Hiromu Oka reveals the painstaking yet miraculous process of making a Risograph animation
Feeling dissatisfied with digital animation, the Tokyo-based animator made it his mission to invent the most authentically analogue animation technique he could imagine.
- 13 April 2022
- Elfie Thomas
“TV Asahi, is one of the most famous TV stations in Japan”, says Riso-animating whizz Hiromu Oka. Fans of Hodo Station (a news program with a long history at TV Asahi), will have recently noticed their new animated introductory video which appears as if a Risograph print is coming to life. In fact, Hiromu painstakingly created the animation out of hundreds of little Risograph stills. Feeling a little like Alice Through the Looking Glass, this charming animation gives the sense of tumbling straight into the pages of a picture book.
“Riso originated from Japan, but not many Japanese know of its existence,” Hiromu tells It’s Nice That. “But thanks to its great popularity in Europe, it has been reimported to Japan.” With his Risograph animation being blasted across the country on TV screens every evening, the animator believes that his video has helped to raise awareness of the medium’s existence in Japan. Another great benefit of this big commission is that it makes it a hundred times easier for Hiromu to explain when someone asks him what he does. Instead of getting into the arduous nitty-gritty of it all, he can simply say: “I made the animation for that TV show”.
While explaining the details can be a bit of a pain, Hiromu charitably agreed to describe his creative journey and processes to us. He starts at the beginning, recalling his first days as a budding young animator working at a motion design studio in Japan: “It was a very difficult place to work. Everyday was so busy,” he says. “But it allowed me to learn my skills in a short period of time.” Speedily acquiring a wealth of experience, Hiromu left the studio to join another in 2018. His job at the new studio gave him a healthier work-life balance and gradually he had more time to work on personal projects.
He first encountered Riso in 2019, when he was working on a five-minute animated short film to submit to a film festival. “I had been making motion graphics digitally for a long time,” he notes. “However, because this process is completed entirely on the computer, I felt something was missing when I was creating.” He also felt bothered by the deception involved in reproducing the textural quality of paper by digital means. So, he began experimenting with various analogue forms of expression: rotoscoping, hand-drawn animation, collage and stop motion.
But Hiromu was still unsatisfied. “These are already being used by many people. Also, for me, they were universal expressions, so the problem was that I could not put any special feelings into them.” When he discovered the medium of Risograph, he finally felt satisfied, particularly because it reminded him of the Print Gocco machine (or Nengajo as it’s called in Japan) which his parents used to make New Year’s cards with.
Without further ado, he began making animations from hundreds of Risograph prints on paper. There is nothing particularly different about the way Hiromu designs his animations, except the printing process. But oh, what a printing process! Hundreds of pages of stills are printed on a hand saw press for every animation. Then there’s the test printing, colour and size verification, and paper testing to think about, too. After the printing, he scans each page individually and imports them onto his PC, where he uses Adobe's After Effects, Illustrator and Maxon's Cinema 4D to complete the animation.
All in all, a vast amount of paper is used and one animation video “can cost more than 500,000 yen (about 3,000 GBP)”, says the animator. Factoring in the time and effort it takes to carefully design each frame to produce a beautiful, flowing animation, Hiromu’s statement that the process is “not economical” feels like a bit of an understatement. But all drawbacks aside, there is something undeniably miraculous about seeing the much-loved Riso aesthetic come to life in motion.
As a result, since he began making his animations and getting them out to a wider audience, clients have been breaking down the door to commission Hiromu’s work, “but many projects have been put off because I do not speak English”, he says. Undeterred, Hiromu is busily practising the language, particularly as he plans to move to England later this year. While we excitedly await his arrival in the UK, Hiromu is making plans to tour some of the European Riso studios and to work in a local studio himself.
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.