It started with a bathhouse. Five hundred hours later, one fan had transformed his love for a classic anime film into the voxel art of Minecraft.
Freelance animator Alan Becker didn’t expect any reward for embarking on a three-year journey to re-create the world of Studio Ghibli’s beloved Spirited Away in Mojang’s build-anything sandbox game. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about fleeting Internet fame. It was a labor of passion, a compulsion to process the powerful emotions the film left him with and express them through art. Becker made it clear that this was something he needed to do.
And like many before him, Becker found Minecraft to be an ideal medium for his creative endeavor.
In an e-mail interview, GamesBeat asked Becker what made Spirited Away so special in his mind. “It is my favorite piece of artwork in movie form. I don’t think it has the best plot … or give[s] you the feel-good vibes when it’s over like the Hollywood classics, but … it’s so unpredictable that it truly feels like a very vivid dream,” he said.
The movie enchanted him so much when he watched it in 2011 that it actually inspired his dreams. Becker said he would “have dreams of being in endlessly big and vast buildings, old and magnificent.” Since he had just started playing Minecraft, Becker saw its potential to manifest these grand structures.
It started with the bathhouse from Spirited Away. Becker tried to create similar buildings, but it just wasn’t the same. That was the point when he “decided to go all out and make an exact replica.”
Despite being fun, Becker’s project hasn’t always been easy. He thinks he’s put more time into it than anything else he’s ever worked on, including the animations he creates for a living. GamesBeat asked him to put a number on the amount of hours he’s poured into the virtual world. After thinking for a while, he said, “At least 500 hours.”
The most overwhelming aspect of the re-creation is Becker’s desire for everything to feel complete. He described his project’s evolution from the bathhouse to the world around it and how he obsessed over details. “It’s never truly complete. It started with the bathhouse,” he said. “Oh, but you can’t have the bathhouse without the ghost town in front of it. Oh, the train tracks next to the bathhouse, they can’t just lead to nothing can they? You gotta make it lead to the swamp! Why is there nothing in this building? Fill it up!”
If you want to see what Becker has accomplished so far, you can watch a video tour series on his Minecraft YouTube channel. The description of each video claims that the project is 80 percent complete. I asked him if this figure was up to date. “So I’ve said that it’s 80 percent done for a while,” he said. “I keep working on it, and the number stays at 80 percent. That’s because the total amount of stuff to be done keeps growing. Even if I get 90 percent of the original 100 percent done, it will [have become] 90 percent out of 120 percent or so.”
He’s made four episodes for the video. He plans to make six more, with periodical updates afterward. He couldn’t give a date for the next episode, though, simply saying that demand has risen drastically this week and that he’ll try to post it as soon as he can.
But this, however, brings about another question: Does Becker plan to re-create anything else in Minecraft?
He said that he’s received requests from fans to remake more of Studio Ghibli’s films, but even though he loves them, he doesn’t have as much artistic passion for the others. In addition, he feels that they lack the same continuity as Spirited Away, making them harder to represent in Minecraft. If anything, his next project will probably be a roller coaster, because of his “passion for roller coasters in Minecraft, and how fully [creators] can control a rider’s experience using redstone circuitry and by building vast environments around them.” That won’t be for a while, though.
After all, he still has plenty of improvements planned for his current undertaking.