Japanese animation theory

Discuss anime, non-Japanese animation, indie animation, animators, or just introduce yourself

Postby Leedar » Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:49 pm

neilworms wrote:Japanese anime theory is still based off of disney theory quite a bit, though its simplified in motion, more complex in design...

I'd check out Yasuo Otsuka's joy of animation (I don't remember the japanese name) a documentary with english subtitles produced by Studio Ghibli about one of anime's biggest animators explaining how animation works from his prospective...

I think that's the best I can do...

I read about that film just today, but I'm not in a position to aquire it any time soon, unfortunately. From what I've read, I get the feeling Otsuka is a bit more 'Disney-like' than popular Japanese animation, especially current works.
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Postby Peter_Chung » Mon Aug 20, 2007 12:03 am

Japanese animation theory. I could probably write a book on the subject, so I'll try to keep it down to the basics.

It's very easy for even a casual viewer to notice that Japanese animation has a different "feel" than American animation. Usually the difference is attributed to a divergent cultural viewpoint.
What most viewers don't realize is how much it actually comes down to the physical differences in the technical processes.

To start with, on the cultural side, the main difference is that Japanese animation comes out of a completely different tradition of representation in art and performance. Western classicism is based on the strict adherence to realism, rendering the artist (and the process) invisible in order to elevate the subject. Classicist painting values the creation of an illusion. A painting should make the viewer forget he is looking at oil on canvas, and reveal its subject as if through a window on reality. Brush strokes must be blended so no trace of the artist's toil is evident. Western theatrical performance is likewise realist, defining a character through individuality, unique traits specific to period and setting. Japanese theatre and art, on the other hand, would fit the definition of "modernist" in Western culture. Asian painting is stylized, impressionistic (and expressionistic), concerned entirley with displaying the brush stroke and the flat, graphic nature of the picture plane. Japanese performance-- kabuki, noh, bunraku-- is similarly stylized, and more focused on capturing a distillation of character than emotional versimilitude.

This approach to representation carries over to animation. We can think of Japanese animation as an extension of Bunraku, using current technology. As in Bunraku, there is no attempt to create a seamless illusion of reality. The figures of the human performers can be seen manipulating the puppets. Likewise, the hand of the animator in Japanese aniimation is not only noticeable, it is often highlighted. (And this site seems curiously dedicated to cataloguing the signs to recognizing such individual animators' handprints.)

One reason why many young artists (including myself at one time) are attracted to Japanese animation and may be inspired to emulate it is that you can see how it is done. You can easily see it is composed of individual drawings, and for that reason, it seems within one's reach. In classical animation (I will call traditional Disney animation "classical" from here on), to allow the viewer to notice he is looking at a drawing is a cardinal sin. In classical animation, even held poses were traced over and over to make them "breathe". These are called "moving holds".

In classical American animation, the animator's hand must not be noticeable. The focus is entirely on the character and in the illusion that it is a living, breathing creature. From a Western animator's perspective, it is NOT praise to say "I noticed how well you animated that scene." That is a statement of failure. It means that the animation drew attention to itself. That is the basic violation of classicist representation in Western art, and of "classical" American animation. John Lasseter puts it clearly when he says he prefers the animation of Frank Thomas to that of Milt Kahl. You can tell a scene animated by Kahl. Thomas's efforts disappear into the performance, like a good actor's. That is THE major difference between Japanese animation theory and Disney.

Onto the technical side of things, here's just the start of a list of the main differences:

1. Looped as opposed to pre-recorded dialogue. Most casual viewers notice this right away. What's not obvious is how this affects the director's approach to staging dialogue scenes. The American director will focus on the character's performance as he delivers the dialogue, to the exclusion of other factors in a scene, such as environment, lighting, camera angle and movement, and other incidental details. The Japanese director tends to do the opposite. Both tendencies have their good and bad points. The evolution of most current Japanese animated character design derives from the need to cover the imprecision of their lipsync. It has resulted in the tiny mouths and tapered chins of so many "cute" lead characters, since drawing them that way allows animators to use fewer mouth poses and not to animate the jaw during dialogue. Spoken Japanese is made up of fewer phonemes than Western languages, so it also easier to get away with less precise lipsync.

