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: October 2011, 23

Sunday, October 23, 2011

11:27:00 pm , 4697 words, 212894 views     Categories: Animation

The anime production line

I was asked to talk about the hierarchy of anime production, so here is a very basic explanation of some of the key steps in anime production. As a way of outlining the basic workflow, I'll give a brief rundown of what each of the terms that you find in anime credits entails. The terms are ordered in basic production order, from pre-production tasks to animation tasks to final assembly.

I'll limit this discussion to the terms that pertain to the animation without touching on the other aspects like writing, production, art, etc., because otherwise it would take way too long to write, and I know less about those. Please take this as what it is: the gleanings of an enthusiast. I've never worked in anime; this is just what I've been able to piece together from reading and watching anime for a long time, so please forgive any inaccuracies or vagaries.

I'm sure more detailed versions of this information are available, but I thought I'd write my own brief version for any readers of this blog who might feel they don't know enough about what each production task entails. I don't know as much as I wish I did about all this, but I've written what I know.

Read Peter Chung's posts in this thread on my forum to learn more details about this from someone who has actual experience on the Japanese production floor.

設定 Settei = Groundwork or Designs

The pre-production stage involves drawing lots of drawings to get a sense of where to go with the production, from drawings of the world to character sketches. Settei is a catchall term for pre-production work, although it can also be used to mean 'design', as in character design. The character design sheets are a type of settei. Bijutsu settei 美術設定 are another type of settei - they're line drawings serving as the basis for background art. Often nowadays the English word design is used in place of settei. You see numerous other types of design credits of many TV shows nowadays: Bijustu design, prop design, etc.

イメージボード Imeeji Boodo = Image Board

Image boards are another type of pre-production drawing, but unlike settei, image boards are basically concept art not intended for actual use in the production. They are drawings made to flesh out production, to come up with ideas, to establish the direction for the production's visuals and atmosphere. Hayao Miyazaki famously draws lots of rough watercolor image boards before each film to flesh out where he wants to go with the film.

絵コンテ Ekonte = Storyboard

After a script has been written, the storyboard is drawn. Ekonte literally means picture continuity. It is the blueprint of every anime. You can see a small example of a storyboard panel by Yoshiyuki Tomino here. Basically, it consists of a summary of what happens in each shot: a drawing showing the visuals, the length of the shot, the dialogue, sound effects, and camera instructions. Satoshi Kon once said that the storyboard is like another script; it should tell its own story.

Some storyboards like Tomino's are rougher and others more detailed. Satoshi Kon's were very detailed and could almost double as layouts. Most anime ekonte are in the same format. Each storyboarder has his or her own style. Some directors who can't draw get a talented animator to draw their storyboards based on the director's instructions. The storyboard for Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday was drawn by Yoshiyuki Momose, the one for his Gauche the Cellist by Toshitsugu Saida.

Different storyboarders have different standards for the amount of information they provide about what is supposed to happen in a shot. For a particularly important sequence, a storyboarder might devote several pages to visually depicting a single long shot that requires a particular succession of character movements, essentially creating a spare rough genga. Other storyboarders might leave it up to the animator to give them more freedom to have fun with the animation.

Knowledge of your animation staff's capabilities can affect the way a film or TV episode is storyboarded. You don't storyboard scenes requiring tricky, nuanced character acting if you know you don't have staff capable of bringing that sort of thing to life. Instead, you wind up storyboarding things in a 'safe' way that winds up being proportionately less communicative in terms of the directing. Conversely, storyboarders who know how to storyboard in a way that will involve the animation in the directing and who know they will be able to rely on good staff can produce more ambitious work. Satoshi Kon was only able to storyboard Tokyo Godfathers with all those long static shots of character acting because he knew he had staff like Hideki Hamasu and Shinji Otsuka who would be up to the task of animating his challenging shots.

Storyboards can be drawn by the same person who will go on to process the episode or movie (the enshutsu or technical director) or by a different person. Toei Animation is famous for not crediting storyboarders, only episode directors, because their episode directors are all expected to draw their own storyboards. (Not only this, Toei's episode directors are also supposed to take care of the voice recording sessions, something usually handled by the audio director, which perhaps helps account for why so many Toei directors developed into such auteurs.)

