Interview: Pseudomé Studio

by Christopher Macdonald,

This Interview took place on January 13th, 2001 between Christopher Macdonald of Anime News Network and Ron Kaulfersch and Mike Schwark of Pseudomé Studio. Pseudomé recently released the prologue to their upcoming OVA series II, aptly titled II: Prologue.

ANN: First up, why? What made you guys decide to undertake such a time consuming project in the first place?

Ron: Eh, it was a long time coming really. A lot of different circumstances eventually coalesced and we suddenly figured, "Hey, I think we've got enough stuff here to try some animation!" After that, it kept moving along. We set little goals, we met them, made new ones, and eventually we mass-produced the product that you have before you.

Mike: Too much free time in college, I think. ;) Originally while watching anime, we used to just throw around ideas of what we would do if we had our own series. It started off mostly as just conversation to kill time, but as it went on, we started wondering if it might be feasible to try out some of our ideas with the assistance of computer animation. Even early one we weren't terribly serious about it. We figured at some point we would hit an insurmountable obstacle (Finding actors was the one I thought would stop us) that would kill the project, but instead we kept finding more solutions.

ANN: Well, the name of the OVA is II: Prologue, so obviously there is more coming?

Ron: Yeah, the Prologue is just that. Actually, it was going to end up being a roughly one-hour-long movie. The reasons for that were: We had no idea if we'd ever get the chance to do more animation, so we wanted to try and cram as much as possible into this first outing. Once we realized that there was going to be no way we could finish it in a timely manor, we were forced to scale it down to the product you see. But, if all goes well, there should be four OAV series' of II once everything is said and done.

ANN: OAV series? Multiple episodes each?

Ron: Yeah, roughly six to eight per series.

Mike: Yes, II: Prologue doesn't even scratch the surface of what we wanted to do with II. In this truncated version, it ends up being just an introduction to the II universe.

ANN: Wow, that looks like a very large undertaking you have underway, now, I believe time it took from the beginning of the project to the release of the Prologue was approximately 3 years, right? How about for the upcoming episodes, at 3 years an episode I'll be dead before it finishes

Ron: Oh heck yeah. But the three years for the Prologue included the time we spent crafting the universe, characters, storyline, learning all of our software, and having the two of us working on it only in our free time. II will only continue if we can institute a fundamental change at Pseudomé, and turn it into a legitimate, fully functional company. Fortunately, we've begun our new business plan in earnest, and hopefully with some guidance from our overly-helpful legal team, we can craft a successful business model and get not just II, but the creative enterprise of Pseudomé Studio off the ground.

Mike: I'm afraid the biggest factor in shortening the time span is money. We're doing our best to secure some capital to help produce the actual first OAV series in a reasonable amount of time, with a great deal more quality.

Ron: At any rate, we're probably going to be able to produce one more amateur short, which is already in planning, but has nothing to do with II.

ANN: So from this point on, your are going to become less of an Amateur studio? This is going to become a professional business venture with full time work devoted to the project?

Ron: I believe it is part of the old Roman axiom: Expand or die. These are absolutely basic items that we have to accomplish before we can achieve a successful, self-sustaining company. We just don't have the resources (e.g. time and money to keep doing this kind of stuff on our own and maintain any sort of quality or timeliness).

Mike: I'm not sure when the idea to go professional came up exactly, but once we got hooked on doing this, it was hard to imagine spending time working on anything else. However, like anyone else, we have to pay our bills, and that makes for very little time/energy left to expend on animation projects. We've found that when working full-time, we can animate fairly quickly, but I still doubt people would want to wait even a year per episode. The only thing we can do to help that is adding manpower, and thus more resources are required. Like Ron says, we're forced to either expand our operation, or give up on it (Aside from the occasional animated short).

ANN: Well, it looks like you really have things planned out for yourselves, the most immediate question that comes to mind, is Do you have any schedule for the rest of the series?

Ron: No, we can't set any firm date on when the next installment will be available for public consumption. It all depends on the final business plan we use.

