she came out of the bathroom while combing her tresses. What he saw frightened him no end: the image of his mother without a face. In its stead was long flowing black hair covering her face and torso.

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This was one of the unforgettable images in the childhood of Takuya Wada — President and CEO of Media Crew Japan Co., Ltd. — who is also a director, an animation director, character designer and visual effects supervisor.

The story of the movie character Sadako is based on Koji Suzuki’s book Ring. When director Hideo Nakata told Wada — who was then the film’s prosthetic makeup coordinator — that he wanted “a ghost with no face,” Wada’s childhood memory of his mother combing her hair forward came back to him. That image seemed perfect (and we must say, original!) in “creating the horror scene.”

Both Sadako and the Ring franchise have become mainstream, spawning remakes in the Western world and are very much part of pop culture.

Wada started quite early. At age 16 — while still in high school — he already was into animation. He was mentored by Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan’s greatest animation directors (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke); Yasuo Otsuka (Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo) and Akio Sugino.

“We weren’t into digital (technology) yet; only paper. I went to the studio and practiced every day,” he said during an exclusive interview (with interpreter Eli Padilla Alcantara) at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at SM Aura.

He became a professional animator after high school, and his first work was on Lupin the 3rd. He was key animator of The Invincible Robot Rider G7, Cat’s Eye, and Space Cobra. He became an animation director at the age of 20, directing Fist of the North Star, Special Investigation Cavalry D’Holbach, Patlabor, Machine Robo, Peacock King, and others. He designed characters, wrote the script, and directed Violence Jack.

He designed costumes for 15 years, even making stone casts of masks (and designing costumes of wrestlers). He spent two years in Hollywood to learn special make-up and visual effects. He was special makeup supervisor of Ring, Spiral, Ring 2 and Parasite Eve. He also worked as a special effects director on many TV dramas.

Wada was Animation Director of Lupin III vs. Detective Conan.  In 2013, he did the concept design for the State Battleship Yamato animation for pachinko machine. He does character design and directs animation movies for pachinko and pachislot.

While the industry now relies on more high-tech means of production, he still prefers using pencil and paper to the tablet.

“I don’t use the tablet yet (especially for thick and thin lines); it’s much better to use pencil (and brush). I cannot trust the tablet. It doesn’t have the ‘flavor’ (which) pencil and paper have,” he added.

Before we can watch our favorite cartoon on TV, it goes through a very long, thorough, and difficult process. At pre-production alone, the animator has to create the scenario, design and color the storyboard, and do layout and framing as well.

“Raw” drawings are done in 2D (two-dimensions). It is not until production or post-production when these drawings are done in 2D and 3D (three-dimension) computer graphics. That’s why knowledge of perspective drawing is very critical or crucial, he said.

While the producer or investor pours in money to get the job done, the animator “creates the design, traces and cleans up the digital painting and color, and shoots the effects to complete the film,” said Wada.

He admitted though that while he loves the old-fashioned way or style of drawing, what they did before “could be redrawn today.”

Takuya Wada draws on a shirt — Daniel Enriquez
Takuya Wada draws on a shirt — Daniel Enriquez

“It takes a lot to draw pictures. The animator’s work for Japanese TV is very difficult, with a lead time of only one month (and several sleepless nights), while the budget is very, very low,” he said. “Meantime, the lead time for work for pachinko machines is three to six months, and the budget is 10 times more!” Wada said.

These days Wada does a lot of work for pachinko — the recreational Japanese arcade game that is comparable to the West’s slot machine — as these machines show short animated films when one wins or loses, with movies lasting one minute and 30 seconds. While there may be no pachinko machines in Las Vegas, he explained that in his native Japan, there’s a game center in every train station. It’s really big business, he noted.

Wada was in town recently for two speaking engagements at Animahenasyon 2015, an animation festival held at the SMX of SM Aura in Taguig City in the middle of October. Foreign entities like the Japan Foundation and the French embassy support the efforts of the Animation Council by way of providing experts and program exchanges.

One of the interests of the young people in attendance (mostly from De La Salle University-College of St. Benilde and Ateneo de Naga University) was the difference between Western-style animation and Japanese anime.

“American animation is in 3D, is broadcast in the daytime, has no fighting scenes, and is targeted mostly to children. Japanese anime has a lot of violent scenes, is broadcast throughout the day and night and is targeted to children and adults as well,” he said.

Wada has been flying in and out of the country for quite a number of years now, and even considers Malate as his “hometown” in this side of the globe and he has quite a number of Filipino friends.

One of the reasons why he’s coming more often and staying longer is his “desire to leave a legacy,” now that he’s 53, and has a daughter who’s 12.

Knowing that among the thrusts or agenda of the current administration are “education, culture and employment,” the former principal of the Yoyogi Institute of Animation would like to open a school that would teach Japanese-style animation, focusing on major characters in local culture/folklore, using Japanese techniques. The course should take a year to two, and would include voice acting. He has found local partner to allow these dreams to come to fruition.

Colleges and universities offering art courses hardly concentrate on this very specialized field. Once the studio is in the works, who knows, our local folklore/culture — in manga — could yet become one of our best export products, thanks to Japanese technology.

“Animahenasyon, the Philippine Animation Festival, was created nine years ago so that animators could sell their services,” said Monchito Ibrahim, deputy executive director of the Information and Communications Technology office of the Department of Science and Technology.

“Animation today is (no longer just) entertainment. There’s big potential for the sector, added Ibrahim.

And what with negotiations with the Commission on Higher Education for formal degree programs in digital creatives (apart from software and gaming), “There’s a future career in the animation sector.”