So, this is an interview I did last October at OtakuPt with João do Lago, a Portuguese animator who worked on Revue Starlight, Castlevania 2, and more recently Conception where he debuted as an animation director. In this interview, João talked about his journey to become an animator, from his formation to his debut on Revue Starlight (effectively on Castlevania 2). Also, about his future projects, aspirations, and pieces of advice for those who ambition to become animators.
- First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself, how your taste for animation began, the path to becoming an animator, your formation, etc.
My name is João do Lago. I’ve always enjoyed animation since I was a kid, but it never crossed my mind that it could be something I could do. Only in high school, when I started to think about the future and what I wanted to do in life, I got the idea that animation was something I liked to follow. At that time, I came across a problem: the lack of animation courses in Portugal. As studying abroad was not a possibility for me, I decided to put the dream of animation aside and entered a design course. After that, I still into a master’s degree in illustration and animation but I left it in the middle. By this time, I was a little lost, not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I experimented with 3d, concept art, I even worked on a video game for some time until I became acquainted with an Austrian animator named Bahi JD, who worked on anime from home. At that point I was very unhappy with my life and seeing what he managed to do inspired me to rekindle that desire, “I had to work on animation!”.
I decided I had nothing to loose in trying. I started to practice by myself, doing small animations and sharing on the net (on Twitter mainly). Some of the animations I’ve made have become somewhat viral, like this for example:
and I started having people who contacted me to offer me work. One of them was Samuel Deats, who is the director of the Castlevania series at Netflix. And that’s how my animation career started, working on the second season of Castlevania.
- Have you had any experiences with Japanese-style animations? If so, what were they?
In addition to Revue Starlight, I worked on Castlevania and other small projects with Studio Yotta, in particular, a very interesting one that has not yet been announced.
- Many animators primarily with digital provenance are “self-learners”, do you also fit into this group?
Yes. I even had some animation classes when I studied design, where we learned the basics, but most of what I know was to practice and learn by myself, through books and studying certain animations I liked.
- Any dream project that you want to participate in the future?
My dream since I took an interest in pursuing a career in animation has always been to work at Ghibli in a Miyazaki movie (last year I still tried to apply, when they were hiring). I wasn’t selected, but it’s nice that they send you a physical letter to inform you still, but I know that the probability of this happening is practically zero. Something more achievable, which might be possible, I would like to work in the second season of Made in Abyss.
- References in the world of animation?
Directors: Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. When I first started gaining interest in working in animation, still as a teenager, I viewed his work as what I wanted to achieve. Nowadays there are many other names that inspire me, but I continue to see these two as the threshold to reach.
Animators: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but maybe Makiko Futaki, an animator from Ghibli who animated some of the most iconic scenes in Miyazaki’s films (her work is seriously fantastic). Overall, I have a fascination with animators who manage to animate slow and delicate movements as I think these are the types of movements that are harder to animate well.
- Works that inspired you the most?
Any work whether it be a book, movie, anime, that makes me want to drop everything and create something of mine.
- What was the project that gave you the most joy in participating?
Obviously, I enjoyed participating in the Revue Starlight, because I really like the series and feel that it was where I learned more. But perhaps what gave me the most joy was a project that I participated in with Studio Yotta (I can not say the name, which has not yet been announced), where I feel I’ve done my best job so far.
- Favorite studio (s) and why?
I do not have much preference for studios. Maybe Ghibli, I really liked the old Gainax studio but it practically doesn’t exist anymore.
- Favorite Anime/Series?
Movie: Spirited Away
Anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion
- How did you got involved with Kinema Citrus in this project?
In mid-July, already after Starlight debuted, the president of Kinema Citrus posted on Twitter that they needed animators (
— 小笠原宗紀/Kinema citrus (@nekopapapa) July 24, 2018
). I tried my luck and I was chosen, it happened very suddenly (if you see the comments in the tweet, you can see me asking if they accepted foreign animators, this was my first interaction).
- What was your reaction when you were “chosen” to work on Revue Starlight.
I was quite happy. It already had three episodes aired. I remember seeing the first episode and thinking “I wish I could work on something like this someday.” Two weeks later I was doing just that.
- Have you had any preparation before you started drawing the scenes?
When I have to draw characters, to make sure they are “on model”, I usually only do some drawings apart until I’m familiar with the style.
