Interview: BEASTARS CG Chief Director and Orange President Eiji Inomoto

by Kim Morrissy,

There are few CG animation creators more renowned than Eiji Inomoto. He has always worked towards emulating the appeal of 2D works in 3D. Even as an animator on ZOIDS: Chaotic Century, he was dropping frames to make the CG mecha feel like they inhabited the same world as the 2D characters. In 2004, he founded Orange and built a reputation for creating some of the best CG mech battles in anime, with shows like Majestic Prince and Code Geass: Akito the Exiled. Now, the studio is tackling their own projects as a main animation producer, starting with Land of the Lustrous, and following on to BEASTARS.

We visited the Orange studio to learn more about Inomoto's animation philosophy and what in particular makes his studio special.

Could you tell us what makes Orange different from other CG studios?

EIJI INOMOTO: If we're just talking about Japanese companies that make TV or film animation in full 3D, I don't think Orange is that different from the others. Every company has something unique about it, you know? Being among the animation companies in Japan, one of the things we try to emphasize is the appearance and feel of hand-drawn animation. If there is something different about Orange, it's in the movements. Our characters don't move like they would in a video game, and it doesn't look like it's tracing 2D animation either. There are also aspects of our approach that's influenced by my personal experiences as an animator.

Orange became known for excellent mecha animation in Majestic Prince and Akito the Exiled, however BEASTARS and Land of the Lustrous are mainly character animation. Was there a reason you didn't choose to make a full mecha series?

That's true, we did start out doing mostly mechanical animation. That's rooted in my own history doing Zoids. Orange got into animation through the robot anime Aquarion. But it wasn't like we set out specifically to do robot action. With the game work we've done, we were doing characters, after all.

The reason we did so much mecha animation is because at the time some anime studios wanted to have mecha but there weren't enough people to draw them by hand, so they asked CG animation companies to handle it. Our company made a niche for itself doing things that were difficult to do in 2D.

I had no resistance to doing character animation. When we first started doing robot animation, we were also doing character animation along with it, little by little. For example, in Infinite Stratos and Kan Colle, the characters have mechanical parts attached to them. So the characters and robots are blended together, and both are animated in CG in parts. There were also other contract jobs that we did which were character only.

So it wasn't that there was a specific direction we wanted to pursue so much as taking the jobs that suited us best.

As well as running the company, you also participate in projects, usually as a CG Director. Is it difficult balancing both jobs?

(laughs) Yeah. Well, I'm the kind of person who's always making something, so before I knew it, I ended up in this kind of position. In other companies, it may be more normal for a company head to oversee matters from a distance, but I can't help but take an interest in what people are doing on a hands-on level. I'm able to take on this kind of role thanks to the hard work and assistance from the people around me, like the producers.

A lot of anime struggle with expressing limited animation in CG through frame dropping. How do you think Orange succeeds at this?

Oversimply stating things a bit, I think that our works have a little less frames than average. It can be very subjective, though, and the way of doing things through CG may not necessarily be “correct.” For instance, when we use three frames per second, some people might say that looks good while others wouldn't. One of the effects is that it can come out looking gentle. When we want a harder look, we increase the frames.

The number of frames is something we think about in relation to movement, which is our bigger focus. In that sense, frame modulation is a means to an objective. For example, we aren't going for the cartoony movements you'd get from, say, a Pixar or Disney film, but their movements are also very gentle, so we referenced it a little bit when it comes to the movements in our works. So it may be the case that in brief moments, that gentleness gets brought out.

Other companies tend to go with full-frame CG or animate on twos, so our way of approaching the use of frames may be a little different. It's not set in stone how many frames we use, and we change things up when necessary.

What kind of visual inspiration do you take from Pixar or Disney?

It wasn't something we were especially conscious about for BEASTARS, but I've been a fan of Disney and Pixar since a long time ago. Since the VHS tape era. I wasn't a CG animator yet, but I bought so many of their films. I don't consciously try to emulate Disney's form of expression, but there may be parts where an influence slips through, like in comical scenes.

Also, I've loved Tom & Jerry since I was a child, so maybe there's some influence from there as well.

Is there any scene in BEASTARS that you're particularly fond of?

None in particular. I check every shot the same when I do my checks. So there aren't really any scenes that I would say I was particularly fond of, or poured an especial amount of my feelings into. I put my feelings into everything, you know? Speaking not as a member of production but just commenting on the story, I do like the scene between Haru and Legoshi in the final episode.

Is there anything you want to challenge when it comes to BEASTARS going forward?

We can't talk specifically about what we're doing in regards to season 2 just yet, but our team is actively towards depicting the setting as it expands. There are also a lot of emotional scenes in the future which we are working hard on to bring to life. Then there's the mundane aspect of trying to ensure we get the work done in time for the broadcast, although that has nothing to do with the directing. (laughs) I think the big challenge is bringing the story to life through CG.

Season 1 is currently streaming exclusively on the all-you-can-watch service Netflix. It is also available in Japan through Fuji On Demand.

Season 2 will be broadcast on Fuji TV's +Ultra channel and other channels in 2021.

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