Normally the sequence in the storyboard is the final say, although I've run across some rare instances where storyboard shots were slightly altered by an ambitious key animator and kept in the final product. This happened in two instances I know of - in Soul Eater and Xam'd - and in both instances it was obvious why it was kept as is (because the animation was awesome), so although uncommon, it does happen occasionally if the animator really does something good with it. Usually I doubt this will be tolerated, and most animators would not do this.

Usually in Japanese animation, the storyboard for a movie or TV episode will all be done by the same person. On occasion, storyboards are done by several people. For example, in Bones' Tenpo Ibun Ayakashi, Akitoshi Yokoyama was given the credit of sento sekkei 戦闘設計 or battle design, a roundabout way of saying that he drew the storyboards for the battle sequences throughout the show. (In other words, one person would draw the storyboard for the episode, but just the battle portion would be storyboarded by Yokoyama.) He was given this unusual task due to his uncommon skill at conceptualizing action sequence in a way that makes exciting use of three-dimensional space. Norio Matsumoto storyboarded his action sequence in the third Naruto movie, as did Yutaka Nakamura in the Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shambala movie.

Between storyboard & animation: Assigning shots and animation meetings

The next step after the storyboard has been drawn is to assign shots to animators. This is done by either the director or storyboarder or producer, or a combination of the like; I'm not sure exactly. The allocation is usually done according to animators' aptitudes. A storyboarder might even storyboard a sequence with a particular animator in mind.

After an animator has been assigned certain shots, the animator has a sit-down meeting with the director to talk about what the director wants from those shots. This is called a sakuga uchiawase 作画打合せ or animation meeting (saku-uchi 作打 for short). If an animator is unsure what is required of them from the storyboard, it's important for them to talk to the director or storyboarder at the animation meeting to find out what exactly is required of them so it doesn't cause problems down the line.

Animators are always given entire shots or sequences of shots, not just certain parts of a shot like in the west. They animate everything in a shot. In the old days, it was common for entire TV episodes to be animated by one or two animators. As time went on, more and more people were used to animate TV episodes. Nowadays it's not uncommon to see TV episodes with 30 key animators, many of whom may have only done one or two shots to help fill in the holes. Sometimes an animator did only one shot in an episode because that shot was particularly difficult or was something they're specialized in. (For example the way Hideki Kakita was called in in that recent Bleach episode to draw just one important shot of an explosion.)

The sakkan is occasionally credited at the end of the key animation credits to indicate that they drew a few shots to help fill in the holes. Key animation credits in anime are normally ordered according to number of shots animated. Sometimes a group of animators who contributed particularly significantly to an episode will be credited separately as a group.

Oftentimes, if an animator is assigned a shot, it's because the director knows what to expect from that animator, and that animator's particular style is desired for those shots. An animator who's particularly good at explosions, or robot kung fu, might be called in to do just those shots in an episode, and their animation won't be corrected despite looking slightly different from the rest of the show. Hence the trait that makes anime so unique: You'll find entire sequences animated in a style different from the rest of the show.

The extent to which this is tolerated or desired depends on various factors such as the nature of the production, the schedule, the director, and the episode director. Sometimes, as in the case of the first half of Samurai 7 episode 7, various circumstances led to the creation of a whole half episode in a very idiosyncratic style that didn't jibe with the rest of the show, but was very interesting as animation. That episode's director, Hiroyuki Okuno, is obviously the one who brought Hisashi Mori on to that episode, as they'd been associates for a long time.

Note: The term storyboard originally referred to color drawings pasted up on the wall to flesh out a film's direction, as they used to do it at Disney. Japanese ekonte are different. They're not brainstorming. They're the skeleton of the film; the final word on the length and content of every shot in a film. But storyboard has come to be used as the translation for ekonte.

レイアウト Reiauto = Layout

After a key animator has been assigned a shot, the first thing they have to do is to draw a layout, or a more detailed version of the image for that shot in the storyboard. The layout determines the relationship between the characters and the background. The background art will be drawn by the art department (bijutsu 美術) based on the layout. The layout gets checked by the director for content and then is passed on to the animation director to make corrections before it is given back to the key animator to proceed with drawing the actual keys.

In anime, the layout is almost always drawn by the key animator except in rare cases where a separate layout man is credited. The most famous examples are Isao Takahata's Heidi (1974), Marco (1976) and Anne (1979), in which Hayao Miyazaki drew the layout for every episode. Tsutomu Shibayama drew all the layouts for Osamu Dezaki's classic Gamba's Adventure (1975). The term gamen kosei 画面構成 or 'scene structure' was used in Heidi and Marco but the English word layout was used in Gamba. This may have been one of the first uses of the term in anime. 'Layout' was used in Anne.