Mike: II is going to be in limbo until all of the official company matters can be straightened out. I fear that could take a little while, but it should definitely be worth it. It does give us quite a bit of time to iron out plot details, and do all of the conceptual art.

ANN: So no actual production work has started on the series beyond the prologue then. Just planning so far?

Ron: Yes. Partly due to the fact that we want to move up to substantially more sophisticated software. Ergo, we could be building the models we need for the next installment right now, but if we switch software, most all of that will have been wasted.

Mike: That's right. The Prologue was created with a $300 piece of beginner-level 3D software. It didn't take us too long to find the limitations of the program, so we're planning on upgrading to something a bit more powerful before doing Episode 1. Personally, I'm quite excited at the idea of being able to build more detailed character models, after struggling with solely extrusion-based objects for so long.

ANN: That answers a bit of my next question, essentially, with your changing "status" how do expect it to affect the production itself. Will the next episode be significantly improved, and in what ways?

Ron: Well, as I said before, if Pseudomé, hence II is going to move on, it's essentially going to be an all-or-nothing affair. The same will hold true for the "true" beginning of the first OAV series. Just about any aspect you can think of will be meticulously mulled over, tweaked, enhanced, bolstered, etc. Everything from continuity, pacing and writing to animation, voice acting, music, etc.

Ron: Our goal is to not only rival, but to innovate and surpass anime in shear coolness. We've got a long way to go, but at least it's quite the goal to reach for.

Mike: You name it, it'll be improved. The majority of the Prologue was created in sequential order, so the viewer can actually see our skills and techniques progressing. We learned a lot from this project about just how to put an animated show together, and while we couldn't go back and fix every problem we noticed in the making of II: Prologue, we did make sure to keep track of them. We have more than enough ideas about what we can do to make future episodes drastically better. One of the benefits of being an actual production company rather than just an amateur group, is that we will be able to bring in talent to help us in the areas we were lacking in the Prologue.

ANN: I noticed some very impressive voice talent on II: Prologue, some people who are by no means amateur. Specifically Tiffany Grant and Tristan MacAvery, will they be around for the future?

Ron: Hopefully. They've given no indication otherwise.

ANN: Can you say how you managed to get people of their stature to participate in your project when it was still an Amateur project?

Ron: We...pretty much just asked them nicely. I suppose the scope and unique nature of the project intrigued them enough to volunteer their talents...Which we of course, have no end of gratitude for.

ANN: okay. Before I go on, I'd just like to say that I actually found all the voice acting to be very impressive. Not just the talents of Tristan and Tiffany, but all the voices were delivered very well and all the actors recognition for their talent.

ANN: So, how did you go about selecting the other voice actors and actresses?

Mike: Yes, I'm -very- impressed with everyone who helped out on the project. We contacted each of them, because we found them to be extremely talented in their respective fields, be in acting or composing.

Ron: We spent countless hours scouring the net for amateur VAs on the net. The largest cache typically resides in the "fandub" community (which consists mostly of Sailor Moon dubs). Once we thought we've found someone who closely matched what we wanted, we asked them to audition. Pretty much everyone we asked to audition for a specific character worked out to our satisfaction, thus our end result.

ANN: Can you tell me what the dubbing process was like? How you handled the recordings and such?

Ron: Basically we gave the actors the scripts for each scene, explained who the character were, their motivations, quirks, any vocal oddities they might have, and in some cases, provided them with sample clips that we recorded ourselves. Once we were satisfied with the results, they sent us wav files of their recordings, and we simply used them for the final product (after any noise reduction, or special effects were added).

Mike: We actually had all of the lines recorded prior to doing the animation (with the exception of the first few scenes which required ADR.)

ANN: How do you foresee handling the voice recording in the future? Do you plan to set up or rent a recording studio, or will you continue in the same manner?

Ron: Well, part of expanding would include the construction, or at least the leasing of fully-fledged recording studios.

Mike: Doing it in this style doesn't give us the level of quality control we'd ultimately like. Moving to an actual studio for recording lines would be the ideal case.

ANN: Are you planning on having the same amateur VAs return for their parts?