2. Role of the director.
In a lot of well-known cases (Miyazaki, Rin Taro, Kawajiri, Kon, Oshii), the kantoku draws the entire storyboard himself.
The director is usually the kantoku, but depending on the individual, he might be a glorified scene checker, in which case, his job is called "enshutsu". For a time, a large number of Japanese animation directors started their careers not as animators, designers, or even storyboard artists, but as checkers (satsudashi). I'm not sure if this is true anymore, as the importance of the checker has been diminished by the transition to digital photography.

3. Studio organization. The division of genga and douga. (Genga means "original drawing". Douga means "moving drawing".) Apart from the Sakkan, that's all there is. Sometimes, the sakkan's role is so important that he may even be paid more than the director. The job doesn't exist in an American studio.

The American feature animation studio is broken down into so many job categories, it is hard to keep them all straight. Supervising character lead animator, character animator, character assistant, character breakdown, rough inbetweener, inbetweener, lead cleanup, key assistant clean-up, assistant clean-up, effects animator, key effects breakdown, effects assistant and on and on. The most important difference is that Japanese animators are assigned sequences. They animate every element in a given sequence of scenes. Sometimes that includes characters, props, vehicles, machinery, animals, effects, shadows, backgrounds (if they move). American feature animators are cast by character. They will often have to "perform" with other animators on the same scene. The prince, the princess, the villain, extras, shadows, and any effects involved, will all be drawn by different animators, according to their specialty, even if they occur together in one layout.

4. Top pegs-- American animators bottom- peg their drawings onto a fixed pegbar attached to a rotating disc, which usually sits on a light desk tilted at a steep angle, like an easel. This enables them to use their free hand to "roll" their drawings as they work, which they do frequently to check the flow of motion. Japanese animators top-peg their drawings to a simple unattached pegbar which needs to sit on a near- horizontal surface. They flip their scene to check the action only occasionally, as they have to lift the stack of sheets up off the pegs. The Japanese animator is involved in a more mental (or intellectual) process, calculating the result in his head. The American animator is working more by "feel", or instinct, checking and rechecking it for fluidity constantly as he draws.

5. Exposure sheets- This one is very arcane, and its influence is tenuous, but I believe it is real. Japanese animators label their drawings according to which level they belong to. The 'A' cel is on the bottom, 'B' is second, 'C' is third, etc. American animators label drawings according to content. A drawing of a cat, for example, will be labeled 'C', and which level it occurs on the X-sheet will not change its designation. That character will always be 'C'. Japanese animators number their key drawings in sequential order regardless of how many drawings will ultimately be used to inbetween the scene. It is up to the inbetweener to change the numbering to the actual cel count when he traces the key drawings. I believe this system has been devised to make calculating cel counts easier, as it eliminates the possiblity of either gaps in the numbers or extra numbers, as in 5 1/2, or 5a, 5b, etc. For a key animator who decides to add a lot of rough breakdowns, this can result in a bewildering code for the inbetweener to decipher, as he must label the extra poses with katakana letters.

6. Pay calculation-- This has a huge impact on the entire approach to production in ways too arcane to explain fully to anyone who hasn't worked as an animator in a Japanese style studio. Key animators are paid by the cut (scene). Inbetweeners are paid by the sheet. It doesn't cost more for an inbetweener to spend longer on a drawing, resulting in a tendency to produce a lower count of very detailed drawings rather than a higher count of simple ones.

That's just the beginning of a discussion on the topic. I'll be happy to answer more specific questions as best as I can.

Peter Chung
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Postby St. Toledo » Mon Aug 20, 2007 12:54 am

If you are THE Peter Chung, then I have to thank you for having joined up and taking the time to enlighten us with your view on the topic! It makes it a whole lot clearer now! This is exactly the type of thing I wanted to see addressed, especially in print!

The part about thet Japanese use of top pegs and using unattached pegbars impresses me. We base our system on being so accurate and nailed down, I wonder if this gives for a more freer use of space for someone to draw from that perspective. Of course another thing I've noticed is the use of 10 field over the standard 12 or 16 field present in American animation as well.
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Postby Leedar » Mon Aug 20, 2007 2:22 am

I appreciate you taking the time to respond here, Peter. That was some nice elaboration on topics I could only get superficial knowledge of before.

