Your Ultimate Guide to Anime Ending Credits: Part II

by Kevin Cirugeda,

It's time for another installment in this guide detailing the ins and outs of anime production, structured around the roles listed in the ending credits of a TV anime episode. When describing the animation process in the previous piece I warned about discrepancies in crediting patterns, but that mostly consisted of differing display orders and the presence of certain specific roles. This issue worsens from this point in the production onwards as the next steps aren't as clearly defined as the ‘Layouts -> Key Frames -> Animation Supervision -> In-betweens -> Check’ system is. There is less of a standard manner in which to split the following mandatory work; in particular, chores that depend on the kind of project studios are dealing with come into play. This means that, after the animation roles, pretty much every ending credits will vary – some quite a lot – even looking at productions by the same studio. Keeping that in mind, let's look at the following example and try to explain them in a way that will allow you to grasp most projects.

When we left off last time, the animation itself was technically done. Whether it was initially drawn on paper and then scanned after all the steps were finished, or done fully digitally to begin with, we now have a piece of footage that looks like this – no color, no backgrounds, no CG work, simply the animated flavorless footage (線撮, sensatsu; as it consists of 線画, line drawings or senga), appropriately nicknamed whites (白い, shiroi). It's already as fluid as it needs to be, but obviously lacking additional elements.

-Color Coordination (色指定, Iroshitei):
An episode's Color Coordinator is tasked with distributing color model sheets to the painting team and splitting the workload. These sheets detail the exact colors to use for every single animated element from characters to objects, as well as their highlights and shades. The Coordinator doesn't necessarily decide everything for themselves, though – anime productions have a Color Designer (色彩設定/色彩設計, Shikisai Settei/Shikisai Sekkei) who establishes the main palette and sets the colors for the standard looks of the characters at minimum. Their work is closely tied to part of the responsibilities of the Art Director (美術監督, Bijutsu Kantoku), since they are the ones ultimately determining the overall feel of the visuals. In fact, the color foundation used to be in their hands, before further atomization of the production created a specific role for that.

While they aren't determining anything in a large scale, individual Color Coordinators still have a huge amount of artistic input on their episodes; the colors for one-off secondary characters, props, special outfits and the likes are often decided by them. At the end of the day a good part of their job is the same as the Color Designer's, so well regarded Color Coordinators might be promoted and allowed to handle their own series.

Whether it's for a single episode or the show's overall models, colors are tested against sample backgrounds from the series. Maintaining the visual harmony is essential; if characters and props clash with the surroundings the art director has envisioned then the final product will be a complete mess. A concept they often consider as well is the image color (イメージカラー): the set of colors and tones that fit a character's personality. The freedom allowed by animation enables visual shortcuts like that as indirect ways to display the cast's traits. At its worst it can range from a non-factor to being eye-rolling (like girls in an uninspired light novel adaptation having hair that fits their archetype), but at its best it's subdued excellence. A character who dresses in colors you'd feel believable considering their personality is going to feel more genuine, even if you don't consciously rationalize that.

-Finishing (仕上げ/仕上 Shiage; ペイント, Paint; デジタルペイント, Digital Paint; デジタル彩色, Digital Saishiki):
This is arguably the least helpful and immediately understandable name an anime production role could have. The idea is quite simple however – coloring the whites using the models arranged by the color coordinator.

While nowadays this process is done digitally using software like RETAS’ PaintMan HD (as the RETAS Studio suite dominates the Japanese animation industry), Shiage credits have existed for a long time. Back in the day of cel production, the pencil drawings were inked through xerography, a dry photocopying process that output the lines onto the plastic sheets. It's the backside of those celluloids what was then colored using acrylic paint, and thanks to their transparency the front achieved the intended look. Therefore, the cel was “finished” and ready for the next step of production.

Much has changed since then with the digital transition making the process way easier. Corrections are immediate and creators have access to an infinitely wider palette, so even if you miss the distinct look of cel anime (which can be emulated still), this has to be considered a huge positive change for the industry – which is why it took place to begin with. To distinguish these new methods from the traditional means some companies started crediting this work with names like Digital Coloring (デジタル彩色), which happened to stick and still can be seen nowadays, even though all anime is colored digitally.

-Finishing Check (仕上げ検査, Shiage Kensa):
The supervision role to ensure every scene has been properly painted and that no blunders go unnoticed. This is almost always credited alongside color coordination, as that's the person effectively in charge of managing the episode's coloring. The Shiage process requires multiple people (involving many companies when the situation is dire), and that opens up many opportunities for mistakes. From the wrong shade color being used to scenes that entirely fall apart to the amusement of the viewers, failures in this regard are something fans are quick to notice. And just like with the previous supervision roles, consider that for every mistake that you see, someone has noticed and corrected a bunch of them that never made it to the broadcast.

