Ponyo and Organic Design
August 14, 2009
There is no formal definition for the term organic design but we do have something called organic architecture. One of its principles advocates for designs that unfold and sprawls out like an organism, which you may find it interesting and relevant to Miyazaki’s visual mastery of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. When Miyazaki was asked about how he crafted colours and backgrounds for the film in his interview, he said,
I wanted to make it a simple story and to show simplicity through the colors. Also, since the main character is red, a goldfish, I didn’t want her colors to overwhelm the other colors, so the other colors had to be bright as well.
Below you can see what he did with colour scheme for yourself.
One of the reasons why I have no fond of most designs in anime today is because they feel more machinic than organic. What I mean by machinic is that, the characters for example, come pre-fabricated in typically archetypal model, such as dojikko, tsundere or tomboy, in different variations of awkward hair colours and shapes. There’s something unpleasantly heterogeneous and jarring about manufactured components being forcibly put together to function as a machine, which is the kind of feeling I get when seeing generic and uninspired designs. Miyazaki has produced yet another great anime of colourful designs that just warms our heart. Nothing feels artificial. Fantastical and unique, yet perfectly natural.
There is another intriguing idea to be found in organic architecture in that it’s a movement away from Sullivan’s form follows function to Wright’s form and function are one, which is exactly what you feel when looking at how the ocean waves are animated in Ponyo. One simply can’t help but be entranced by the crushing waves, the way they roar in storm, and how they soar and dance in moments of triumph. Ben once said that animators have the power to transform an ordinary event like ‘riding a bike’ into something magical, and there is no doubting the magic sparkling in Miyazaki’s water.
Aside from the movie’s relevance to organic design, I must also mention the wealth of care and love that obviously went into its making. Just imagining the kind of difficulty in animating all those tiny details, so fluidly moving at every moment, in a background that is not static but breathing alive. I invite you to watch Ponyo, Miyazaki’s most visually enticing work along with his Spirited Away, a simple story between a boy and a girl but also of lights and waves that sings in our ears and warms our heart.