Could you further explain the system of division of effort, e.g. genga, douga, sakkan, etc.? From what I gather, genga are similar to key animators, and douga similar to inbetweeners, with each doing their own clean-up?

How uniform is the system (as you know it) amongst studios? Do you have much historical knowledge of how long this has been around? Do any other Eastern countries operate similarly, like Korea?

I've got a bunch of other questions, but I don't want to overstep myself.
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Postby Muffin » Mon Aug 20, 2007 4:34 am

Welcome to the board, Mr.Chung.



To start with, on the cultural side, the main difference is that Japanese animation comes out of a completely different tradition of representation in art and performance. Western classicism is based on the strict adherence to realism, rendering the artist (and the process) invisible in order to elevate the subject. Classicist painting values the creation of an illusion. A painting should make the viewer forget he is looking at oil on canvas, and reveal its subject as if through a window on reality. Brush strokes must be blended so no trace of the artist's toil is evident. Western theatrical performance is likewise realist, defining a character through individuality, unique traits specific to period and setting. Japanese theatre and art, on the other hand, would fit the definition of "modernist" in Western culture. Asian painting is stylized, impressionistic (and expressionistic), concerned entirley with displaying the brush stroke and the flat, graphic nature of the picture plane. Japanese performance-- kabuki, noh, bunraku-- is similarly stylized, and more focused on capturing a distillation of character than emotional versimilitude.


As you pretty much imply, it's worth noting that the notion of realism you point toward in western art(or western cartoons to be more specific) isn't so much a case of graphic photo-realism, but more about a kind of virtual realism(?) Where even a highly unrealistic cartoon-figure comes across like (as you put it)"a living, breathing creature"(or actor)

Even in supposedly highly realist anime films like Jin-Roh or Tokyo Godfathers, the charachters are very much defined in the context of a cinematic graphic evocation of an alternate reality(or something like it). Allowing you to project into this reality with each brush stroke.

To put my cards on the table, I much prefer the latter approach. The former can be impressive, in a sense. But it's ironically too real, existing too much apart from yourself in a hermetically sealed sort of way.

Also, I feel the japanese have a stronger "template" that can be elaborated on.

But hell, I'm quite content to say I prefer it.





1. Looped as opposed to pre-recorded dialogue. Most casual viewers notice this right away. What's not obvious is how this affects the director's approach to staging dialogue scenes. The American director will focus on the character's performance as he delivers the dialogue, to the exclusion of other factors in a scene, such as environment, lighting, camera angle and movement, and other incidental details. The Japanese director tends to do the opposite. Both tendencies have their good and bad points. The evolution of most current Japanese animated character design derives from the need to cover the imprecision of their lipsync. It has resulted in the tiny mouths and tapered chins of so many "cute" lead characters, since drawing them that way allows animators to use fewer mouth poses and not to animate the jaw during dialogue. Spoken Japanese is made up of fewer phonemes than Western languages, so it also easier to get away with less precise lipsync.


Indeed. And at its most effective(which may not be the case for a lot of anime) there's the distinct feeling that more precise lip-synching in anime would merely be distracting. Drawing too much attention to the details of the animated "performance" rather than the essence of what is being expressed. The image goes along fine in a slightly jazzy, impressionistic way with the style of language. That's not to say I don't think some effort should be made to make the mouth movements match the style of dialogue(whispering, yelling, talking really fast etc...). But that's a rather obvious point isn't it?....It also really depends on the style of design, and indeed, direction.

Also, on that note, I think it's worth taking into account how much the language, the foundation of human thinking and culture, plays in how art is conceptualized. Even on a technical level. The more graphic and symbolic nature of the japanese language is certainly not an irrelevant or incidental aspect.
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Postby Peter_Chung » Mon Aug 20, 2007 11:20 am

St. Toledo
When animation used to be shot on 35mm film, the type of pegbar setup the animator used had a great influence on how the camera was used. The American style disc has two pegbars at the top and bottom which could slide left to right for sliding cel levels. The pegbars have increments in inches, with the smallest units being .05". These correspond to the increments on the camera stand, though the cameras were capable of finer movement. The animator then wrote down on his exposure sheet (x-sheet) the amount the camera was to move for each frame. The goal was, as you say, accuracy.

