Hope, loss and burning flames

Project of the Month: Firehead


After graduating from Tama Art University, Tokyo-based Ryoji Yamada worked as freelancer realizing various animation projects. Looking for new challenges and an opportunity to improve his artistic skills, he eventually ended up at Filmakademie’s Animationsinstitut, where he studied for a year as a guest student. During his studies in Ludwigsburg, he not only worked on different student projects but also created his own short film, Firehead.

The 2D-Animation is taking you into a desolate cave where the only source of light comes from its own inhabitants: wax creatures with flaming heads. Firehead shows a weird world of violence and ecstasy and follows a young boy who lives isolated from the others but one day has to give up his safe space.

Read on to learn more about Ryoji's experience in Germany and the inspiration for his film Firehead.



When did you discover your love for animation and how did you find your way to Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg?

That is a really long story... When I was a student at the art university in Japan, we could watch many animations from all over the world. I was fascinated by animations from England, France, Italy, Germany, Estonia, etc. Andreas Hykade's work was particularly shocking, and I was wondering how I could create such pieces. After graduating and after working as an animator for three years, I became a freelancer and worked in the field. By time, my work was getting busier but I also wanted to improve and learn.


An animation artist friend of mine from Japan had met animator and motion designer Shoko Hara at the ITFS in Stuttgart. So he introduced me to Shoko and I contacted her to see if she could introduce me to Andreas, as I found out that she was from Filmakademie and knew him very well.
She told me that I should just come around and see the academy. "Why don't you come and see it?"
That’s what I did. I met Shoko who showed me around and decided to come here to study. Normally exchange students are admitted for half a year but I wanted to stay minimum one year to really get to know the different culture in Germany. So I started to contact Andreas and Constanze, study coordinator of Animationsinstitut, and luckily I met both of them in Annecy when my film Hunter was nominated for the Short Film Competition. We talked and I was eventually invited as a guest student to Filmakademie’s Animationsinstitut for one year where Shoko became my mentor.


What is Firehead about and where did the idea for the story come from?

I wonder if it is only outside of Asia, but everyone hugs when they greet each other regardless of gender or social status. I was very surprised by this, but now that I was actually living in Ludwigsburg Germany, I found it even more refreshing. In the beginning, I was a little resistant or embarrassed about hugging. But after I got used to it, I began to feel that it was a wonderful thing to do, because it made me feel like we were sharing compassion and hope for each other.


At that time, I had also had a theme: "It's not despair that stops people, but resignation, and it's not hope, but will that moves people forward.” This is a line from a Japanese manga, and maybe it was because I was working freelance in Japan and the work was so intense that I just wanted to run away. In that sense, I was drawn to this passage.
I connected my observation of hugging with it and it inspired me to replace shared emotions with flames. Red flames for emotions that lead to will and blue flames for emotions that lead to giving up. It was very interesting and amusing to hear afterwards that in Europe actually the blue flame is a positive image and the red flame is a negative one.


First Storyboard for Firehead

Storyboard Firehead

How did you experience studying at Filmakademie's Animationsinstitut?

Starting with helping Matisse Gonzalez on her diploma film Gravedad, I learned a lot of things from the script, project mentoring, discussions, fortnightly progress presentations, and the production of the film. I also learned a lot about team management, scriptwriting, and how to have discussions. Those topics were not taught at schools or companies in Japan, but were rather learned in practical experience.


What happened after your time in Germany and what are you currently working on?

After returning from Germany, I created a company called "mimoid" with my friends and acquaintances in Tokyo and Amsterdam. We are a five-member company with four directors and a producer, and each of us works independently. The good thing is that we are able to do a single client project from multiple perspectives. I am also fortunate to have a great production team to work with. All the things I learned at Animationsinstitut have come in very handy with that.

Since Firehead, I have yet to make an original film, but thankfully, I have been able to do a lot of client work such as music videos and commercials that are as pure as the originals. In the near future, I would like to try my hand not only at short films, but also at feature films.

About Ryoji Yamada

After graduating from the Department of Animation at Tama Art University, he began his career as an animation artist in 2014 when his graduation project was nominated for the Annecy Animation Film Festival. After working as an animator at Garage Film Co., he started working as a freelancer in 2016. While creating his works, he also produces advertising videos and music videos.
He has been selected as one of the top 100 filmmakers in Japan three times.
He studied at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in 2018 and founded a creative house called mimoid with four directors and a producer in Tokyo and Amsterdam.

  • Selected for the short film category at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
  • Selected as a Jury Recommended Film at the Japan Media Arts Festival.
  • Selected for the Music Video Competition at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. etc.

Learn more about Ryoji on his website.


Kellner (2014)

Hunter (2017)

Firehead (2019)


Check out some of Ryoji’s latest work: animated music video for millennium parade


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