Studio tour of Yamato 2202’s CG production company Sublimation
A detailed explanation arises of Cosmo Tiger Version K
Published by Gigazine, October 31, 2018. See the original article here.
Read part 1 of this interview here.
The CG production company Sublimation announced new capital and a business alliance with Sunrise, the anime production company that handles the Gundam series, on September 29, 2018. They are involved in a number of works including Yamato 2202, Love Live! Sunshine!! And The Wizard’s Wife.
From left: Yuuto Uwabo, Taichi Kimura, Yasushi Honma
This time, we had an opportunity to interview CGI Director Taichi Kimura, Project Manager/CG Animator Yuuto Uwabo, and CG Designer Yasushi Honma as Chapter 6 Regeneration Chapter was about to premiere in theaters. Our main guide was Mr. Uwabo, seen at left in the photo.
The 4th Floor: around the Yamato production team
Kimura: This is the team making Space Battleship Yamato. There aren’t many, but there is some outsourcing to a few other companies overseas.
Interviewer: In your March 2017 interview with D Storm, you said “about ten to fifteen people.” Do you still have the same number of people for Chapter 6?
Kimura: That’s right. It’s being made with the same basic number of people.
Interviewer: Since the number of ships that appears is steadily increasing, I thought the number of staff members would increase along with it.
Kimura: Of course, I’d like to have a lot of people (laughs), but we somehow manage with this.
Interviewer: Isn’t it tough without more people?
Kimura: Management gets tougher. But it gets easier for people to leave as we get closer to the end. The experience is different and the orders start to decrease.
Interviewer: Are these the same team members who did Chapter 1?
Kimura: There are a few new faces, but they’re mostly the same.
Interviewer: Indeed, as they accumulate more and more experience, it gets easier later on.
Kimura: If it was like this at the beginning…I don’t know what we’d do. (Laughs) We were dying for the first six months. (Laughs) But recently a lot of people have been bouncing back really well.
Interviewer: Are changes in technology a part of those skills, or was it something you established back at the beginning?
Kimura: It takes a lot of time to get used to it. A newcomer may be accustomed to CG, but they need to get accustomed to the taste of a specific project. That’s also a skill.
Interviewer: They gradually get the taste of a project.
Kimura: That’s right. It’s hard to get it right away when you start.
Interviewer: Is there anyone who came in for Yamato and grew up all the way through Chapter 6?
Uwabo: I didn’t come in at the start of Yamato, but here’s someone who joined up in midstream. Mr. Matsumoto, Yamato is your first project, right?
Matsumoto: That’s right.
Uwabo: He started at the Nagoya studio as an intern, then came to Tokyo and is working hard as a full-time employee.
Interviewer: I see.
Kimura: He’s only worked on Yamato so far.
Interviewer: And does it have the feeling of, “Just a little more Yamato”?
Uwabo: That’s right. Our team currently has two student interns.
Tokyo, Sendai, and Nagoya buildings, each containing an office of Sublimation.
Interviewer: You said Mr. Matsumoto is from Nagoya, and Sublimation has studios in three places; Tokyo, Sendai, and Nagoya. Why these three?
Uwabo: As for Nagoya, there was a company that used to work on projects for pachinko machines while also cooperating with schools and lecturers, and since I had a relationship with schools for interns, I opened a studio there. I already had people to collaborate with, so setting it up went quite smoothly.
Kimura: Mr. Koishikawa (Sublimation’s managing director) has a relationship with Sendai.
Uwabo: And because there was an invitation for companies to revive the area after the Tohoku Earthquake, that’s how the studio was formed.
Interviewer: I see, there are various relationships at work.
Editor’s note: Further information about Nagoya and Sendai was provided by President Jun Koishikawa. There were few competitors, so it was easy to secure talented people, and Nagoya and Sendai were chosen after many students were found in those locations. It’s also important to have convenient access, and travel time to Tokyo by bullet train is about the same for each.
Uwabo: We have about 20 people in Nagoya and 5 or 6 in Sendai. Basically, Tokyo runs the main projects, shot work, and modeling work.
Kimura: That’s right. There are two people working on Yamato in Nagoya. Each project feels like it’s on “remote control.”
Interviewer: I see, that’s how it is. You come to the Tokyo studio as a baseline.
