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Industry Professionals Detail Anime Production Process at AnimeJapan

posted on by Kim Morrissy

AnimeJapan 2021 held a Production Works Channel over the weekend, with three programs focusing on the preproduction, production, and postproduction parts of the anime production process respectively. Each presentation was moderated by animation critic Ryota Fujitsu, who asked the staff members to share their stories. A brief summary of the three streams is below:

The Framework of Anime: The Script ~ with Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop ~

Director Kyōhei Ishiguro and writer Dai Sato spoke of how they collaborated in order to create the script for the film. Ishiguro said that he wasn't experienced with screenwriting, so he appreciated Sato's help. As far as the physical act of screenwriting went, Ishiguro wrote the B part of the script, while Sato wrote the other three sections, but the collaboration went further than committing words to a page. The two spent around three months taking weekly research trips as they brainstormed the plot.

Much of the talk focused on how specific themes and motifs from the film came into being. Although Ishiguro maintained his desire to create a feel-good story, the original idea was for it to have sci-fi elements, but over time it developed a music focus instead. The focus on vinyl records came from Sato, who personally preferred the idea of a music story that isn't focused on singers or bands. The records that he bought and showed Ishiguro served as a reference for both the script and the visual style that the film eventually developed.

In a similar way, the haiku and rapping motifs originated from Sato's suggestions. This catered to one of Ishiguro's specific desires when it came to establishing the main character: He did not want to use a monologue. Likewise, the shopping mall manifested as the setting of the film because it was useful to restrict the setting to one place while still feeling like a memorable location.

The talk also touched on the general role of screenwriters in the anime industry. Sato said that scriptwriting tends to be a part of the process that people have the most trouble with. It is not easy to come up with a great story. That is why there is more effort these days to bring in writers from diverse professional backgrounds. Ishiguro also emphasized that when it comes to writing, you don't necessarily need to be a person with years of experience, as such skills can be learned through doing the job.

Bringing Anime to Life with Sound ~ with Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon ~

Sound director Yasushi Nagura, Towa voice actor Sara Matsumoto, and Sunrise producer Toshikazu Naka spoke about the sound recording and post-production. The process includes the voiced line recordings (afureko) but isn't restricted to it.

The groundwork for the sound recording is the voice actor auditions, the creation of the OST setlist, and the meetings regarding the sound effects and direction. Before the afureko, the sound director will check the scripts with the storyboards to make sure that no lines are left out. Then they cast the actors for the individual episode and assemble the materials. A rehearsal takes place one week before the recording. After all the sound files have been assembled, Nagura would use ProTools to edit the files and create the sound mix.

As for the recording itself, there were certain things that Nagura wished to emphasize. For example, he often asked for Matsumoto to do a retake when he wished to adjust the amount of femininity her character would express. For her part, Matsumoto was careful to emphasize Towa's androgynous characteristics, but the subtle nuances could change depending on the scene. Besides the characters, Nagura also wanted to show off the appeal of the voice actors themselves by making sure that they all sounded cute and distinctive.

Finally, the talk touched on the precautions being taken in voice recording these days due to COVID-19. Previously, the voice actors would be assembled in a group, which would facilitate ease of communication, but nowadays the actors are called into the booth one by one. Although this was difficult for everyone at first, Matsumoto said that she eventually got used to it.

Power of the Staff in Visual Creation ~ with Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway ~

Unit director Hidekazu Hara, compositing director Kentarō Waki, and production desk Narumi Iwashita discussed how the visual effects shown in the film were created. This show focused primarily on compositing, which is the process of combining the various drawings and layers in animation in order to achieve the holistic picture.

Waki went through his process step-by-step, showing various scenes from the trailer before and after his compositing work is applied. Although the animators are told to draw the various moving parts of a scene as separate layers, it's Waki's job to make sure it all fits together. As he explained, merely combining the layers together does not give the picture a sense of depth. Hara was very particular about creating realistic-looking lighting and ensuring that the 2D and 3D elements blend together effectively. They also wanted to avoid making the images look too dark, but instead to emphasize the colors because it's a Gundam anime.

One thing that stood out about this presentation was just how many layers can exist within a single shot. At one point, Waki showed a cut of a mech running through a field at night in a scene of destruction, and explained that each individual frame had 90 layers. However, after adding reflecting effects and various other visual effects in After Effects, it added up to 140 layers per frame. At this point, Iwashita mentioned that the director Shukou Murase went out of his way to praise that cut.

After showing off the complexity of the compositing process, the staff made sure to emphasize that it isn't as unapproachable as it may look. For those who are interested in working in the anime industry, Hara said that the staff works as a team to help each member polish their work. "Everyone works really hard, but don't feel intimidated by this industry," he concluded.

Update: A previous version of this article described Yoshiyuki Tomino as the director of Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway. This has been corrected to Shukou Murase.


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