The following interview was originally conducted with the help and translation by my good friend, Xin without whom this would not have been possible © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon
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Part 2 (coming soon!)
Chengxi Huang is perhaps one of the biggest Naruto fans on the planet. A young webgen animator, Huang has earned a name for himself by creating amazing cuts of kinetic action and breathtaking scenes of fight animation while working on his beloved series at Studio Pierrot.
After moving to Japan, Huang started out as an animator for the outsource studio Candybox, where eventually he did secondary key animation for Naruto Shippuden. There he brushed paths with his current mentor, Hiroyuki Yamashita, who brought him on to work on the series as a core key animator. Recently he has key animated for Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale before returning to Pierrot for work on the currently airing Boruto.
– What was first experience with anime?
I was influenced by my younger cousin when I was 5 years old, he was learning to draw, and Dragonball Z was also airing on Hongkong TV at the time. We were big fans of it! I was thinking, why not draw it by myself? I knew nothing about being an animator, I just wanna draw my favorite anime with my own hands. So I began learning how to draw with that thought.
– Other than Dragonball, what are some other of your favorite shows?
There are quite a few, like Digimon, Bakuso Kyodai Let’s & Go!, Cardcaptor Sakura, Chuka Ichiban, the Brave series, Gundam, and a lot of Super Sentai and Ultraman. Also two Chinese animations influenced me a lot, Gourd Brothers, and Shuke and Beita. As for American cartoons, Toy Story and Tarzan come to mind.
– How did you get into anime? Tell us your story of how you started making anime? Did your parents support you learning anime?
I remember when I was 6 years old, I drew the intro of LI Ming’s (a Chinese star) concert on my calendar, it was amazing . Although it was pretty rough it was my first experience of how cool anime was. It meant a lot to me. I told my parents I wanted to be an animator, and they have always supported me since then. When I was in high school I decided I wanted to attend the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, so I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do in life. By the time I made it to university I had a comprehensive knowledge of anime.
– Did you get in anime industry directly after graduation?
After 4 years of studying, I partly knew the theory and process of animation. But the deeper I learned about anime, the more I realized there were things I didn’t know, so I thought I needed to go abroad for further study. I decided to go Japan after finishing a short show at the end of the school year with my friends. I was going for my master’s degree in art at the time. But that was not what I had been chasing after, I wanted to work on commercial anime. So I give up my master’s degree. The Japanese anime industry is world-famous, so I felt I could also get good training from it.
– Can you share your experience when you worked in Japan? How did you start?
I was introduced by Boya Liang and Yong-ce Tu (of Toei animation) to Candybox for advanced study and training. From Monday to Friday, my days were occupied by language lessons with a part-time job in the afternoon. Then from Friday to midnight the following Monday I practiced animation.
– So your time with Candy Box means a lot to you.
Yeah, that’s where I started. And to some extent, I saw Candy box’s development alongside my own. We grew and went through some hard times together. There wasn’t much support when I was there, so we accepted work in many different styles for the sake of the company’s development. The good part was that I was trained to adapt to the diverse demands of genga. The bad part was that I didn’t get the chance to experience the cooperation of a steady, long-time team, so I missed out on opportunities of making contacts. But all said and done, it was a good training period .
– Are there influences outside of anime that affect your work? You seem to be a big Iron Man fan.
Like most people, I didn’t know Robert Downey Jr. until Iron Man come out in 2008. Expect the dazzy cg, his acting is so awesome, I can’t help but to be attracted by him. To be honest , Tony Stark’s character is not very realistic, you can’t really find someone who has that personality in daily life, but he is just so charming. When I got to know more about him, I realized his career is also not always smoothly, he had made mistakes, went through setbacks. To some extent, his life experience is similar to Stark’s. I think it’s more than acting, he put his own emotions into the movie. And he also loves Wing Chun! (laughs)
Outside of anime, being with family and fiends helps me feel relaxed. As for other hobbies, Wing Chun, movies, but what I find most enjoyable is drawing stuff that isnt work related. Without the sense of responsibility and urgency, just drawing freely, is best thing to any creator. I love putting my personal emotions into my family and friends, and into my sketches.
– Talking about Wing Chun, how did you come up combining Wing Chun in the anime in this cut?
I had planed this for a long time since coming onto Naruto, but I wanted to make the fights looks reasonable, I can’t just implement it randomly. I had been waiting for the appropriate chance. This fight was totally original to the anime, so without the limits of the manga and since this all happened in an ancient age, the fight should have historical element to which Chinese martial arts would be a good choice. The episode director also was pretty open and interested to my idea. When all’s said and done, it worked out and looks very good. In order to show Indora’s aggressiveness, I used some techniques of Wing Chun like : Man Sao , Bang Sao, Gaun Sao, and Chi Sao. Just like Robert Downey Jr. always wants to add some Wing Chun elements in his action scenes. (laugh)
– Who are your inspirations? Are their any animators you admire?
