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Earwig and the Witch is a 2020 animated film
And the first 3D animated feature produced by Studio Ghibli
It’s a slice of life story about a young orphan being adopted by a witch
And…. that’s about it
If that doesn’t sound very exciting
Yeah, grab a chair and join the rest of the Internet
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The movie looks so bland, in fact
The age-old debate on 2D vs. 3D is being brought up once again
As always, some anime purists came and said
“3D just isn’t as dynamic as 2D”
To which my response is…
Please keep your waifu fetish to yourself
3D animation has come a long way
With many stunning films produced
By artists from both the East and the West
Covering a wide variety of styles
In fact, there are so many good looking 3D animations these days
We can look to them to find out exactly
what went wrong with Earwig
And maybe, even infer the reason behind this misfire
Spoiler: It’s not the 3D
It’s a failure on the fundamentals of filmmaking
So, this is my take on Earwig and the Witch
And why it looks so soulless
[WHY GHIBLI’S FIRST 3D LOOKS SOULLESS]
Lighting is often the one thing
that separates the pro From the amateur
A ton of work and equipment goes into lighting
Cinema is painting with lights and shadows
This is especially important in animation
As lighting is often a major part of its visual identity
Into the Spider-Verse has this neon color glow
Saturated like a comic book
Over the Moon frequently employs red and yellow lantern lights
Colors that are associated with traditional Chinese aesthetic
Even the Godzilla anime trilogy
Which, by most measures, are petty poorly animated
Still has a distinct visual style
through its lighting and shading
And then there’s Earwig, and…
Where do I begin
Let’s start from the basics
As a rule of thumb
Lighting a character from the far side of their face
Accentuates their shape and depth
See the highlights on the edges?
There’s a contrast between light and shadow
This is critical with animations that feature characters
With simplified cartoon faces
It adds dimensionality
Making them more interesting to look at
So, how does Earwig light its characters?
… Yep, the vast majority of the shots are lit from the near side
With extremely soft light, leaving almost no shadows
And no, even in 2D
Characters will often have defined shadows
As a result
Characters in Earwig look about as dynamic
As Ryan Gosling’s acting range
Even when the light comes from a flashlight
It’s still soft and flat!
And that’s another thing
The lighting design is really bland, too
In this scene, she’s telling a ghost story
Then, why is the shadow so soft?
This is the place to play with interesting shadows
Toy Story has a more dynamic design than this
And that was made in 1995!
See how the light curves around the character’s surfaces
This little interaction with light not only makes them feel real
But also help them stand out from the plain background
Whereas in Earwig
Characters frequently have the same brightness as the background
As if the characters aren’t important
And why would you put them in the darkest part of the frame!?
And why is everything in plain daylight
Almost every single frame
The kitchen has the exact same color light
As the bathroom!
Real appetizing, isn’t it?
Okay, I want you to imagine a witch’s hut
A place where a witch brews her potions and does her magic
How would you light it?
Or a cauldron?
Oh, maybe color changing potions inside?
HOW ABOUT F@@CKING DAYLIGHT!?
Let’s visit Yubaba’s office
From Spirited Away
It has a fireplace, giving off this ominously red light
Next to Yubaba is a tiny desk lamp
Casting harsh, unflattering shadows
Making her unsettling wrinkles even more prominent
Behind her, yet another lamp struggles to light the room
The shadows in the frame are moody and oppressive
This is what I mean When I say
lighting separates the pro From the amateur
Honestly, I feel bad
The original story of Earwig and the Witch
Is really delightful and quirky
After all, it was written by Diana Wynne Jones
The same author who wrote Howl’s Moving Castle
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Dust in the air in an antique shop
A place filled with history
Harsh sunlight, overexposing the frame
A hostile work environment
This is mood
It is drawing the invisible through the use of details
And it’s what separates the kitchen from the f@@king toilet
This is something Studio Ghibli is especially good at
When Kiki is flying
You can feel the wind blowing through the movement of her dress
When the furnace is on
The saturated red brings out the heat
The grass sways
The bushes dance
And in Earwig
Everything is… static
That’s the opening credit sequence, by the way
Really leaps off the screen, doesn’t it?
