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A Really Really Quick Gallery Tour: The Golden Age

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Pippi Longstocking (Miyazaki/Takahata, 1971): Tests
Source: TV
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Added 8/1/2011
Updated 1/11/2013
The celebrated anime artist/director Hayao Miyazaki began his career in 1963 working for Toei Animation, where he established a close working relationship with fellow animator Isao Takahata. In 1971, the two left Toei to freelance for other studios. They began their independent career by proposing an anime series based on the Pippi Longstocking [Pippi Långstrump] books by the Swedish children’s writer Astrid Lindgren. They titled the project 長靴下のピッピ, 世界一強い女の子, Nagakutsushita no Pippi, Sekai ichi tsuyoi onna no ko, or “Pippi of the Long Socks, Strongest Girl In The World”].

The animators traveled to Sweden to visit Visby, the original setting of the tale, and Miyazaki made a large number of preliminary sketches in pencil with watercolor accents. During the trip, the two artists met with Lindgren to try to gain her support. In the end, however, permission was not granted, and the project was abandoned.

This gallery reproduces seven previously unknown images produced for the 1971 Pippi project, which were preserved in the form of 4x5 color transparency photographs.

Miyazaki reworked his Pippi character design (minus the long legs) into Mimika, the girl protagonist of the two short Panda Kopanda movies, directed by Takahata (1972-73). In 1983 he published a selection of his preliminary drawings and watercolors for both Pippi and Panda Kopanda in the art book Hayao Miyazaki Image Board (Kodansha). Meantime, he continued to travel to Europe to sketch authentic scenery while supervising the World Masterpiece Theatre projects Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974) and 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976). Much later, Miyazaki revisited the Pippi/Mimika character designs as inspiration for the little girl Mei in My Neighbor Totoro (1988), while his 1971 sketches of Visby became backgrounds for Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989).

Various theories have been proposed for why Lindgren rebuffed Miyazaki and Takahata. The most obvious is that the two had no track record as independent animators, and Japanese anime had yet to make an impression outside of its native country. Also, Lindgren was rather protective of her most famous creation. Unhappy with the first (Swedish) film based on the books, she had insisted on writing scripts and supervising the 1969 live-action (Swedish-German) TV series. This was being dubbed and licenced for broadcast in Europe and North America. Possibly Lindgren would have preferred this “authorized” live-action version to be shown in Japan, rather than have a rival animated version created by unknown artists.

The album page that came with these unfortunately did not give any clues as to their provenance. It is possible that these photographs of the set-ups were part of the material that the artists showed Lindgren and her agents during negotiations in Sweden. Or possibly they were sent to potential backers or studios in Japan. Or just maybe the photographs were made somewhat later in preparation for the 1983 Miyazaki art book but for some reason not included in that publication. It is unknown whether duplicates of these slides were made or distributed (I certainly had never seen any before this lot came up) or if only one set of safety copies were made. In any case, it’s not known if the set-ups themselves still survive, or if so, in what condition. So it is likely that these transparencies are the best – perhaps the only – surviving record of the cels Miyazaki and Takahata had made for the Pippi project before it was abandoned.

Caution! Fussy Notes

The transparencies, despite their darkening with age, preserve the details of the art in intricate detail. They show that Miyazaki and Takahata worked up some of the preliminary drawings and watercolors into test cels. When a 600 dpi scan was viewed at 100%, it was possible to observe how the original art had been executed. There seem to be three layers for each image, with the middle layer being a photocopy image of an original sketch (presumably by Miyazaki himself, or at least under his supervision). This was printed onto the back of a plastic sheet, much as the trace lines of a douga are printed onto the back of a conventional cel. However, these lines were not painted in, as a cel layer would be, but provided definition for a separate watercolor backing. This technique continues to be used for harmony cels, which have a plastic layer with trace lines only that lies on top of a watercolor painting. In some of the images, this layer had not been pressed tightly against the watercolor, and so the photocopied lines of the sketch cast a visible shadow onto the background.

A top “cel” layer contained painted images of the characters, as well as a number of the other objects in the scene that needed to come across more vividly that others. These were painted in the usual way on the back of the sheet, but the trace lines appear to have been hand-inked rather than photocopied. In some cases, this layer too cast a visible shadow on the background, and in one case, on the middle layer with the sketch photocopy as well.

A number of Miyazaki’s preliminary sketches and watercolors for Pippi, along with some very similar Panda Kopanda sketches, are reproduced at this Russian-language Miyazaki tribute site. Good discussions of the abortive project in English include Anna Nykvist, “Miyazaki’s Lost Dream: Pippi Longstocking,” at CSICON: Committee for the Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal, and “A Rare Look at Miyazaki’s & Takahata’s Never Released ‘Pippi,’” at News & Updates (look under “4th of May”). Finally, you can watch “Pippi Longstocking: An Anime Film That Never Was,” an enjoyable slide show of the Miyazaki sketches with musical accompaniment, on YouTube.

    Previous: Microid S (Toei, 1973) Next: Syrius no Densetsu/The Sea Prince and the Fire Child (Sanrio, 1981)    

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