Meet Shin Kurokawa
COW Leaders : Shin KurokawaCreative COW Forum Host
An avid fan of art, music, movies and anime, Shin was an original founding member of AnimEigo, an US-based anime company that had its humble beginnings in early 1989 while he was an undergraduate majoring in physics at the University of Chicago.
A well-known and respected figure in the anime industry, and synonymous for producing high-quality products for the US market, the party-loving Shin is often a guest at anime conventions where he passionately speaks not only about production and technology, but for his love for anime, arts and “all things fun” that transcend cultural boundaries.
Being a self-described “hopeless uber-technogeek”, he learned to program computers as a seventh-grader when he saw the making-of documentaries on Disney’s “TRON”, which resulted in him purchasing a Sinclair ZX81 computer kit in 1982 with the monies he earned from editing and repairing 8-track and cassette tapes for his friends and neighbors. He even wrote a TRON light cycle game for ZX81 in Z80 machine code, which he actually sold a few copies of.
TRON’s soundtrack also got him into electronic music. Shin, a classically-trained pianist, became interested in synthesizers, and when the first MIDI synthesizer became available in ’84, Shin jumped and bought a Prophet 600 synth which led him to experiment with music and computers. His musical and MIDI knowledge eventually got him performance and programming gigs at local venues and studios.
“I still remember the reaction on people’s faces,” Shin recalls, “when they heard sounds they’ve never heard of. And it was this Japanese, high school kid playing keyboards that were ganged together via MIDI, creating layers and layers of beautiful sounds and textures.” He adds, “and I especially loved it when people of all races, colors and nationalities were able to come together over even the cheesiest of musical performances, because back in those days there were a lot of racial and cultural tension evident everywhere.”
Born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in both Japan and US, Shin has a bi-cultural upbringing that naturally helped his days at AnimEigo where he was responsible for translating and producing anime and classic Japanese films for the English-speaking audience. His deep understanding and appreciation for different cultures extend far beyond that of the two countries. “People are people everywhere,” Shin says, “ and except for a few ignorant folks out there, they’re all good people. And they all want to have a good time!”
As a teenager growing up in the US during the 80’s, Shin says he “couldn’t possibly avoid feeling wounded by all those Japan-bashing ads on TV and elsewhere, and a lot of my high school classmates didn’t know better so they would repeat those things. It was a confusing time for my family, and me, and I’m sure it was tough for other Asians too. So it was unbelievable when I went off to college in ‘87, and saw a bunch of people of all backgrounds watching and fervently discussing anime and Japan. And they introduced me to email lists, and eventually I became one of the first posters of an Usenet anime newsgroup called rec.arts.anime and also invented the term ‘J-POP’ to refer to Japanese pop music .”
During his undergraduate days, aside from shuffling schoolwork and anime projects, Shin had a number of programming, system administration and research duties at various departments, and was eventually put in charge of running VAX clusters and an ELXSI 6400 parallel mainframe on which he helped write codes for complex simulations. When ELXSI Company folded and the mainframe decommissioned, he ported many codes to one of the earliest multi-processor Silicon Graphics supercomputer. He has published, or been credited on, many research projects performed on the machine. The SGI also got him interested in image processing, DSP and digital filtering algorithms.
Though AnimEigo's headquarters were based in Japan and North Carolina, he was able to maintain his satellite office and home studio in Chicago, but later relocated to the East Coast where he could immerse himself in the New York arts scene for most of the 90's. There, aside from doing his anime work, he attended art schools and concentrated in painting and design. “It was a great time for any art student, especially for anybody who idolized artists like Julian Schnabel, David Salle or Willem deKooning. And you were constantly interacting with people doing fashion or industrial designs, so it was a great learning experience.”
All this time, Shin also continued working on a variety of music and video projects. By the mid-90’s, he was “working with MIDI and DAW’s non-stop, without sleep, everything running off of SMPTE/MTC synchronizers and locking to analog VTR.” But when he saw the first video NLE and digital compositing tools, things drastically changed for him forever. Shin quickly learned to operate NLE's, DVE's, digital paintboxes and effects systems, to take advantage of the latest technologies for his work.
“When you’re so used to editing a piece of tape with a razor,” he says with a laugh, “ or having to wait a long time getting from Point A to Point B, the idea of working in a non-linear style was at first very frightening because things happens so quickly and you feel like you’ve skipped a heartbeat, but most of all it reminded me of the early days of discovering the cut-and-paste function, writing and editing long papers on a Mac 512K, like for philosophy classes just minutes before they were due!”
In 1999, Shin moved to North Carolina, to concentrate on producing DVD’s for his anime company. W on VHS and Laserdisc releases were “really easy”, however, unlike the technical standards required for VHS and Laserdisc, DVD production turned out to be “quite a challenge”. Because of DVD’s high-resolution and data compression, fueled by a consumer trend in which an incredible number of viewers were becoming videophiles, who have purchased large, elaborate, hi-quality home-theater systems, Shin realized that any defects on master tapes would be made more apparent and that an extra amount of work was required to prepare master tapes for the new generation of viewers.
His research had led him to experiment with a variety of hardware and software, both commercial and proprietary, and even included some hefty software R&D efforts involving image-processing algorithms that were only recently published in academic journals. Shin even leased or bought additional equipment for his home studio, including a DVD workstation, with which he could perform experiments. Much of these efforts were applied on the DVD’s he produced, but it wasn’t until mid-2000 when he was put in charge of a major project in which he was able to apply all of this knowledge and more.
After having worked on hundreds of productions for AnimEigo and others, Shin left the company in early 2002 to start Maximum Output Designs, Inc., a post-production studio specializing in digital content creation and enhancement. Relying on a palette of commercial and custom-configured tools, he has performed enhancements, special effects, dustbusting, restoration, remastering and “everything roto” on sources ranging from mis-painted anime footage to damaged reels of film and video. Working with a number of clients from Tokyo, Hollywood and New York, he finds great pleasure collaborating with those who are “low-volume and budget-limited, but super-quality-conscious, full of creative energy and have open mind.”
Having gained notoriety for what he does for living, Shin says, “all these tools have changed over the years, but I guess I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing --- that is, you start with something and end up with something even greater, and you’re giving back something more than what you’re given. And when all is done, you reward yourself by having a party or something. It’s all about having a good time doing what you love doing!”
You can find Shin Kurokawa hosting in Creative COW's and RE:Vision Effects Forum.