Introduction to special effects
For anime visuals, special effects are a powerful technique. Here we talk about a variety of special effects with Mr. Hideki Takayama, who has been in charge of special effects for Yamato.
From Yamato The Final Chapter!
In The Final Chapter, different optical special effects were used for the warp of Aquarius, the neutrino defense zone, the Wave-Motion Gun, and laser beams. This is so-called projected light. We’ll begin this lecture with how they are utilized and the story of the effort put into them.
Takayama: First, projected light is a cooperative effort with photography. There’s a lot of density in a shot like that. I convey the image in my head to the photography department, and we do various tests based on that. From them, we choose the best match to the image of the production. That’s the traditional process of making special effects. With Yamato, we try to film the images of Producer Nishizaki.”
Interviewer: The highlight of The Final Chapter is the warp of the giant planet Aquarius.
Takayama: We created many different patterns for that scene. The photography staff did its best to include colors in the warp and the ring patterns. We did different tests with Scanimate [film & video compositing] and para-color [paraffin wax used to selectively block light in photography for compositing]. And you may not notice it, but in the last scenes with Yamato in the water, there was video processing.”
Next issue we’ll introduce each technique one by one!
Introduction to special effects
Finally, we move into professional practice. First, “light,” such as sunlight or a beam. This can be expressed with a brush and processed with photography.
What are the techniques we hear about with “projected light”!?
What are special effects? There are many principles that can be easy achieved by an amateur.
Special effects were originally a form of jargon, but in recent years the term has become known to ordinary people. It is deeply thought that this is the influence of the anime boom that was initiated by Yamato.
Setting aside the introduction of the term, although there are various types of special effects, first and foremost among them are optical effects, composed of so-called projected light.
To explain why the word “optical” is added to special effects, it has its origin in brush processing. When talking about special effects, at the production site it is referred to as the brush shop. (For those who may not know, the brush in question is an airbrush. An airbrush can provide super-realistic illustration with soft-color dyes that resemble light. On the other hand, it is unable to express a strong touch.)
Use of this brush is familiar to anyone who does illustration. After making a mask and blowing paint on it, the color can create an exact form. Because this tool is not an anime specialty, relatively anyone can use it. Cheap ones cost about $40-50, and the effect can be done by eye, so it could be called special effects for amateurs. However, it is very thin because it uses ordinary paint. It can wipe off with even a light finger-touch, and it is technically impossible to restore the damaged part, so care is necessary. In a production company, such an important brush is hung on a carousel for protection.
On Yamato, it is used for such highlights as smoke and clouds. The red radioactive gas in Part 1 was done with a brush. It is possible to express light with a depth that is different from light used in special effects, and also fine particles such as smoke or fog depending on the demands of the day.
Multiple exposure effect
Depending on the device, you can produce fascinating results!
Speaking generally about special effects, projected light is the MVP. This image is seen a lot in special effects. What’s interesting is that in the special effects of a decade ago, things like light rays and shocks were done with animation techniques. In other words, hand-drawn lines that were combined one frame at a time.
In order to carry out projected light processing in the photography stage, I had a hunch the image needed to be overlapped with this special effect’s composite processing.
There are two major methods for depicting a character passing through projected light. One is to place a mask over the character’s cel to skip it [block it from the camera] and project light from under the photography stand. The light is partially blocked in the shape of the character. The basis for this is multiple exposure, and it is referred to as back-lighting or bottom-lighting.
Colored cellophane can be placed over the exposed light around the mask to create a color filter. In a case where light should be projected over the entire surface, it can be done without a mask, but this can cause blurring so it’s a little harder for an amateur. To achieve bottom-lighting, you need a photography stand with lighting underneath. (Untreated glass is also needed for the animation stand, but this is rather expensive for an amateur. There are some constraints, such as when I see the intensity of light and color, negative and positive tones, along with how the light stand is used.
Another big problem with the use of effects is a proper understanding of how to develop the film. You should be prepared to waste a considerable amount of film before you get a feel for it.
There is also something much simpler you can use for special effects in the photography stage, for scenes that involve flowing water. When photographing it, place a sheet of glass smeared with Vaseline over the cel and move it little by little for each frame. This is exactly how an expert does it, so it can easily be done the same way by an amateur. Because the effect can be grasped simply by moving the glass over the image, calculations can be done to some extent.
Based on what we’ve seen recently, it seems there are many people trying to make anime by hand. But it’s almost impossible to achieve professional-grade results at the beginning. Also, when trying recklessly to shoot special effects visuals, there will be some hit and miss. The important thing is careful planning with a script and storyboards, and to determine which technique to use that is within your range.
Ad page for home video and other products from West Cape Corporation. Top: Yamato MVs (Music Videos), Grand Symphony home video. Lower middle: Triton of the Sea, Moon Station Dallos, Future Boy Conan, Final Yamato 70mm edition, Yamato movies, Series 1 on VHS. Bottom: Final Yamato Super Deluxe book, W.C.C. Star Blazers comics.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.