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Hometown: Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada
In Japan: 5 years
Identity: Animator and Graphic Artist
Cameron Ohara is from Vancouver, Canada and has been living in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Pref. for the last five years. He first became interested in Japan after discovering Dragonball which inspired a love for animation and a passion for drawing and graphic design. For a year now, Cameron has been turning these drawings into fully fledged animations, launching the pilot for his series Sky Pigs on YouTube in January 2015. Cameron first came to Japan in high school, before on going on to study Asian Area Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. While studying in Vancouver he met his future wife and began to make plans to move to Fukuoka. Despite his time in Japan, his cartoons are Canadian through and through, set in the mystical world of the Sky Cops who live in a beefed up hyper-Canada. To help us celebrate Canada Day, we’ve asked Cameron to come up with a new animation which will be previewed alongside his other work at the party.
Interviewed May 8, 2015
Tell me a bit about yourself, where are you from?
My name is Cameron Ohara, I’m from Vancouver, Canada. I am an animator and that’s it in a pinch. I was born and raised in the greater Vancouver area, in a small town called New Westminster, not too far away from the downtown Vancouver core. It’s the royal city, apparently the Queen at the time named it. She said, ‘there’s a darling place in the UK called Westminster, why not call this town New Westminster.’ I went to University at UBC, the University of British Colombia, in Vancouver and yeah.. those are years I’d sooner rather forget. I studied Asian Area studies there..
.. so did that spark your first interest in Japan?
I was interested in Japan before that. I guess my interest in Japan prompted my choice to study Asia, the Japanese language and the country’s history and culture. What first got me interested in Japan was Dragonball, the animation. Apparently I watched Astro Boy from a young age, I don’t really remember, but I must have been about seven when Sailor Moon and Dragonball and all these animated shows that I’d never seen before came to Canada and the US. They used a style of animation I’d never seen before and I was like ‘woaaaahhhhh, what the heck is that’. It looked crazy and awesome and I really enjoyed it.
What finally brought you to Japan then?
My first trip was in high school where we had a Japanese language class. The teacher had a crush on me or so everyone told me and one day in class she and had this form, you know one of those consent forms to let your son travel overseas, which she slid over to me and said ‘Hey Cameron, wanna come to Japan with me?’. All my friends were around me and I was the only one she passed it to. I ended up saying ok and a group of twelve of us students, all in the Japanese language class, ended up going out to Japan, to the Kansai area: Nara, Osaka & Kyoto.
Any particularly positive memories?
Yeah, that trip was great. We stayed in a couple of old Ryokans and then did some homestay stuff. Everyone was super friendly and we had tons of fun together doing Karaoke for the first time.
And after that?
I came to Japan again on a University exchange program, to Sophia University in Tokyo for a few months. I went back home to Canada for a bit, where I met my wife, who lived in Fukuoka. So a few months after graduating I was off to Japan again, to do some teaching, but this time in Kitakyushu. That was in 2010. I did two or three years of that before heading back to Canada again briefly and now I’m back here, still doing some English stuff, but now really focusing on my hobby, animation.
When did you first start animating?
I started animating a year ago, but before that I had always been into graphic design. I guess I have my mom to thank for getting me into drawing when I was really young, and all throughout school I was drawing pictures when I should have been taking notes in class. I kinda fell out of it in University, but after I graduated, I realised it wasn’t something I could shake, so started looking at more professional tools, Photoshop etc. and thinking about getting stuff up on the internet. And then a year ago, I just decided to try, I decided I was going to do it. You can’t buy Flash, the program I use, you have to rent it off them monthly, so that was a bit off-putting at first, but I’m glad I decided to do it.
What was your first animation project?
My first project was for my wedding. I got married about a year and a half ago and I decided that as a gift for my wife, I’d do a cartoon for her. She has a dog – half Yorkshire, half chihuahua – and I did an animation about this dog and had it projected at the wedding ceremony. I turned around halfway through and found my wife in tears – you know, really sobbing – and I thought I’d royally screwed this one up, but luckily it was out of happiness, so I got things going on the right foot.
Tell us a bit about your current series. Sky Pigs.
Sky Pigs is a big pet project for which I’ve been working on characters, stories, ideas and a universe for a long time now. Originally I was just going to try and write some type of comic to post on the internet somewhere but I wrote a script and passed it round some friends for advice and comments and we had a really fun time doing that. From that I decided to make it into an animated series.
There’s three main characters. Louis, a big Newfoundlander, east-coast-someplace type of guy. Marjorie, a tough as nails, sadist character. And Miu, who hasn’t appeared in the cartoons yet because I haven’t found the right voice for her. They’re all Sky Cops, who patrol the transcontinental sky train in Canada. It’s about their journey from being revered Sky Cops to becoming this other, detested group: Sky Pigs.
Are Canadians the main target audience?
