Michiyo Yasuda — the legendary color designer whose palettes helped create and define Studio Ghibli’s signature visual style — has died at the age of 77.
A long-time collaborator of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuda’s animation career spanned more than five decades, beginning at Toei Dega in 1958, where she worked in the finishing department as a tracer, and where she first met future Studio Ghibli co-founders Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
Yasuda worked with the pair on the 1972 animated feature “Panda! Go, Panda!” and the 1976 television series “3000 Leagues in Search of Mother” at Nippon Animation. She was recruited as the head of the color department when they launched Studio Ghibli with producer Toshio Suzuki in 1985, following the success of Miyazaki’s 1984 “Naussicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” considered one of the most influential films in the history of anime.
Yasuda’s deft use of color graced classic Miyazaki films, including “My Neighbor Totoro, “Princess Mononoke,” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and was instrumental in helping “Spirited Away” win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003.
She also worked on Takahata’s 1988 Studio Ghibli masterpiece “Grave of the Fireflies,” the brutal story of brother and sister Seita and Setsuko trying to survive in the final months of World War II. Based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, the film is told as a flashback after Seita has died of starvation in a railway station, it is listed as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Films” and is number 6 on Empire Magazine’s “Top 10 Depressing Movies” list.
Yasuda contributed to the softer feel of that film by using brown instead of the traditional black to outline illustrations, which was a first in anime.
She officially retired in 2008, but stayed on to work on the Miyazaki’s Oscar-nominated 2013 feature, “The Wind Rises.”
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