The Japanese pegbar is a simple flat strip of metal with registration pegs. The approach is to simply eyeball everything. Instructions for camera moves were drawn in lines (or curves) with increments drawn freehand as the animator saw fit for each move. The cameraman would use these guides to move the camera accordingly. The pegbars on a Japanese optical camera were not attached to the camera bed, allowing backgrounds to be moved freely underneath. This opened up a greater range of movement for shots like flying scenes, but would also result in less precision in simple panning walking cycles, where the feet wouldn't be properly anchored on the background. Sliding foot syndrome.

All this is obsolete today, as all camerawork is done digitally. The camera, lenses and filters are completely unrestricted in their range. A current pet peeve of mine with Japanese animation trends is the tendency to mimic live action cinematography with overuse of hand-held "shakycam", diffusion filters, focus pulls, etc (made possible by the digital camera). Ironically, such stylization is not so much the achievement of greater realism, but of greater artifice. Directors who use such techniques are not reflecting natural experience, but exploiting tropes derived from the particular idiosyncracies of the live action camera (which has little to do with how we perceive the real world). We are used to seeing such camerawork in live action, so they hope to fool the brain into thinking that their animation is as real as a live action film. Which is self-defeating. Animation, no matter how well crafted, can never represent the real world better than live-action. Animation is best used to portray a different kind of reality, not the objective external world, but the subjective, personal vision of the artist.

I will address Leedar's question later, as that is a pretty complicated matter to try to describe in words.

As for Korean studios, they were traditionally set up to either do subcontract work for Japanese or American producer clients. (There are increasing numbers of domestic Korean productions too, and these are modelled after the Japanese system, since it costs less.) Most Korean animators have experience in both methods. The best Korean animators prefer to work on American shows, since they pay better and they are allowed to use more cels-- that is why the Korean animators who do work on Japanese productions are not usually representative of good Korean animation (to address Ben's perennial gripe.)

Now I have to get back to work -- storyboarding on the new CG Astroboy movie.
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Postby Leedar » Mon Aug 20, 2007 12:49 pm

Peter_Chung wrote:Now I have to get back to work -- storyboarding on the new CG Astroboy movie.

Heh heh, crikey...
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Postby St. Toledo » Mon Aug 20, 2007 2:11 pm

Peter_Chung wrote:St. Toledo

In case you or anyone wondered, it's short for "Studio Toledo", and I only thought of that name as it rhymed with my hometown and thought I better use it (you have to start somewhere)!

When animation used to be shot on 35mm film, the type of pegbar setup the animator used had a great influence on how the camera was used. The American style disc has two pegbars at the top and bottom which could slide left to right for sliding cel levels. The pegbars have increments in inches, with the smallest units being .05". These correspond to the increments on the camera stand, though the cameras were capable of finer movement. The animator then wrote down on his exposure sheet (x-sheet) the amount the camera was to move for each frame. The goal was, as you say, accuracy.

Pretty much. I have one of those animation discs and a table to use it on, but haven't gotten around to setting it up yet!

The Japanese pegbar is a simple flat strip of metal with registration pegs. The approach is to simply eyeball everything. Instructions for camera moves were drawn in lines (or curves) with increments drawn freehand as the animator saw fit for each move. The cameraman would use these guides to move the camera accordingly. The pegbars on a Japanese optical camera were not attached to the camera bed, allowing backgrounds to be moved freely underneath. This opened up a greater range of movement for shots like flying scenes, but would also result in less precision in simple panning walking cycles, where the feet wouldn't be properly anchored on the background. Sliding foot syndrome.

Hmmm, never thought about that one!