The original scripts all contain a lot of Canadiana, little jokes that you might not get if you weren’t born and raised in Canadian, and I think it will continue to be that way. But I don’t think my audience just has to be Canadian, maybe it helps with some of the detail, but I think the wider story is accessible to everyone.
Anything non-Canadians should watch out for when watching it?
The Canada I’ve created in Sky Pigs is this kind of hyper-Canada, it’s not real Canada. Coming to Japan I saw this really strong culture, with so much unique history. But I look at Canada and I don’t see that, so I decided to beef it up and create this super Canada. The series also plays on the big country, small country dynamic, exploring the relationship between Canada and its ever present neighbour the USA.
But more accessible perhaps is the story of the tragic hero and the irony and hypocrisy of popularity, and looking at those ideas through the lens of the police. These days you hear a lot of stuff in the news about police brutality, so its trying to dissect that and look at how people react to that.
How much of the series is you? Voices, animation, music?
I’ve done a lot of my own music. With the pilot I think all the music was mine except for this one song called Runaway Skytrain that me and my buddies did a while back. But I’ve been reaching out to find more music on Soundcloud and getting a lot of support through that. For voices, I do Louis, but there’s a few other people who do Marjorie and this Colonel character. The animation is me, drawing, editing and storyboarding. People give me a lot of advice though, I don’t want to downplay that.
Does a script evolve into a character, or does a character and the drawings inspire a script?
I think it’s very organic, they both kind of grow in tandem with each other. The three characters I mentioned, Louis, Marjorie and Miu, have all had a long time to grow up in my mind, and even before I was writing scripts I think their characters were growing there. But I think they’ll continue to grow as I continue to write scripts and redraw them.
How do you see the series evolving? What’s your ambition for it?
I did the Pilot and have started work on Skypigs 2, which has taken a bit longer to come out then I wanted. But my basic idea is to do a season 1, maybe 10 episodes that will focus on Louis and Marj and the rise and the fall of the Sky Cops. Season 2 will pick up with Miu, who will represent hope and rebirth after everything has fallen and been laid to waste. The dream is a 22 minute episode series, that’d be sublime.
What inspires your animations? are you influenced by Japanese animation?
Definitely Japanese animation, Ghibli and stuff like that, but also from elsewhere too, Canada and the States. But what really inspires me is the idea of the underdog. There are lots of people in Canada and around the world who are ignored because they are a smaller group, without naming anyone specific. While I can’t tell their stories for them, I want to incorporate themes and elements of those groups into my work.
What about the characters, are they parodies of anyone in particular?
Yes and no, yes and no. Each character has found life through someone I know, or perhaps multiple people fused together into one character.
Sky Pigs is set on a Canadian train, but Japan is a country of trains, with its famous Shinkansen. Do you ever see the two worlds combining?
Yeah, that’d be cool. I’m not closed to that idea. I thought about having a prequel to Sky Cops where some Canadian bigwigs realise that transportation in Canada sucks and they go to Japan to copy their system and that’s how the trans-continental Sky Train comes to be.
Can you compare it to any current animation, in terms of drawing style and humor?
I guess there are elements of Scott Pilgrim and maybe Adventure Time, or perhaps older cartoons like Reboot. But I really feel like it’s my own thing, it’s my own blood and sweat on the table, or keyboard or whatever.
You’re animating a special short for the Fukuoka Now Canada Day Party. Can you elaborate on that?
Yeah! I don’t know where the idea came from, probably from the Sky Pigs train theme. I had this idea of a train that travels through Canada showing off all the natural scenery of Canada in this big continuous loop and incorporating all the geography of Canada and its beauty.
Your blog is called Angry Gaijin, do you think of yourself as an Angry Gaijin?
Not at all. Perhaps I did at one point but since I’ve started the blog, people have said to me ‘you really aren’t an angry guy are you?’. There was a point when I wanted to change the name, because it doesn’t really reflect me, but it’s a catchy name and easy to remember, so I’ve kept it. But I suppose at the beginning I was suffering a lot of culture shock so I want to explore that and write about it.
These days I use it to post stuff about Sky Pigs, but also to do some write ups about Japanese celebrities who might not have a big English presence on the internet, particularly comedians. So I read up on them on their Japanese Wikipedia page or on the web, and write short pieces for English speaking fans.
What’s your favourite thing about living in Fukuoka and Japan?
Well the SoftBank Hawks, I like them. I don’t watch too much baseball on TV, but I like the symbol of the Hawks, and I really enjoy watching baseball in the stadium. Kyushu as a whole is an amazing place for art and creativity. Just to name some of the more popular things: the writer of One Piece is from Kumumamoto and Yo-Kai Watch has some kind of connection to Fukuoka. There’s loads of comedians from here too. Being able to live in a place like this where there’s so many cool people and cool ideas, like Yakushima – that was the inspiration for Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke – is just great, and really inspiring for me.
Check out the pilot of Sky Pigs:
Or more of Cameron: