On Sunday at FanimeCon, Hiroyuki Kanbe hosted a panel in which he explained the general process behind producing an anime, and showcased some of his storyboarding and design work on a projector screen. As someone who aspires to be an animator and/or comic artist, and who pretty much gets most of their inspiration from Japanese cartoons like a true weeaboo, it was beyond cool seeing an actual anime director talk about the process and even demonstrate some drawing for us.
The room it took place in was a pretty odd choice though, as it was one of the smaller rooms being used by Fanime. Which was pretty weird considering that Kanbe was like, one of the big guests of honor, and the majority of the people who showed up and waited in line for the thing weren’t even able to go in. I wonder if FanimeCon assumed the same thing as Kanbe, that young’uns are just more interested in idols and voice acting these days instead of animators and directors. I was one of the last people to go in too, luckily enough (maybe even the last.)
I also apologize in advance for the lack of photos in this article, as I wasn’t quick enough to get every photo. Plus there was a point in the presentation where photography was strictly prohibited, but they weren’t very clear when it was okay to take photography; causing me to miss out on taking some photos on things that probably would have been okay. I’m not sure how interesting this article would be with just describing what he showed rather than just showing you all pictures of it, but I hope you all like it anyways.
The first step in producing an anime, he explained, is deciding whether or not it’s going to be an adaption of an existing property, or an original series. After that comes the script and scenario writing, to which on the screen he showed a page from the Silver Spoon script; noting that it was all text. (Note that Kanbe was simply a key animator for Silver Spoon; not a writer or director for it.) Though as he would show later in the presentation, some professionals like to doodle thumbnails of the storyboard right on the script too. So after the script is done, it’s a matter of converting that text into images, in which they start drawing and designing the storyboard.
Hilariously enough, the first storyboard he used as an example was the best scene in all of OreImo, where Manami punches Kirino. The storyboard is the primary reference which the key animators use, and then once all the key animation is done they assemble it all together, and add sound and color.
So a scene at this stage of the process will looks like this, except moving with very limited animation, with sound. He played this scene as it was at this stage of the process for us, though video was prohibited so I can’t show you how it looked exactly. After this he mentioned (as he also did in the Q&A panel the day before,) how the state of the anime industry is spiraling downward; since twenty years ago a lot of animation has been outsourced to Koreans, and the number of talented animators in Japan is dwindling. He added that much of what we see is because of the huge effort put into the directorial and senior staff.
Next he started to talk some more about storyboards, whilst inking a storyboard to the new show he’s working on right now. So not only is he showing us how stuffs done, he’s literally doing a little work for the show as he gives this presentation. Again, this was just beyond cool to see, even if it was just him inking some generic-looking anime girl. This was also the point where photography was explicitly prohibited, by the way. He noted that with a storyboard, drawing the details of the scene don’t really matter so much as conveying the overall layout of the scene, as well as conveying the general flow of movement. After all, it’s just to give key animators reference to work off of, and none of it’s going to be in the final product.
Then he showed a more complete storyboard from the new show he’s working on, which featured characters that look a lot like Kyousuke and Kirino talking together. Then he showed another storyboard which had undergone more editing, featuring the Kyousuke look-a-like shaking hands with “the chief”, a scene which ended up being cut from the show actually. I know “more complete” and “more edited” don’t mean much without pictures, but again, this was when photography was prohibited.
Then he showed another storyboard for OreImo, in which all four of the boxes were filled in by a single drawing of Manami punching Kirino, with a drawing of Kirino vomitting to the side where there’d normally be notes. He said he sometimes likes to drawing storyboards in a more unconventional way like this, where he’ll us uses multiple squares, and doodle in the note section. Since light novels have zero (or at least little to none) visual reference, storyboarding for them is much more challenging.
Now he moved on showing us some of his monster design work that he did for Devil Survivor 2: The Animation, including Itsumade and Byakko designs, plus a beefy humanoid monster I don’t know the name of. He said contrary to how a lot of anime fans prefer to draw cute girls, Kanbe actually likes drawing beefy, muscular dudes more. Though after that he assured us that he can still draw cute girls once he showed us his design for the pixie creature.
Then he showed some key animation he did for Viper’s Creed, including the character Ulla Chiaki looking at the audience and giving an evil-looking smirk. In addition to beefy guys, Kanbe also quite enjoys drawing characters with a devious or evil look to them.
Then he showed the dubbing room of the studio, with the sound staff sitting in front of some machinery and a glass wall, which behind that according to Kanbe is where the voice actors would do their work. Finally once the whole project it done, the staff will have a giant party to celebrate. For Silver Spoon, they had a cake sculpture of a pig!
