Professional artist sheds light on Studio Ghibli’s unusual take on artistic perspective in the famous anime, but is it really a big deal?

Think back to High School Art 101 (if you had it). One of your lessons likely included an introduction to linear perspective, which is a technique used to create the illusion of our 3-D world on a 2-D page. In a one-point perspective drawing, imaginary vanishing lines along an object recede to one vanishing point on an imaginary horizon line (in this case, think “eye-level line”) in the distance. Accordingly, the object diminishes in size as it gets closer to the vanishing point.

▼ Sample one-point perspective drawings–classic examples include a road or railroad tracks stretching into the distance.

On the other hand, a two-point perspective drawing utilizes two vanishing points on a horizon line and therefore two sets of vanishing lines to create the illusion of depth and space on an object viewed from an angle.

▼ Sample two-point perspective drawings–a classic example is depicting the corner of a building.

Linear perspective is a basic artistic skill that’s taught even in junior high school (as depicted above), so its use should be a no-brainer for seasoned professional artists…right?

Manga artist Ikku Masa, best known for the Sakura Wars manga adaptation, recently raised an interesting question about the artistic technique used by a little animation house known as Studio Ghibli (you may have heard of them before):

“Speaking of perspective drawings, when I was a student I applied a ruler to a scene from My Neighbor Totoro. Even though it was supposed to be a one-point perspective drawing there were actually two vanishing points. I remember really worrying about what this meant.”

The still is taken from My Neighbor Totoro, Studio Ghibli’s 1988 classic film directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. It features sisters Satsuki and Mei running excitedly through their new house into an empty tatami room. As Masa demonstrates by actually adding sample imaginary vanishing lines to the one-point perspective drawing, the lines don’t neatly converge at a single vanishing point according to the rules of linear perspective but instead converge at two vanishing points. What’s going on here?

Dozens of net users weighed in on the issue, including some other artists. The following is a selection of some of the discussion that was sparked regarding the technicalities of linear perspective:

Twitter user @yanamosuda:

“Recently the technique to shift perspective has even been used in ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I think it’s because when perspective is done too accurately it obstructs our line of sight. The picture becomes an exaggerated representation, but it’s good to exaggerate perspective, too.”

Manga artist @suzuki_kenya: 

“I often hear things like ‘There’s no vanishing point in the background of Miyazaki anime’ or ‘The vanishing point is not a dot but a circle.’ However, I believe the easiest thing to understand is the ‘two-fulcrum perspective technique’ found in Tomonori Kogawa [a veteran animator]’s drawings. By placing multiple fulcrums in the picture you can create an intentional optical illusion to display space widely.”

Twitter user @Hidari_ShinnosK:

“It’s just my theory, but I think the reason why the two vanishing points seems more natural is because human visual perception is ultimately a composite due to our binocular vision. Your left field of vision is governed by the right side of the brain and your right field of vision is governed by the left side of the brain. When putting this composite into a single drawing, one more point is necessary halfway between the two. When drawing straight lines or the like that extend into the center of the picture, you make them converge at that central point.”

Masa replied to the previous post by posing a new question of his own:

“In that case what happens if you use only one eye to view it? I believe that a person’s line of sight operates unconsciously and along with that the change in perspective is corrected moment by moment within the brain.”

Three participants in the discussion offered up visual aids to support different theories or as added illustrations of the phenomenon:

“Using a locker room as an example I’ve made a diagram of two vertical vanishing points. Is this helpful for understanding?

Upper left corner panel: one-point perspective
Upper right corner panel: two-point perspective
Lower left corner panel: theory that there are two points because it’s a composite of several images you see when your eyeballs and neck move (your line of sight unconsciously moves)
Lower right corner panel: theory that there are two points due to parallex overlapping of the two eyes (the composite section). The left and right images each converge respectively.” 

“To see how this actually works in a 3-D CG rendering, I’ve applied deformation (tapering) to the whole model. I can’t say they’re great, but here are sample CG reference images with only one vanishing point and two vanishing points.”

“I found an example by Paolo Veronese [Italian Renaissance painter] in a composition book I had on hand.”

Net users who didn’t participate in the technical discussion still enjoyed leaving their own impressions and thoughts on the matter, too.

“I get it, I get it…I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“There’s another vanishing point for the tatami.”

“I used to agonize over this when I was a manga assistant. All of the manga artist’s rough sketches had two vanishing points. When I tried to turn them into one vanishing point the image always changed in some way. That’s how I learned not to make too much of a fuss over vanishing points.”

“There are other Ghibli works with this false perspective as well. It’s all in order to fit everything in the scene in cleanly and to emphasize the beauty of the composition.”

“He’s said before something like ‘Princess Mononoke was also produced in this way. One-point perspective is an illusion developed by Westerners. It’s fine for me to draw using two vanishing points.”

“I support the theory that there was supposed to be one vanishing point but Satsuki grabbed it and moved it.”

If we had to go with one theory, the Satsuki-snatching one directly above seems pretty convincing, if you ask us. It seems that regardless of the reasoning behind Ghibli’s (un)intentional breaking of the rules of perspective in this scene and others, general viewers seem to be less concerned about the technical side of things and more concerned about simply enjoying the film.

Source: Twitter/@Masa_Ikku via Hachima Kiko
Featured image: Twitter/@Masa_Ikku
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