Tokyoplastic: At the Minds of Madness

If you have never been to Tokyoplastic, it is your duty to do so. The first time one embarks on the journey that is Tokyoplastic there is undoubtedly an initial shock to both the auditory and visual senses. It will stun you, and we speak entirely without hyperbole here. But the disbelief is a good thing of course. For this is animation at its most imaginative and original height. In the same vein as their imagination, there is no line drawn between the mediums of art that they work in. ‘Drum machine,’ one of the highlights of the site, has already won a plethora of awards and achievements in film festivals all around the world, most notably the people’s choice winner of best animation at the 2004 Sundance film festival. The website has millions and millions of visitors per month. Their works span all across the Internet, television, and film. So just what is Tokyoplastic all about? How does one even begin to conceptualize such a thing? What other venues do these insane geniuses plan to explore and conquer? To get to the bottom of this, we spoke with Sam Lanyon Jones, one half of the dynamic duo that founded Tokyoplastic (Drew Cope being the other half), who took time out of his extremely hectic schedule to enlighten us on the inner workings and future of Tokyoplastic.

Sam: Hello!

JXM: Hi, Sam! How are you doing?

Sam: Yeah, very good, cheers. Very busy.

JXM: Thanks for taking the time out to do this, even with your very busy schedule! Now the first thing we wanted to talk to you about was ‘drum machine’. How did ‘drum machine’ first take shape?

Sam: That was something that predominantly Andrew did with a composer friend Ed Cookson, from the Sancho Plan. It was an interim project where we could take the doll character that had already been created and was already recognized as the icon for the site and run with it and do something more interesting with it. The way in which it was actually created in the end was that the dolls were each assigned a specific sound depending on where they were playing, and then as the piece of music took shape, at the same time, the animation took shape. So it evolved as a symbiosis between the music and the visuals, a composition of both animation and sound.

JXM: So how did the idea actually come about? Did you initially intend to do something musically and visually together?

Sam: Yeah, totally. For a long time we wanted to push the whole synthesis between animation and music but it was an opportunity to do something that enabled both sound and picture to grow at the same time and affect one another. The way it was created was quite an evolutionary new way for a piece of animation to be created.

JXM: That kind of answers our next question as well, which is, what was your process when you were doing drum machine?

Sam: Yeah essentially that was it. Of course, you know, the actual process that the animation then goes through to be optimized to go online further complicates things; using nested movies, movies within movies and what with the synchronisation of sound and dozens of layers all that becomes very harrowing. There ends up being lots and lots of layers in flash.

JXM: We understand your background is in photography and Drew’s is in industrial design. Was it a conscious choice to do this in flash?

Sam: Well, both of us, we met a long time ago and we’ve wanted to work together on a project for many many years and we kind of tried it out before and worked on little projects here and there together but the first site was created by Andrew and at the same time I was experimenting with 3D and flash and all sorts of stuff and so when that happened and was enormously successful and I suggested that we come together and actually take advantage of the success and push it further.

JXM: And we think you definitely did!

Sam: Oh cheers!

JXM: So what type of design aesthetic were you aiming for when you did drum machine? What kind of experience were you trying to achieve?

Sam: The design aesthetic had kind of almost been set by Tokyoplastic and it was very much influenced by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, but also the whole sort of iconic character design that is a very Japanese thing. It’s kind of a cool process that they involve themselves in where, you know, you take a very iconic character and that leads a product or a campaign. It’s little character iconocism, which sort of influenced the initial designs of Tokyoplastic.

JXM: We noticed that you go for something very simple and very graphic. So is that from the Japanese influence?

Sam: Yeah, that’s very much from the Japanese influence.

JXM: So initially, was drum machine something you were intending to put into film festivals?

Sam: No, not initially. Initially, all of this was intended for online viewing. It’s bizarre that it sort of started off as being just an online thing and then it’s taken us in so many different directions. The work that we’re doing at the moment is, well quite a lot of what we do now, is directing TV commercials. And that sort of stuff has come from the Internet based stuff that we do. But actually it was festivals, by and large, that approached us and said you know it would be really cool if we could put your animations in our show.

JXM: Now with Tokyoplastic in general, most of your work involves the combination of visuals and music. Does one inspire the other or is one more important than the other?