Static clothes and everything
Even the camera barely moves
This is a very stiff movie
Background characters don’t move around much
Nor do they talk
Moving through foliage
And you barely get to see the grass sway
Even the blender barely moves
Have you used a god d@mn blender before!?
I want you to look at this scene
With the steam in the air
And the water flowing on the floor
Can you feel the moisture?
And look at this
Imagine yourself in this place
With the flying bugs and the blue-tinted shadows
Refreshing, and even a bit cold, isn’t it?
很清新 甚至有点冷 不是吗？
Now, look at this scene
The main character gets adopted
And is about to leave the orphanage she grew up in
She has to say goodbye to her best friend
And… I want you to tell me
What is the temperature in this scene?
Is this place in the countryside?
Or in the city?
Is this place new or old?
No flying birds
No cars waiting with the engines on
You can’t feel the world
That’s how you start your journey?
Up begin the adventure with a frame full of ballons
The light shines through them
Giving a magical, colorful light show
The shadow moves across the street
The reflection on the window makes people smile
The house swaying in the wind
The main character’s hair moving in the air
The house interacts with the world
And the world interacts with it
You feel the magic in the air
You know, magic?
The thing Earwig and the Witch is about?
Let me ask this question
Where is your imagination?
《寻梦环游记》（2017） 导演 阿德里安·莫利纳 李·昂克里奇
《白蛇：缘起》（2019） 导演 黄家康
《乐高大电影》（2014） 导演 菲尔·罗德 克里斯·米勒
For a movie about a girl adopted by a witch
It really doesn’t want to show you any magic, does it?
”Do you ride a broomstick?”
Yeah, who the f@@k would wanna see that in a witch movie
And that’s its biggest problem
It just doesn’t have a lot of interesting things to show
This movie has two montage sequences
In this scene
The main character is trying to make a potion
It is extremely badly edited
Shots last way too long
Movements way too slow
It’s edited together with cross dissolves of all things
It has the rhythm of a photo album made in PowerPoint
But that’s not even the problem
What IS she doing?
Is this supposed to be interesting?
What do you think of, when you think of potion brewing?
But no, you get to see them rub the thing on their body
And that’s it
They don’t even know if the potion works
Well, what a payoff that is!
A similar sort of scene is done in Big Hero 6
You see the main character making… something…
It similarly lacks a payoff
Or rather, the pay off is delayed to later
But through this time lapse
You get to know the character
You see him working overnight
You see his brother stays by his side for a long time
You understand their relationship is close
You see the character talks to his friends
And you know his friends are impressed by what he’s making
You get a glimpse into his life
It tells you about the character
What do you learn about this character?
I didn’t tell you but…
This is the first time she gets to make a potion
Can you tell?
If the climatic montage is just your character
shoving worms into a hole Over and over
You have no story
What is this movie about…
And this brings us to the root of the problem
The film’s director, Goro Miyazaki
The son of the legendary grumpy old man, Hayao Miyazaki
Growing up, Goro Miyazaki knew he wouldn’t be able to match his father
So, he didn’t really try
He, instead, pursued a career in landscape architecture
And helped design and oversee the excellent Ghibli Museum
Dude was doing alright!
But then, production on Tales from Earthsea began
Likely due to him bearing the name “Miyazaki”
Producer Toshio Suzuki decided that he should direct the film
A decision that would majorly piss off Hayao Miyazaki
He believed his son was too inexperienced
Which, he was right
But he also decided to be a dick about it
And refused to talk to his son throughout the production
That would be Goro’s career from then on
Get asked to be a director by the studio
While receiving little to no help from his father
Earwig and the Witch is the worst-case scenario
The entire creative team was comprised of only young staff
And supposedly, Goro was the only one who knew how to do 3D
And so, Earwig turned out to be… aimless
A common criticism of the film is that it has no story
it just ends before things get interesting
And I think the reason is
Goro Miyazaki didn’t know what he wanted to do
He was put on the spot by his peers
And, more than likely
He was doing it because he felt a sense of responsibility
Which is why there was effort put into Earwig
The technology is well done
But the creative stuff is empty
Art is a reflection of the heart of an artist
And Goro’s heart was… probably really confused
“I agreed to help you”
“And you promised to teach me magic!”
All of his films are like this
Only fragments of him shine through
Trying so hard to do something new
Yet also, chasing after what his father has done
What do you really want to do, Goro?