-Backgrounds (背景, Haikei):
The artists in charge of drawing all the new background art for the episode. They don't have free reign, but rather follow a set of directives. For starters, there's the scene's layout which notes what the surroundings are like (though obviously not all shots are allowed new scenery, there's lots of recycled backdrops), but above all else they follow the indications of the Art Director, who are the ones that design all the environments during the pre-production stage. This includes drawing artboards that try to capture the feeling the director wants for their show. Once approved, those artboards designed by the Art Director (or the Art Designer/美術デザイン, in case someone else has been specifically delegated) end up becoming the model for the actual background art.

A few animation studios have a dedicated art department, but much like digital work (perhaps even more), they tend to be small and not capable of handling entire series on their own. Even the particularly fortunate studios that have a strong team and in-house art directors have to rely a bit on outsourcing, supported by specialized companies. Those are where the vast majority of art directors come from, so they have quite the impact on how anime looks. This has led to fans starting to notice the teams that consistently do a great job with the backgrounds, with studios like Pablo, Anime Kobo Basara or Atelier BWCA gaining notoriety, especially when their finest art directors are involved.

Background art is almost always digitally produced nowadays, but fans of fully traditional approaches still have work to look out for. While limited to a handful of companies, hand painted scenery has survived, and the studios keeping it alive have become very busy as they offer a rare service.

-Minor design tasks:
It's not uncommon to see multiple design duties for all sorts of secondary elements grouped together, for a lack of a better place to put them. To detail a few – Prop Design (プロップデザイン) is a universal term referring to the accessories and generally small recurring items like bags or cell phones. Title Logo Design (タイトルロゴデザイン/ロゴデザイン) is even more self-explanatory, and there's no secret to the Typography Designers (フォントデザイン/フォント協力) either. What's perhaps more interesting is the Assistant Character Designers (キャラクターデザイン協力/キャラクターデザイン補佐), who might also appear as an overall role under the name Sub-Character Design (サブキャラクターデザイン). If a show's cast is very large, or in case the schedule is getting tight, the designer may only handle the main cast and leave lesser characters and one-off appearances to other people. This ends up being either the episode's animation director or, in case those credits above appear, just an animator who was up for the job.

-Photography (撮影, Satsuei):
This may also be called compositing, the process marrying the different materials – animation, backgrounds, CG, as well as any digital effects – and finally exporting finished video footage. The tool of choice tends to be Adobe After Effects, which allows the operator to layer all the elements and apply specialized filters to any or all of the materials. A key goal during this operation is striking the perfect balance in blending the characters with the background. Animation is slightly filtered and quite literally blurs the lines between two different pieces of art. An insufficient job will lead to a messy picture where nothing feels like it belongs to the same world, pretty much like live action green-screen gone wrong, while overdoing it can destroy the lineart. A tricky business!

Another important detail is that they're not always independently deciding how to process the images; they often receive instructions by the animators themselves. If the motion is drawn with the idea that some blur needs to be applied to it for a few frames, it's the photography department's job to finish what the animator intended. Special effects such as smoke and lightning can also be requested by the 2D artists.

This job title was inherited from the days of traditional animation, when each frame was literally photographed with an actual rostrum camera. Cel layers would get placed on top of each other, with the background at the bottom and as many drawing layers on top of it as different elements were present in that one shot. At this point, production staff had to manage the amount of layers in order to prevent the not-quite clear plastic from top layers affecting the colors for bottom layers and the background. It quickly became an art to be mastered before digitalization, which allows for countless transparent layers.  After the photographs were taken, the process would be repeated over and over for every frame on the same roll of film. Quite the tedious job.

While it's true that cameras are no longer involved like they used to be, certain directors have taken the idea of anime as something filmed through a real lens further than they could before. Modern postprocessing allows them to film scenes that look like convincing telephoto shots, exaggerate lens defects like chromatic aberration, do anything they could achieve with a real camera, and then some. While overdone or poorly handled photography can completely ruin a scene (or an entire studio, in the most extreme cases), these new techniques have broadened the visual repertoire of the creators. And that can only be a positive thing. Ambitious postprocessing efforts in anime are still in a relative infancy so chances are that we'll see notable advancements in the next few years.

-Special Effects (特殊効果, Tokushukouka):
A bit of a relic of a bygone age. These artists used to be in charge of garnishing the cels for special scenes for extra impact – the glow of an explosion, airbrushing for an intense storm – all achieved with rather rudimentary techniques (such as backlighting). Nowadays these are all done with computers, so for the most part this role has been absorbed into the photography team and/or the finishing team, who already do filtering work to begin with. It's not a hugely rare credit however, the post has somehow survived despite the craft being nothing like it used to be.