原画 Genga = Key Animation

The next step after the layout has been approved and/or corrected by the animation director is for the key animator to draw the genga or key animation. Key animation is the heart of animation in anime. Many people have a hand in every shot of animation, but it's the key animator who creates the personality of that shot. To take character animation as an example, the key animator essentially draws the most important poses along the arc of a character's motion in a particular shot.

The key animator learns what he or she is supposed to draw in a particular shot from the storyboard and from the animation meeting held when their shots were assigned. The key animator needs to understand the story and what the director wants to convey in those shots before they start working.

Key animation isn't necessarily a place for flamboyant personal expression. Most of the time, the requirements are quite specific and leave little room for improvisation. But if an animator with an idiosyncratic style produces a piece of animation that stands out but is still good, there are many production environments that will not only allow it through, but not correct it. This depends on not only the sakkan but also the director to whom the sakkan is responsible. In other cases, they might just correct the faces but leave the basic movement intact. That's obviously what Hiroyuki Okuni did with Hisashi Mori's animation in Samurai 7 episode 7 in an attempt to make it more acceptable.

Different key animators have different aptitudes. Some are good at drawing faces on model and are called in for shots that require good character drawing skills but not necessarily good movement skills. Other animators are good at drawing vigorous physical actions. Others are good at effects like smoke and explosions.

In the early days, an animator would often do a whole episode or half episode. Nowadays, an animator typically handles a handful of shots in sequence. Nowadays if you see a solo episode outside of shows where that regularly occurs, it's usually a special thing like in Kaiba or Kemonozume, where the whole production is quite unique and artistically minded and the director gives a certain animator permission to animate a whole episode by themselves as a personal challenge.

Inbetweeners advance to key animation, and particularly talented key animators can then advance to working as animation directors or assistant animation directors, helping to correct the drawings, if they wish to.

第二原画 Daini Genga = Second Key Animation

Traditionally in anime, after key animation, the next step would be for the animation director to check the key animation and apply the necessary corrections to bring the characters to model. A new role was recently invented as a buffer between the key animator and the animation director: second key animation.

Nigen 二原 for short, second key animation is a relatively new concept in anime. This person does what in the west is known as "cleanup" - cleaning up the rough genga before they're passed on to the animation director to be checked. This step permits key animators to pump out more animation than if they had to produce a more polished shot. For example, an animator who might be good at action can draw several complicated shots in rough form in the time it might take them to draw one polished shot. A nigen would then clean it up. Infrequently you will also see a daiichi genga 第一原画 or first key animation credit, which is presumably a way of distinguishing between the people who drew the rough key animation intended to be cleaned up by the daini genga crew and the people who drew regular key animation.

(Note about the term Sakuga 作画: Sakuga is used among some western fans today to refer to flamboyant or particularly nice animation in anime, presumably something learned from the online Japanese community devoted to following animators, but in fact sakuga is just a generic word meaning "animation". You can have good sakuga and you can have bad sakuga; sakuga isn't a term of approbation. In old anime pre-dating Toei Doga (pre-1957), sakuga was one of the words used to credit the animators. Literally, it means "the person who drew the drawings". When used alone in latter-day anime, it often means that the person credited with sakuga drew all of the animation. Normally, animation would be broken down into genga (key animation) and doga (inbetweens), but if someone draws all of the animation themselves, they will be credited with sakuga.)

作画監督 Sakuga Kantoku = Animation Director

The sakuga kantoku or sakkan 作監 for short is the person who is in charge of looking at all of the key animation handed in by the key animators and, if it is too badly drawn or strays from the character design, correcting the drawing in part or in whole. The literal translation "animation director" can be misleading, because it seems to imply more of a creative say in filmmaking decisions than is actually the case. The movie Jin-Roh more accurately translated the term sakuga kantoku by using a less literal translation: "key animation supervisor".

The job of the animation director can be an arduous task, especially if working with animation outsourced to iffy studios who send in bad animation that needs to be thoroughly revised to be passable. Many animators would much prefer to draw animation than do sakkan work, even though presumably a sakkan may be better paid.

Every sakkan is different. They technically can correct everything if they want, including the time sheets, so the key animation could wind up looking completely different in the final product. Some sakkans correct everything, while others are more permissible and only correct the really bad work, either because they don't think it's necessary or don't have enough schedule. Tomonori Kogawa famously threw away much of the key animation he was given for the Ideon: Be Invoked movie and drew it from scratch himself because of his exacting standards, and because for him it was actually faster to do that than struggle to correct someone else's drawings.

