Sunday, August 12, 2012

Key Figures in the Anime Production Process

By pure chance, I came across this post that offered a detailed breakdown of the anime production process, which I found to be both intriguing and informative. Read it if you have the time and interest!

Anime Production – Detailed Guide to How Anime is Made and the Talent Behind it! 

After reading the post, I realized how little I actually know about the specific responsibilities of key personnel in the production process, despite the fact I've often judged the potential quality of show on the basis of staff information. The author of the post provided a comprehensive explanation of the production process, which include descriptions of some of the core staff involved, but for clarity sakes, I want to create a glossary for these terminologies.

Rather than placing the terms in alphabetical order, I'm going to list them according to the production ladder. The following is a flowchart depicting the anime production process, you can use it as a reference while going through the terms.

Their task is to sit down with various parties to decide how a concept or idea is going to be turned into the final product. When an idea is proposed, producers are responsible for securing partners who are willing support the project. They oversee the entire production process, acting as mediators between those on top of the production hierarchy, namely distributors, sponsors and publishers and the actual studio producing the work. After partners and funds are secured, producers have the task of control for cost, making sure the creative staff are producing within the budget. Their job doesn't end here, producers are involved in essentially every stage of the production, although they
don't deal with the specifics of the actual drawing and filming, they do offer their opinions to the creators and artists. Ultimately, they are business negotiators and head managers of a project. 

Script Writers
Responsible for mapping out the details of an entire story. Unlike writing a novel, script writers are observers of the events taking place in the story, they must be able to break the plot into smaller parts and provide detailed descriptions of character behaviors and the surrounding environment in each scene. What goes on in each episode is planned out, usually by several script writers. The written descriptions provide instructions to guide the work of other members of the creative team such as characters designers, background artists and animators.

Series Composition
The task is usually handled by one person. He or she supervises the entire script writing process, responsible for providing an outline for the script writers and for compiling and reviewing what each script writer has put in place.

Responsible for providing instructions and advice to animators. For the most part, their main task is to attend meetings, review and finalize the works of animators. They control for the quality of the overall product.

Character Designer
The term is kind of self explanatory, character designers design characters. In the case of manga adaption where characters already exists, the character designers need to remodel the design to give them more defined outlines. The reason for this is that manga drawings are often sketchy and thus creates problems for digital painting, in which colors are filled within defined areas. Therefore it is the character designer's job to simplify the designs. However, in the more challenging case, character designers, after consulting with the director and producer, need to create original characters in accordance with the script.

Mecha Designer
Artists who specialize in designing machines. Only a handful of studios out there have experienced mecha designers under their wing. (ex: Sunrise, Bones, Gonzo)

Background Artist
Very self explanatory role: they design backgrounds

Art Directors
Decide on the choice of color palette and color composition. (I'm a little confused about the difference between Art Designer, Art Director and Color Designer, I can only assume they handle various aspects of the painting process, from color selecting, setting to adjusting.)

Color Design: Artists decide on the basic colours of characters, backgrounds and lighting.
Color Setting: Artists deal with special lighting/colouring that require specific knowledge about camera effects (dawn, sunset...etc)

Episode Director
Supervised by the director, they are responsible for overseeing the development of each individual episode. They are often involved in creating the storyboard, a stage at which the episode director can instill their own creativity and vision into the story.

Storyboard Artists
Supervised by the episode director, they are involved in storyboarding, a process that plans out how drawings will transform into what we see on the screen. Storyboards are like "visualized scripts", they are drawn on A-4 paper and divided into five columns indicating cut number, layout, action, dialogue and running time. Storyboard artists are often the first person to visualize the script on paper, so they are crucial in setting up the structure of an anime, which other animators depend on. It's important to note that sometimes storyboard artist and episode director is one and the same, in such case, they report directly to the executive director.

Storyboard sample from AIC website

Storyboard for Ponyo (credit: Halcyon Realms)

Layout Artist
This is the first stage of art production, in which the cuts used for later frames are developed. A cut is defined as a single, unbroken moving image. Within a cut, layout artists (who are often key animators) must figure out the position and poses of characters, flow of character actions, the background details, the camera movements, and even things that are happening off camera. Essentially, the sketch from the storyboard is being drawn to the final size (this is the size that key animators in the next stage work with) and elements of the storyboard are incorporated into the description of the cut.
Layout cut displayed in the artbook of Porco Rosso, a Studio Ghibli film (Credit: Halcyon Realms)

Layout cut for Nana (Credit: Ebay Silvrdrago)

Key Animator
After receiving the cuts developed by layout artists, key animators begin to draw out the fixed points of moving objects (ex: movement of kicking a ball, where the foot land). Frames that mark the key movements in a sequence of actions are developed at this stage. (In Japanese, these frames are called Genga, literally translates to "original drawing")
FMA Edward genga A2
FMA Edward genga A3 (Credit: Ebay anime-haven_net)

2nd Key Animator
They clean up the drawings of key animators. (I'm not sure what they do exactly, all the sources I can find don't say much about the position)

With only structural frames in place, the action sequence appears staccato. The in-between actions or transitional frames that connect the key movements are drawn by inbetween-animators, who are less experienced artists. (These frames are called Douga, literally translates to "Moving Drawing"). Due to the large quantity of drawings and the tedious nature of the task, this is the stage of production that is often out sourced to countries with cheaper labour than Japan. Only when inbetween drawings are finalized, characters start to move in a natural, fluid fashion. Another responsibility of inbetween-animators is tracing the drawings created by key animators. (Refer to Washi's post to see the transition from genga to douga and to the final product.)

Animation Director
Responsible for maintaining the consistency of style. Because there are so many animators developing drawings simultaneously and often on a tight schedule, sometimes the character appearance deviates from the model. It is the animation director's job to correct these drawings and in some cases redraw entire frames if they are not up to standard. It's interesting to note that animation director is a rather misleading title as they do not decide how things should be animated, their main function is to check the drawings made by animators to minimize discrepancy in style. This position is often further branched into specific categories: Mecha Animation Direction, Layout Animation Director, Character Animation Director..etc.

Overall Animation Director
Responsible for tasks similar to animation director, however they work exclusively on correcting faces. (In the credit roll of some anime, there is a position called "Chief Animation Director", I'm not sure is it's the same person)

Director of Photography

Director of Sound

AIC – :: Introduction of anime production ::
Sunrise - The Making of Animation  
Wash's Blog: Animation Production
Production I.G - Anime production process - feature film
Halcyon Realms: Animation.Film.Photography
AnimeSuki: Wao's Post

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