Sakuracon 2015: Wit Studio Q&A

by Caitlin Moore,

PM: Hello everyone, it's an honor for me to introduce our four guests today from Wit Studio. First, I would like to introduce Wit Studio assistant producer Yusuke Ueda.

YUSUKE UEDA: [English] Hello, everyone. I am Yusuke Ueda from Wit Studio. [Japanese] Hello. Last year I was here with Asano Kyoji and Namatake Tetsuya from Wit Studio, and it's a great honor for me to be back. Thank you so much for having me back at Sakura Con.

PM: Next, I would like to introduce the man who best is known for his work on Hal, as character animation, as well as the character animation director for Attack on Titan and general animation director for Rolling Girls. Please welcome Katsuhiko Kitada.

KATSUHIKO KITADA: [English] Thank you, my name is Katsuhiko Kitada. [Japanese] Today I'm really looking forward to having a lot of fun and interesting discussions about Wit Studio, and I look forward to questions. Thank you very much.

PM: Next, I'd like to introduce an incredible director. She has worked on animation for Studio Manglobe. Her experience includes the opening and ending to The World God Only Knows, Mashiroiro Symphony, Kids on the Slope assistant director, director of Silver Spoon Season 2, and also the director of Rolling Girls, please welcome Kotomi Deai.

KOTOMI DEAI: Please look forward to all the great videos and images we're going to show you today from Wit Studio. I hope you enjoy them.

PM: And finally, I'd like to introduce the action animation director from Attack on Titan and also the action animation director for Rolling Girls. Formerly with Production IG and now Wit Studio, please welcome Arifumi Imai.

ARIFUMI IMAI: [English] Hello, my name is Arifumi Imai. [Japanese] I look forward to talking to everyone and giving you some juicy tidbits, maybe I'll let some secrets out there, so look forward to that. We have some really exciting stuff to show you. Thank you.
PM: So we're going to start by showing some promotional trailers from the upcoming lineup of Wit Studio for 2015. Take a look.

[audience applause]

YU: This is first show from our lineup for 2015, called Rolling Girls, which we have been working on in production up until about one week ago, and it is currently being broadcast right now. It's currently on I'd like to ask the director, Kotomi Deai, if there's anything in particular that she would like you to look for in this great series, Rolling Girls.

KD: I hope you enjoy this series, which is about a bunch of seemingly average girls that are working really hard to fight to make the world a better place. I think that is something that is very empowering and people will get a lot of energy out of it, so please enjoy it.

YU: It's also a series that really develops and gets more and more interesting as time goes on. There's many flashy and really immaculate scenes including bike races and fight scenes and robots as the series goes on, so not to give too much away, be sure to watch it all the way to the end.


YU: What you just saw was a trailer for our second release of 2015, Seraph of the End. This show talks about a battle between vampires and humans. It's based on a manga and as you can see from the trailer, it has a lot of appeal in its action scenes. An episode of this was just released and broadcast in Japan and at Funimation will be where you can see this in the US. The director, Tokudo Daisuke, was in charge of the storyboarding for Attack on Titan episode 17. He's very skilled, so we really look forward to this. The animation character designer is Satoshi Katoaki, and he has a very strong sense of design and a very good idea of his characters. He has been with Wit Studio since the launch, and he has also worked as a director on Attack on Titan. Kitada-san, I believe you worked closely with Katoaki-san, so what was it like to work with him?

KK: Mr. Katoaki always puts quality first and is known to work all night and have a bunch of empty bottles on his desk from working all night. Energy drinks! We really have some amazing staff working on Seraph of the End, so we hope you enjoy it.

YU: What you just saw was the trailer for the second compilation movie of Attack on Titan. This is actually a remix of the TV series from episode 14 all the way to the end, and it was just being released in Japan. The US release is still TBD.

YU: This spot is for a full-length movie called Shisha no Teikoku. The English title is still being determined. It's based on a famous novel Shisha no Teikoku in Japan. There are three films based on these three works by Itoh Keikoku, and this is one, and the second one is being done by Manglobe, and that is Harmony, and the third one is being done by a studio called Studio 4C. There are well-known animation studios in Japan working on these three movies. This is a science fiction work, based on the idea that shisha, or zombies, are leveraging the ability of the world, or the power of the world, for their own purposes. The staff involved in this, Ryotaro Makihara and Chiba Takaaki worked on Attack on Titan, and Kyoji Asano, who was at Sakuracon last year. The director, Ryotaro Makihara, was also the director of the first Wit Studio work, which was Hal. Today, Kitada-san, who is also here, also worked with Ryotaro Makihara, and he was the general animation director for Hal as well, so they worked together.