All this is obsolete today, as all camerawork is done digitally. The camera, lenses and filters are completely unrestricted in their range. A current pet peeve of mine with Japanese animation trends is the tendency to mimic live action cinematography with overuse of hand-held "shakycam", diffusion filters, focus pulls, etc (made possible by the digital camera). Ironically, such stylization is not so much the achievement of greater realism, but of greater artifice. Directors who use such techniques are not reflecting natural experience, but exploiting tropes derived from the particular idiosyncracies of the live action camera (which has little to do with how we perceive the real world). We are used to seeing such camerawork in live action, so they hope to fool the brain into thinking that their animation is as real as a live action film. Which is self-defeating. Animation, no matter how well crafted, can never represent the real world better than live-action. Animation is best used to portray a different kind of reality, not the objective external world, but the subjective, personal vision of the artist.

Never did care for the "Skakycam" style of filmmaking at all. Everyone has to act so amateurish just to stay on top nowadays.

I will address Leedar's question later, as that is a pretty complicated matter to try to describe in words.

At least mine was done first!

As for Korean studios, they were traditionally set up to either do subcontract work for Japanese or American producer clients. (There are increasing numbers of domestic Korean productions too, and these are modelled after the Japanese system, since it costs less.)

Being reminded of having blasted Korean animation a while ago for having watched a lot of the cheap knock-off stuff that was put out in the 80's. Still it makes me laugh having to watch it (now if an American cartoon was done like that, the producer would've committed suicide quickly)!

Most Korean animators have experience in both methods. The best Korean animators prefer to work on American shows, since they pay better and they are allowed to use more cels-- that is why the Korean animators who do work on Japanese productions are not usually representative of good Korean animation (to address Ben's perennial gripe.)

Hard for them to really find a look of their own against the subcontractions of others.
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Postby St. Toledo » Mon Aug 20, 2007 2:15 pm

Leedar wrote:
Peter_Chung wrote:Now I have to get back to work -- storyboarding on the new CG Astroboy movie.

Heh heh, crikey...

Well hopefully it won't be too bad if handled right (hard to imagine Tezuka's creations in 3D personally, mo-capping would just be wrong). Also of note, it would be nice to see Astro be more a pacifist in this too, but I doubt that would happen in the US version.
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Postby Peter_Chung » Mon Aug 20, 2007 10:27 pm

Leedar,
I can't say exactly when the sakkan system became standardized, but my guess would be some time during the mid 60s, when TV animation production was starting to take off in a big way. I remember seeing episodes of Marine Boy as a kid and being fascinated by the fact that the drawing style for a particular episode would be different from others, yet look completely consistent within itself. As if one artist had drawn the entire episode by himself. I later learned it was the sakkan who made this possible.

In credits, sakkan is usually translated into English as animation director, and that is good enough for the general animation fan. However, his job is quite different from that of animation director in an American production. In many cases, ideally, the sakkan is also the character designer.

Sakkan is short for Sakuga Kantoku, which literally means "work-drawing director". If I can be allowed a bit of leeway in interpreting the term, when I say "work-drawing", I might compare it to the term "workprint" in general filmmaking,. That is, an artifact of production which is not the finished product, but a stage of the work-in-progress that is never seen by the audience.

In Japan, the layouts are usually drawn by the same animators who will eventually be animating the scene. The layouts are handed in and go through a series of checks- once by the director, then by the sakkan. The sakkan at this stage makes any corrections in composition, posing and perspective, then the scene is sent back to the animator.

When the key animation drawings, the genga, are done, they go through a second series of checks-- the director looks at them, makes notes, then it goes back again to the sakkan for correction.
This is what the sakkan does: after flipping the drawings to decide what needs to be corrected, he pegs the first piece of genga on his desk, then pegs a blank colored (usually yellow) sheet over it He picks out the problem areas and draws over them with a clean line, making sure his new lines dovetail into the shapes of the usable parts of the genga. He places the next drawing down and repeats the process until he has corrected the entire stack. The trick is in making sure that the original parts work with the corrected parts, but also to make sure that the corrected parts also work between themselves. It's a bit like playing 3-dimensional chess.

