Studio Ghibli has built a reputation as being the last bastion for 2D animation, one of the final holdouts of that warm, whimsical, hand-drawn style before the entire animation industry succumbs to to the ease of CG animation. But the venerated Japanese animation studio, which has long stood in the shadow of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, even closing its doors when the animation legend “retired” in 2013, needs to innovate too.

Ghibli has dabbled with 3D animation over the years, with Miyazaki using CG to animate the more intense sequences in Princess Mononoke and even creating a CG short film in 2018, Boro the Caterpillar. So a fully CG-animated feature film was only the next step for Studio Ghibli. But it wasn’t Hayao Miyazaki who would direct Ghibli’s first CG feature, but his son Goro Miyazaki, with the upcoming Aya and the Witch, based on the novel by Howl’s Moving Castle author Diana Wynne Jones. So what could Ghibli’s first fully CG-animated film look like? See for yourself with the first Aya and the Witch images below.

Aya and the Witch Images

I have to say that these images (via Comic Natalie) aren’t exactly what I expected to come from Studio Ghibli, which has only ever held the highest standard for its animation (mostly due to Miyazaki’s famously meticulous process). There’s a shiny gloss to the character designs that reminds me of the overly ornate style that is becoming popular in Chinese CG animation, but some of the details like the hair or the clothes, are almost too simple or flat. But it does seem like Goro Miyazaki is attempting to capture the classic Ghibli designs in 3D, with the exaggerated looks for villains and the simple, cherubic expressions of the child protagonists.

Regardless, I’m anticipating Goro Miyazaki experimenting with his own style, after working for so long under the shadow of his famous father. His first two films, The Wizard of Earthsea and From Up on Poppy Hill felt like they owed too much stylistically and thematically to Miyazaki’s beloved films, but From Up on Poppy Hill did feel like Goro Miyazaki was making efforts to make his own mark, with a film that felt a little quieter and light-hearted than typical Ghibli fare. Perhaps by leading the charge to adopt CG animation for Ghibli, Goro Miyazaki can finally establish himself as a promising director in his own right.

Goro Miyazaki is adapting Diana Wynne Jones’ 2011 children’s novel Earwig and the Witch, presumably renamed Aya and the Witch for Japanese audiences, which is his second adaptation following The Wizard of Earthsea, a dramatically different take on Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels. Here’s the book’s synopsis, though the final film will likely be very different:

Not every orphan would love living at St. Morwald’s Home for Children, but Earwig does. She gets whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, and it’s been that way since she was dropped on the orphanage doorstep as a baby. But all that changes the day Bella Yaga and the Mandrake come to St. Morwald’s, disguised as foster parents. Earwig is whisked off to their mysterious house full of invisible rooms, potions, and spell books, with magic around every corner. Most children would run in terror from a house like that… but not Earwig. Using her own cleverness—with a lot of help from a talking cat—she decides to show the witch who’s boss.

Aya and the Witch was originally set to premiere at Cannes Film Festival, but it will be broadcast on Japan’s NHK general TV in winter 2020. There’s no set U.S. release yet.

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