An anime is a fascinating medium that delivers both fun and knowledge to the audiences. We all love great entries such as Rick and Morty, SpongeBob SquarePants from the West, as well as Happy Friends or One Piece from Eastern countries.
As the essential intermediaries of modern society, everyone is more or less consuming specific cartoon productions; however, few of us know the process of producing an entry for this cartoon industry.
Let’s take a look at how an anime is made in this article today; and through understanding the production procedure and all the efforts a team places in one title, we can truly appreciate this medium when we watch more cartoons.
The pre-production is the so-called the ”planning’ stage. Production companies such as Bandai Visual or Alpha Animation are the ones in charge of fronting costs for staffing, broadcasting and distributing the anime. The theme of the cartoon is typically selected from existing manga, comics or novels, which saves time to build up an entire fictional world.
Arranging staff is not an easy job. Although some firms are full of talents who can draw and produce excellent drafts, their styles are most likely to be different from each other. Depending on the form and overall feeling of the anime, the company will need to organise a team that is made of various members of the staff composition from the previous production and fit into the theme of the current project.
After all the staff is ready, the pre-production process will enter the early planning stage. During this step, the studio works on the series composition as well as hiring further staff such as voice-overs, mechanics and costume designers as well as merchandise creators.
Although it can always be altered during the later steps, once the story and the original design for characters and their related items are determined, the pre-production stage is said to be finished.
In this stage, the team will firstly focus on writing the episode scripts. Either one person can do it for the entire series, or a few different writers will follow the supervisor’s guidelines. Both of them have particular benefits and shortages; in the end, all will depend on the budget and the experience of the scriptwriting team.
Before the script is finalised, it needs to be reviewed by the director, producer and possibly the author of the original manga. Some of the authors are more involved to ensure the anime meets their expectations, while others trust the team and leave everything to the studio. For instance, Happy Friends producer Huang Weiming has a reputation in producing great Chinese anime, with the representative series like “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf”. He was fully trusted and then by using his own experience and authority, another great series called “Happy Friends” was made and swept the market.
Storyboarding is a crucial element in the creation of an anime. The episode directors have the most hands-on involvement, and their ideas are presented on a storyboard. The purpose of storyboarding is to offer a visual script to the team, rather than writing in the previous stage. Each block of the storyboard contains the most critical frames and cuts of an episode. The layout is another element when the studio is storyboarding. It provides a further explanation such as setting and positioning of each cut so that it will not confuse other artists in the next production stage.
The animators play the most critical role during this process. Although the computer is widely used as a technology to boost the productivity of producing any animation nowadays, the frames and cuts are still hand-drawn by animators. The industry believes that hand-drawn cartoons express greater individuality than entirely relying on computers, and animators also prefer this traditional method as they feel more comfortable drawing. Furthermore, a hand-drawn cartoon also offers more accessible checking and more convenient correction.
As an anime fan, we should understand the term ‘key animation’ here. Key animators are responsible for drawing these scenes, which provide a distinct feeling or expression compare to others. Although the producer and episode director have a say in how to create a cut, key animators usually have enough freedom in determining the way to express it. With a unique sense and instinct of the animation scenes, a great key animator can improve the quality of the show significantly.
After finishing the key frames, more drawings are required so that they look more fluid, and this is called ‘in-between animation’. It is handled by animators with less experience, which also receive less pay than key animators. Quality and consistency are the essential factors here, and there is usually no space for creativity like key animators. Furthermore, the studio often considers outsourcing this portion of work to other firms to be more cost-effective.
Compositing is the final step in the production procedure. Colouring is involved here, and a digital copy of the work helps ease the process. After that, the studio begins the composition stage through specialised software.
Adding background art and capturing animation is called ‘filming’, though it is significantly different from how ‘filming’ is to a movie. Additional visual effects are also placed via the digital tools for significant impact in specific scenes.
After the composition is done, the anime is ready for the approval and release process, such as timing for broadcasting.
Now we understand how much work is needed for a single episode of animation. High-quality cartoons – such as the Happy Friends – should receive more appreciation. This is not only for their efforts but also for how much this cartoon stimulates the Chinese animation industry to grow and compete internationally.