The Boy and The Heron Storyboard Collection



Anyone that’s watched The Boy and The Heron perfectly understands how hard it is to discuss the experience. The amount of perspective and subjectivity that exists within Hayao Miyazaki’s barely intelligible musings makes it something that I don’t think could really be defined as anything aside from an individualist experience. Of course, keeping in line with the nature of human experience, there are certainly parts that overlap and allow more open discussion. Though evidently, this post nor myself are here to discuss the movie itself, but rather how Miyazaki chose to create and express it. The storyboard collection is an incredible read, and as I’ll explain really tells a complete story of its own in relation to Miyazaki and his work. So, I’ll stop the waffling and allow this tour-like post to begin.

The first thing that you arrive upon when turning the first pages of this book is that Miyazaki’s love for watercolors remains strong even within his storyboards. In his earliest days as an illustrator, Miyazaki certainly felt a very strong affinity for that approach to art, as it’s what drove his incredible manga, Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind. Of course, that same degree of detail would never exist in something as early on as storyboards, but that doesn’t mean that Miyazaki would leave his craft behind entirely. It’s actually quite the contrary, Miyazaki has brought more and more of his truest self into these storyboards over the years.

That’s correct, in Miyazaki’s earliest days as our “Ghibli” Miyazaki, the prevalence of watercolors in his storyboards was effectively nonexistent. If you want to experience Nausicaa in an incredibly unique manner, or wish to see just what Miyazaki’s boards looked like in comparison to The Boy and The Heron, this video uploaded to the Internet Archive is an incredible experience. If by some stroke of fate the uploader of that video (Niamh1917) comes across this post, I deeply appreciate your uploading of the video, as well as the many other Ghibli related uploads you’ve provided.

But that’s enough of a tangent, it’s time to get back on track with the movie at hand. The point being made with that comparison is to show the growth of Miyazaki as a creative, but also to show the depths of his passion when creating The Boy and The Heron. Ultimately something that is only meant to provide visual direction, Miyazaki poured countless hours into adding the slightest of details and ideas to each of these very small snapshots of the movie. Though, that shouldn’t be used to overstate Miyazaki’s work, as mixed within the watercolors is also plenty of regular colored pencils. Combining the pair gives Miyazaki an incredible degree of freedom in expressing detail through color, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around the level of effort placed behind the move.

Of course, this is not the first time Miyazaki has endeavoured to place this mind bending degree of care into storyboards, as watercolors have become synonymous with Miyazaki’s work. Rather, I think it’s more a statement of his degree of refinement that he continues to ever hone over the years. Side by side by side, Miyazaki’s works form an incredible gradient that proves his ever-evolving ability, and it’s a painfully beautiful thing to experience. It has been a long time since Miyazaki has had a peer encroach on his ability, and his work with The Boy and The Heron illuminates just how wide that gap has become. Though I suppose rather than blindly praising Miyazaki and these storyboards, I should show some more and offer better explanations of his work.

I think one of my favorite things about Miyazaki’s boards for The Boy and The Heron is just how Miyazaki appeals to the simplest ideas with his limited scope. The easiest way to express that idea is with his use of backgrounds. Even in the singular example I’ve given so far, you can tell exactly what Miyazaki is expressing. Setting the stage, which includes the layout and environment, and quickly transitioning to the smallest amount of information required to explain what’s happening. This isn’t exactly “novel” or impressive, but I think it’s an aspect that I deeply appreciate just because of the disparity between both ends of Miyazaki’s work. There’s something so incredible about how well Miyazaki communicates information across the board. He can deliver the most incredible boards as if it were nothing, but also perfectly understands the focus and restraint required to be able to deliver the most expression with those same boards.

I really can’t appreciate it enough, but I also can’t pretend that Miyazaki delivers that for the entirety of this storyboard collection. It was never to be expected, truthfully. Miyazaki is a man of his own, and with his own muses and desires, his art ebbs and flows to reflect that. Strong starts stipple Miyazaki’s storyboards, littered with watercolors and detail beyond belief, but it is seldom a trait that exists throughout the entirety of his storyboards. At one point or another, Miyazaki will return to his trusty yellow colored pencil to convey shadows and shading, and nothing more. Similarly, there’s also times where pieces may catch his eye and Miyazaki will flesh ideas out a little more with just colored pencil, or even on rare occasion, return to his trademark watercolors. Miyazaki’s storyboards are a deeply personal affair that reflect much of his self in them, and I think that even with something as simple as the advent of coloring, you gain a world of understanding from the details imparted by it.

I don’t think there’s a grand sentence about Hayao Miyazaki, or The Boy and The Heron for that matter, that hasn’t been spoken, uttered, or written already. I loathe the fact that I cannot conjure something out of thin air to offer the legend, but even then I doubt my words would be as valuable as his art. So, I will simply allow it to talk in my place.

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