Shell Shots: You Don’t Need To Be An Animator To Steal These Visual Techniques From Ghost In The Shell (Video)

Do you love animated cinema but don’t know how the hell its techniques will help you make your movie?

As it turns out, animated features have a treasure trove of stylization secrets to offer moviemakers working with any medium, and Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 manga-based masterpiece Ghost In The Shell proves it. In the incisive video essay below, entitled Ghost In The Shell: Identity in Space,” The Nerd Writer gives a guided tour of a mood-evoking approach to sequential storytelling known as “aspect-to-aspect” transitioning, which has “a rich tradition in Japan’s use of maze-like and often cyclical works of art.”

Ghost In The Shell‘s seemingly non-narrative moments that fixate on space, the video observes, are what separate Eastern-inflected stories from what moviemakers and audiences are accustomed to in the West. Citing comics artist and author Scott McCloud’s seminal book, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, The Nerd Writer explains how such an approach is a transferable skill from comics or animation to any form of storytelling: “In American comics, the majority of transitions are ‘action-to-action’—fitting for a goal-oriented culture interested in telling stories about goal-oriented characters. Japanese comics, on the other hand, have long featured a kind of transition that is very rarely seen in the West: the ‘aspect-to-aspect’ transition, in which time is virtually abandoned for the exploration of space. These kinds of transitions evoke a mood. They activate the senses and imagination. The emphasis is on being there, instead of getting there.”

In the wake of much controversy about the “white-washed” casting of Paramount’s live-action, English-language adaptation of Ghost In The Shell set to come out later this month, it would serve you well to watch this compelling case made for how Oshii’s film threw a counterpunch to the traditions of Western action cinema during the time of its release. (As a fun post-viewing exercise, see the new film and pay attention to how many “aspect-to-aspect” transitions make their way into the final cut, if at all.)

What Ghost In The Shell offers that’s most universally applicable to moviemaking in any medium really boils to what we know about audiences’ perception of space. “What kind of space is it?,” The Nerd Writer asks of the film. “It’s the space of a chaotic, multi-cultural future city dominated by the intersections of old and new structures, connected by roads, canals and technology. Humans move about like electricity along these avenues, plugged into the body of the metropolis. The relationship between body and mind, shell and ghost, is, of course, a central theme of the film. Since most bodies in this future world are at least partly artificial, people locate their identities in their ‘ghosts,’ or, their minds. But with the troubling knowledge that these also can be hacked, memory, identity and humanity are all called into question.”

Taking cues from Ghost In The Shell, consider: What are the ways in which you can merge your audiences’ sensory perception with your film’s themes and narrative structure, much like humans and machines are merged in Oshii’s sci-fi dystopia? Let us know in the comments below. MM

1 Comment

  1. Sean

    March 9, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Visually and thematically, animated movies retain the ability to deliver both inspiration and admiration that you can utilyze toward your next project, whether it be animated or not. Ghost in the Shell, A Scanner Darkly, and even Anomalisa withhold a lot of metaphysical thematic elements that would be difficult to portray in live action. Animation gives you freedom that allows you to think outside the box (or camera)and can be useful for your future projects.

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