Sunday, January 4, 2009

Extreme Makeover

For those of you currious how Imagi has changed Astro's appearance for the upcoming CG animated Astro Boy movie now that we've gotten a good look at him, this is for you.

The Star Online out of Malaysia has a great new article about the film, where Imagi's Ken Tsumura (Executive Vice President) and Tim Cheung (Vice President of Animation) talk the ways in which Astro's classic character design has been tweaked and updated, but how much of it has, at the request of the Tezuka estate, been retained. In particular, the size of Astro's... erm... bottom.

One thing that this article mentions is that Astro now looks more Caucasian, and that with was an unintentional result of Imagi updating the character. I disagree that he looks more Caucasian. I think he still retains the iconic, borderless look of Tezuka's artwork. There is nothing about Astro as Tezuka drew him that would suggest that he must originate from any particular part of the world. Imagi's animated Astro is a little different than Tezuka's manga Astro, but I still identify him as Astro more than anything else, and not as a Caucasian Astro.

You can read "Astro Boy’s makeover" on The Star Online or click the link below to read an archived version right here. Also check out their "What’s getting made" article for more about upcoming anime movies.

Sunday January 4, 2009
Astro Boy’s makeover

For the upcoming animated flick, the manga hero is unwittingly made to look more Caucasian.

WHEN they saw the initial designs for Astro Boy in the upcoming computer animated flick, the one thing that the Japanese owners did not fancy was the size of his rear end.

They found it too small.

Recalled Ken Tsumura, executive vice president of Imagi Animation, the Hong Kong company behind the project: “We had discussions of how round and curvy his body proportions are and we designed him more lean.”
Ken Tsumura, Executive Vice President, and Tim Cheung, Vice President of Animation at Imagi, the guys behind the upcoming Astro Boy animated film.

But this did not gel with the estate of Astro Boy’s creator, Tezuka Osamu, who wanted to keep some of the more recognisable aspects of the character.

Tim Cheung, Imagi’s vice president of animation, added: “By request, we needed to have a fuller rear and we added a control where we could control the size of his bum.”

Both men were in town for the recent Siggraph Asia 2008 computer graphics exhibition and conference, where they revealed that half of the animation work for the film, slated for release in October next year, has been completed.

In the 1952 manga, Astro is the creation of Dr Tenma as a replacement for his son who died in an accident. With his android powers and skills, Astro starts fighting crime and injustice.

Since then, Astro has become one of the more popular faces of Japanese culture. The hotly anticipated movie will have Nicolas Cage voicing Dr Tenma and British child actor Freddie Highmore of The Spiderwick Chronicles fame will voice Astro Boy.

Both Tsumura and Cheung admit that when a much beloved manga character makes a leap from 2D to 3D, some changes had to be made.

One of the more challenging aspects, aside from designing Astro’s larger head and arms with respect to his supporting characters, was revamping his kawaii portrayal, said the film designers.

Kawaii is the Japanese term for cute-looking and Astro, in his black spandex and red rocket boots, epitomises that quality.

“He has really big eyes and curly lashes and we had to make him less feminine in some way,” explained Mr Cheung.

That the beloved Japanese icon now looks more Caucasian was never intentional. It was a byproduct of ageing him and tweaking his looks.

Luckily, the Japanese team was open to some of the changes and the updated Astro Boy is now 12 years old, compared to the estimated six from the manga, and sports a shirt instead of being half naked.

Despite the effort to make the character friendlier to a Western audience, certain aspects of the original series, such as its themes of abandonment and acceptance, will remain.

“There are parts where it looks a bit heavier than what animated features deal with, but I think that was an important part of the Astro Boy story that needed to be told,” said Tsumura, who declined to reveal plot details for the film.

Imagi is also making a special 3D version of the movie for the Japanese market.

After Astro Boy is done, Imagi will be updating another Japanese icon, Gatchaman, also known as Battle of the Planets in the West. Since it is not as well known as Astro Boy, the project, about five super-powered teens fighting monsters, is open to interpretation.

Revealed Cheung, “We’re kind of making up our own version based on the original 1970s cartoon.” – The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network


Anonymous said...

"There is nothing about Astro as Tezuka drew him that would suggest that he must originate from any particular part of the world."

Agreed, and I didn't get the impression that he was any more or less Caucasian looking now than he was before. I think Imagi has done a good job maintaining that balance.