The colored paper identifies the sakkan's work immediately. It is up to the douga (inbetweener) to combine the sakkan's lines with the usable parts of the genga onto one final, cleaned up sheet. I have seen cases where there are multiple sakkans on a project and a chief sakkan (or director) might make additional corrections (on yet another different color paper) on a sakkan's corrections over a piece of genga. On projects where robots or vehicles are featured prominently, there may be a separate sakkan that specializes in that (mecha sakkan). Sometimes, if the original genga is completely unusable, the sakkan redraws every piece of genga himself. The highly skilled ones are able to do this without any roughs of their own, in a sense, using the bad genga as the preliminary draft and drawing perfectly clean key animation in one pass. The genga is usually not sent back to the animator unless he has totally misinterpreted the scene. It is usually faster for the sakkan to simply redo it than call for a retake.

In any given studio, there is usually a small handfull of very talented animators and lots of mediocre ones. The sakkan system enables the studio to maximize the output of their best artists while allowing the average artists to do most of the grunt work. Most of the hours that go into animating a scene happen at the beginning, as the animator has to work out technical matters such as cel levels, camera instructions, perspective, and registering elements to the background.
By using the sakkan's skills only where they are needed most, the studio can give every scene the same degree of polish without having to waste the sakkan's time on drudgery.

Having said that, the sakkan's job is the most stressfull and demanding of anyone's on the crew. An ordinary scene can not usually be made excellent with a last-minute fix. A sakkan's effort salvages animation that would otherwise be unacceptable, or bring substandard work at least to a level on par with the rest of the work. That is why his job is so frustrating. A sakkan is usually skilled enough to be able to produce excellence if allowed to simply animate from scratch. However, he must spend his time trying to redeem the failures of lesser artists. It takes a very special type of personality to make a good sakkan. I doubt many American animators would have the temperament. Not because of any lack of skill, but because it would drive them crazy.
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Postby GATSU » Mon Aug 20, 2007 11:56 pm

This is OT, but are you the Peter Chung? If so, what the hell was up with that live-action Aeon Flux?
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Postby timdrage » Tue Aug 21, 2007 12:26 am

Peter, really interesting stuff, thanks for taking the time to post!
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Postby Leedar » Tue Aug 21, 2007 1:07 am

GATSU wrote:This is OT, but are you the Peter Chung? If so, what the hell was up with that live-action Aeon Flux?

From what I understand Peter had little to no input into the Aeon Flux live-action film. He doesn't control the rights.

How do Japanese animators aquire their skills, typically? Are schools notably important? I hear they read classic Western texts often... how does this gel with their differing style? Would a common Japanese animator learn more through study of conventions (like the aforemention books, combined with Japanese exclusives), 'unintellectual' emulation, real life observation, or something else?
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Postby RandomPerson » Tue Aug 21, 2007 6:05 am

While I think some of the stuff (the animation process) has been covered at some point or another on Ben's blog, this is I think the first time I've seen all that information put together so concisely and clearly. I'm definitely pointing other people to this thread if they wonder how animation comes about (I still insist there are too few people who know the basics of how animation is produced among even the more serious anime fans...)

So thank you very much Peter Chung!

I really hope to be able to observe a Japanese animation studio sometime in the future, but until then I'll just rely on posts like these and on Ben's blog (and I guess the occasional Japanese blogpost here or there...)

One thing though, I have a feeling there are a number of Japanese animators who would hate doing the whole sakkan thing because all the polishing up they have to do is frustrating in itself and prevents them from doing what they really want to do... I dunno, that's why all those really great animators tend to do less sakkaning and more animation, but then again this may be because when they're doing movie projects together there's no point correcting each others' drawings... I'm pretty sure Ohira would never sakkan, and Utsunomiya's version of sakkaning is kind of like... an anti-sakkan in a way? (I'm looking at you, Eureka 7 OP#3!)
Just a feeling though.

