Designer & Stop Motion Animator: Michele Keane

Well folks, here we are now in the month of November and as the temperature is dropping it’s also getting near that time. That wonderful time when capitalism takes over, holiday music runs rampant on the radio, and everyone’s preparing to ‘Tis the Season. The end of 2019 is drawing ever nearer and it’s definitely exciting. However, before you rush off to make arrangements for the holiday fun, we’d like to remind you of just a couple more things to be thankful for along with your loved ones…namely all the wonderful Black Creatives out here of course.

The Happy Graduate – May 2019

This month we are pleased to present illustrator & stop motion animator Michele Keane. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, the skilled artist journeyed here to Japan in pursuit of a Master’s Degree from the highly renowned Kyoto University of Art & Design. After completing her studies, Michele continues to live and work in Kansai, while using her student portfolio as a springboard to brew up even more amazing pieces. Once our schedules allowed, I had the pleasure of kicking back with Michele to discuss our mutual love/obsession over animation, sip some seasonal konbini drinks and witness the graceful, yet obnoxious antics of Japanese cranes on the Kamogawa River bank:

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Black Creatives Japan: Firstly, I don’t know if I’ve told you before, but ‘sotsugyo omedetou’ – Happy graduation! How has post grad life been so far if you don’t mind me asking?

Michele Keane: Aww, thanks! It’s been almost half a year since graduation this past May. It’s crazy to think how much time has gone by and how close I am to finishing another year (I think my 3rd) in Japan. It’s been quite a learning experience.

I started working after Golden Week and it’s been weird getting used to, or rather, getting into a routine. My Japanese is still awful…I need to study a lot more than I am, which is literally not at all. My job is entirely in Japanese and it’s difficult to say the least, but I love my job! 

I also recently started learning Spanish on Duolingo. I still have to pick up Swedish though. Maybe after Spanish since that’s more useful to me at the moment.

Goache painting on wood panel 22x27cm

BCJ: Wow, that’s amazing! Six months after graduation and you’re already so busy! It’s definitely understandable that you’re still working on your Japanese at this point so don’t be too hard on yourself. Learning just one language is hard enough, but you’re absolutely doing the most, adding two more into the mix haha! So, let’s jump right into it and let me ask how did it all start for you? Did you always know you wanted to be an animator? From what I’ve seen, you have some beautiful illustrations as well! When did you first decide you were interested in illustrating & animation?

MK: Um, well no, actually in high school I really wanted to become a comic book artist. I was even contemplating somehow doing some sort of exchange program in Japan for that, even though looking back I don’t think that was available to people from my country haha.

I used to draw comics in high school with a good friend at the time. We would take turns drawing as many pages as we wanted. Sometimes a whole chapter and then exchange the book so the other person could continue afterwards. That was a lot of fun! Everyone in our friend group would read those comics. I remember wishing I could draw as well as my friend at the time though.

And thank you for calling them beautiful! I always find some issues with the way I draw and I’m almost always changing it, but I guess I do have a distinct style that I always go back to. I’ve been illustrating for a while actually and even did a comic book for someone back in Jamaica — I absolutely hated that commission though — it wasn’t in my style and I was thoroughly uncomfortable with drawing in that way. To be honest, if I could I would totally redo it the way I draw now, but it wasn’t my story. Oh well, haha!

As for animation, I first developed an interest in university. I did a degree in multimedia so we got to do a little bit of animation in our program. I’m terrible at flash, but animation kinda stuck with me and the love just grew from there.

Sticker Set for Thumbelina Project

BCJ: Ah, okay I see so that makes sense. It’s nice that you and your high school friend inspired each other and now as a result your skill is even better than before! And now just because I’m a big animation otaku myself haha, I’d like to nerd out a little and ask what are some of your favorite animations and/or cartoons? Japanese, Western, or otherwise?

MK: The worst question to ask me, haha! So I’ll have to split these up into categories. Firstly 2D animated film, my favorites are Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki, The Red Turtle and Ernest et Celestine, which is a french film about discrimination. It’s very good and I highly recommend it! The illustration style is also very cute and simple and one of my influences I believe in terms of illustration style.

Next is 3D stop motion film: EVERYTHING by Laika Studios! They’re my absolute favorite studio of all time. I honestly wish they came to Hiroshima’s animation festival last year, because I would have loved to meet someone from the studio. It’s probably my dream to work there. They have beautiful films and I recommend all of them! I’ve been in love with them since Corpse Bride, haha. And yes, they did the animation for that, but their own in house films are just as good (Coraline, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings, and the latest one Missing Link).

Next would be 2D TV animation, and I’ll also include shorts in this category. My favorite 2D animator is this dutch guy, Michael Dudok de Wit. I actually got to meet him last year at the festival! He was very kind and his drawings are so amazing! He directed The Red Turtle. I really love his short films, especially Father & Daughter. That is an extremely powerful film I recommend!

Dancing Chicken Animation Test

As for TV shows, I watch a variety of things, but I especially enjoyed Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, Star vs The Forces of Evil, Rurouni Kenshin, Inuyasha, and Tokyo Ghoul. I don’t think I watch as much Japanese animation nowadays though, for some reason there aren’t many that I can get into story wise, but I prefer Japanese animated film. Gravity Falls had an amazing but wacky story that was really charming and endearing in that way.

God, I hope this isn’t too long! Animation is a passion of mine and I tend to ramble… Oh! Another short I absolutely love is one called Catherine. Beautiful animation, hilarious and wacky. Sort of a dark comedy.

