The first of two interviews we had at Animeland Wasabi. I present to you Jan Scott Frazier courtesy of LionHeartX.
Me: First off let me say thank you for sitting down for this interview. I have seen you around at NDK and got the chance to meet you a few times. I even purchased the Voices for Peace album Which was amazing to listen to.
Jan: Thank you
Me: The first thing I would like to find out is, what inspired the album?
Jan: That's a funny question. Well my technical director John Sugarman has a cover band that said you should come up and do a song with us. And I didn’t sing or anything at the time. I love pondering things and I said if you could do a song with the band what song would you do. And I was like that is an interesting question.So I thought about that for some time, I got sick though, a really bad intestinal bug and went to the ER and they shot me full of morphine. I was listening to my MP3 play and the song for what it’s worth came on. and I thought maybe I should do a song like that that has some sort of meaning to it. Keep in mind this happened over the span of 5 seconds. We should do a song like this that is meaningful. It would be better if someone who could sing did a song like this, like Greg Eris for example. We could do a concert, we could do a charity concert, no we could do a charity album. The next day I called john and said dude I had this crazy dream. He goes that's an interesting idea, He called me back an hour later and said “you know that album idea, I have a band” I didn’t know what that meant at the time but I knew it meant work. And so 6 months later we dropped Voices for Peace
Me: and It’s an amazing album.
Jan: Thank you
Me: So obviously you have been all over Japan and here in the US. Who have been some of your favorite people to work with both on the side of animation and voice actors
Jan: Probably in Japan there were two people who stand out there was Noburo ishiguro who passed away last week. He was very much my mentor and he was my business partner for a while. I learned so much from him about like in general about drawing, managing a production, managing a company and Japan. He really gave me a chance. The other who stands out is Toshihiko Nishikubo who was the technical director of ghost in the shell. I learned a lot from talking with him!. I should also say Hiroyuki Kitakubo who directed Blood the Last Vampire. They are all friends so I learned a lot from them I would say. I learned a lot from everybody. When we were making the album I couldn’t say one person, everyone is different and has a different voice and the songs they did were different. I guess the most influential to me would be Dale Tippett Jr who was our music director and John Sugarman I learned more from those two. Dale taught me to play guitar, he taught me about how music works. John taught me how amplifiers work and how things are recorded. That was a heck of an education for me. I had the idea for an album but I knew nothing about music. So that was fantastic. I’ve been blessed to have met very creative people in my life and I try my best to take away a little bit from everyone
Me: Out of everything you have worked on, do you have any particular piece that you consider to be your favorite?
Jan: I can’t compare, I worked on all sorts of OVA’s in Japan. So I can’t compare a game opening I directed to Voices for Tolerance. They are totally different creative works with different people. It’s hard for me to choose. It’s like which is your favorite child.
Me: Is there anything you draw inspiration from when it comes to any of the things you have worked on?
Jan: It depends on what I’m working on. for instance when I was working on animated shows. Lets say I was working on a science fiction show I would watch things like 2001: a Space odyssey, the first star wars movie. I was looking more for inspiration than influence with those. When I would get mad and the anime industry which would happen a few times a year. I would go an watch Mobile Suit Gundam, the three movies they made. I would watch those because even though they were old and looked terrible the story was so strong and characters were so strong. I would say even with that terrible budget and terrible animation this could be done. So that was inspirational. When we would do the albums and the covers I would listen to that song. For example with peace we did a cover of fortunate son. We did it in an industrial style so we would listen to all sorts of music. When we did tolerance I really wanted tolerance to be a lush thick album with lots of depth. So I listened to Dark side of the moon and Abby road which are two of my favorite albums and both engineered by Alan Parson. That is the level of depth that I wanted, not the same sound because it’s very different sound so that was very inspirational. When I’m drawing I like to look at things and listen to things that make me want to do it more. If i’m doing fantasy I’ll listen to music that lends itself to fantasy or watch something like lord of the rings. It depends on what I’m after,
Me: Do you have anything you consider to be your greatest achievement you have had so far?
Jan: There are a number of them. Helping Japan convert from cells to digital was a big one. The industry is still around because of that. If we had stuck with cells we would have been gone a long time ago. Doing the game opening for Madou Monogatari. Directing Suzy-chan and Marvy was big for me. Having my own animation studio in Thailand that was very big for me. Peace and Tolerance were big. its’ hard for me to say this is the peak because I've done so much story telling too. Part of it is I’ve just done so much.
