The impact of good directing illustrated
It's not often that you get a master class in the importance of directing, and in about three minutes flat. But now we have one, courtesy of a competition between Studio Khara and game developer CyberConnect2. As ANN explains (via), both studios made shorts based on the same character designs (and maybe 3D models, it's not clear), basic situation, and maybe even scenario outline, and the contrast between them is really illuminating.
Let's start with CyberConnect2's version, which you can conveniently see on YouTube. My reaction is pretty much 'well, okay'. That's a perfectly decent exhibition short, with everything you'd expect here; there's some action, some graphics, and so on. But it's kind of unimaginative and pedestrian, and at least for me there were some confusing moments where I wasn't quite sure what was going on.
Now watch Studio Khara's version, again on YouTube.
We have verve. We have dynamic situations, visuals, and action sequences, with clear back and forth moments, reversals of fortune, and even the injection of some character. What's going on is always clear and grounded (and it's set in a distinct physical place to help with that). I think Khara's short goes through exactly the same beats as CC2's short does (attacked, at a disadvantage, attempt to use ranged combat, near defeat, reversal of fortune, ultimate victory), but they are presented so much better. They're interesting. They're exciting.
There's little or nothing in the Khara short that couldn't have been in the CC2 short. The difference is not CG versus hand drawn (and it's not clear to me how much of Khara's is genuinely hand drawn; some sequences looked like they at least had a lot of CG assist). Almost all of the difference comes down to Khara doing a better job of designing and realizing what happens in the scenario, in other words to directing and storyboards.
(When we talk about the quality of directing in anime, it's usually hard to find such a direct comparison. If you're looking at two scenes in real shows, there's so many variables involved; the differences between the scenes, the shows (maybe), the subjects, their budgets, and even how people feel about the two different shows. This situation is free of almost all of those variables.)
(This elaborates on some tweets of mine.)