Hey, Answerman! - Studio Notes

by Brian Hanson,

Hey fans! Or just erstwhile readers and commenters! Welcome to another Hey, Answerman!

I don't have any major car accidents or misfortunes to impart in this space, so I'm not going to waste any space and just get to the good stuff.

Hi Answerman!

I live in the PAL side of the universe, and having recently upgraded to capable equipment, I've finally got around to playing my imported NTSC DVDs on a flat panel display through a progressive capable player. Hollywood movies look great now it must be said, but when it comes to anime in NTSC, why are there so few progressively encoded discs out there?

I go through my collection, get to a Region 1 title, and hopefully push the 24fps button on my remote, and all I get is varying degrees of judder from discs that only want to be played at 60Hz. It makes me want to do a dance of joy when something like Shana Season 2, or Ristorante Paradiso turn up and are so encoded.

I'm sure there's an awfully technologically-savvy explanation for this weird phenom, so I'll look no further than ANN's own video encoding wizard, Justin Sevakis!

Justin: There are a few reasons why so few anime DVDs are encoded progressive. Most of the reasons are due to the nature of anime, itself.

First some background. All film-based and most digipaint anime made after 2003 is animated at 24 progressive frames per second. However, TV broadcast is still all at 29.97 interlaced frames per second. To convert from 24 to 30, a process called "pulldown" is applied, which adds an extra field every few frames in a set pattern. Standard definition master tapes (a format called Digital Betacam, or Digibeta) only supports 29.97 frames per second, so all masters that aren't in HD have pulldown applied to them somewhere along the process. (More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-two_pull_down)

Now, when you encode a DVD, most encoders can be set to look for that pattern and take it out, giving you nice clean 24 progressive frames again. All movies are created entirely in 24 frames per second (The Hobbit notwithstanding), and the process works pretty flawlessly.

But with TV anime, things get muddled up a bit. Editing, titles and video effects are often performed after the frame rate conversion, which can mix up the pulldown pattern and make it impossible to cleanly remove the extra fields. Worse yet, the low frame rates inherent to anime can confuse the encoder. The original progressive video might have been in 24 frames per second, but there was probably only 3-4 actual different drawings within those frames. With so many duplicate frames, the encoder can no longer clearly tell where one original frame began and where it ends. The final encoding usually looks so bad, it can't be used for anything.

There are several ways to manually inverse-telecine anime, but none of them are foolproof, and many result in frames blended together, which is something that any video pro wants to avoid. So most anime DVD producers have long since decided that it's best to just leave the finished video in its original format, and let the consumer deal with the best way to play it back on his or her equipment.

One would think that, in the HD era, this would no longer be a problem, but even today lots of anime is finished in 29.97i, even if the cel animation itself is performed in 24p. Some of these shows can be made to look acceptable in 24p again, but many can't be. It's just how Japan operates.

Somewhere in my stupid brain I read the word "telecine" as an Italian word pronounced "tele-chee-neh" because I have the mental capacity of a hibernating toad. Let's move on.

Dear Mr. Answerman,

When looking at any of those various charts of upcoming shows, one of the most prominent pieces of information seems to be the studio making the show. But it would seem quite sensible to say that studios don't make anime, but people working at those studios do. And generally studios tend to have rather differing staffs between shows, such as different key animators, directors and so on. And yet it still seems that, without being told what studio was behind an anime, you could reasonably tell if a show was from KyoAni, Deen or J.C. Staff. Despite the inconsistent staffs some matters of the overall style remain the same, so the studio can't be entirely irrelevant. But then, just what is the impact of a studio itself on a production that accounts for this?

Absolutely correct there, dude! STUDIOS don't make the shows - the PEOPLE at those studios do.

An important distinction that a lot of people fail to make is this notion that studios get to CHOOSE which projects they work on. That is, laughably, incorrect. Unless they're a studio with enough clout and talent to develop their own titles in-house, and the majority of them don't, they're at the mercy of whatever Production Committee is pulling the strings. Though, in order to maintain a semblance of balance, a lot of times the producers involved in any of the studios you mentioned are a PART of those Production Committees, though. Which makes sense, as it gives the studios just a tinier bit of control over their own work than if they were cut out of the planning phase entirely.

Another important distinction to make is that, in damn near every field of Entertainment, people, and by extension, studios, are hired for a job based upon the strength of their past work. So, if you're Key, and you liked what Kyoto Animation did with Air, it would make sense to bring them back to work on Kanon, and so on down the line. And, y'know, if I was in charge of the anime adaptation of a silly gag-manga like Kill Me Baby, it would set my mind at ease if I knew it was in the hands of J.C. Staff, who made excellent work out of Azumanga Daioh. There's also something to be said for having a quote-unquote "House Style" to differentiate yourself from the throngs of like-minded anime studios out there. Animation studios need to be versatile in order to handle any sort of story or concept, but there's nothing wrong with aligning yourself with a particular tone or strength, in order to conquer that market. I mean, hey, that's worked out wonderfully for Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

Not that J.C. Staff is anywhere up to that level, nor do they have any aspirations to such things. J.C. Staff has been everywhere and done it all. The same studio that made Sankarea also made Giant Killing, and early in their life produced things like Yotoden and New Dominion Tank Police. Kyoto Animation has done subcontracting work on InuYasha and some other Sunrise productions, and has done stuff for video games like the Pro Yakyuu series from Bandai. Studio Deen assisted on the animation for Jin-Roh and Eureka 7. So this whole idea of "you can tell what a show's going to be like given the animation studio" is pure rubbish.

As to what you mean when you ask about the "impact" a studio can have on a project, well - that's the whole point, isn't it? They may not get to decide what projects they get to work on and when, but the majority of the creative decisions are theirs and theirs alone. I mean, given censorship and budgetary constraints, at least. Their goals is to make the best, most popular, and most profitable series possible, and considering you're talking about mostly adaptations of other source material (light novels and manga and video games), there's also the source material to take into consideration. Putting all those things in a blender is no easy task, so it's not really a surprise that out of desperation, perhaps, but most likely necessity they've largely stuck with what's worked for them before. Ideas, characters, tropes; if it worked before, it'll work again if its in a similar project. The demand for new animated series every single season is insatiable for audiences both in Japan and overseas, so I'll forgive them if sometimes things seem to overlap just a little bit. Most of the time these shows weren't really built with people like me in mind anyway; and hey, the audiences don't seem to be revolting against it. They might roll their eyes at the sameness of it all, especially several years down the line, but hey, this is commerce, man. You want to make "art"? Go work for Ghibli or Studio 4C. Good luck with that - they kind of have a very rigorous and selective screening process. Or go independent and beg for financing.

Essentially, the studios themselves very rarely get to pick what shows THEY THEMSELVES want to work on, because that's a luxury afforded to only the crème de la crème. However, just about every single decision made on those shows is theirs to make, and there's a conscious decision to re-use elements - be they visual or plot related - in projects that are adapted from similar sources. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I guess? Of course you could still improve something even if it "ain't broke," but that takes time and money. And if you're just a working-class anime studio under deadline and under budget, those are two things you don't have.

Okay, this one is simple and clean:

What, exactly, is the difference between being credited as "key animator", "animation director" and just plain "animation"? On that same topic: What is the difference between people who are in Planning and those who are producers?

What does each task entail?

All this animation talk is easy stuff! "Just plain animation" is just as it sounds - you spend your days slaving away on a desk or a drawing tablet, drafting scenes handed down by your senior animators.

And your two senior animators are, in order, the Animation Director and the Key Animator. Or Lead Animator, depending on how they feel like crediting it. The animation director oversees the entire production and assigns certain scenes or sequences to specific talent. Say you've got an action sequence - hey, this animator over here animated a great action sequence in Generator GAWL, let's get him for this. Or there's a tender character scene - this animator here worked for a bit for Studio Ghibli for Only Yesterday, they'd be perfect for that. More often than not, Animation Directors also pick scenes for themselves to draw; I remember during the Satelite panel at Otakon last year as the producers expressed some frustration as they waited for certain scenes from AKB0048 to be finished because Shoji Kawamori had decided to animate them himself, the perfectionist he is.

The "Key Animator" is the one in charge of all the keyframe animation. Here's a primer on Key Frame Animation for those a little less invested in this stuff than I am. Essentially, animation is such a labor intensive process that is entirely dependent on timing - in fact, there's whole departments in most animation studios devoted to Animation Timing - so things are "timed out" to determine how many specific drawings are going to be used in a certain scene. A Key Animator's job is to essentially draw out the blueprints of those scenes; the single drawings that form the basis of any important poses or actions, which the other animators ("just plain animators" or in-between animators) work with to fill the rest of the scene. These are obviously important, considering the lower frame rate of anime productions. Some would say, perhaps, that the Key Animator's job is rather "Key" to the success of a given scene, correct?

So, just to reiterate: the Animation Director hands things over to a Key Animator, who draws the important poses and sets the overall tone, while the Animators' job is to fill in those blanks in order to deliver a clean, quality scene that flows with the rest of the show.

On to producers! Here's where there's a lot less information. A Producer's job is obviously meant to do a lot of Planning, since that's what a lot of any given producer's job entails. Planning budgets, deadlines, staffing, workflow, any number of things. Since that's the case, anybody with the credit of "Planner" obviously has a more specific task. As an example, one of the people in charge of "Planning" Love Hina is one Toru Sato, who, as his Encyclopedia entry notes, is mostly credited as a producer - and animator. "Planning" seems to fall mostly on the animation side of things more than the pre-production portion; in my (admittedly brief) research, I haven't seen any "Planners" who were involved with things like script writing or anything else. Just a lot of animation production.

I'm not entirely certain what specific job function a "Planner" has, but considering all I've found are a lot of animators involved as Producers, it seems to be focused more on the animation side than the pre-production side. But let's be honest here: this is one of those nebulous job titles that could mean any number of things, and isn't quite as sexy or fun as "director" or "producer." Nobody's really done a ton of research or interviews on the subject, so the specifics of it are lost as far as the internet is concerned.

Nonetheless, I like that questions like this arise every once in a while. When I was eating lunch in New York with one of my readers/Twitter Pals last week, we got on the topic of consumption versus curiosity; so many fans are simply more interested in consuming their entertainment rather than be curious about it in any way. For most fans, how this stuff is put together in the first place is a mystery, and for some reason, they don't mind that. I find that baffling. I was obsessed as a kid about how the stuff I liked was made. As a teen in high school, I tracked down every single book on animation I could find. Michael Barrier's book "Hollywood Cartoons" was my Bible. I devoured everything I could find that shed even the tiniest light on how cartoons were made. This stuff wasn't made by wizards, it was made by regular folks, just like you and me. How was it done? What dark magicks and talismans were procured to make it work? Obviously it's not necessary for me to know what a "Planner" did to make something like Panty & Stocking so enjoyable, but I'm certainly curious about everything that goes on at a fundamental level.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that it's cool that people like you are out there wondering about this stuff. I had always just lumped "Planning" in with "Producer" as well and never gave it a second thought; upon a cursory glance, it appears there's a bit of a difference, though it's not well-documented exactly what that difference is. I'll try to find that out the next time I have the chance. Genuine thanks!

Alright folks, as I shut my trap and get ready to present your responses to last week's question, let's take a brief moment to reflect on the tiny .jpeg box I had you all think deeply about:

That's right, it's all about crowdfunding, Kickstarter, and everything in between! As it applies to anime and manga, of course!

First up, here's a man known only as Red, which can only be the name of either a carefree trucker or a slick and cool bouncer:

I've contributed to a bunch of different Kickstarters over the past year, some of which got funded, most of them didn't. I think it's a great tool, but I don't think it'll work for anime and manga.

For one specific reason: Japan.

There was a Spanish publisher that tried to use crowdfunding to acquire the rights to release the Haruhi Suzumiya anime, and failed - not because they couldn't find enough backers. That wasn't the issue. It was because Kadokawa didn't like the idea of having the cost of the license publicly available.

If Japanese companies are so skittish about having the cost of their expensive licenses publicly available, there's really no way any crowdfunding can happen. I think it should, but it seems like Japanese companies and publishers, at least the major ones that are the most likely to succeed at Kickstarter campaigns, don't want their licensing fees out there for the public to see.

And that's too bad.

Up next to genuflect on crowdfunding is the enigmatic Barbara, who wishes to harken back to a simpler and yet more complicated time:

Hey Answerman!