Me: Touching on the shift from cell based animation to digital animation. I know you said thats part of the reason the industry is still around. Is there part of you that misses the the old cell style
Jan: OH yeah, in fact at the end of last year I bought some stuff to make my own cells again. There is nothing that looks like a cell and it’s actually for a weird scientific reason. A cell is a sheet of clear plastic and you paint of the back because when the camera lights hit the paint they would scatter and you would see weird shadows so you wanted uniform color. the thing is because you are laying paint on plastic you are lining up all the paint molecules. So when the light hits it you get the maximum color path and that's why cells are incredibly vivid. I hate them for production because you drop one or scratch a frame you have to make a new one. it’s such a waste of time and money but as a peice of art I love cells for illustration. Like I said there is nothing that looks like them they are beautiful. I would like to do cell illustrations again.
Me: Do you ever hope they bring back cel based animation at least in some form? I’m sure it’s been done before but perhaps combine both cell and digital animation.
Jan: That’s happened, I would just rather stick with the digital.The main reason why is because with the stuff that's out there now you can’t tell the difference. Even in the 90s it was that say. The computer gave me so much more control as a director. If I wanted to change something or if one of the images was wrong I would just click and repaint. Versus have to make the cell have to put it on the background, have to shoot the cell, have to develop the film. That's a very expensive process versus “Click”. And I can do stuff that I can't do with cells, I can move them around, and invert them.
Me: What inspired you to help bring the change from cel based to digital animation?
Jan: MONEY! I had my own animation studio in Thailand and every time we did cels we lost money. I had to make it up in animation which seems silly as a business. Everyone else was facing the same thing so it made sense to switch to a system which was more cost effective. The switch from digital at first was clumsy. But then we got to the point where everyone was like “Oh my god I like this more” it’s more flexible and more dynamic and you can do what you want with it. Like I said I like cels as a piece of art but as a piece of production they are a pain in the butt! Fingerprints, dust, lint, hair all of those things can cause a retake. I’ll be honest it was money, and later on when I realized how much I could do with it that I couldn’t do before that really drove me to it
Me : Did you find you met any resistance?
Jan: Incredibly strong resistance. From some companies not so much from others. “It will never look as good as cells” “It’s not going to get the lighting” the color isn’t as vibrant. This that and the other thing. I could go in our system we had at IG and I could put directly out to broadcast quality video tape, and then take it to the TV company and say “run this” and that is amazing versus film and developing and transferring and spending a lot of money. It really flattened the playing field.
Me: What is it like working with the Japanese animation studios? Are they vastly different from what you have here in the US and at your studio in Thailand?
Jan: Absolutely, well my studio in Thailand was me so I came up in the Japanese model. IN Japan the studios tend to be smaller and the people who work there tend to be super passionate. We don’t get paid very well so you have to have it in your heart to work these crazy hours. It shows though, when you watch the show you see that passion, you see the desire to make something great. IN the states people have that passion too but it’s different. People go to their job and go home and night, they get benefits and paid well. Here they are generally a piece of a much larger picture. I liked japan I liked the speed of being able to do stuff, I liked the passion and I kind of liked living at the studio when I could. That's where I came from and that's what I like a bit more
Me: If you had the chance to work on any production title coming up is there a particular one you would like to work on more than any other?
Jan: That's a really interesting question. I can't think of anything animation wise off the top of my head because anything that makes me say “I would like to work on that” Is generally pretty far in production already that I couldn't. Thats a good question
Me: Or even if you had the chance to work on a sequel to a series already finished
Jan: Hmm My head has been in photography and music so it’s kind of hard to reformat it. There is some things I wanted to animate years ago that I didn’t get the opportunity to. I spoke to William F Nolan about animating the Logan’s Run novel the first one, which I love that book very much. the movie was cool but it wasn’t the book. So I wanted to do that and we were working on it but ti didn’t happen.I would love to do that It’s science fiction it’s fun and we could make it for the modern world. There was a comic that Steve Gallacci did. It was Anthropomorphic. It was really neat it was a really interesting style. It was very different from most animal books at the time and probably many today. It was very serious and very strong science fiction. Steve is very much into Mecha and machinery so his machinery was real.