Sam: Yeah, we’ve actually developed quite a – the way we work is very evolutionary and when we sit down to do something there’s both of us sitting down together to do it and the work is passed between us and its a continual process. So much that we did didn’t actually end up in the final website. What happened is that we sat down together and I’ll do a little bit of work, then Andy will work on that same piece, then it would come back to me and I’ll do a little bit more on it and a lot gets discarded along the way or a lot changes on the way.

JXM: So is there anything that is planned out? Or is most of the work done as you go along?

Sam: It’s something that we do as we go along. I mean with Tokyoplastic 2 we sat down and went, you know, we want to take people on a journey. We discussed the general concepts of it before we start. But then each individual piece sort of just evolves as you go along. You know, we go on the journey as much as the other people who watch it go on it, except the journey for us took a year and yet it actually takes only four or five minutes to go through the whole site. So it’s a longer journey for us than it is for other people.

JXM: But it’s really amazing! The first time we saw it we thought it was crazy! Now a lot of your work looks as if it’s morphing into one another, such as all of the creatures and objects, so it looks almost improvisational. Was this intentional? Or is there a method to your madness?

Sam: Sure, yeah. It’s absolutely intentional. I think the fluidity that exists there, is something that we really really wanted to push right from the outset. We wanted that to be a journey but a very fluid journey. So you didn’t know where you were going but from one stage to another you would, you know, kind of suddenly go holy shit what the fuck was that?! Like something just happened, I’m not quite sure what it was but I want to see it happen again. And we don’t give away too much of the stuff that happens so quickly, so you don’t know what hit you really. There has to be a great element of surprise and this intrigue in what we do, I think.

JXM: You’ve already won numerous awards for drum machine, so what does the future hold for Tokyoplastic? Do you have any plans on working in other types of media or other types of art?

Sam: Well at the moment we’re working on – I mean there’s so much that we’re working on at the moment. I’ve got a list just the length of my arm on the wall next to me with stuff that we’re doing now, at the moment we’re doing a bunch of different stuff. One of the most exciting

projects that we’re working on at the moment is a kind of – it’s really sort of top secret so I can’t tell you that much about it. But it’s sort of a cross platform piece that we’re working on with several other people. It involves mobile phone animation, tying in with websites, tying in with toys and it’s sort of a whole package. Our background is in the Internet and that’s where we really blossomed and I think that that is something that we really really want to stick to. I mean there’s so much exciting stuff going on in the Internet, and I think that the Internet is ultimately going to consume TV, radio, shopping, and everything. And it will consume all of this stuff and eventually you’ll get the entirety, if you will, of entertainment through the Internet. And, I think, just to be a pioneer in that is one thing that initially we were really passionate about doing. So it’s pioneering that radically new art form. I think while inherently connected to all forms of media it’s a break from them all, so I think it’s an opportunity to really start something new and fresh and different and that’s part of what we’re attempting to do.

JXM: And with the Internet the possibilities are almost endless.

Sam: Yeah, absolutely there are so many possibilities. I mean, it’s strange, when the first site was released it was getting 40,000 hits a day and when the second site was released it was getting up to 140,000 hits a day, so it just went absolutely ballistic. But it’s kind of strange for us ’cause you see the influences in quite a lot of different places online. People forward links to me the whole time of stuff where people have directly or indirectly ripped us off and when it’s not indirect, when they’ve taken it and run with it and done their own work on it, then it’s really cool to see that we’ve inspired some people and, you know, that we’ve influenced a sort of mini-generation of creatives online.

JXM: It even inspires us, and we make comics, so the influence is pretty far reaching.

Sam: Fantastic, I’m really delighted to hear that. The flip side to that is when people have just ripped us off directly and you’d have like – there was a t-shirt design on Threadless recently that was just a print of our dolls and there was this thread afterwards just ripping into this person. And it’s fantastic to produce work that is viewed by this – it’s like a small community of millions, you know. There is comparatively a small community, but it consists of millions and millions of people who are all quite familiar with all of the new media that’s out there and that’s a really cool thing to be involved in.

JXM: Fortunately, that’s all the questions we have for you right now! Thanks again for taking the time out to talk with us!

Sam: No really, it’s been my pleasure!

Sam was also gracious enough to reveal that one of the other more exciting projects that they are currently working on is a sequence in a feature film by a very well known director. You still haven’t checked out Tokyoplastic? Eventually you will start seeing the works of this burgeoning techno-art house, spring up everywhere.