The Experiment with CGI and Vocaloid in Paprika

Satoshi Kon

Paprika is co-written and directed by Satoshi Kon, based on Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1993 novel of the same name, telling about a psychologist who uses a device called DC Mini that allows therapists to enter the dreams of their patients for cure. It's Kon's fourth and final feature film before his death in 2010. Kon experimented this anime with a range of 3D techniques that substantially improved the resolution of image compared with his previous works. The visuals are fabulous with sophisticated character design and variegated dream sequences embeded with unobtrusive CGI. For example, in the beginning and final parade scenes, the background and characters are hand-drawn with the countless floating confetti made by computer that can accurately calculate the direction and speed of the items falling down and spreading away. Usually in Japanese animated films, it's difficult to distinguish hand drawn image from computer generated ones. It seems to be a consensus for Japanese animators that CGI should be used subtly without "contaminating" the genuine art style. One thing their critically acclaimed animations have in common is that human beings or characters are never directly rendered in 3D models. “Just because everything can be done by CG entirely doesn’t mean it should be 100% CG.” Most studios follow the ideal of preserving the unique aesthetics of hand-drawing and improving their efficiency by the help of CGI. Many animators have a strong background in drawing and graphic design, for example, Kon, whose storyboards are as spoken highly of as his films. In the case of Paprika, Kon started to work on the storyboard when the script was yet to be finished. So he had to juggle multiples tasks simultaneously: drawing storyboards, checking the concept art, continuing writing the script... The storyboard he drew while trying to visualize a dream, was completed with 1046 shots and 614 pages. 

Another new technology skillfully used in the film is Vocaloid. The soundtrack of Paprika is one of the first film scores to use this avant-garde singing voice synthesizer software. The basic concept of Vocaloid, in my view, is to use software to create or personalize a song and let it sung by a computerized voice. Originally not for the purpose of being a commercial project, Vocaloid had its signal processing part first developed in the research led by Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain in 2000. Via this software, users are able to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody, with specially pre-recorded vocals of voice actors or singers to choose from. To create a song, the user will see the melody shown on a piano roll type interface for the lyrics to match each note. There're musical editors and track editors on the main screen. The musical editor, with a piano keyboard on the left, has "pitch" as its vertical axis and "time progress" as horizontal axis. According to the need of individuals, the software can change the stress of pronunciations, add effects like vibrato, or alter the dynamics and tone of the voice. The system has released a variety of voice banks, each of which is sold as "a singer in a box”. In place of actual singers, these “avatars" are often called “Vocaloids” that incur a sense of ambiguity between natural human voice and computer-generated sound, or the true and the fake. Vocaloids are also marketed as virtual idols, some of which may perform in the flesh at live concerts. Initially the software was only available in English with the first Vocaloids Leon, Lola and Miriam made by Zero-G, and in Japanese with the Vocaloids Meiko and Kaito made by Yamaha. Vocaloid 3 has added Spanish, Chinese, and Korean for support. Both professional musicians and casual music lovers can work or entertain with the software (The latest version is for Windows and Mac.) From its birth in 2000 till now, Vocaloid has gone through four versions: Vocaloid was launched in 2000, Vocaloid 2 in 2007, Vocaloid 3 in 2011, and Vocaloid 4 in 2014. The version of Paprika is the earliest one with Lola as the “voicebank”. The soundtrack is composed by Susumu Hirasawa through an Amiga 4000 ("The Amiga is a family of personal computers introduced by Commodore in 1985", with the original model part of "a wave of 16 and 32 bit computers that featured 256 KB or more of RAM, mouse-based GUIs, and improved graphics and audio over 8-bit systems".) After the the Byakkoya/Paprika albums of 2006, The musician stopped using Amigas for "maintaining an Amiga now is, like maintaining a classic car, costly”. The catchy soundtrack assembled and processed through Vocaloid fits in well with the film's surrealistic theme of dreams.

Satoshi.Kon, Paprika: storyboard bookTōkyō : Fukkan Dotto Komu 2017.

Youtube, The Making of Paprika, 2012.