Uwabo: I keep both my eyes open, but there are still some losses. It’s best to have everyone in one place, but some people’s circumstances don’t allow them to come to Tokyo. Also, there are some exchanges with Chukyo Television in Nagoya. The teaser site for the original work Shikizakura launched recently. (This refers to a 2020 TV anime series for Chukyo TV, co-produced by Sublimation.)
Interviewer: Is it difficult to exchange data between remote locations?
Kimura: Not really.
Uwabo: The line speed is pretty fast, so we don’t have much trouble.
Interviewer: If you’re a company that makes CG, is there an overwhelming amount of image data to be handled?
Uwabo: Sure there is. (Laughs)
Kimura: The delivery data gets really huge, so we thought it was going to be hard with Xebec. (2202’s animation studio)
Interviewer: That means you send a huge amount of data for every episode.
Kimura: There are some very heavy shots. There are a lot of materials. 10GB and so on…
Uwabo: The heaviest was about 50GB, wasn’t it?
Interviewer: For one shot?
Uwabo: Just one shot.
Kimura: With compression.
Uwabo: That was a particularly heavy shot. Most shots are around 1 or 2GB, but of course there are a lot of explosions and a lot of ships. The more you have, the more it will increase.
Kimura: Because the materials accumulate.
Interviewer: With such circumstances, Yamato is basically heavy, isn’t it…?
Kimura: (Laughs) That’s right, and the cinematographer says, “Why do you send such heavy things?” but it can’t be helped, right? (Laughs)
Interviewer: It can’t be helped. You certainly can’t reduce the number of ships that appear.
Uwabo: You can’t shoot a beam without an explosion.
Interviewer: I guess not, huh? (Laughs)
Uwabo: And if there’s an explosion, I want to see flying debris…then the amount of data goes up.
Interviewer: And I would think that when the amount of data goes up, it adds production time. From that point of view, when Director Habara says, “about this much” do you reduce it and say, “only this much”?
Uwabo: Basically, we don’t do that. If the rendering time goes up, we can lower the resolution a bit and make it go a little faster.
Kimura: We have ways of doing that. Sometimes we managed it with the power of the rendering server at my house.
Uwabo: He means when we were in a worst case scenario and in a real jam.
Kimura: Perhaps I did it using abilities within myself even I didn’t know about. (Laughs)
Uwabo: What Mr. Kimura doesn’t know is that was because even the provisionally-rendered stuff he did often had no quality issues and made it through the check as-is.
Interviewer: Perhaps you could say that. (Laughs)
Kimura: If you look carefully, there probably aren’t any! But now I’m nervous that there are. (Laughs)
Interviewer: Since everything was checked and okayed by Mr. Kimura and then checked by the director, it must be fine. By the way, the air is getting warm in here. Is it from the PCs everyone is using?
Uwabo: It could be. These PCs have decent specs. Basically, 32GB of memory is required.
Interviewer: Ah, got it.
Kimura: Sometimes 32GB isn’t enough.
Uwabo: The NVIDIA Quadro 600 is the center of the graphics board. The Quadro 2000 is becoming the main thing lately. The basics are standardized in Quadro. The CPU system is an Intel Core i7 6 core, and since the 6 core wasn’t available for a while, it was set up so some people used a 4 core.
Interviewer: Do the PCs run all right in the summertime? Do you have to cool them down?
Kimura: The air conditioner bangs away.
Uwabo: The temperature gets pretty high, doesn’t it? We moved to a new building, and the air conditioning has improved. The previous studio was packed with people, and it got so hot in the summer I was fanning myself with my shirt.
Kimura: There was an electric fan in the corner of the room, always turning.
Uwabo: We don’t use it here.
Interviewer: The whole room can warm up when you turn on the electric fan.
Uwabo: It was effective in the middle of the room. The power of the air conditioning breaks down when you get into the corners. Everyone has big monitors lined up on their desks, so they become walls. That’s why the cool air doesn’t spread evenly, and you get that difference in temperature.
Kimura: Hot in the corners.
Uwabo: It gets up there…
Interviewer: Does everyone have one basic display monitor?
Uwabo: They’re usually 27 inches, but the number depends on the person. For someone who has to look at the colors, it’s a little higher, and some use a solid color monitor, too.
Interviewer: When you watch a disc on an NEC, Phillips, or Iiyama monitor, they are not unified. Since you have to align the color calibration, are there any particular problems?
Kimura: I do the calibration.
