Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: May 2005, 27

Friday, May 27, 2005

06:30:06 pm , 1297 words, 1321 views     Categories: Animation

Hisashi Mori's Spigura

My answer to a comment was getting long, so I decided to post it here:

This is something I've felt since ep 2 of Speed Grapher... I feel sorry of Masashi Ishihama. I don't know exactly what's going on, so I can't really say. Just seems obvious. No director would want every episode of his show to be farmed out to Korea and look like crap, so he's got to be tearing his hair out right now. I hear he left JC Staff because he thought he couldn't make good anime there, so it's really ironic that now JC Staff just made that ep of Honey & Clover...

I think this episode was a good example of the animation director AND the director being killed. It's curious because there are some companies that outsource to Korea, even for key animation, and the results aren't too bad. It's like they say, there are good and bad studios in Korea just like in Japan. So I'm thinking it's Gonzo's fault. I think they're just skimping on the schedule and the resources because they're overextended. Too bad Ishihama has to be caught in the middle.

And Mori. Finally a Mori episode, and they use him that badly. There were some shots that were nice, very Mori, but as you said, it actually seemed like they just didn't do the inbetweens, or couldn't because Mori's drawings were too hard - I particularly noticed it with his beautiful smoke. It really felt like pure KA, and I'm not talking "full limited", though he could probably do that if he wanted. Anyway, it's a shame.

To answer your question, the animation director is there purely to correct the drawings by the key animator, who specifies the inbetweens. I could be wrong about this, but here's my understanding of the flow:

1) Director assigns shots
2) Key animator draws his keys. He specifies the inbetweens using what's called a "time sheet".
3) The keys are collected by runners, if necessary, and sent to the animation director to be checked. If necessary, the animation director corrects the keys.
4) Keys are sent to be inbetweened. (Or they might first be sent to "daini genga" or second key animators to clean up the roughs of the "daiichi genga" or first key animators)
5) After the inbetweens come back, sometimes they might be corrected by the animation director, time permitting, if really execrous.
6) Finishing.

Jin-Roh innovated in ways other than the animation. The english translations of the credits seemed actually more accurate to the tasks than the traditional translation. The ambiguous title of "animation director", for example, was more aptly retitled to "key animation supervisor".

This process was actually described pretty well in Kuromi-chan, for example how the company tried to shaft the animation director by sending the keys directly to be inbetweened without letting her correct them. A far more extreme example occured in real life with ep 4 of Lost Universe, which was completely done in Korea by a studio where there was no animation director and obviously no real animators. The problem was that the execs had them do the finishing there as well, so when it came back they had no means of correcting anything, and no time anyway, so it went on air as is. "Yashigani" has since become a synonym for animation that has gone beyond the pale.

You can see the time sheets for that op dance animation that Ken'ichi Yoshida put up on his homepage, where it's all very clearly explained.

Look at the "Action" column. This is where the important part is done. This is where the key animator assigns each key and each inbetween to one of the 24 frames in a second. In this case, each sheet has six seconds.

Normally the key animator will draw a certain number of keys for a shot, each numbered starting from one, and write down that number under a column in "Action". The letters "A-H" indicate the layer. In this case there are two layers. Characters (or moving objects) are divided into different layers to make it easier for the animator to focus on each one. In this case, layer B has the girl, and layer A has Gainer.

You'll notice he's put up four shots. The black triangles on the time sheet indicate where each shot ends.

For layer A, in addition to keys (numbered under A) and inbetweens (indicated by a ` mark), he's also drawn "inbetween reference" drawings, where he's drawn the parts that move but left the unmoving parts undrawn, for the inbetweeners to fill in. These are lettered with katakana 'a' 'i' 'u' etc.

The column between "Action" and "CAMERA" is for the number of drawings in the full, inbetweened animation. So you'll see that there are a total of 8 drawings in the first layer of the first dancing shot, two of which are his key drawings, four of which are "inbetween reference" drawings, and two of which are pure inbetweens. He goes through the 8 drawings, then loops through the 8 drawings again, then goes through the first four before cutting to the first drawing in the next shot.

For the most part the opening is in what's called "nikoma", or two frames per drawing. There are some exceptions that are in "hitokoma" or one frame per drawing, indicated by two different numbers right next to each other in the time sheet.

Obviously this process can vary subtly between animators and studios.

It helps to know a bit about this to understand what Mitsuo Iso did. "Full animation" is two frames per drawing (or one in pans), and "limited animation" is anything less than that. Normally the key animator draws a few frames here and there and lets inbetweeners fill in the "inbetween" poses. Prior to this people like Masahito Yamashita and Yoshifumi Kondo actually did away with the inbetweens and drew all of the drawings themselves. It was still "limited" (or at unusual frame rates), but it was mostly drawn by them. What Iso did was to keep the frame rate an even 3 and draw every drawing himself to make the movement, albeit technically "limited", as "full" of interesting movement as possible. At least, that's my understanding of it. I'm not an animator, so this is just what I've been able to figure out. Of course, that's not the only thing he innovated, but just one part.

As for Honey and Clover 7, I didn't know what to expect, but I was very impressed by what I saw. I can believe that none of the other episodes reach this level without even seeing them, because the movement here was incredibly nuanced and full for any show. This was indeed a perfect example of an episode where a talented animator was given free reign of the floor to strut his stuff, with glorious results. Normally highlights would be the last thing in the world I would compliment an animator on drawing, but what he did with that last little bit of animation of the girl was incredibly effective and unlike anything I've seen anywhere else. It's the kind of animation full of such nuance that it sent shivers down my spine. It's a great example of through-conceived animation. The inbetweener list was very short, and it makes sense. You could see that most of it was drawn by him just by looking at it. Indeed a figure I'll be keeping an eye on from here on out.

I hadn't watched anything but the first ep until now, but even besides the animation I was impressed. The story was well told and convincing. The directing was impressive. Koji Masunari of ROD fame storyboarded/directed and Yosuke Kuroda wrote the ep. A very nice piece of work. A good example of how shoujo anime should be done.