KK: I worked with Makihara-san for about a year and a half at Wit Studio on a series called Guilty Crown, when we were working with Production IG. Makihara-san is a person who makes no compromises. He is a true perfectionist, so it was a bit challenging working with him. If you hadn't all kindly invited me here to Sakura Con, I think I would probably be working with Makihara-san just like a zombie. I think the result with Shisha no Teikoku is going to be something really great, something with no compromises. I think it'll be something that, in the end, will hopefully move you and be a meaningful experience for you. Please look forward to Shisha no Teikoku.

YU: This is the result of a lot of really talented staff working at Wit Studio are working on, and the release date for Japan is still not yet decided, so please look forward to this.

YU: Thank you, that's the lineup for 2015 for Wit Studio. Thank you very much. What do you think? We have one more video we'd like to show you. This was shown at the Rolling Girls panel yesterday, but we've kind of remixed it. It involves the key animation from a number of scenes in Rolling Girls. We've made it a little bit shorter and more focused. It's going to be about seven minutes, so take a look.

[The Rolling Girls compilation video plays.]

YU: What we just saw is called a “genga animation movie” and is composed of a number of key frames that are connected together to form the basic animation. Every single one of the images that you just saw were drawn by the animators by hand, so if you take a look at the number of frames it takes to just make up a twelve-second clip of it, it's a really big stack of paper. The first part, the one that included the character Maccha Green was done here by Arifumi Imai.

AI: This was the first battle scene in the whole series, so we had to try to make it flashy and pump it up, so there was effect where it kind of came out like flower petals and turns into smoke, and that was a really tough effect to get done on time. This movie really shows how important information is gathered together in these key frames that are being shown, so I think it's very good in terms of educating people if you're interested in learning animation and animation creation to see how it actually is created.

YU: That's what we had to show you, so I'd like to move along to the question and answer session. Of course we have the director Deai-san here as well as the animator Kitada-san and the action director Imai-san. We look forward to your questions.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: My question is for the Studio Wit producer. How do they decide what project to take on? For example, Attack on Titan was first when they decided to pick it up and make it an anime. What's the process to see all the original material out there and decide, “We are going to take this franchise” and convert it into an anime?

YU: I think that one thing we do emphasize is we try not to limit our audience. We try to make things that are appealing to a wide range of audiences, including a wide range of ages.

Q: One of the early themes in Rolling Girls is Nozomi's desire to be like Maccha Green. For each panelist, who is your Maccha Green and why?

KK: As an animator, my Maccha Green is people like Hayao Miyazaki, someone I really look up to.

KD: Shinichiro Watanabe, who did Cowboy Bebop, Nakazawa Kazuto, and Murase Shuko.

AI: Maccha Green.

Q: What's your favorite animation project that you have worked on?

KK: Tamago Hime was a work that was actually being played in the Ghibli Museum, and that's something I'm particularly proud of. Although, right now my mind is full of Rolling Girls since I've been working so hard on it.

KD: Rolling Girls, since I'm the director it's really important to me.

AI: With my work on Attack on Titan, I feel that was really fulfilling and worth doing. But it probably shortened my lifespan a little bit.

Q: This is for the action director and the animators. In your shows you have a lot of characters flying around various locations. How much of the landscape and architecture do you take into account when you have characters moving in these settings?

AI: With Attack on Titan, there are scenes with the maneuver gear where they're moving around the cities there, and the background is actually made with 3D imaging. I have to first think about what will be there and then tell that to the staff that are working on the 3D imaging, and then they have to all work together. Then that comes out and finally shows the character moving through the 3D space, and the camera moving 360 degrees all around the characters, so you really have to compose that in your head before you start.

KK: When characters are flying around lots of buildings, it's pretty easy to understand what's going on, but if a character is just flying around in the sky and there are just clouds, I think it's a bit more challenging because you have to think of things like clouds and ways to produce the impact of space and speed when they're just flying through an empty sky. That is a bit more challenging. I think there was something that Imai-san was able to use very effectively was clouds and moving through the sky and since we were able to make that very impactful and we're very proud of that.

Q: My question is specifically about the translation of the paper keys to the digital realm. Do you use what seems to be the studio standard software Paintman, and do you use Aftereffects or have you shifted over to a different set of creative suite software? I believe JC Staff uses them.

