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Mushishi: Episode 26 Art Boards

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Real or Ricoh?
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Added 5/15/2007
Updated 3/25/2023
Lovely as these sheets are in scans, when you hold the paper product in your hand, they raise questions. In most, the registration holes are not cut through, but are simply copied on top of the page. The sheets feel thinner, “slicker” than the studio production paper many of us collect. Most ominously, the images of the characters, though drawn with a very sharp pencil, leave no indentations on the front or back of the paper.

ArtLand, and other major studios, have invested in some high-end color copiers and used them intensively to plan and produce Mushishi. Similar color copies have come on the market from Kanon, DearS, gunXsword, Simoun, and Demonbane. It’s become common to photocopy layouts in grayscale and mark up these copies as a guide to the artist executing the watercolor production backgrounds. These marked up photocopies are often sold with these bgs. Evidently the same practice continues even though backgrounds, increasingly, are computer generated in nature. And, with the work of excellent color copiers, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish an original drawing from a high-end duplicate.

To add to the confusion, the background team at ArtLand Animation Studio regularly used color copies as a base for drawings that substantially revised or elaborated the original layout. Hence a set of sketches, like the one that this gallery samples, may include totally autograph drawings, totally color copied images, and a number of sheets that include a mix of photocopied and original hand-drawn art.

At first glance, the three are extremely difficult to tell apart, so here are some basic guidelines, based on my close study of these art boards.

Signs of Photocopy Art:

1. Look at the registration holes. If they are cut through, the art is probably autograph. If they are simply copied on top of an uncut page, the sheet is in whole or part a photocopy.

2. Hold the sheet at a sharp angle to a light source, until the light reflects off the black around the registration holes. If they are photocopied, they will shine brightly and evenly across the whole square. The “ArtLand” logo will shine in the same way. If you look at the rest of the image while rocking the sheet back and forth, you’ll see other patches of the image shine in the same way. These too are probably photocopied. The copy machine uses heat and high pressure to fuse the toner to the sheet, producing a flat, light-reflecting surface. A photocopy with a lot of heavy coloring will shine across the whole surface, while one with a lot of white space may shine only on the most distinct outlines.

3. Turn the sheet over and look at it under the same light at a sharp angle. Sheets bearing original art will usually show the mark of the artist’s pencil or pen on the back, though sometimes weakly, as with blunt color pencils; photocopied sheets will be flat with no impressions.

4. Look at the sheet under a 8x or 10x photographer’s loupe. One of those inexpensive molded plastic ones is fine; you don’t need one of those fancy three-lens loupes made for jewelers. Photocopied images will resolve under this magnification into a fine collection of little dots, which are the actual bits of toner used to make the image. I like to call this effect “sand,” which is what it looks like on the sheet.

Alternatively, scan the sheet at 600 dpi. (300 dpi isn’t strong enough) and then look at the scan on the screen at 100% image size. If your scanner is a good one, you’ll be able to see the tiny dots of “sand” making up the image.

Signs of Original Artwork

1. In the set I got, all four examples of ArtLand sheets that had cut-through registration holes (not solid white copies) contained artwork that was entirely original. Other collectors have had similar experiences.

2. Original art usually leaves visible “hills” on the back of the sheet that can be seen when it’s held against sharply raking light. In addition, some of the black ink used was absorbent enough that it bled through to the other side.

3. Original art may shine in some places, particularly if executed in graphite. But original graphite pencil also shows individual strokes and irregularities, while photocopy shines consistently across the whole patch.

4. When the sheet is inspected under a loupe, especially under raking light, you can see the texture of the paper’s surface. It’s not perfectly flat, but tends to make low hills and valleys. Pencil strokes tend to “catch” the hills and “miss” the valleys, producing an effect that reminds me of “skin” rather than “sand.” This “skin” texture is also visible in a 600 dpi scan, though if you use the loupe you can also see the topography of the paper’s surface as well. Original black ink, by contrast, bleeds into the paper, coating hills and valleys and leaving a smooth, crisp contour, not a “sandy” outline.

Now go back and look at the image at the top of the page, cropped from a 600 dpi scan of the Cut 44 art board. You can see that the outlines of the character are “sandy,” indicating that they belong to the color copy base. The blue pencil, elaborating the foliage behind the character, is original, and picks up a “skin” texture from the contours of the paper. The deep ink line, reworking the contour of a rock behind the character, is also original. It’s difficult to tell, but I believe that the yellow highlighter, as with other colored highlighting used elsewhere, is also original.

In the two thumbnails you can see portions of the same art board at the same magnification:

1. From the upper left of the art board. Black ink and orange pencil have been added by a studio artist to outline and revise a “sandy” photocopied tree limb, while “skin-textured” blue pencil is visible above and below. You can also see part of an original annotation in black and red ink.

2. From about the middle of the same art board. A “sandy” photocopied section is at the top, while “skin-like” blue penciling and a crisp original ink annotation are visible below. Note that the red circle around the ink annotation “hits” and “misses” the paper texture, so it too much be original.

I've added brief notes to each of the art boards in the gallery to call attention to the extent of original artwork present.

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Next: Cut 7: Taku's fishing pole    

Curator: 60something-sensei
Gallery Created: 8/3/2002
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