Uwabo: Also, the CG work for anime isn’t that strict about the color. Depending on the project, the color specs come in with RGB values, so we make it according to that.
Kimura: With Yamato, effects are the area where I really want everything to be aligned.
Uwabo: It’s a tough spot, since it creates budget problems for a company.
Interviewer: It’s hard to unify with large-scale displays from the same maker…
Kimura: But for those in charge of effects, the monitors with more reliable color are preferred. There are a lot of differences between color and background.
Interviewer: Indeed, there are such circumstances.
Uwabo: Over here on this desk is the body of a Type 2 Mobile Space Armor made with a 3D printer.
Kimura: There’s a guy we outsource to named Tetsuya Watanabe, who has a 3D printer. He made that and sent it to us.
Uwabo: He’s also the one who made the Andromeda glasses the director wore at an event.
At left: 3D-printed Andromeda glasses, photo posted on Twitter by Tetsuya Watanabe.
At right: Houko Kuwashima (Yuki) at the May 2018 advance screening for Chapter 5.
Interviewer: Oh! 3D printers are amazing, aren’t they?
Uwabo: Mr. Watanabe was also responsible for the 3D modeling of the Type 2 Mobile Space Armor. He said, “I also gave this a try” and then he sent it. (Laughs)
Interviewer: It’s amazing, huh?
Uwabo: He printed a smaller version and gave it Assistant Director Kobayashi for Winter Wonderfest, and he painted it up for display.
Mobile Armor and Cosmo Tiger II models displayed at the 2018 Winter Wonder Festival
Interviewer: Huh. When I look closer at it, the surface certainly appears to have the pattern you get from a 3D printer when it’s output. It’s common to use a little bit of that to make a plastic model look better.
Uwabo: But its mobility wasn’t really considered, so it doesn’t move much. The arm moves a little.
Interviewer: If it was moveable, you could totally make this a product for sale.
Kimura: Mr. Watanabe convinced Mr. Honma to buy a 3D printer. I took home all the things we output when we moved offices.
Honma: I made a Cosmo Tiger I and a Cosmo Tiger II
Cosmo Tiger I model displayed at the 2018 Winter Wonder Festival
Kimura: The Kanada pass version, or the regular one?
Honma: Both of them.
Uwabo: Director Habara was happy. He said, “Whoah, this is great” and took it with him. (Laughs) When you draw storyboards, it’s different if you have a solid object for reference. The thing is, the plastic model kits come out a while before, so it seems we end up saying “Well then…” and use Mr. Honma’s output for reference.
Honma: The thing that compelled me to make it was Director Habara muttering, “I want it.” (Laughs)
Interviewer: How often do you hear, “I want it”?
Honma: I haven’t done any new modeling lately.
Uwabo: They’re all present now. There have been a lot since the Cosmo TIger II.
Honma: A Cosmo Tiger II and a Dessler ship, right? I made a Ginga for Assistant Director Kobayashi.
Interviewer: We’ve also heard “I want it” from Mr. Kobayashi. (Laughs)
Honma: Once in a while. (Laughs) If you watch Twitter, he’ll say, “I got this output.”
From Makoto Kobayashi’s Twitter feed, January 2018
Interviewer: Oh, that’s what it was. At the head of a table or on a desk by the wall, they’d all be lined up in a row…
Uwabo: Those were at Mr. Kimura’s and my seats. At my seat, all of those were ones that I built.
Interviewer: Oh, wow! Can I get a picture?
Uwabo: Please do. It’s easy to have a meeting when you have a solid object. As soon as I bought it, I built it and painted it.
Mr. Uwabo’s desk. The display at upper left became an exhibit space.
Interviewer: It’s much more convincing when it’s a real thing, isn’t it? “Will this appear?”
Uwabo: Yes, it has great impact.
Kimura: After checks, I get modeling lectures from Assistant Director Kobayashi.
Uwabo: We get advice like, “You should do it more like this here.” (Laughs) Thanks to that, my latest Ginga model came out beautifully.
Interviewer: We’ve arrived at your desk, so I have a general work question. How long do you sit down in a given day?
Kimura: Generally about ten to twelve hours.
Uwabo: It depends on the person, but it’s basically that.
Interviewer: Almost half the day sitting…
Uwabo: I don’t stay overnight, but I can get busy and may have to take the last train. If I come in at noon and take the last train back, it’s about 12 hours, isn’t it?