Next up he showed us some “live character design,” in which he started to draw Kuroneko for the audience. The above drawing was done from scratch without any sort of construction lines too, as he said he’s been drawing long enough that he can just draw stuff free hand like that. And he makes it look incredibly easy too. I guess that sort of skill is to be expected from an industry professional like him, but damn is it still impressive to see in action.
Then he drew Kirino for us, giving us an example of how he usually draws for a storyboard. The major difference is that instead of drawing completely freehand, for storyboards he usually will use construction lines to start off; in the image above you can faintly see a circle and crosshair, for example. He also said one important thing that key animators need to understand intuitively is good balance when drawing characters. To inspiring artists in the room, he advised that we look at a variety of things while drawing.
And especially when do key animation, it’s also important to understand the flow of movement, and to be able to visualize it as you draw. Talent not withstanding, he said, it takes the average person ten years of drawing to get to professional level. Which I find an interesting estimate, since online I hear a lot of people say it’ll take three years of hardcore studying and practicing eight hours a day to get to pro level, so I wonder how many hours a day Kanbe was factoring in there.
In Japan, he explained, there’s currently a dirth of animators because there’s no money in it these days, and he feels most young people are more interested in pursuing a career in becoming an idol or voice actor. He encouraged those with the passion and courage to become an animator to pursue it, and wished them good luck. Thank you Kanbe, I’ll never forget your words.
After this as the panel was almost over, they held a quick five minute Q&A sessions, which despite the limited time yielded yet more interesting answers from Kanbe. Just like with my post on the Q&A panel, keep in mind that these are all paraphrases of what the interpreter said:
Q: Was there any point in your life where you felt discourages, like you would never become an animator?
A: Definitely. Before pursuing a career I had a lot of worries for whether or not I would become an animator, but I just kept drawing anyways.
Q: Within the script, will you describe the scenery and the dialogue, or the just the dialogue?
A: There’s definitely very general and sweeping descriptions of the scenery, but nothing too graphical.
Q: I’ve noticed a lot of key animations use various different colors and colored paper. What exactly is the purpose of that?
A: It’s to show who worked on the key, and to distinguish whether it’s an original or an edited key. For example yellow would be a key done by the art director himself.
Q: What about pink or blue paper?
A: The colors used vary between different studios. There’s no industry standard for what color paper to use.
Q: What’s easiest to adapt, light novels, manga, or an original anime?
A: Manga already has plenty of visuals, so it’s the easiest to work with by far.
Q: Are you ever overly critical of your own work? And if so how do you work around that?
A: Whenever we’re working on a project we just do the best we can. All the time we’ll look back at a finished product and point out things that we could have done differently or better, but we’ll just tell ourselves it was the best we could do at the time and move on.
Lastly after the Q&A session, they had a group rock-paper-scissors battle with Kanbe, and the last one standing won the Kuroneko drawing that he did. I lost in the first round, but that was fun. And that concluded the panel.
“Thank you Kanbe, I’ll never forget you’re words.”
Man, I’m so evil.
But seriously, awesome write up. It’s an example of just how anime is today (with his comments on how things have changed from 20 years ago to today), and why most are really bad — lots of animation to work on, outsourced animation, and long hours, among other things. The answer at the the end where he says they just do the best they can seems telling, since they don’t have much time. Well overall though it definitely seems like this was an experience, even though it is the director of Oreimo haha.
Yeah, it certainly was an experience. It was a good reminder that even if a director has worked on stuff I’m not a big fan of, they still have to be awfully talented and skilled to land a job as a director in the first place. (Z-grade anime like Mars of Destruction notwithstanding.)
It also made me think more about Scamp’s blog post about how he’d be less mean in his posts if he knew anime directors could actually read his stuff. Since like I said in my write-up for Kanbe’s Q&A panel, it’s a bit harder to really dislike a show like OreImo when you see the director in person, and see that he’s just another cool guy trying to make otaku’s dreams come true. Granted, it also helps that OreImo wasn’t that bad of a show until the last few episodes; I was even a fan of the first season. And either way, it was still a rather well produced show.
And yeah, although I was already sort of aware of these issues, his comments on the state of the anime industry really opened my eyes to how bad things are. I mean, just hearing a director himself say that the industry is “spiraling downward” really hammers home the point. I hope the industry gets it act together before it meets Kanbe’s prediction of anime dying out as a genre.
Good point about his last answer. I just took it to mean something any writer or artist would struggle with, but I can see why it’d be especially relevant to an anime project where they have less time and money to work with.
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