Kiyoshi Awazu: Animation

My Design Hero Pt 3 | Communications Studio Spring 2021

Maggie Ma
14 min readMay 5, 2021

Create a 1-minute video animation with your design hero as the subject. This is the third part to the Design Hero Project. See Part I: Poster Here. See Part II: Booklet Here.


AAAAAAHHHH I knew beforehand that finding voice recordings and interviews would be near impossible because I had spent hours looking a few weeks ago when I realized we needed voice for our animation. And there was NOTHING. So I’m kinda stressed. I dug all over the interwebs and couldn’t find any interviews, except for this Japanese video of a documentary about making an exhibition about Awazu. I’m thinking that my last option would be to write a script and have someone narrate it as my sound.

UPDATEEEE I FOUND AN INTERVIEW!!!! THANK GOD for my stepcousin who’s studying in Japan who surfed through the online Japanese archives for me. I am forever grateful because I literally did not want to write a script and narrate my own animation.

The next challenge is translating Awazu’s words to English!

Translation for Subtitles

This was the next big hurdle—getting English subtitles for my video. I don’t know any Japanese people personally… so I’m not really sure who to ask, and translating a video is a big favor and time commitment, but to begin storyboarding and thinking of visuals I have to actually know what Awazu is saying LOL

After scrambling to contact friends of friends of friends, here’s my translated interview clip! Special thanks and shoutout to my stepcousin. Also to my family friend Yoshi who sat down with me on Zoom to get a more accurate second-by-second transcription. Here’s a little screenshot of our translation Zoom meeting.


This is the part that I always dread when we create these animations, just because it’s so time consuming and I never know where to look. I didn’t really know what “vibe” and “aesthetic” I was going for, but I was thinking of something more instrumental, maybe with East Asian influence. At the same time, Awazu’s work feels so psychedelic and has so much rhythmic movement, so I also considered synth-pop music. However, after listening through Spotify and Youtube for hours, I thought that synth music sounded too digital, modern, and electro, so I reverted back to calmer instrumentals. I wanted my animation to be playful, whimsical, yet elegant, and so I looked for music that had little quirks but was also soft, calm, and sophisticated.

I finally came down to three music choices that I edited to fit with Awazu’s voice. I’m not really sure which song I like, but I gravitated more towards the first and third songs.

I enjoyed the first sound because of it’s playfulness, the dramatic rises and falls in the music also add a layer of mystery and mischievousness.

I chose this second song because of its drama and intensity. The topics Awazu discusses in the interview are quite dense, and so I wanted to communicate a sense of urgency and seriousness. I’m thinking that it may be a little too dramatic though.

This third sound is elegant, beautiful, and really reminds me of a children’s picture book. As I was listening I was thinking of some visuals that would perfectly match the whimsy and sophistication of the music.

Feedback from Class

Because I was stuck on which sound to pick, I asked for feedback from my class!

There was a lot of discussion, but my overall conclusion was that the first sound matches more with my poster and booklet, but the third sound provides a different style that could add more variety to my Design Hero project as a set.

My classmates feedback helped me a lot because I really was unsure which direction to choose, but now I think I’m going to go with the third sound! It’s the sound I’m most excited to create visuals for, and the music is just so beautiful and fantasy-like.


I had a lot of ideas for how I wanted to showcase and storytell Awazu’s work and design philosophy, so I was really excited to get started sketching.

Some Considerations and Ideas:

  1. How can I integrate subtitles—should they be very subtle and just play a role in translating, or maybe they play a bigger part in the visuals?
  2. Following with the style of my booklet and poster, I wanted to continue the collage effect by cutting out assets from Awazu’s posters. I was also thinking that I wanted my video to feel handmade—Awazu places a lot of emphasis on “the past,” and his work feels very illustrative and handcrafted.
  3. I wanted to play-off the whimsical feeling of my sound, and was thinking of making my video in a stop-motion style with ripped paper textures. The process would be that I cut these pictures out by hand, scan them into after effects, and then use the wiggle effect for the stop motion feeling!

Animated Storyboard

I was having trouble matching the pacing of my visuals with my subtitles, and so I made a rough animated storyboard. Based on my experience from my last animation project, I find it a lot easier to animate later in the project if I have a clear storyboard of my transitions and compositions. The planning is definitely time-consuming and (kind of) frustrating in the beginning, but at least I won’t be thinking of scenes and transitions on the spot when I move into my final animation. I’m hoping that front-loading a lot of the work in the planning stages will also help me keep track of which assets I need to prepare and cut out for each scene.

I’m really excited to see the visuals come to life in my storyboard! Of course, the drawings are really rough but some of my favorite scenes is when the head blossoms out of the ground, and the last scene featuring all of Awazu’s little characters in his pieces.