Okay, and the final bit I think is stop motion shorts: there’s a plethora of shorts I like, but a particular animator who has beautiful work is Jiri Trnka, from the Czech Republic. There’s also quite a few hilarious shorts I like such as Enough. I really love the set design and the character designs, especially since I use similar materials. It’s really good for learning purposes. And Marilyn Myller is also an amazing black and white short that uses a lot of styrofoam.

BCJ: My Dear, you never have to worry about rambling on about your passions. That’s definitely what we’re here for and I am the one who dared to ask! I’d do the very same, but then we’ll be here forever. I will say I’m glad we share some favorites like Steven Universe and all things Laika, but I’m also excited to check out your other suggestions later on. So you mentioned a few of your inspirations responsible for your art style, are there any more you want to add? Also what specifically drove you to go into stop motion animation as opposed to other mediums?

MK: Yeah, I have a lot of influences I think, but most of it comes from short films. I find short film to be more endearing and leave more lasting impressions than feature length movies. You have a lot less time and you can pretty much only make one point, so it has to be quite strong. It really forces you to be more creative. My style I think is continuously developing. Like when I see something I like, I have to think about what I like about that thing and then I usually practice it and see how I can incorporate it in my style or if I want to continue using it.

Thumbelina Kidnapped

And as for my shift into stop motion, initially, I was very afraid of it. It seemed way too difficult, but one year I met a girl who was doing it in university from Australia. She was the only person in the group that was here doing it and she kind of inspired me to give it a go. And now the rest is history.

BCJ: It’s interesting you say that because I was thinking of getting into animation at one point long ago myself and I too found it terrifying! As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an animator at Disney, but after one class, I knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t just scary, but was just so tedious in a way that I didn’t enjoy at all like other creative pursuits, but it’s all good. I’m glad other artists like yourself do in fact enjoy every moment or else we wouldn’t have all the amazing shows we’ve talked about so far! In your experience, have you ever had moments like that or any roadblocks that you can speak to working in this field? How did you push through them?

MK: I think it’s awesome that you wanted to be an animator! We need more Black female animators. Unfortunately, animation is difficult. When I was in Jamaica, a Japanese animator visited and talked about animation in a lecture or something I don’t remember exactly, but he said that animation is hard and that if you don’t love it, don’t get into the field. I’ve never forgotten that.

I unfortunately don’t work in animation full time right now. My day work is in design, but I do want to make another stop motion film! While making my first film, Tamrind, at uni, one of my roadblocks I’d say would be time and money. Stop motion is pretty expensive and takes a lot of time. Also there was a lot of trial and error for me. I still have a lot to learn going forward. I want to make better puppets and do more high quality work. I think when it comes to animation, it’s important to ensure you’re drawing skills are high quality. You’ve got to keep drawing and you’ve got to know the animation principles through and through. These are essential. To be honest, the only way to push through is to remind yourself you love it and to enjoy what you do. I do have frustrating times at work, but at the end of the day I love what I do and I do love problem solving.

BCJ: True, following a passion is as simple as that sometimes; just love and enjoy it, no matter what may come. In that same vein, do you have any more wise words for anyone desiring to go into animation?

Check out of Michele’s work @deconoire

MK: Draw. Draw. Draw. As much as possible. Life drawing. Draw more than you think you need to. I mean I don’t right now, but it really is essential. If you want to get into stop motion specifically, learn to sew well or at least to fake it well. I’m still working on that part, haha. And most important of all is to have a love for animation and a desire to make things move. You’ve gotta wanna be telekinetic in terms of making drawings move or objects move on film if that even makes any sense, haha.

BCJ: It does! I’d say that’s a fair analogy; being an animator is almost like having a ‘telekinetic,’ but manual power and drive to make drawings move, haha! Well, to wrap things up, do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on and would like us to keep a lookout for? Will your next film, be a sequel to Tamrind? I’ve personally been hoping for that, haha!

MK: I do have 2 films currently in concept mode. I need to do storyboards for them or flesh the stories out. One is a comedy and the other would be a social commentary in the same vein as Tamrind. Thank you for saying that! But unfortunately, no, Tamrind won’t have a sequel. I suppose the next social commentary film I do will be quite similar though, but I also want to do a dark comedy since that’s my favorite film genre. I’m hoping I can do the storyboards for both films soon! I have done character designs for the comedy, although I might redo them. I think they need to be pushed a lot more than they currently are to make it even more hilarious. I am also thinking about starting an online comic and a fashion blog. I’m not 100% sure yet though. I need to see how I can manage my time first before I roll those out.

Tamrind’s Protagonist

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BCJ: That’s wonderful to hear, Michele! I’m sure whatever your next project may be, it’ll be amazing and we’ll all love it. Just try to take it easy just a bit since you’re still out here doing the most, haha!

For any of our readers that want to keep up with Michele’s work and progress, please follow her on social media (IG: @deconoire & Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/352390717). And if you too are a nerd/know a nerd that loves cartoons, anime, or all things animation, please do yourself a solid and check out/share all the links to the shows, films, and short films we discussed earlier!

Additionally, to all of our locals and travelers out here in the Kansai area, do yourself yet another solid and bring yourselves on down to Osaka for some awesome events going on this upcoming weekend:

TELL Band Night in Osaka! @ 7pm on Saturday November 23rd at Bistro New Orleans in Kitahorie. For a very good cause, come out, have a good meal, and listen to the exceptional live musical stylings of local artists, Dante Sax and 4th Tribe. Click HERE for more information on their Facebook events page.

Wonderground Volume 7: Cinéphile @ 8pm also on Saturday November 23rd at The Sound Garden Cafe in Shinsaibashi. See the Kansai DJ Collective members strut their stuff, while spinning music from some of your all time favorite films. Click HERE for advanced ticket info and hope to see you all there!

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