Sometimes key animation is corrected, other times not. Sometimes a piece of animation may be flamboyant and stick out, but the animation director won't correct it because it's good animation by a well-known animator. In the past, key animators' work often went straight through into the final product. The Yuzo Aoki episode I blogged yesterday is an example, but there are many more. Aoki was sometimes credited as sakkan when he did solo key animation. An extreme example is Hajime Ningen Gyators: Takao Kosai is credited as the animation director, but he didn't correct any of the animation. Everything in the show is raw key animation by the animators. Credits in anime can be deceptive and ambiguous this way. Sometimes key animators aren't even credited due to some unknown behind-the-scenes circumstances.

Animator personality comes through often in action scenes because sakkans, who are often also the character designers, are more likely to devote their energy to correcting the faces than the movement, especially if the movement and drawings are good.

The term sakuga kantoku was coined in 1963, again at Toei Doga, for the role played by Yasuji Mori on the film Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon. Prior to that there was no single person overseeing the animation of an entire animated film in Japan as has become the norm today.

In recent days, the animation director role itself has become atomized into specialties. Common sub-credits include "mecha animation director" and "effects animation director".

総作画監督 Sou Sakuga Kantoku = Chief Animation Director

In the old days, when schedules were longer and there was not as much burden on the sakkan, it was only necessary to have one sakkan per TV episode or movie. In recent years, it has become common to see many sakkans in a single TV episode or movie. Yet another role was invented to supervise all these sakkans: the chief animation director.

This role was presumably created to ensure that this added level of supervisory complexity doesn't wind up having the opposite effect of creating visual disparity. The sou sakuga kantoku oversees all of the sakkans and maintains uniformity between them by adding corrections to their corrections, in much the same way as the sakkan does with respect to the key animators.

動画 Doga = Inbetween

After the drawings of the key animator have been checked by the director and the animation director(s), the next step is for the animation to be inbetweened by the doga or inbetweener.

Genga and Doga are an inseparable unit. The inbetweener fills in the movement of the key animation. How this is done isn't arbitrary. The key animator determines what poses the inbetweener is to draw, and where, using what's called a time sheet and a tsume shiji つめ指示 or timing chart. See this set of key animation drawings from my post on Shoichi Masuo for an example of a tsume shiji, and this one for its accompanying time sheet. The tsume shiji is the part that looks like this in the key animation drawings: ├────────┼────┼─┼┼┼┼┤ (see here for a more detailed explanation of what this means.) The key animator may also draw nakawari sanko 中割り参考 or inbetweening references for particularly complicated shots. The inbetweener is also responsible for cleaning up the lines of the key animation and preparing the drawings to be handed to the next department, the coloring department.

Unlike key animation, inbetweening doesn't leave much room for personal expression. It's where you are supposed to bring alive the expression of the key animation. The inbetweener draws the instructed drawings, and that's all. But inbetweening does require considerable skill in its own way. Badly inbetweened animation can ruin a shot of perfectly good key animation, while good inbetweens can improve mediocre key animation.

Traditionally, animators in Japan go through a period of apprenticeship as inbetweeners before acceding to key animation. One day they're offered the chance to give key animation a shot, and from then on out they're key animators. How quickly this happens depends on the studio and the animator. Some turn in bad animation and are sent back to inbetweening. Some choose to remain inbetweeners. You'll often spot a random famous animator in the inbetween credits if you watch a lot of old shows. Some of today's young talented gif animators like Kenichi Kutsuna and Ryosuke Sawa (Ryo~timo) skipped the inbetweening apprenticeship step and did key animation right off the bat.

After the inbetweener has done his or her job, the doga kensa 動画検査 or inbetween checker inspects the inbetweens. They're like the animation director for the final inbetweened animation. After that, the animation is sent to be colored by the shiage 仕上げ or finishing (now sometimes called digital paint) department and then to the photography (now sometimes compositing) department.

The term doga literally means 'moving drawings'. Doga was coined by Kenzo Masaoka (1898-1988) so that the Japanese would have their own word for animation instead of having to borrow the western word animation. Kenzo Masaoka is considered the father of anime for his pioneering work in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, initially, doga actually meant simply animation in the broad sense of the term. It seems to have been around the time that Toei Doga (=Toei Animation) was founded in 1956 (when Toei purchased Nichido) that the genga/doga duality came into play and doga began to be used exclusively to mean inbetween animation.