Feedback from Brett

  1. Really good use of subtitles and easy to read
  2. Music is very distinct and has personality, made Brett smile :D
  3. “Kiyoshi Awazu’s Whimsical World” feels too much like a stagnant title slide, maybe cut out “Whimsical World” or cut out the name all together
  4. Or maybe his name just shows up briefly in the beginning or right after “God has created Everything.”
  5. Twist and turn the type?

Animation Attempt 1

I began cutting out my pieces and scanning them into After Effects. It felt like I was doing the Animal Project all over again. I spent like a whole day trying to nail the stop motion style with the wiggle effect, but it’s so much harder than I expected. No matter what, the animation has some element of the digital—obviously, because I was building it digitally in After Effects—that clashed with the stop motion, handmade feeling I was going for. I was also using digital type which didn’t match well with the cut-out scans of Awazu’s works. Something just seemed off and wasn’t matching what I had envisioned.

I wish I still had this first experimentation to put in here, but unfortunately…I stupidly deleted it cuz I literally forgot about process. Sad.

Feedback from Brett

  1. Less jitter effect on the text, kind of messy and too much
  2. Crazy idea: Exploit the stop motion effect and do it completely analog to completely get rid of the digital. For the type, maybe certain words are handwritten. Stop motion would be appropriate and maybe it will make the process go by faster if you’re just moving pieces around.
  3. You can just use your iPhone since the style is low-quality hand-done. And any filming errors/little mistakes you make will just add to the style.
  4. But also, you can just continue what you already have, both work well!

I had been thinking about making my animation analog (especially since I struggled for so long to get the jitter effect and it still looks bad), but Brett suggesting it confirmed it even more. I was scared because I had spent a whole weekend animating in After Effects, and it wasn’t guaranteed that analog stop motion would make the process faster than using After Effects. What if it’s a lot more difficult than I expected? But I really wasn’t happy with where my animation was going, and I knew that completely doing stop motion would give me the handmade quality I wanted. My biggest concern was just time.

Before completely diving into stop motion, I decided to spend a few hours in the afternoon testing the process out by recreating the first scene of my animation (that I already completed in After Effects). This way, I could get a feel for the process and decide if I was ready to start over with analog stop-motion.

Setting Up

One of the most difficult parts was actually figuring out my lighting and filming setup. There was always a glare from the glossiness of the laser printer from my images. I also wanted to ensure that my shadows and highlights were consistent through the entire animation, which I would learn to be extremely difficult since I was filming across the span of a couple of weeks rather than one session. I tried out multiple lightbulbs and lamps from what I could find in Maggie Mo, but some lights were too cool toned, while others too warm.

I also had color issues—black construction paper looked washed out and grey-ish on my phone camera, and same with navy blue paper.

For my camera setup, I was so thankful to find a phone tripod in the corner of studio (I was literally planning on running to Target to buy one) and clipped it to one of the pinboard barriers on our desks to get a top-view of my workspace.

After almost two hours of running around borrowing equipment from C-Studio, E-Studio and Freshman Studio, I had my setup and was ready to start filming. At first, I tested out just taking photos through my phone camera, but then I found a stop motion app that allows me to add in audio. This was a life-saver because I had no idea how I would match my pictures to my audio, and it saved me from a lot of post-production work splicing together pictures.

After completing a few test runs, I really loved how the stop-motion style turned out—it was just what I was envisioning for my animation! The process was also a lot faster and easier than I had imagined, it took me about an hour to film what I had spent a whole day yesterday animating in After Effects.

Picture of my Setup (I kind of took over the back corner desk and our studio seamless…)

Stop-Motion Iteration 1

Time to start filming for real! I was so nervous because stop-motion is kind of a linear process—messing up and re-filming is sooo time consuming and just a pain in the ass. I did a lot more test and practice runs before finally filming. This scene with “Kiyoshi Awazu” squiggled through the lines literally took FOREVER!!! And I was melting under the sweltering heat of the lights in my filming setup.

For our crit tomorrow, this is what I had done:

For critique, the whole class provided feedback on a Google Doc. I was so happy that a lot of my peers loved the stop-motion style.

Iteration 2

Continuing on, my biggest goal was just completing my video—because of the nature of stop-motion, I didn’t have go back and do too much refinement after I was done filming other than color correcting in post-production. But…I still had a long way to go and lots of pieces to cut out! ;(

I was quite satisfied with my title sequence, but I received some feedback that the purple handwriting against the yellow background was a little dark, and the letter-style doesn’t match. I completely agree, and I wanted to re-do this scene with a lighter purple construction paper and also cut-out letters. Instead of a flower falling, I also added in butterflies flying through the composition.

