PRODUCTION I.G - Tokyo
Anime production process - feature film
Character design, storyboard & lay-out
In the Japanese culture the meaning of working as a group is known to be extremely important. Generally it could be said that no decisions are being made individually, everything is being negotiated between all the people involved the given matter. Concerning a production of an animation movie it's obvious that the process itself requires seamless team-work. Even in the pre-production phase a lot of time has to be spent for brainstorming as a group. For obvious reasons many anime movies are also based on some manga already excisting, such as Akira and Ghost In The Shell (Kokaku Kidotai).
Using the storyboard and the lay-outs the key-animators start drawing the key-frames (genga). The durations of the shots marked on the storyboard can still be changed if necessary. On a bigger project there can be even 30 key-animators. They finally decide the duration of a certain animation sequense they are working on, marking the key-frames on the list as a circled number. (A number inside a triangle marks for a suggestion of the key-animator). On the shot-list the key-animator makes a mark for all the needed in-between drawings (douga). The amount of in-between drawings varies extensively, depending on the nature and characteristics of the scene and the intentions of the key-animator. In the making of Jin-Roh also a natural sized custom-made warrior armor (see picture) was used for reference, as well as smaller models.
In-betweenThe in-betweeners proceed from there by making the missing drawings (douga) between the key-frames. It depends on the case how big part of the sequense the key-animator draws himself. Obviously this is also determined by the personal interests and skills of the key-animator. For example in Jin-Roh all the wolf scenes were drawn by one animator specialiced in animating animals.
It's the in-betweeners who also make the clean-ups using a key-frame and a correction drawing. (The correction usually on a yellow paper).
The in-betweeners work rapidly on several projects at the same time. (At the given moment Akihabara (FF), Kureon Shinchan (TV)). Part of the animation can also be executed in other companies if necessary.
The in-betweeners are usually freelancers who are paid by the amount of finished drawings, therefore to maintain a sufficient standard of living many work more or less around the clock. The average age of the employees seems to be from 20 to 30 years and only very few has worked at the department for more than a couple of years. Of the most experienced workers of the department Koyama has worked at I.G for 8 years and Inoue in the animation field for about twenty years alltogether.
Surprisingly even in -99 some of the animation in Production I.G is done as a traditional cel-animation. Then the cels end up to the studio 7, where they are being colored by hand. In Japanese anime there are usually 350 colors, TV- and video -anime containing only 80-120 colors. Then again, in full-length theater-distributed animation movies even 500 colors may be used. Painting the cels is however a relatively slow process and thus expencive. Especially in summer during the rainy season the paint-jars can become mouldy very easily. This phase of the production process is also paid less and the department consists of mostly women. The digital production environment getting stronger also in Production I.G this line of work is becoming history, and soon after my visit the whole studio 7 is shut down.
However, in the spring 2000 I get a chance to be initiated into anime post-production in a company called Omnibus promotion Inc. The company is specialized in the post-production phase of anime procuction, sound-production including foleys, ambience, dialogue, special effects and the sound design and final mix-down. In the spring 2000 the company is making the sound design for the full-length anime movie Escaflowne (movie adaptation). The foleys and dialogue has already been recorded earlier, and the sound processing and mix-down is in progress at Tokyo TV Center's studio 407 in Hamacho, Tokyo. A big movie screen is in use and Pro Tools is used for the soundprocessing and editing. The production of the movie is behind the schedule and therefore only a rough production copy of the movie is available. Only a part of the animation is in its final form, while part is just black and white line-art. Partly what you see on the screen is just the most important points of the animated movements, occasionally just attached pieces of paper. Trying to make the sound design process a bit easier in the given situation, for example pieces of paper has been attached in the animation to express the length of dialogues, footstep hits and certain special effects such as explosions. The orchestrated music has also been recorded already, so that the work can be mostly focused on the final sound design itself. Kazuki Akane, the director of the movie, is also present at the studio and supervises the sound design process. The sound design process itself is being conducted by Toshiki Kameyama from Omnibus Promotion Inc. Usually the amount of time used for the sound production phase of a full-length animation movie is around one month only. In Escaflowne the special effects are provided by a different company, Sound Box.
In the end...
I was the most delighted about the warm way I was welcomed to this society. Since day one I experienced an extremely creative environment. I was obviously very enthusiastic to meet the very pros of the anime industry. However, instead of meeting just pros, I was able to meet very warmhearted people who, without any hesitations, welcomed a foreigner from the other side of the world and were willing to share their tricks of the trade.
Now, being able to see the whole anime production process from start to finish, I can say that I was able to learn something new and inspiring. It's obvious that the Japanese way of thinking strongly differs from the western one, in so many ways. The visual culture is different and the way to express emotions. In Japanese animation you can see it very clearly. Still there is so much about it that is universal. After all emotions are universal, in spite of the culture behind them. And no matter what artform, after all it's basicly all about emotions. And as we know, a good animation is able to affect emotions in a very srong way.
( The text is based on traineeship reports from 1999 and 2000. Photos: K.Huitula )