Ron: We'd like to retain as many as possible. Of course, if we build a recording studio in any given city, that might put undue burden on our VAs to try and get to it for recording (considering they range from coast to coast, including Canada). This will boil down to a logistical problem to be solved at a later date.

ANN: How did you guys get interested in Anime?

Ron: A few years back there was some sort of "midnight anime" showing on Cartoon Network. They played Robot Carnival, and the shear difference of it compared to ANYTHING American just sucked me in and wouldn't let go. I tried to escape, but it was futile. I've been corrupted ever since.

Mike: I think I first noticed a difference between Anime and Saturday Morning Cartoons with Robotech. Still, it probably wasn't until years later that I actually started watching it specifically because it -was- anime. Cartoon Network began playing things like Saturday Japanime, and that prompted Ron and I to look into Anime rentals at video stores. Soon, armed with information from he Internet, we had a much better understanding and started getting into it more and more. I guess it just kind of snowballed until we ended up where we are now.

Ron: It was probably due to the fact that I was exposed to anime at an early age with the likes of Starblazers. After that I didn't pay any attention to it until that whole Robot Carnival incident.

ANN: Any particular favorites? Anything that has influenced your work more than other series?

Ron: Tenchi Muyo!

ANN: Oh really? Tenchi? Have you read ANN recently?

Ron: Yup. And it's about DAMN time they start the third OAV series...But it better be damn good after all the suffering Tenchi TV and Shin Tenchi have caused me! ;)

Mike: Yup, Tenchi was a big influencing factor when we started out. From the news, I'm guessing Tenchi-Muyo Ryo-ohki! will have II beat for overall length of an OAV series.

ANN: yeah, it seems like it, Depending on how you interpret the numbers, it could be 80 episodes or more...

ANN: So, Tenchi influenced your work..

Ron: Yup. Oddly enough, one could say that the fact that the Tenchi OAVs ended so abruptly, and there was nothing to takes its place (in our feeble minds at least) that we just had to fill the void and make II.

Mike: Yes, I think Tenchi was the first anime series we both got into after our attempts to find anime on TV or at video rental places. It was quite a change from the edited-for-television anime we had seen before.

Mike: The TV versions of Tenchi really lacked everything we felt was good in the original. It was around that time that we had started the project (and never really thought anyone would see II), and we used AIC as a model when trying to determine what our character designs could look like. A lot of people see the obvious influences of Tenchi in the overall design of II, but over three years of design, II became it's own entity. By the second OAV series, I don't think they'll have much in common at all.

ANN: Speaking of the designs and the overall visual flavor of II, one could almost say that you went out of your way to make it look like Anime. We're not talking about something that is merely Anime inspired, but had as a goal (or it seems) to look very much like the classic anime look. And you included a lot of Anime clichés. For example the huge beads of sweat (which I found quite amusing, the way you exaggerated them even more)... and so on.

Ron: Yup. Anime Inferiority Complex. We were afraid that since we were using 3D, it wouldn't seem anime enough. So, we went out of our way to make it as anime as possible. We'd like it to be more subtle and refined the further we go along, but expect most everything we do to be extremely well steeped in anime traditions.

Mike: Absolutely! We wanted II to appeal to anime fans as much as possible, but there's some concern about it not being Japanese, as well as not being 2D. (Anime fans typically don't think of 3D characters as being anime, unless of course they're part of a Squaresoft cutscene, or from some other video game.) We wanted the Prologue, or actually the first portion of the sixty-minute episode, to make anime fans feel right at home, so we threw in as many clichés as possible. We not only borrowed wild takes, space combat, and the like from anime, but as much camera direction as possible. Unlike your typical 3D series, we don't like to use '3D camera shots' (i.e., the camera rotates around the room five times for no apparent reason) just to show off the models. We studied how things are done in anime, and did our best to apply them to our animation.

ANN: It seems that you were worried about how people would perceive II because it was rendered in 3D, Why did you chose to make it this way if it caused so much concern

Ron: Because there's virtually no other way two people could have pulled off an animated episode of ANYTHING without the power and ease of 3D modeling and animation.