Storyboards for Episodes 21 and 22.
Interviewer: Isn’t it hard to just sit for long periods of time?
Uwabo: I bought this chair as a personal item for that. It’s my own property, so I wanted to buy a good one. Thanks to that, it became quite comfortable.
Interviewer: Is there some technique for sitting and working for all that time that amounts to, “I’m saved because I do this.”
Kimura: Mine is taking off my shoes. It’s bare feet and slippers in this office.
Interviewer: I went barefoot as soon as I got here.
Uwabo: If there’s a little time available, I try to stretch. You freeze up if you spend a long time with the same posture.
Interviewer: There’s a little space next to the Yamato group right now. Will it be immediately filled by a desk?
Kimura: Well, there are plans to increase the number of people.
Uwabo: My previous studio filled up and I borrowed a larger space, so there are still many vacant seats.
Kimura: I’d say it will take about three years to fill this end of the floor.
Uwabo: We’re still using only about half of the floor above this one.
Kimura: But it’s going to increase there, too. (Laughs)
Interviewer: When you showed me the digital materials a little while ago, the number of folders was quite large. I thought it seemed difficult. I’d think each file has a lot of volume. What’s the total storage capacity of the company?
Kimura: I did a backup the other day…
Uwabo: We use part of it to ship delivery data, but altogether it’s about 12TB.
Kimura: Yeah, backup was hard when we moved.
Uwabo: It took a whole week.
Interviewer: A week!
Uwabo: I started the backup on the last day before moving, from the point where I finished work. I copied the episodes that are currently in progress, and proceeded in order. It overlapped with the time we were working on Chapter 6, so we couldn’t stop.
Interviewer: 12TB of backup…
Kimura: This was partly because our moving time had shifted.
Uwabo: It was related to the construction of this new office.
Interviewer: How do you usually store data?
Uwabo: We rely on a RAID server. When the amount of data is bulky and encroaches on our free space, we do a backup and delete it.
Kimura: The base data is mirrored on the FTP server for outsourcing. That’s also sort of like a backup.
Uwabo: That’s right. Since we don’t transfer the data of all shots to the outside contractors, the situation being that they only have the shots that they’re individually responsible for while we have our shots, while they aren’t technically mirrored, things like the Yamato 3D model and the gun turret movement base data are uploaded, so they’re effectively mirrored.
Interviewer: We just recently moved our office, and it was hard to deal with the company server.
Uwabo: We originally used an 18TB server (with 24TB total capacity) and I thought that would be enough, but there were quite a lot of projects running and the amount of data increased. When we moved, we increased it to two 38TB servers (48TB total capacity).
Interviewer: Two at 38TB!
Uwabo: We separated the top floor and the bottom floor to make use of the existing server. We moved all the Yamato data to the new server and resumed work.
Kimura: When it used to be just one server, the capacity display was always turning red. “I’m full!”
Uwabo: When that happened, I’d have to clean out unneeded projects. “This is no good! Delete data!” (Laughs) After a project was over, I backed it up and wiped it.
Kimura: Now we can afford all of it. (Laughs)
Uwabo: But in a year or two, I think it will start saying “Not enough space” again. After all, the amount of data is bulky, and it’s all full HD size, so that’s pretty tough.
Kimura: It can’t be helped.
Uwabo: But we still haven’t done any 4K work yet.
Kimura: 4K is rough…
Uwabo: I’m afraid to ask, “Will the amount of data increase even more?”
Kimura: There are also things like 8K and 10K, too.
Yamato 2202 Bonus Interview
Interviewer: I’d like to go back to you taking over 3D models and combat. There was some talk about it, but at the time of transfer, were there any orders like, “Be careful with this” or did they simply hand over the data?
Uwabo: There were text memos for each model. As for the effects, I got an instruction like, “At such time, this effect uses something with this color,” and I remade them in-house. Since it couldn’t be understood at all without data, I wrote it out in detail and saved it.
Interviewer: In the D Storm interview, there was a story where you said, “In anime, a pass [flyby] can be exaggerated and deformed, and it’s a huge amount of work to create a model to match this, so it was convenient to cover it with lattice deformation.” Do you use this lattice variation on the Cosmo Tiger Version K [Kanada pass]?
Kimura: The Version K was deformed with a lattice at first, but as its handling has become heavier, I solidified the Version K’s lattice as something that morphs up to a certain point.