Me: Do you find that you enjoy video gaming at all
Jan: I’ve made all sorts of bits and pieces for video games. It’s pretty interesting games tend to have bigger budgets so I could get away with all sorts of stuff. But as a gamer myself you know I don’t really play that many. A few years ago I bought a playstation but I bought it primarly because we were working on a CD-rom manga at the time and I wanted to see if I could port it. I like Metal Gear Solid that is pretty great. I liked Diablo the first diablo. Last year my mom won an Xbox with a Kinect and you know my mom is older so she didn’t know what to do with it. So now I have an xbox with a kinect. So I bought dance games and work out games. But I did buy Grand Theft Auto IV because I got grand theft auto II on my ipad so I bought IV. I got that in august and I beat it the day before yesterday. I like driving the cars around and blowing stuff up and making cars jump. Since then I have bought Red Dead Redemption. I like games I just don’t have a lot of time to put into them, I think they are brilliant.
Me: Obviously you have had the chance to attend various numbers of conventions
Jan 240 of them.
Me: Wow! Do you find yourself drawn to the ones here in Colorado like NDK and do you like to watching them grow
Jan: OH yeah. I went to NDK 2. I’ve watched it grow tremendously and I want to watch it grow more. I’ll make the NDK staff mad when I say this but I want to see it go to the convention center. I want to see it grow to 15 thousand people. I would be so excited to see a regional anime con here that is like that. We have comic con here last year that was awesome. I did some programming there and they asked me to judge the cosplay competition which was amazing. I would love to see us have one big multi genre fandom con here. NDK is poised to be that, obviously comic con but NDK has that possibility and someday they will do it. And Wasabi is awesome, i've been to every one of these and they have grown. I think they have different flavors NDK and Wasabi and that is important to have.
Me: Do you enjoy the smaller cons more
Jan: To be honest I tend to like small and medium cons more. There is a couple of reasons why. I’m in this really weird place here. I’m like the female David Bowie. I’ve changed many times, I’m still around still doing stuff and people like it. I come in and A lot of the younger people have never watched anything I’ve worked on. they may have seen my photography but they have never watched any of the shows I’ve worked on because that was some time ago. So I don’t get invited to the bigger cons anymore. and when I do people go to the programming and read it and say “well who are you?” but they want to see the voice actors and that is understandable. But when I go to a medium or a small con they are like “Hey lets go to this panel it sounds interesting” and I’ll get a crowd, then by the last day my panels are packed to the gill. Because that's one thing I do really well is presentations. I’m a genius at presentations and speeches. I’ve been speaking for 30 years and I’m very good at it. Storytelling is probably the thing I best at in my entire life. But on a schedule that doesn’t look interesting against say a My Little Pony panel it’s very popular so what do I have against that. but people come in and say “wow that is really interesting”
In my art and creativity workshop I’ve worked on that for years. I’ve been teaching art since 1989 and there is a lot of experience in there. People will learn good stuff in there. When people come to it the next year that panel will be packed. at NDK we have 600% capacity. We have 6 times as many people who could fit in that room in the hallway and they were mad when they couldn’t get in. I’ve worked on that programming for decades. But I don’t do a popular voice and I don’t work on a popular show right now. Plus at smaller cons I get the chance to talk to a large chunk of who’s there. I get to interface with them, learn what their city is about and what shows they like to watch. I learn a lot from people that way. Which is not to say I don’t like big cons I do but once i get over 10000 people it’s very intense
Me: Especially at the larger cons when people may not know who you are do you enjoy getting to go out with the people
Jan: Very much so! When you hear a celebrity say “do you know who I am” I hate that. But I have asked that question and when people say “No” I like that because we start on an equal footing and then we say “Oh I do this”and “Oh I do this” and I learn more about them that way. I love that. I do a panel that is kind of story telling but sometimes I’ll interview the audience and I love that. I love talking to people. I have managed my tiny bit of fame so I don’t get glomped in the hall way and so I don’t need handles. I refuse worship, I’m a human just like everyone else. I’ve done some stuff. Everyone has done some stuff so I refuse worship.
Me: I would like to say thank you for the interview, it was a pleasure to meet you and I would like to thank you for your time.
Jan: Thank you