(Aside: Sometimes a DVD will contain footage of the actual raw animation drawings. The term Genga Satsuei 原画撮影 or Gensatsu 原撮 for short refers to footage of just the key animation drawings, without backgrounds, sound effects, music or anything. Similarly, the term Doga Satsuei or Dosatsu 動撮 for short refers to footage of the fully inbetweened animation (i.e. key anmation + inbeteweens).)

演出 Enshutsu = Episode Director (TV) or Technical Director (movie)

監督 Kantoku = Director

There are various terms for director in anime, which can be confusing. The kantoku or director is the one who oversees the whole project, steering it towards completion by coordinating the various main staff, and making important creative decisions about the project as a whole. The enshutsu or technical director is responsible to the director, and does the physical work of putting together all the components (art, animation, sound) into the final product. As I mentioned above, the animation director is not a 'director' in the same sense. The animation director mainly just corrects key animation. Animation directors answer to both the director and the technical director.

In a movie, the kantoku or director has most of the creative control. The enshutsu or technical director in a movie is there mostly to alleviate the burden on the kantoku by handling the technical tasks that the director might not know about or might not have time to take care of. The director might now know certain photographic techniques, and would rely for this on an enshutsu with more experience in such matters. The enshutsu might also check layouts or key animation for the kantoku and correct lines of dialogue or drawings in a pinch. Ko Matsuo and Shogo Furuya helped Satoshi Kon tremendously in this role on his films.

Among other things, the director is there to make sure things are on track. The director of a TV series checks the storyboards for each episode, and may in fact re-do them or have them re-done if they're not satisfactory. Satoshi Kon had to re-draw the storyboard by Shogo Furuya in episode 2 of Paranoia Agent, and Hayao Miyazaki reportedly re-drew the storyboards submitted by Yoshiyuki Tomino on Future Boy Conan from scratch even though Tomino is still credited. These rejected storyboards might have gotten accepted under other circumstances (Tomino was widely relied upon for his storyboards), but the chief directors happened to be auteurs with exceptionally exacting artistic standards.

In the old days, enshutsu was used to refer to the director of a whole TV series. Nowadays, the word kantoku is used for that purpose, and each episode of a TV series has its own sub-director who oversees that particular episode. The episode director is referred to as the enshutsu. I assume the more holistic and supervisory role of kantoku evolved in the natural course of things as productions became more complex and production methods evolved accordingly.

Enshutsu seems to entail something quite different in a TV environment. The basic job of episode director is to hold meetings with and coordinate the heads of the different sections - animation, art, coloring, photography - in such a way as to achieve the objectives of the storyboard, which is ideally drawn by the episode director, but often these days is drawn by someone else. The episode director checks layouts and key animation as they are handed in to make sure the key animator drew what was required in the storyboard, calling for a retake if not, otherwise passing the key animation on to the sakkan. After everything is assembled, the episode director is responsible for getting any mistakes taken care of and putting together the final package.

Other tasks of an episode director incllude marking the rush copy used during voice actor recording sessions in such a way that the voice actors know when to read their lines. If everything isn't ready by the time of dubbing, they put together a provisional rush copy of an episode using raw materials like key animation or inbetweens so that the voice actors will have some visual material to work with. Episode directors also put together next episode previews by choosing which shots to use in the preview from those that are complete.

Episode directors in a TV series seem to have comparably much more control over the creative outcome of an episode than the enshutsu in a movie. They're essentially a mini kantoku. Thus you can get an episode like Mitsuo Iso's episode of RahXephon that's remarkably different in tone and style from the rest of the series due to the tight control exercised over the episode by the director of that particular episode. Although naturally, the director of the series would have to approve whatever the episode director decides to do. Talented storyboarders/directors like Keiichi Hara, Hosoda Mamoru and Atsushi Wakabayashi honed their talent working on TV shows where they were allowed to direct episodes in their own particular style.

Almost all anime TV series have a director supervising the whole show and a separate episode director for each episode. TMS's Hajime Ningen Gyators Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi are among the few examples I know of that didn't have a series director, only episode directors.

Yet another level was added to this already complicated hierarchy with the recent creation of the role of Sou Kantoku 総監督 or chief director. Some productions have a chief director, a director and a technical director.