Translator’s note: The K in version K stands for Kanada, specifically animator Yoshinori Kanada who brought his unique style to the Cosmo Tigers in Be Forever Yamato. The “Cosmo Tiger Version K” is a CG model that changes shape to match his style.
Uwabo: Since it’s a fighter squadron, a considerable number of them can appear on screen, and the small data for each one can become quite heavy. First, this is the regular design.
Kimura: This is the design model.
Uwabo: The story was, “We want to exaggerate the pass” and it became the Version K we mentioned earlier.
Kimura: We got a request from Director Habara to do it this way as its final form, but depending on the shot there are times when you can’t fly the Version K, so that’s when we change its value. For example, the nose would hit the floor if it remained as the Version K during a launch scene, so the feeling is that it becomes the Version K in flight.
Uwabo: The numerical value changes as it approaches from the background. It changes from normal (0% transformation) to Version K (100% transformation) during the shot. If it went from 0% to 100% suddenly, it would be clearly obvious and it would be confusing. Sometimes we tinker with the values in a shot. Something like 25%, 50%, 75% in sequence.
Kimura: It became much lighter as a morph, and it could be used in various places.
Interviewer: If I show you a 100% Version K, I feel like you’re already familiar with it. “Isn’t it supposed to be like this?”
Kimura: But it’s a lie. (Laughs)
Interviewer: When you move the slider from 0% to 100%, it certainly is quite different.
Uwabo: Basically, it’s at 0% in the hanger.
Interviewer: It gets so exaggerated.
Kimura: Actually, we recently fixed it a little. (Laughs) It’s at a level that I almost didn’t understand, but when I had something I wanted to discuss with Director Habara and Assistant Director Kobayashi about using the Version K data for a plamodel, I said “I just want to fix this here a little,” and I made some fine adjustments, so its current state is “Version K2.”
Uwabo: The upper surface of the fuselage became straightened and the throttle at the center of the fuselage got a little tighter. I don’t think that would be understood even if you saw it in a shot.
Kimura: It’s a really fine level of adjustment, but my commitment is, “If this gets output as a plamodel, I’ll correct it a little.”
Interviewer: If the shape is fixed when it appears as a plamodel, I think it will be understood.
Uwabo: As for when the Version K2 appears…does the timing work out so it comes up in the latter half of Chapter 6?
Kimura: In Chapter 7.
Uwabo: The point is that it looks like the “Final Chapter Version.” (Laughs)
Interviewer: It feels sort of special.
Kimura: But I don’t think anyone will notice. If I didn’t point it out, we’d certainly miss it.
Uwabo: You might be able to compare it if there are two shots that look exactly the same, since the impression changes with a slightly different angle, but I think it would be very difficult for people to see it and say, “I understand the difference!”
Kimura: Or they may call out a place that isn’t different and say, “That’s different!” (Laughs)
Interviewer: The story goes that the large Gatlantis battleship was modified considerably at the design stage. Have you made any changes?
Uwabo: The basics are solid. However, as an example of changing the impression, the color of the main battleship’s bridge went to orange in Chapter 5. It entered a state of war, so the bridge went to emergency lighting.
Kimura: The Andromeda also changes color.
Uwabo: In the case of Andromeda, it was an adjustment in taste to light the windows of the flagship. But Andromeda isn’t in a state of emergency, so it’s not orange. There’s no fiddling with the basic design.
Kimura: I like to make them slightly deform when they pass by the camera. It’s a feeling I usually give them.
Interviewer: Deform! Is that normal?
Kimura: I do it when I do it. I don’t do it when it can’t be seen.
Uwabo: I feel like we’re not putting enough into it if the ship doesn’t feel like it’s three times longer. (Laughs)
Interviewer: Director Habara has said, “Rather than showing what is mathematically accurate in a shot, I want to show things clearly.”
Uwabo: In Episode 1, there’s a shot where the large battleship gets a bit longer.
Interviewer: It is pretty long, after all.
Uwabo: In Episode 2, there’s a shot where the Cosmo Tiger II gets longer. It gets longer when it’s flying toward the camera while in a flight exercise. Some may notice it, but it’s only in one or two frames.
Interviewer: But the overall impression changes even if it’s a frame or two.
Uwabo: The momentum changes, doesn’t it?
