Leaving the scaffolding in place

by dm00

Schmaltzy song, maybe, but I like the technique in this short (3 min) animation, and the way it leaves hints of the scaffolding in place:

I’ve long been interested in the scaffolding.  And it’s pretty easy to get a close look at the scaffolding behind anime.

As everyone knows, back in the day, anime (and animation) fans would collect cels from their favorite cartoons.  There was something (literally) awesome in holding a piece of a show you love.  It’s especially nice if you know the episode and the scene, and nicer still if you get the background as well.

A pensive moment for Yamamoto Yohko

or get the drawing that is the basis for the cel:

Even though these are likely the work of some anonymous animator, and never touched by Akiyuki Shinbo, they still contain a little magic.

Those days are gone with the acetate sheets the artists used.

Now everything is done on computer, with only the roughest sketches committed to paper, which are scanned, then cleaned up on the computer.

Simoun is one extreme

Kino's Journeys is in the middle

And Mushishi is old school in its meticulous neatness.

The upside is that there are so many of these drawings done, and they’re so disposable, that you can find them for a fraction of the price that cels used to command.  Also, I imagine the money is more likely to end up in the hands of actual underpaid animators and not people who stole the cels from the studios.

They’re so cheap, sometimes you can get a bunch of them from the same scene:

Chiwa Saito in an earlier stationery-obsessed role (if it doesn't move, click on it)

Mayuko greets NieA's latest creation (if it's not animated, click on it)

You don’t even have to haunt con dealer’s rooms or auction places: in Japan they also  publish the story-boards of many films (and sometimes even entire TV series like Evangelion) as books.

Yes, the storyboards for eps 25 and 26 look pretty rushed.

I first sought out the Eva storyboards because I wanted to see if, or how, the shows changed from their original conception to their actual execution (a meaningful exercise after the original video release, rendered a bit moot by the various directors’ cuts, which restored the missing footage).

I wish they’d done that for Serial Experiments: Lain (they did publish the script for the series — it’s even still in print).

Something I’d like to get (but they were only released as part of limited edition releases of his films, and were beyond my budget) are Satoshi Kon’s storyboards, which are stunningly detailed:

<em>Tokyo Godfathers</em>

Good heavens — he did this for the entire film (and these pages are actually relatively skimpy on the details).

Most of the Ghibli works have storyboard collections that are readily available (in some cases, you can watch the entire film in storyboard form).

For Ponyo, Miyazaki went all-out:

I didn't care much for the movie, but I'm very tempted by the script.

Usually his storyboards only have one or two colors.

You used to be able to get Nadesico: Prince of Darkness in the form of two CDs containing the entire soundtrack (voices and sound-effects, not just background music), plus a volume of the storyboards.  It was oddly fun to “watch” the movie, turning the pages of the storyboard volume while listening to the actors.

The Ghibli films also have The Art of… series, with production sketches and concept art — but not enough of it.  The Art of Nausicaa is the best of those, I think, because it contains several sketches of Miyazaki’s early concepts for Nausicaa and her world.  It still leaves me wanting more.  The magazine Animage used to publish special issues for series and films, called “Roman albums” (I don’t know why).  Those also often had lots of early concept sketches.  Books like that still come out.  These also have another form of scaffolding that’s still inaccessible to me — lengthy interviews of the artists and directors talking about how they approached building the films.  Someday I’ll read Japanese well enough to make my way through them.

4 Responses to “Leaving the scaffolding in place”

  1. 1 Washi December 16, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Nice pictures in this article. It’s nice to finally see people starting to pay a bit more attention to the creative work that goes into making anime. Satoshi Kon’s storyboards are indeed amazingly detailed.

    Might be a bit of misunderstanding about how anime is made from this article though.. While the animation is ran digitally, and now painted digitally as opposed to hand painting/inking, the drawing work is still on paper (and the cleaning up-too). In most cases, the key animators draw their frames, with instructions for in-between animators. In-between animators generally have the task of retracing these drawings (as well as drawing the in-between frames) so that the clean, retraced drawings can then be directly scanned. So it isn’t just the roughest sketches done on computer. Of course, some animators draw digitally, but generally commercial anime is hand-drawn.

    • 2 dm00 December 16, 2010 at 10:54 am


      I think there’s a range of practices — and it may also be changing with the passage of time. The NieA sketches are pretty clean, but they date from the early days of computer-based production, so the in-betweeners were still practicing the techniques they learned doing cels (what ended up on the screen in NieA actually had a retro heavy-outline look at times). Kino is not too far into the process, but already the distance between the paper drawings and the final image has grown (and outlines in the final Kino product are pretty muted). Then the fairly-late-in-the-transition-to-computer Simoun drawings are almost shocking in their crudity on paper, especially contrasted with the final product.

      Serial Experiments Lain was still primarily cel animation, but was interesting because there the animators were striving for a post-cel look. Lain’s distinctive look has never really been duplicated. One gets the impression of a lot of animators getting new computer toys and playing with what they could do.

  2. 3 Washi December 16, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    There are a range of practices, and some animators can sometimes get away with using their own approach. I think Ryo-chimo drew some of his scenes digitally and used Flash. But for the vast majority of commercial anime the approach is fundamentally the same.

    The differences you describe are largely due to the stage of the drawings along the road to animation. The drawings with frames are the original drawings of the key animators, and the rest are all further down the track having been cleaned. The differences between Kino and Simoun is due to the difference in style of the animators. The job of the key animators ( generally) has basically remained unchanged for

    But yeah in the early days of digital, there was a very different look compared with filmed cel animation. Best example is Cowboy Bebop. Sunrise experimented with digital in that episode
    Where Faye is taken into a cult (Brain Scratch or something?). It’s appearance is very different from other episodes.

    And now we have Studio 4Cs new Berserk anime, which will be entirely drawn on computer. Personally I hope anime remains hand drawn for some time because their are visuals you just couldn’t get in computer.

    If you’re interested in animators and animation please follow my sakuga tag on my blog! I’m actually planning on doing a big post on how anime is made soon.

  3. 4 wah December 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Good to see some people out there give a crap about this stuff.

    If I wasn’t so held back my monetary constraints, I’d raid Mandarake like a motherfucker for this shit.

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