Process pictures re-doing the “Kiyoshi Awazu” name sequence.

Next was the turtle transition! I was super excited for this ever since the drawing in my storyboard video. The most annoying part was taping all the pieces down (including each letter!) and then unsticking them every frame to twist them slightly so there would still be some movement in the letters and flowers as the turtle moved across the screen.

Testing the turtle transition on normal paper first.

After completing that scene (it looks sickkkk), I continued to the “climax” of the video — when the head blooms out of the ground. I wanted to make this scene really really beautiful, like a whimsical and surreal fantasy landscape filled with flowers blossoming in the sky and rainbows.

More and more cutting…

Video Iteration 2

Here’s my second video iteration. I feel like I made a lot of progress, but the workflow was definitely slower than the intro as the compositions become increasingly ambitious and require more cutting.

Iteration 3

I have been dreading doing this next scene, because I know it will be the most difficult. When I was storyboarding, I kind of just BS-ed this transition because I didn’t have any ideas then…and I still don’t have ideas now. I wanted to transition out of the “Future” scene and into the “Japan is rapidly modernizing” scene without doing another basic construction paper screen swipe.

Kiyoshi Awazu’s rainbow head design.

Francis suggested that I use one of Awazu’s famous rainbow head designs, and maybe the rainbow strands could unravel into the next scene. I decided to give it a try because I had been meaning to include the rainbow head in my animation.

I seriously underestimated this one stupid transition because it practically took the whole day to film!! I had to re-film like three times because I couldn’t get the timing right for the zooming out and unraveling. Each time I made one tiny mistake, I had to start over and reprint and recut my heads. I had like ten heads total and I was literally about to go crazy. I think what also made it difficult was that I had no storyboard to go off of. My animated storyboard had been a lifesaver through my previous scenes—I can go into filming knowing the pacing, the compositions, the transitions, etc. But for this transition, I was estimating as I went and thinking about how I would move, cut, roll, and fold each piece of paper all in my head.

After this scene, I had another scene that I didn’t really plan out again in my storyboard—“Pick up the past to achieve BALANCE.” Once again, I spent like an hour just thinking and thinking of what I could do and which assets I could use. AND IT WAS LIKE 3 AM I WAS SO STRESSED AND EXHAUSTEDDD CUZ I DIDN’T RLY SLEEP THE NIGHT BEFORE EITHERRR

Storyboarding on the whiteboard (photo courtesy of Francis who was makin fun o me cuz i was struggling so much LOL)

My idea was to have the Pencil Man push out all of the hand cut-outs as a transition, and then viewers would follow a squiggling line through a sea of small artifacts leading to “BALANCE.” I filmed this segment twice because the first take was a little messy (and too many frames to fit into such a short period of time), and I also shortened the script to fit the scene into the sound.

I looked at the clock and it was like 7 AM… bruh…I was so freakin exhausted from cutting and filming for literally a whole entire day, but I was so so so close to finishing my animation! I just had one more scene to film and this time, I was following my storyboard so no more improvising scenes and transitions. Our showcase was at 1 PM, so I knew I could finish by then, but I was really struggling to find the motivation and energy to push through this last scene.

The Final Showcase!

I FINISHED!!!! AND SUBMITTED MY VIDEO FOR SHOW AT 12:35 PM, then speed-walked back home to watch the showcase at 1 PM. Literally felt like death but I was so happy I finished in time.

A few more edits…

But I wasn’t done just yet…I wanted to redo my intro “God has created EVERYTHING” scene because the handwritten letter style is completely different from the rest of my animation. I also wanted to quickly redo the Credits transition.

After that, I was ACTUALLY done filming everything, so I moved my animation into After Effects to do some color correction. This took quite a long time because for some scenes, I had make adjustments frame by frame. I also added a light grain texture to balance out some of the pixelation.




This project was a whole production! In the end I had all my stuff and cutouts and paper scraps and colored pencils sprawled across three desks plus the seamless table in the back corner! Although my animation isn’t completely perfect (there are some scenes that are a bit rushed, or I wasn’t able to fix the color/glare issues), but I am still so so proud of how it turned out. It was truly A LOT of work, and as my first stop-motion piece, I am satisfied with the visuals and transitions and this little fantasy world I have built with Awazu’s artwork. Brett also absolutely loved it, and said it was one of the most memorable animations. A part of me feels that I should have been practicing my After Effects skills like my peers, but I think going analog was the right move, and I learned a lot about storytelling, pacing, photography and the procedures of stop motion! I’m quite interested in creating future projects in this style (maybe in a few months though because I will be taking a break cuz this was EXHAUSTING!).

My cutouts packed away in an envelope.
Me taking a nap