- What advice or tricks did you receive from the staff throughout the process? Had you had any contact with the director, animation directors, or storyboarders?
Not directly. All the communication was with Ogasawara-san (Muneki Ogasawara) or with one of the production assistants. The only contact with the directors was through notes in the corrected drawings.
- What were your greatest difficulties in this project?
The biggest difficulty was maybe time. They had production problems and the deadlines were too short. I had to lose a few hours of sleep to meet the deadlines. I think overall I did a good job, but I feel that if I had more time some things could have gotten better.
- What is it like working with a mainly Japanese staff?
I work from home and communicate with them in English mostly, so for me there was not a big difference, it was like working on other projects.
- Differences between working in Western and Eastern animation?
Have to do layouts, where we have to give an indication of light, backgrounds, and camera movements. Perhaps the biggest difference has to do with the timesheets. Since today, in the West, everything is mainly digital, I’d never done any timesheet, but as in anime they still animate mostly on paper, timesheets are essential. Oh, and deadlines are much shorter.
- What did you learn from working with Japanese industry professionals?
Most of what I learned was more about the process itself and it was things that I was picking up as I did the work. The steps, such as noting the drawings, how to do timesheets, etc.
- Many animators working mainly with digital have appeared in the animation industry from all around the world, do you think about making the transition to Japan or continuing to work from Portugal?
If an opportunity arises I will not refuse it obviously. Working from home is very lonely in my opinion. There are people who prefer, but I prefer to be surrounded by other people who are working towards the same goal. I think it’s a much more motivating environment, so yeah, I really enjoyed going to work in a studio.
- Nowadays perhaps the most well-known tools of animation are CLIP STUDIO PAINT, Toon Boom Harmony, and the Flash itself. Are there any that you use more or that you prefer?
I use Photoshop with a plugin called AnimDessin2. Technically isn’t an animation program, but it gets the job done. Recently I’m starting to think about switching to Clip Studio because it works in much the same way, and since the Photoshop plugin is not official, I’m afraid to open the program one day and it won’t work.
- How do the techniques used in Western animation differ from Eastern animations?
Animation is animation. The drawing style may be different, but the techniques and principles used are the same. What differs is the process itself, some things I have already mentioned, such as having to do layouts, timesheets, etc.
About the industry
- Your thoughts on the use of CG in anime.
If you are referring to 3D, I don’t have any problem. I think the stigma there is around 3D is that it is often used incorrectly and the results leave a lot to be desired. Coincidentally, my favorite anime from last year was the Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni) which is a 3D anime, and that in my opinion uses 3D to get very interesting results. I’ve been playing around with Blender myself lately. The new version brings tools for 2d animation that allow you to draw in a three-dimensional space. The potential is enormous.
- Your thoughts about the performance of Netflix in the anime industry.
I think any entity that is interested in financing interesting projects is welcome, and I think that’s what Netflix has been doing.
- What do you think of the Portuguese dubs in anime?
I have not seen Portuguese dubs in years. I have nothing against the Portuguese dubs, on the contrary. My taste for animation started as a kid, through the series I saw, which were all dubbed. I think that is precisely the demographic target of the folds, the youngest.
- Any advice that you can leave for anyone whose ambitions to enter the world of animation one day.
If you really want to animate, my advice is to start already, by yourself. Begin to draw, to practice. A very good book to start and learn the basics is the “Animator’s Survival Kit“. Start there and go looking for other resources. At first, what you do may not be very good, but as you practice more and more you will get better.
This is something that I liked that they had told me earlier, mainly having grown up in Portugal, where the industry and education in animation are practically nonexistent, which led me to think that this would be something impossible to achieve. They do not need any course to work in this area and I can say that they never asked me for qualifications. They simply saw the animations I put on the net, found it interesting and they gave me work.
- Thinking about the future, do you have some projects already planned or completed that you can reveal?
I recently participated in another anime, which is debuting this season, called Conception. The anime itself is no big deal, but it’s work and it’s always good to gain more experience. Apart from that, I participated in other interesting projects this year, but as they have not yet been announced, I can´t speak.
Since then Castlevania 2 (where he animated a couple of cuts) and Conception aired where João had his debut as an animation director where he was in charge of correcting some cuts from episode 7 (he was credited as a key animator at episode 12 too, but only corrected some cuts since he was already working at another project at the time).
Y’all can follow João and his projects on social media: