What Determine's An Anime's Art Style?

by Justin Sevakis,

Michael asks:

Hi, so with some people out for studio DEENs blood for konosubas unique artstyle . I was wondering, who decides on the art style for an anime show? Is it the animation studio itself or does someone else on the committee decide that?

A lot of people credit the specific anime studio with how a particular show looks and feels. They glom onto the idea that each studio has a distinct "look", and a certain reputation for making shows a certain way. When new anime are announced for each season, a huge number of fans instinctively look to what studio is producing the animation, and that often drives expectations for that show.

Is this fair? Perhaps in a roundabout way. At the beginning of any project, the show's producer(s) and director will sit down with a big list of contacts of people they want to work on the show. Many of these choices are made for stylistic reasons, but other big factors include how easy they are to work with, whether they can make deadlines, and whether or not they're suited to the material. They make some phone calls and put out some feelers, trying to identify who is available and interested.

A "house style" for an animation studio is based entirely by the talent that tends to recur there from project to project. And while nearly all supervising roles are freelance ones, it is very common for talent to stick around a studio for long stretches, where they've often made friends with the staff and are asked to take on one job after another. After all, with so many shows being made, competition for good talent is very stiff, and it's easier on everyone to keep good artists around and keep giving them things to do.

When it comes to defining the look of a show, nobody is more essential to the production than the character designer and the art director. The character designer is, obviously, the person who draws all of those character breakdown sheets you've probably seen in art books and DVD art gallery features. In any given production, its their style that is probably easiest to identify, although often they're simply refining other people's characters (from a manga, visual novel artwork, or light novel illustration) so that they have fewer lines and are easier for animators to draw consistently. While less identifiable, the art director is just as important in designing the backgrounds -- and although we may not notice them as easily, those too can give any given show a unique feel.

Together with the animation director, the director of photography and the color designer (and mechanical designer, if that applies), these artists are principally responsible for everything you think of in terms of how a show looks and feels. A particularly hands-on director will work with this staff and influence what they do, but the distinctive touches that each of these people can put on a show will usually make themselves apparent.

There are other, smaller things that can lend a particular studio's work a distinct style. Most studios follow long-established workflows and have chosen specific software packages. Many studios are also founded by one or two well-regarded animators, and their individual styles and work ethics tend to really make an impression on younger animators that rise through the ranks there. Those animators might eventually go off to other studios, but often half the reason they're even at the studio is to learn from that master animator. Also, many studios tend to price their work fairly consistently from project to project, so eventually they start to get hired for productions based on that reputation. For example, nobody is going to hire MAPPA to make a cheaply budgeted slam-it-out-quick series meant to cash in on a fad. But they'll definitely take something interesting and esoteric that might be on tight budget constraints over there.

So yes, while greatly overblown in terms of importance, there is definitely something to animation studios having a "house style." When predicting how a show will turn out, however, I tend to look far closer at the "above-the-line" artists involved. Their track record tends to tell us much, much more.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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