Hiromu Oka knows what it means to put your absolute all into a project. In fact, every single one of his Risograph animations is painstakingly put together out of hundreds of Risograph prints. When we spoke to the animator earlier this year about his quirky animated video for the popular Japanese news programme Hodo Station, he told us how working with digital animation left him feeling unsatisfied. “Because this process is completed entirely on the computer, I felt something was missing when I was creating,” he admitted.
Fortunately, the animator found that missing puzzle piece in the grain-soaked world of Risograph animation. Involving test printing, colour and size verification, plus paper testing and digital software like illustrator and Cinema 4D, to say that the process is laborious would be an understatement. But when he told us about the up to 500,000 yen (about 3,000 GBP) investment that could go into each piece, we just knew we had to pop the hood and see what was under one of these creations. Here, Hiromu breaks down exactly how he created Hodo Station, the animation spot that would be seen in homes across Japan.
Finding a subject to prioritise
After working in a motion graphics studio for over six years, I had gotten used to discussing the best story, design and motion options for advertisements with a big team, completing our work through rigorous research and study. Because of that experience, in my own work, I’ve actively tried to take the completely opposite approach. This basically means that I give top priority to the subject matter I like and use real objects and choose un-easy methods to bring them to life. The content comes before everything. I consider Risograph animation to be the perfection of this approach.
Way back in 2018, when I was unsure of whether my motion graphics would be accepted in animation festivals, I started to research how to convert motion graphics into animation. However, all of these techniques were already mature and it was difficult to find an approach that I was passionate about. I thought “maybe that passion could come from my childhood experiences”. That's how I first arrived at stop-animation using Print Gocco. In the 1990s, when I was still a child, every family in Japan used to make New Year's cards with this Print Gocco at New Year. But the gadget used for it was very old and difficult to obtain. So I looked to see if there was a device in Riso that inherited this technology and came across the Risograph. From there, through trial and error, I developed a method for creating animations.
Dotting the ID and splitting the colours
There are so many dependencies when it comes to Risograph animation. When I use After Effects, I have to remind myself that there’s a printing process at the end of it. One piece of data per colour must be exported. For example, when printing graphics consisting of three colours like red, blue and yellow, the data for red only, the data for blue only, the data for yellow only, and each of these still images must be exported one by one. This sounds complicated at first glance, but the process is similar to submitting final editing data to post-production. The data is then handed over to post-production for mixing, and just like Risograph printing, the three red, blue and yellow colours are all exported as png frames and mixed in a Risograph printer. When it comes to this, I also remind myself that you have to input all the still images into After Eeffects again after they have been exported, and actually overlay the layers and visually check for errors frame by frame. This is very important in Risograph printing!
Getting your prints in place
For motion graphics made with After Effects, once the motion is completed, the work is pretty much done. However, in Risograph animation, that is only half the process. The other half is printing, scanning and fine-tuning. If the schedule is four months, two months are spent on motion graphics production and the remaining two months on printing. Believe me when I say printing is not easy. Each time a sheet is printed, the drum has to be replaced and its position adjusted. A very large number of test prints is required. For example, I used about 15 seconds of footage and six different types of paper in the project. In that case, I printed more than 1000 sheets of A3 paper, and the production costs alone have been around £3,000.
Upping the Riso effect with digital details
Because it is such a long and involved process, you want to avoid mistakes in printing as much as possible. To that end, I created my own shaders to express a pseudo-Risograph texture in After Effects. Texture composition and adjustment layers are used to achieve a look close to that of the printed image, but when the image is actually printed, unique results can be seen in the smallest details. In particular, the graininess of gradients is great. I can't really tell until I actually print it, and that's the interesting part, so I repeat that process of trial and error anyway.
Appreciating the physicality of Risograph
After a gruelling process, the work is finally completed. It should be mentioned that I usually have a lot of back pain around that time. The thing that I love about Risograph animation is that it is printed on paper. Just as you can hand-deliver postcards, I can give this work as a gift, not just look at it. Regarding creativity, it's great to have my work seen by many people, but it's really great to be able to hand-deliver my work to each and every one of them. Also, Risograph animation leaves a lot of wasted paper, but I turn all of that into notepads and give them away.
Hiromu Oka: Notebooks of leftover Riso images (Copyright © Hiromu Oka, 2022)
About the Author
Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That for three months as an editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design.