I was influenced a lot by Tetsuya Nishio, and Masashi Kishimoto for his character design. I was imitating Akira Toriyama before I worked on Naruto, so the male characters I drew back then always looked like Muscle Man. As for sakuga, I was influenced by Hiroyuki Yamashita and Norio Matsumoto. After I saw Naruto, I gradually started morphing into Tetsuya Nishio, but haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.
Those 4 have been inspired me the most on my path as an animator. Matsumoto’s action cuts are always amazing, I was impressed by him since middle school. As for Yamashita, that fight (Sasuke vs 8 tails) is so famous… But I didn’t know both of their names until coming to Japan.
– How do you chose your cuts? Is there any basis or preference that you have? Could explain that process?
I didn’t have too much confidence at that time, so I only picked cut I could deal with, but at the same time I also paid attention if the part which I picked means a lot to this episode. For example this cut; the storyboard of this cut interested me and I wanted to try to draw flowing fabric in an action scene.
This is my favorite part of Yamashita’s directing. The final fight in the manga didn’t have many details, however it should have more information in the anime, so I added my own personal ideas according to the original storyboard (how to make storytelling more attractive in restrictive conditions is always something I have been learning how to do). The emotion within the fight is another key point to show how much the final attack means to both of them. I’m not good at action, but I love it, so I usually focus on the emotions of one fight.
Here are some rules I go by in picking cuts:
1. Cut which I can handle
2. Cut which means something to story developing
3. Cut which I can try something new (meaning it may out of my ability, but I still want to challenge myself)
4. Cut which I can feel the style of the director
– How would you describe your style. How do you animate?
Actually, I don’t know either (laughs). I am still at a stage where I need a lot of practice. I hope I can make everyone feel warm, both in visual way and emotional with my drawings.
– Are there things in particular that you like to draw or you find hard to draw? I’ve noticed a you draw hands really really well.
Emm… It drives me crazy when I’m required to show the softness of fingers. Honestly, I don’t think I am very good at it. I did copy a lot of the hand works of Masashi Kishimoto and Tetsuya Nishio, so maybe I’ll gradually get used to their style and start getting better?
Like I said before, I prefer cuts which show the emotion of character, you can’t just get rid of emotional expression whether it’s action scene or not. I majored in 3D and character acting in my college years which caused me to form a weakness with effects. I hope one day I can conquer it. Another one is images combining complex structures, lights, and shadows. Also, I have a bad sense of color. I hope all of these will be conquered one by one.
– How long does it take you to finish a cut? And could you tell me about your schedule?
When I first started I had to choose easy cuts to make living at about 2-3 cuts per day. You know, the more cuts you draw the more you make. But now I am able to support myself, it gives me chance to take challenging cuts I’ve never tried before. I can focus on higher quality instead of large amounts or speed.
I have a bad balance between work and rest, and actually it’s pretty unhealthy. One reason is because of the amounts and difficulty, another is lack of self-control (laugh). I can only fully concentrate my complete attention at around midnight. But it seems like I’m not the only one confused by it. Many of my senpei, including some top masters, are also attracted to something interesting when working. Maybe it is the need for the brain to stay active when creating art.
But Yamashita has a strong self-control. Basically, he works until 10pm every day. He’s a role model in the anime industry who I should learn from, because it would be hard if you don’t have a healthy schedule to continue your career.
– You started doing key animation sometime in early 2014, correct? What was it like stepping into that role?
Actually, I tried a few key animation works in 2013 when I was studying for my Masters of Arts every weekend before getting into Japan and having full-time work. After giving up my degree, I spent a long time considering about where I should go. In the end it turns out I made the right choice in entering the anime industry. I tried submitting my resume to Production I.G, but failed. So I decided to stay in Candybox for Naruto which was the main reason I came to Japan.
I was so happy when I had my first 2nd key animation cut for Naruto, to the point that I was singing and dancing. I had been watching the show for 9 years since I was in middle school, and now I’m working on it. I get nervous when I think about it like that, but it also makes me work harder.
– Before that you did a lot of 2nd Key Animation, right? Tell us what a 2nd Key Animator does. Can you talk about some of the shows you provided 2nd Key for?
I have 2nd key animated three times on Naruto, and two of them are from episodes Yamashita directed. I feel so lucky having the chance to connect with the man I was chasing after so quickly. I was adopted by team Naruto after that, and soon was given my first key animation which was also on an episode directed by Yamashita.
There are many works if we’re simply talking about coverage, but most of them only in 1-2 episodes which I can still remember are: Silver Spoon, Chaika the Coffin Princess, Kuroko no Basket, Maria the Virgin Witch, etc. (many from I.G lol). And some PVs for Chinese projects, like: Judgement of Rage, miHoYo and so on.