I don't think it's fair that you picked on the Class of Heroes 2 Kickstarter, not just because I'm an old-school Working Designs fan, but more importantly: I want the old practice of collectibles and deluxe packaging to come back.

Yes, I'm an old-timer and a collector. What of it?

The fact is, that stuff was expensive to make and with the rise of streaming, getting neat artboxes and goodies with your anime DVDs is basically gone. It'd be cool if that stuff made a comeback. Right now, the only way I can think of that makes sense is one thing: Kickstarter.

Think about it. An anime publisher in the West can acquire a license for streaming and DVD, whatever. It's already theirs, and they can do whatever they want with it. But there's no extra resources they can allocate to make any deluxe packaging or cool extras for the die hard fans. Normally we'd just deal with it and we'd just be happy to get the show as it is. But how cool would it be if Sentai Filmworks launched a Kickstarter to make a special, super-deluxe version of Clannad? Or Bodacious Space Pirates? One chock full of pencil boards, limited-edition soundtracks, and other things that used to make us fans squeal like children at a Best Buy?

It would basically be a bonus form of taking pre-orders. We know that we would be getting the show either way, but for an extra donation of however much we'd be willing to pay, we KNOW that we'd be getting a bunch of extra collectibles along with it. I think that's a terrific idea, and I'm kind of surprised no one has already done something like this in the anime world.

And I know I wouldn't be the only one out there to support something like this... right? Right?!? Go ahead, prove me wrong, world.

Next up, let's listen to Sarah, who isn't so, uh, gung-ho about this:

Hi Brian,

I'm pretty sure that any anime company foolish enough to try something like Kickstarter would learn a harsh lesson, rather quickly, about their supposed fanbase. Simply put: they'd find SOMETHING to complain about, and the campaign would end in disaster.

Piracy is just one part of it. Who would be stupid enough to donate their own money, especially large amounts of it, to have some other company acquire a title they've already seen for free on a fansub? Or a manga on a scanlation site? I'm sure there'd be a couple of fans who'd drop 20 bucks their way, but the majority of the so-called "fans" of any given title are little more than freeloaders. And aside from the freeloaders, you'd have the usual assortment of entitled whiners who would complain that the Kickstarter funds "weren't going to the original creators" and would ignore it, or worse, try to have it banned.

Basically, I think the "fans" are too used to getting things for free, and any attempt to get money from them is just wasted time.

Lastly, let's close out with James, and not just because he echoes my thoughts entirely:

Hey Answerman,

I was a little torn on answering this week's question, because I'm of two minds on this. I haven't personally donated to any Kickstarters or anything like it, but I'm familiar enough with it to understand the ins and outs of the process. I'm with you, though. I think that with ANYTHING that relies on a small but devoted fanbase, crowdfunding seems to be the way to go. It's worked out well for video games, and it only makes sense that it translates to anime and manga as well.

But I don't think it'll be good for acquisitions. From what you were saying and from my own research, it seems like there's too much red tape involved to really make much of a difference. But what I'm thinking is: wouldn't it be great if we MADE OUR OWN ANIME USING KICKSTARTER?

That's right. No more bitching and complaining about how they "don't make shows for ME anymore." We raise the money and find the right people to MAKE THAT FOR US. We write the scenarios and outlines and properly pay an animation studio to produce it and we distribute it. We control it. WE OWN IT.

Obviously I'm just one guy and I can't control much of anything at this point, but just the notion of it excites me. Plus, I think that's the whole point of crowdfunding in general; using a fanbase to create something that isn't being created in the first place. We wouldn't have to just rely on what the Japanese producers and Western licensors decided was good enough for us: finally, for the first time, us lowly "Western anime fans" could have a real say and a real voice in what was being produced.

This is just a total pipe dream at this point, but I think it could happen. Scratch that: I'm certain it WILL happen. I just hope that it's good, above all else.

Speaking of crowdsourcing - hey, I've been doing this all this time! Where's my huge, fat Kickstarter check?!? Oh well. Hey look! Here's next week's question, all about the diametric opposite of crowdfunding - large anime studios!

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.

* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

And now it's time for me to say, Adios! Until you see my column appear on the sidebar next week, don't forget to drop me any questions and Answerfans entries to my internet mailbox over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com!

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