And here's a random clarification I'd like to make with people more familiar with the exact system... Is it correct to say that most of the time, sakkans will correct things like poses and facial features rather than actual movement? I get the impression that the order of priority in which to correct things, for most sakkans, is this:

Eyes > Faces > General body shape/proportions > Poses/positions (unless this is extremely off, then it'd go in front) > Shadows > Line quality > movement

Roughly, anyway. (I don't know where I'm pulling this from) I don't remember many examples where you can see a clear difference in line tone from other episodes due to the sakkan, and in the first place I wouldn't know if it was due to an animator doing many different sections or the sakkan modifying certain places. But one that comes to my mind is the last episode of Eureka 7, where I keep remembering the lines seemed somewhat different. Even in Kenichi Yoshida's episode 26 it clearly seemed different...
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Postby St. Toledo » Tue Aug 21, 2007 11:35 am

Peter_Chung wrote:Leedar,
I can't say exactly when the sakkan system became standardized, but my guess would be some time during the mid 60s, when TV animation production was starting to take off in a big way. I remember seeing episodes of Marine Boy as a kid and being fascinated by the fact that the drawing style for a particular episode would be different from others, yet look completely consistent within itself. As if one artist had drawn the entire episode by himself. I later learned it was the sakkan who made this possible.

Neat you saw Marine Boy.

In Japan, the layouts are usually drawn by the same animators who will eventually be animating the scene. The layouts are handed in and go through a series of checks- once by the director, then by the sakkan. The sakkan at this stage makes any corrections in composition, posing and perspective, then the scene is sent back to the animator.

Wow. Didn't think they were doing layouts that way.

When the key animation drawings, the genga, are done, they go through a second series of checks-- the director looks at them, makes notes, then it goes back again to the sakkan for correction.
This is what the sakkan does: after flipping the drawings to decide what needs to be corrected, he pegs the first piece of genga on his desk, then pegs a blank colored (usually yellow) sheet over it He picks out the problem areas and draws over them with a clean line, making sure his new lines dovetail into the shapes of the usable parts of the genga. He places the next drawing down and repeats the process until he has corrected the entire stack. The trick is in making sure that the original parts work with the corrected parts, but also to make sure that the corrected parts also work between themselves. It's a bit like playing 3-dimensional chess.

You made it sound so easy!

The colored paper identifies the sakkan's work immediately. It is up to the douga (inbetweener) to combine the sakkan's lines with the usable parts of the genga onto one final, cleaned up sheet. I have seen cases where there are multiple sakkans on a project and a chief sakkan (or director) might make additional corrections (on yet another different color paper) on a sakkan's corrections over a piece of genga. On projects where robots or vehicles are featured prominently, there may be a separate sakkan that specializes in that (mecha sakkan). Sometimes, if the original genga is completely unusable, the sakkan redraws every piece of genga himself. The highly skilled ones are able to do this without any roughs of their own, in a sense, using the bad genga as the preliminary draft and drawing perfectly clean key animation in one pass. The genga is usually not sent back to the animator unless he has totally misinterpreted the scene. It is usually faster for the sakkan to simply redo it than call for a retake.

Made me think of having watched "Animation Runner Kuromi" and seeing the sakkan's role being depicted in it.

In any given studio, there is usually a small handfull of very talented animators and lots of mediocre ones. The sakkan system enables the studio to maximize the output of their best artists while allowing the average artists to do most of the grunt work. Most of the hours that go into animating a scene happen at the beginning, as the animator has to work out technical matters such as cel levels, camera instructions, perspective, and registering elements to the background.
By using the sakkan's skills only where they are needed most, the studio can give every scene the same degree of polish without having to waste the sakkan's time on drudgery.

Be kinda like the equivalent to what we might think of as an "equal-opportunity employer" (artistic background-wise upon the knowledge of the individual rather than race, sex or other mental capabilities). :-)

Having said that, the sakkan's job is the most stressfull and demanding of anyone's on the crew. An ordinary scene can not usually be made excellent with a last-minute fix. A sakkan's effort salvages animation that would otherwise be unacceptable, or bring substandard work at least to a level on par with the rest of the work. That is why his job is so frustrating. A sakkan is usually skilled enough to be able to produce excellence if allowed to simply animate from scratch. However, he must spend his time trying to redeem the failures of lesser artists. It takes a very special type of personality to make a good sakkan. I doubt many American animators would have the temperament. Not because of any lack of skill, but because it would drive them crazy.

Really, I'd love to see someone try this for once! :lol:
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St. Toledo
 
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