They do things a little differently at Studio Ghibli. Given the feast or famine realities of life in the anime industry, many production houses take on as many projects as they can, but part of the philosophy behind Ghibli’s founding was that if the staff felt like making something, they would, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t. That’s not to say Ghibli’s animators don’t give maximum effort though, which the higher-ups recognize and reward with weekly massages on Saturdays.

Ghibli’s uniqueness isn’t limited to its artistic ideologies and rub-down policies, though. Its interview process for new animators is pretty unorthodox, too, with applicants being asked to complete such tasks as sharpening pencils and slicing up watermelons.

As part of his biannual interview series, media personality Hideyuki Nakamura recently spoke with Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the director of Studio Ghibli’s newest film, When Marnie Was There. The 41-year-old Yonebayashi, who made his directorial debut with 2010’s Arrietty, said that for as long as he can remember, he’s enjoyed drawing. Given his line of work, that’s not unusual, nor is the fact that he’s enjoyed reading comics since he was a young kid. What is surprising, though, are Yonebayashi’s specific manga preferences.

“I’ve always read shojo manga, even when I was growing up,” Yonebayashi recalls, referring to the subset of Japanese comics written for girls. “I didn’t read Fist of the North Star, but I read Tokimeki Tonight.”

In all fairness, Fist of the North Star’s martial arts-based people-exploding action and Tokimeki Tonight’s monster-based romance hijinks are both entertaining in their own ways.

“In shojo manga, there are many delicate, cute girls, and I tried to imitate that style of art in my drawings,” says Yonebayashi, who would often create his own manga which he would then show to his family and classmates. It wasn’t until he was in college, though, that he thought about pursuing a career in animation. “As a part-time job, I worked on an animated regional promotion commercial. It was the first time I saw my drawings move, and that was something I thought was really interesting when I saw the finished product.”

Although he submitted applications to numerous studios, Yonebayashi only heard back from Ghibli and one other outfit. He recalls that he initially had to submit two sample of his artwork, and Ghibli was impressed by them enough that he was called into the offices for a test. He did well enough that he was called in for a final interview, and like at many companies in Japan, there was more than one interviewer in the room with Yonebayashi. But rather than just multiple representatives from the HR department, Yonebayashi found himself sitting face to face with Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, the most successful director and producer in the history of anime, and two of Studio Ghilbi’s three founders.

▼ We’d like to believe there was a third, anonymous interviewer dressed as Totoro who spent the entire conversation standing silently in the corner of the room.

We’re not sure if it’s due to the many years that have since passed or the nervousness he possibly felt from having the two luminaries lobbing questions at him, but Yonebayashi says he can’t remember what either Miyazaki or Suzuki asked him. He does remember something else that happened during the hiring process, though.

“As part of the test, they gave me a pencil and told me to sharpen it. Later, someone came and collected the pencil and the shavings.”

Old school animation fans may be nodding their heads in approval, perceiving this as a sign of how Ghibli values hand-drawn art over computer-generated visual effects. The thing is, though, Ghibli doesn’t give the pencil test to all applicants. “They ask different people to do different things,” Yonebayashi reveals. “Sometimes they ask them to cut a watermelon, and a few people end up cutting it into discs.”

▼ This photo isn’t from a Ghibli test, but the result is the same.

Wait a second, watermelon discs? How’re you supposed to eat those? Only a crazy person would slice it like that, and actually, that’s the whole point of the test. “It’s kind of their way of checking, ‘Do you know how to apply common sense?’” Yonebayashi concludes.

▼ Much like how during my RocketNews24 interview my eventual boss gave me a glass of pineapple juice, and I impressed him by not spilling it all over my lap.

Weird as it may initially seem, the quirky check is very much in keeping with the attitudes Ghibli is known for. The studio’s films are loved not just for their technical merit, but for the human element contained in each frame of its best scenes, whether in a character’s subtle movements, the motivations driving the plot, or the natural deliveries from the vocal cast. In order to produce something like that, Ghibli needs people who can not only draw, but who can understand how the human mind works and faces a challenge, whether it’s something as simple as sharpening a pencil or as epic as looking for a castle in the sky.

Source: Katsumoku, Livedoor News
Top image: Studio Ghibli
Insert images: Studio Ghibli, Pakutaso (1, 2)