Kimura: Its “Whoosh!” comes out. (Laughs)
Uwabo: Director Habara and Assistant Director Kobayashi often say that the perception of the human eye falls off when we speed things up. Part of their directing theory is, “It will look good if we dare to make it visible over a longer time.” I hear various things like that when we do the 3D checks.
Kimura: We’ve made things five times or even ten times longer, and we can’t judge it in-house, so we ask, “Which do you prefer?” And it’s usually, “The longer one.” And even if we think to prepare something at half the length, it’s “The long one!” (Laughs) “All right then! I’m making anime! If they do it with drawings, then it’s OK.”
Interviewer: In Mr. Kimura’s interview in a movie program book, a story came up about the near-miss scene with Yamato and Andromeda, that a shot was five seconds in the storyboard, and at Sublimation’s judgment it was doubled to ten seconds. As you mentioned earlier, the nose stretched as it passed the camera. Did you make it by deciding, “I’ll do it this way” ahead of time?
Uwabo: We asked the director, “What kind of stance do you want to take?” “What kind of visual do you like?” We’ve often heard, “It’s cool to stretch this” and “You should stretch that,” so several of the workers shared their opinions in the office beforehand, and there were many examples of stretching in fast takes. We didn’t really know what the preference was at first, so we felt our way through it.
Kimura: At the beginning, we didn’t know whether we could do it or not.
Uwabo: Some directors hate that kind of thing. There was also a part like, “Whatever we do, let’s have faith in what we make and then decide from there.”
Interviewer: Were there a lot of instances where you varied from what Mr. Habara was seeking, from the “faithfulness” that he preferred?
Uwabo: Because Director Habara was originally an animator, he incorporates the “drawing of lies” method by exaggeration with anime-like movement. There are a lot of things like that in his directing, mostly done from his instructions. Assistant Director Kobayashi gives us proposals to solve problems, such as giving it more energy. We inherit the experience Director Habara got from drawing anime as an animator, and there are places where we take the “drawing lies” method and say, “Let’s do it on the 3D side.”
Interviewer: When you got to Chapter 6, did you come to fully understand, “This is how it should be done”?
Uwabo: There are a lot of places where I know something like, “We’ll definitely get an OK from the director if we do it this way.” (Laughs)
Interviewer: “These are Mr. Habara’s key points.”
Kimura: Well, as the guy running the camera, I have a pretty good grasp of his taste.
Uwabo: We have fewer retakes these days.
Kimura: At first, even the director was nervous, wondering “Can we do the finishing work properly?” but it feels like he may have come to trust us and the okays became easier to get. Before the editing, even while we only had a rough performance, he’d say “It’s okay to do the editing.” I think the check itself became different.
Uwabo: It’s like “feeling at home.”
Kimura: Yeah, “feeling at home with a live sense.”
Uwabo: Occasionally, we think “The shot would look better like this” and “This angle tells the story better,” and the visuals stray from the storyboard.
Interviewer: The storyboard is a blueprint for anime, but there are things like that, too!
Uwabo: There are. After the storyboard is created, there is talk at the meeting stage when they place the order for 3D, and new storyboards with revisions might come up at a later date.
Interviewer: You change things at the meeting and say, “This is the way to go”?
Kimura: If a new effect comes in after the storyboard, there are things like, “What do we do now?”
Uwabo: Sometimes there’s a really rough storyboard that says, “This is the feeling of the effect” but if we still don’t understand it then Assistant Director Kobayashi may send an image that says, “Like this” and “We trust you with it.”
Kimura: It may also be better to have a meeting to discuss it after seeing it.
Uwabo: For example, there might be things like, “I want that plasma to be sparking” or “This effect doesn’t need to spark.” With Ginga’s firing scene that’s in the Chapter 6 trailer, there were sparks but they said, “It shouldn’t have that impression” so we took the sparks out. For effects we might make 3-4 patterns with subtle differences, and ask “Which one is the closest?” and go through that process a few times to refine the image.
Interviewer: Going back to something you said earlier, when the number of people increases I’d think it would become difficult to manage communication successfully. Is there any kind of “invention to make it work”? Something that gets everyone to gather in a single place?
Kimura: Well, it’s better to gather in one place if you can. Other than that, we try to arrange a Skype meeting every week or two.
Uwabo: We’re outsourcing to more people who work out of their homes, so we exchange information through Skype video calls more often.
