Silas Hickey: Australian artists go to Tokyo to encounter design brilliance

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Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

Silas Hickey holds the title of Senior Director, Asia Pacific Animation Development, Turner International Asia Pacific; no small feat.

Splitting his time between Hong Kong, Tokyo and Fukuoka, Silas is responsible for the creative direction of original content development initiatives in Asia Pacific.

Silas studied animation and design at the Otis Parsons School of Art & Design in Los Angeles, after which he pursued his avid fascination for animation in Tokyo, a city that he labels the “global centre of animation brilliance”.

Advance caught up with Silas to chat all things in the animation industry, and his life in Japan and the APAC region at large.

What’s your earliest memory of Tokyo?

I’ve always been extremely interested in animation and I distinctly remember watching Japanese cartoons when I was growing up in Australia. After studying animation at University in the United States, Tokyo was the first big Asian city I visited, I really wanted to be closer to the global centre of animation brilliance.

Japan (Tokyo in particular) is such a big design hub; many Australian artists and designers go there to get inspired and be amongst some of the best industrial designers and artists on the planet. It was like a pilgrimage, to aspire, to be around  all the incredible work that was coming out of Japan.

How big an industry is animation in Japan?

It’s huge. To this day, you'll see people of all ages reading comics on buses and trains . In Japan, people read comic books and watch animation their entire lives, there is a lot of content available that covers adult themes. It is a massive market, and it doesn’t just focus on kids.

When you first moved there, did you find it hard to get a job?

When I first arrived I was working with some pretty amazing designers, focusing on producing graphics for industrial designers. Getting from that into the animation wasn't an easy path because back then nobody in the industry could speak much English and the big Japanese studios producing stuff I liked were basically a closed shop, and 100% Japanese.

I think it's getting easier now that Japan is realising that they need to hire more foreigners due to the aging population, and visa laws have perhaps relaxed? Tokyo is so much more of an international city now than it was even a decade ago.

What does your current role involve as the Senior Director at Turner?

I mainly work in the kid's animation space across a number of different channels and digital platforms. I work on cartoons for kids from the South : Australia and New Zealand through South East Asia and Japan and Korea in the North. For a variety of genres, but a lot of comedy and we love physical humour – the slapstick variety.

Is there much of an industry in animation in Australia, or do you have to move outside of Australia to drive your career?

Australia doesn't have a big animation industry like Japan. You've got a much bigger population in a place like Japan or India, so it is challenging. Frustrating too as there are brilliant art schools and a fantastic education system available in Australia. Every year, there are graduates that want to work on animated shows, but it's the industry is not enough to accommodate all of the graduates. There is a bit of a brain drain there, unfortunately.

Is there anything Australia can do to “catch up”?

There's a lot that Australia can do to catch up. What they should do is offer more attractive incentives so that more production happens in Australia. Right now, there are good government incentives  for qualifying production expenditure. Producers really look for that type of thing, I know that I do. So if Australia was to be a bit more generous with those incentives, there would be a lot more production happening down there.

You mentioned you moved from Tokyo to Fukuoka to improve your quality of life. Is it a difficult city to settle and raise a family in?

Not particularly. The suburbs and outskirts of Tokyo are beautiful. They're leafy, green, and quiet. It’s also where all the animation studios are. The suburbs are also much cheaper than being in the centre too, so you can have a house instead of an apartment.

Fukuoka takes it a step further, cheaper property, beaches, mountains hiking and an airport right in the middle of the city as opposed to Narita or Haneda (which is only close because people compare it to Narita). Fukuoka is my favourite city in Japan. Also much close to all of the places I have to go for work, like Korea, China, Hong Kong, its brilliant. It has everything Tokyo has though on a smaller, more intimate scale – I recommend it!

Are there any misconceptions about Tokyo?  

Tokyo has a reputation for being particularly expensive, but it's definitely cheaper than Melbourne or Sydney. Certainly in property, but also in terms of just food, and pretty much everything else! It would definitely be a good choice for retirement.

For someone visiting Tokyo, what are some must dos, what's some things off the top of your head that you would recommend?

It obviously depends what you’re into, but there are definitely a few must-dos that I must do from time to time! Hakone, the hot spring resort right next to Tokyo is a nice thing to do, you can take the “Romance Car” from Shinjuku! I like the fact it’s still probably much like it was in the 1960’s.

You can get dressed up like Mario from Super Mario, and drive around Tokyo in go-karts with a guide, a friend did that a few weeks ago…like being in your own computer game!

If you're into animation (like me) then the Ghibli Museum is something else. It’s on the outskirts of Tokyo in a place called Kichijoji, a really beautiful part of Tokyo.

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