-2D Works (2Dワークス/2Dデザイン):
This rather vague title is given to the person (generally a single one, though sometimes multiple in rotation throughout the show) managing 2D elements extraneous to the animation and scenery; graphic materials like book covers, posters and banners that aren't actually part of the background art, or the TV overlay when a character is watching the news are what tends to fall under their jurisdiction. Irregardless of if they design those themselves or receive existing models, their job is to place them into the footage and convincingly integrate them. It can be something as simple and seemingly unimportant as taking the label of a carton of milk and inserting it through one single scene, never to be seen again.

Perhaps the most noteworthy instance of their work is UI design, which if prevalent enough can get a separate credit along the lines of Monitor Graphics (モニターグラフィックス). As general SciFi and mecha fans know very well, interfaces can be emblematic, so it easily warrants a special title.

One of the inherent weaknesses of animation versus live action is that unless you make an active effort to populate your setting, it's going to look barren and desolate. This requirement to deliberately place enough elements skyrocketed as anime moved onto HD production;  the viewers’ visible field expanded and thus created new empty spaces that animators and background artists aren't always capable of filling (at least not without overloading their already busy schedules). By taking advantage of digital production and adding small details to the surroundings and props the characters interact with, the staff breathe a bit of life into the animation – it's not necessarily about ‘realism’, but it does make it feel more authentic. While the 2D Works role encompasses small tasks, it represents quite well the intent to craft a fake world that nevertheless feels lived in.

-3DCG work:
Self-descriptive, although the credits fluctuate greatly. For a series without many 3D computer generated elements, you might just see a handful of artists credited for 3DCG, perhaps with a director and producer managing their work. If the CGi is more ubiquitous (like in 2D+3D studio full coproductions) you will start seeing more specific credits, like separating 3D animators from the 3D modelers. And if we're dealing with an almost full CG TV anime, there will be even further specialization with roles like rigging, setting up the skeletons of the 3D characters.

The CGi department (whether it's part of the studio producing the series or from another company) crafts their own pieces of animation just like the 2D teams do, what separates them in TV anime is their weight on the production. When they're only doing minor support work, a small group of people doing about everything is all they need. In projects where CG is much more prevalent, all the intermediate steps require specialized staff just like anime's 2D department. Their job doesn't fundamentally change when their workload is larger, it simply requires a more focused approach.

-Sound production credits:
This involves managing everything audio-related, from recording the dialogue to the sound effects. The credits in this regard range from the people supervising to the physical studios where it took place, and tend to stay the same throughout the series. Pretty much all anime dialogue is recorded over the animation rather than the other way around, hence why the process is referred to as post-recording (アフレコ); schedules being as messy as they are however, that tends to be done over progressively rougher footage or even the storyboards in some series. The character commentary for the final Bakemonogatari episode joked about how the viewers could see the animated footage for the second half of the episode, but the characters couldn't see it as it wasn't finished at the time of recording.

-Editing (編集, Henshuu):
Assembling the episode, connecting all the shots in order and putting all the visual/audio pieces together. Referred to as cutting as well, since it sometimes involves changing the length of some scenes – be it because the director feels it needs to be slightly shifted or to fit the length and format regulations than TV slots impose on them, such as dimming flashing lights or mixing the audio levels to be uniform for broadcast. Editing credits can be very comprehensive, since piecing together the footage and the HD editing and mastering can be handled by different staff and studios. This is for obvious reasons something that isn't directly controlled by anime creators, so it's less relevant to this guide.

As I initially said, not all productions approach these tasks similarly. The steps won't be exactly the same, as workloads might be split in different ways, but the core idea is the same – transform a sterile piece of animation into the scene it was always meant to be. Color model sheets are created as guidelines for the painting team, detailing how to handle all elements and characters in every scene. Their work is sent back for approval to the Color Coordinator who arranged those models and assigned them the cuts, to make sure there have been no mistakes. Background production follows its own parallel path to the animation, as artists draw the required scenery based on the layouts and artboards. Once both animation and background art are finished, the photography process finally assembles a scene with all elements in it – including 3DCG as well, which is also added at this point. After some subtle filtering to make all these disparate items coexist as harmonically as possible, plus perhaps some postprocessing and special effects, all that is left is combining the audiovisual materials. The video is edited and cut to fit the desired length, the voices and sound effects are finally mixed in, and then a master can finally be produced. However studios get around to all this work, once it's finished we've gone from sequences like the one I linked at the beginning of this piece to this:

And so ends the second part of this guide, having more or less arrived at the end of the journey. Which means that for the next installment we're going to do a lot of backtracking, to cover the juicy credits that tend to be right at the end of the list – producers, opening and ending production, outsourcing and of course the direction and writing we've yet to tackle.

discuss this in the forum (17 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Feature homepage / archives