Kimura: The people we outsource to will come in for checks, too. You don’t lose any nuance in the message game if they come in directly.
Uwabo: Instead of communicating in writing or a message, the director’s message of “I want to do it this way” comes through to them.
Interviewer: Does that mean they talk with the director?
Uwabo: We use our meeting room for 3D checks with the director, the assistant director, the episode director, Animation Producer Mr. Komatsu from Xebec, and the director and sub-director from Sublimation and others who work with me. When it’s your turn to check, you go forward and get retake instructions directly from the director. Or the director can ask, “What’s happening with this?” and the worker answers directly. There’s no time loss like we get when, for example, we send out a movie and get the checkback, and there’s no messenger to filter it. We hear “I want to do it this way” from the director, and we can hear his impressions directly, like “This shot is cool” and “Very good” and the motivation is completely different.
Kimura: Even if you have different opinions, they can be settled on the spot.
Uwabo: When everyone at the top is in one place, we can say, “If you think about the connection and meaning of this shot, I think it’s better to improve it this way,” and then discuss it. It’s a big deal to get it done with no waiting.
Kimura: Different people have different preferences, after all, and unifying the different opinions on the spot is a shortcut to getting an OK.
Interviewer: Do you get advice there like, “You should do it this way here” from Habara and Kobayashi?
Kimura: Yes. The advice is also helpful if the staff people who are participating have similar shots.
Uwabo: They can all understand that “They’ll like it because it’s similar” and “This will make it a better visual” and “This is the kind of visual the director prefers.”
Kimura: It’s not just for me, but for all the others who need to study it.
Uwabo: There are many projects where I do checks with the director and the 3D director, and then the staff gets feedback later, but I think we’re truly blessed that everyone on the 2202 3D staff participates in checks, so this project gets a lot of study.
Interviewer: Previously I talked with Director Atsushi Matsumoto about Gatchaman/Infini-T Force, and he said he could do various kinds of lighting since “In CG you’re working with light anyway.” I like live-action as much as anime, so I was very happy that it could be done. I thought it would be difficult for a camera. You can also have hand-drawn anime, but a flicker occurs if you move the camera, so there are parts where the camera speed is slowed down. I’ve heard talk like, “Flickering is fine since it happens even in live-action, so it comes off as convincing.” Have you devised countermeasures for flickering?
Kimura: Flicker can happen when we do a check. We can fine-tune it with color in the photography.
Uwabo: It’s easy to get rid of the flicker when you adjust the contrast, and the compositor has a lot of know-how when it comes to solving the various parts of that.
Kimura: Assistant Director Kobayashi might also give some advice.
Uwabo: We have discussions like, “It’s hard to get rid of it this way.”
Kimura: In the end, the compositor does the adjustment. It’s mostly full-frame, and the flicker will occur if you drop it to 2-frame. It was done by frame-dropping in the beginning, but because there was too much flickering, it gradually became full.
Uwabo: It became full-frame after some checks accumulated, so the image is now released at full frame.
Kimura: Really, double-framing is more like anime, but in the midst of it we asked, “Isn’t full-frame actually better?”
Uwabo: Flickering becomes more rare with full frame than it is with double-framing.
Kimura: Yeah… Even using full frame, when it happens, it happens. (Laughs)
Interviewer: (Laughs) These last comments really ended up going into minute detail, but thank you very much.
Translator’s technical note:
That last exchange about flickering, full-frame, and double-framing discusses the phenomenon of visually integrating CG footage with anime. It goes back to the reality of film running at 24 frames a second and the need to economize animation by drawing less than 24 frames per second. The most common solution is to “double-frame” the animation, meaning 12 images per second, shot two frames at a time. Over the decades, this became an accepted part of the craft and we’ve come to see it as a natural artifact of hand-drawn animation.
CG, on the other hand, renders at “full frame” (24 frames per second) creating a smoother image akin to live-action film. Unfortunately, it can create a mismatch when you edit it together with hand-drawn animation. To reduce the mismatch, anime directors have experimented with frame-dropping; rendering CG at 12 frames a second to look like anime. This process naturally creates “flicker,” or “stutter” in the movement. As we learned here, the 2202 staff tried it at the beginning, but eventually settled on “full framing” for smoother motion. Incidentally, the American animation term for this is “single-framing” or “animation on 1’s.” Since it increases production costs, it is usually reserved for feature films.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.