YU: Yes, we do work on the smoothing of the key frames and then we convert that to data to be scanned and lines that can be colored. The background data are Workshop PSD.

Q: One other question: will you be making the videos for frames themselves available for future reference and study?

YU: We currently have no plans to release these videos, but if there is a strong request or demand out there for them, I think we can consider it.

Q: Do you ever have to sacrifice story coherence to make things visually interesting?

KD: That's a hard question…

KK: When we animators perceive the storyboards and work with the task of putting them in motion, the story itself is pretty much decided at that point. I don't think we ever compromise the story for visuals when we're working, so the story's pretty much set by the time we start working on that.

KD: We try to do without making any compromises like that as much as possible.

Q: Thank you for coming out, and I have two questions. Question one is who is your favorite male and female character of Attack on Titan? I'm very curious.

AI: Male character is Jean. Female character is Mikasa.

KK: I'm not sure if this really counts as a male character, but Eren as a titan. For the female character, Mikasa.

Q: My second question is, when are you planning on releasing the second season for Attack on Titan?

Audience: Oohhhhh…

YU: I'm very sorry to say we can't say right now specifically at this point when it will be available, but I think at this point, if you are patient and wait and look forward to it, we will have some good news for you soon.

PM: Thanks for trying.

Q: What made you want to use [composer] Hiroyuki Sawano again in Seraph of the End after Attack on Titan and the compilation movies?

YU: That's a hard question. I think it's because his music really matches the style and the taste of the imagery that we are trying to provide, so we think it's a good match.

Q: My question is for the director. In the anime of Rolling Girls there's a really important theme that we all see with the female characters and their friendships though it's kinda important to keep a tempo for the anime and so it won't move too fast or move too slow.

PM: So, how do you keep a good tempo in a series like Rolling Girls?

Q: And if the anime has something to say…

PM: So if it doesn't go too fast or to slow for what it has to say?

KD: Over the whole series, or each episode?

Q: Generally it's the whole series but you can separate it, maybe.

KD: There's a sense of time you have to create, so you edit the cuts to keep in sight how long it will be, and the same process would be used in movies as well for how those cuts will run. They have meetings about this up to about ten people, and they work on the story tempo. They work together and decide to have these characters here and describe events and other places.

Q: My question goes out to the animation director and the anime editors. If you have drawing skill, what's the best way to learn how to animate?

PM: So what's the easiest way?

Q: Best, easiest way to learn how to animate.

KD: Maybe just try to do it yourself. Just give it a try.

KK: If you take a picture of yourself with a camera, and take other pictures of yourself and see how those pictures would be connected together, if you're able to imagine in your mind about that movement and how those pictures combine to express movement, that's a very effective way to study animation and learn to visualize things like that. As far as drawing pictures to be turned into actual animation, I think just focus on creating what you want and what you're interested in, and try doing that for practice.

Q: There are a lot of meaningful relationships between women characters in Rolling Girls, and I was curious which one was the most meaningful to you.

KD: Masami and Nozomi. Their relationship is really important to me.

Q: Deai-san, female directors in anime are very rare. Do you think you have experienced any particular challenges as a female director, and do you think it has affected your point of view as a storyteller as opposed to male directors?

KD: That's a hard question… Something for other female directors as well is that many are told pretty often that they kind of have a feminine sense to their work such as with choice of color and the brightness of their work. The illustrator on the series, Tanu-san, loved it when she chose the flowers and stars and people think it's kind of interesting and different that a female would bring those kind of elements in.

Q: First of all, thank you for coming. Your new releases look really amazing and very exciting. My question surrounds the live-action version of Attack on Titan. How do you feel about all the buzz surrounding the characters, and the actor playing Armin?

YU: For the Attack on Titan live action movie, we are an animation production studio.

Q: I know…

YU: As a company we don't touch the live action, but I think we are looking at the announcement and the movie the same as you. We are very excited and think, “Oh! That's who they chose to play that character.”

KK: I think that we at WIT studio are going to be watching the live action movie, and there are things we will see in that movie will be reflected in the next series, so I think we're really looking forward to it.

PM: If we could have some final words?

YU: Thank you all for inviting me. This is my second year coming to Sakura Con and the fact that we had a chance. I hope we had something to show you so it's worth making another trip to Sakura Con next year! I'm hoping to be back next year. Thank you.

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