Mike: 3D was simply the best solution for a number of problems. The fact that I had never drawn in anime style prior to doing design work for II, meant it would be difficult enough for us to create believable anime characters, let alone animate them. 3D also allowed us to produce footage at a much faster rate, since the computer does all of the tweening, and we don't need to color individual frames. Building character and set models takes a lot more time than drawing them, but reusability ultimately saves time when it comes to animating.

ANN: So 3D wasn't a design choice, it was simply a matter of practicality then.

Ron: Pretty much. As an afterthought we've decided to take it upon ourselves to try and innovate the 3D medium. Perhaps we can have some impact on it and force it to evolve in a way other than the way 2D animation has in America.

Mike: We are playing around a little bit with 2D animation, but it doesn't seem like it will be practical for what we want to do at least given the quality of style and animation we want to achieve.

Ron: Yeah, I'm not a very big fan of the whole 2D/3D combo. It's extremely distracting. Whether you work in 2D or 3D, our philosophy is: keep it pure. Or at least, pure enough so as to not interfere with your primary medium. Oddly enough, neither of us are big fans of 3D either. But, we use what we got. And if we can innovate along the way, eh, so much the better. ;)

Mike: For some reason, because 3D has the possibility of photo realism, many people feel that's its 3D's only use. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have those who feel 3D should be used to approximate cel-style. Typically, you end up seeing extremely flat and artificial-looking images that look a lot like a drawn cel, but never behave like one. Animators tend to forget that 2D characters usually don't move so fluidly (at 30fps), and the computer can't add the same stylistic touches that a human artist can. We decided to find some middle ground, using some semi-realistic textures, but not enough to overwhelm the simplistic designs. We also tried mimicking the character movement as best we could, without actually freezing the characters at any point. (Something which, while fine in 2D animation, seems to suck the life out of the usually fluid 3D characters.)

ANN: While producing Prologue, did you stick entirely to 3D, or did you go in and do some touch ups by hand on occasions, do you have any rules or philosophy about this in the future?

Ron: Well, the mouths are pretty much the only thing 2D in the Prologue. But, they were done ahead of time and painted onto the models before final raytracing.

Mike: I think touching up the animation by hand (or Photoshop, or whatever) is a great idea. It wasn't really practical with the Prologue, given how much time it took to make as is. But given the resources to do it, I think we would.

ANN: Well then, you've finally gotten a finished product, it's been packaged (very nicely and creatively I might add), it has been available for sale for a while now and you've been interviewed by people other than myself. How has the response been, how do you feel about how people have responded?

Ron: Well, I'd have to say that we have yet to reach a fraction of the people that we want to. However, the responses have all been quite good...Be they from fans or even professionals. Typically people are just floored by the shear scale and completeness of the project.

Mike: It doesn't seem like the majority of people even know that we're out there yet. It feels fantastic to have a finished product, but it would definitely be nice for the Prologue to reach a larger audience.

Ron: Of course, they could do so right now. All they'd have to do is point their browser to Http:// ;)

ANN: Okay then, that was my last question for you, but I have a tradition of asking people to think of a question that they would ask themselves if they were the ones conducting the interview.

Ron: Question: So, is this something that anyone can do, or is it out of the reach of mere otaku? Well, while I'd love to inflate my ego and answer the latter, the fact of the matter is, if you have the drive and the vision, you WILL find a way to bring it to fruition.

Mike: Actually, a question I get a lot is: Are you guys insane? I guess we are, a little bit. We're mostly driven. We know great things are possible in animation, and I guess we just want to be a part of it. And seeing how the type of animation we want to see just isn't being created in the U.S., we just thought we would try to fill the void. :)

ANN: Well, thank you very much for your time, I hope I didn't wear you out to much, it was a pleasure speaking with you.

Ron: Not at all, it was a pleasure.


Visit Pseudomé Studio's website for more information on II, as well as ordering information.

Anime News Network will be posting a review of II:Prologue in our upcoming "Amateur" section.

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