Knowing more about the process of creating anime can give you greater appreciation and understanding of the medium as an art form and a business. In this article, we'll be going over the basics of the creation of a typical modern TV anime from start to finish. These points will be relatively the same for OVA, ONA, or movie production. We'd also like to clarify that there can be a lot of variation between individual studios and projects. In any case, we hope you enjoy this window into the world of making anime. If you're interested in learning about anime production through an anime, we recommend Shirobako!
ORIGIN – PRE-PRODUCTION PROCEDURES
Before any storyboards or script drafts are made, a lot of pre-production needs to be taken care of first. This beginning process generally goes one of two ways, depending on whether or not the anime is an adaptation of an earlier work, generally a manga or light novel, or an anime original story/concept. In the case of an original work, the production company (or companies as is often the case) will start the planning process which concerns gathering the staff to actually create the anime, finding sponsors and merchandisers to help finance and market the anime, and choosing broadcasters (traditionally large TV networks). If the anime is an adaptation of a manga, light novel, or other property, these initial costs are typically covered by the publisher of the original work. Sometimes anime studios themselves will also be the production company for a series.
Once the core staff is assembled, most importantly the director, producer, and scriptwriter, they begin meeting together to start planning the anime itself. This step is to get a high-level understanding of what they will be doing going forward and typically includes things like setting the production schedule, figuring out budget allocations, character descriptions, and the overall concept and story progression.
Shortly after, character and mechanical designers will be brought in to create designs for the series. If the anime is an adaptation, an important task of the character designer(s) is to simplify the designs to make them better suited to animation while still keeping the essence of the character intact. Some studios will also do location scouting, which is when staff is sent out to real-world locations to sketch and get photographic references for use by the background artists. Concept art is also usually created before the production itself starts to show to broadcasters, sponsors, and sometimes to directly market the anime to the public. With the story, character designs, and schedule set, the studio is ready for production which starts appropriately with the first episode.
POST PRE-PRODUCTION – SCRIPTS & STORYBOARDS
Before the studio starts animation, the script needs to be written. The scriptwriter(s) will first write a synopsis for each episode going off the outline created by the director and other core staff in pre-production and will then write the scripts for each individual episode. Scripts typically go through a few revisions before getting final approval from the director. If it is an adapted work, the scriptwriter(s) will likely have close discussions with the original author to receive their approval.
Once the script is set, storyboarding begins. In most cases, this will be done by the director, at least initially. Storyboarding is when the director, with input from other key staff like the art director, will sketch out each scene of the anime on paper, separating out each cut or important movement. To the sides of each drawing will be the space for the dialogue and sound effects, along with camera moments like pans and zooms and other information like how many frames will be used and the length of each shot in seconds. This storyboard represents the director's vision for the entire project and provides the groundwork for the series that all future work will build on. Most TV anime will also have episode directors who will make their own storyboards for the episodes they are in charge of.
These storyboards will then be used as a reference by the lead animators (or specific layout artists) to create more detailed drawings called layouts that more precisely show how the completed scene will look. In the layouts, the cels (the parts of a scene that are animated, typically the characters or vehicles) and background are colored orange and blue respectively to make the separation clear. After approval, the layouts are given to the art director and their assistants, who will start work on the backgrounds, and the senior animators, who will produce even more detailed drawings, called genga, which finally brings us to the actual animation.
MAKING MAGIC MOVEMENTS – LET'S ANIMATE!
Genga drawings by the lead animators serve as the key frames, basically the most important moments of the animation to show the movement. These drawings are close to what will be seen in the final product and will be used as reference for the other animators to create the remaining frames, called in-between animations. The in-between animations smooth out the motion to make it look more fluid and are done by less experienced animators, often using outsourced labor from countries like Korea and Vietnam. A typical TV production will have about 20 key animators and many more assistants and in-between animators, all of which are led by animation directors which are responsible for making sure the quality of the animation is consistent, sometimes even redrawing entire scenes themselves if there are problems. There are usually animation directors for each individual episode, sometimes there will also be an overall animation director for the entire anime, in which case they are typically the character designer.
The total amount of frames created per episode varies greatly. Most TV anime is generally animated on '2's', which means 1 drawing lasts for two frames (or 12 drawings per second), but sometimes animation is done at 1's (24 frames per second, the same as most movies) or 3's. One episode can range from ~600-700 to 10,000+ drawings to give you an idea of the extreme amount of work animators do.
After everything is checked again, it's time to get the animation scanned and ready for compositing.
PICTURE ASSEMBLY – FILMING & POST-PRODUCTION
All of the animation work so far is usually still done with pencils and paper, but for the rest of the production, the work will be done on computers. We'll mention that some studios start using fully digital processes much earlier, more on that later. With the drawings scanned in, the coloring artists will paint each frame using a specified palette and the cels will be brought into specialized animation software to be combined with the backgrounds.
With the animation cels and backgrounds brought together, the anime is well on its way to completion! The next step is adding visual effects, which includes things like adding glows and shines to magical attacks and weapons, blur and depth and field to create depth, ambient lighting, and other techniques to enhance the visuals.
This is also usually where 3DCG is added, typically for things like cars, mecha, crowds, and special effects; but this varies significantly between individual projects and studios. Entire 3D environments might be created out of traditionally drawn or entirely digital materials to more easily allow for complicated camera movements. Some studios, such as Ufotable, heavily use 3D techniques and technology for references early in production and there are also fully 3D anime like Bubuki Buranki (BBK/BRNK). For a typical, modern anime production, the majority of animation work is still mostly done using traditional 2D techniques, but new technologies are starting to shift more and more tasks into the digital and 3D realm.
With everything finally composited together, the anime is ready for editing. Under the guidance of the director, the editing staff prepares the animation for sound, voices, and music to be added.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? – SOUND & MUSIC
While we have been focusing on the writing and visuals so far, a crucial part of creating anime lies in soundwork. While the music and sound effects can be created at nearly any step of the process, the voice actor dubbing is not usually done until the visuals are largely and completely finished. Although some productions will do initial takes with early footage to inform the animators for things like mouth movements. Unlike in the West, anime voice actors (seiyuu) typically are all together in the same room when recording their lines. This has to do with letting them play off of each other's performances as well as saving money by only needing a single recording studio which are expensive and sometimes hard to book.
As for music, it varies a lot from series to series. Usually, the background music will be handled by a small team of musicians led by a composer or two from an outside company. Sometimes, the music will also heavily involve the voice actors, particularly with the music for the opening (OP) and ending (ED) animations, when the song is supposed to be sung by the characters, as in Love Live! and K-On!. Other times, the music isn't original to the anime and will be licensed from popular artists, usually J-Pop or J-Rock. Rarely, the music for the series will be completely provided by an outside, established band, like The Pillows providing the OST for FLCL. With the dubbing, sound effects, and music, a final sound mix will be created and it's finally getting close to broadcast time!
UNLEASHING THE ANIME – BROADCAST & AFTERMATH
After the last edits have been made to fix up any lingering issues and adding any additional effects, the anime will be further trimmed or extended as necessary to accommodate the commercial breaks and specific time slots of the broadcast schedule(s). Once that is complete, the masters are sent to the broadcast companies for airing and we finally see the finished project! Hooray anime!
Getting back on schedule, we'll clarify a bit more about the process. As we mentioned before, anime production has a schedule that is set by the director and the production and broadcast companies. This schedule is typically very strict with little room for error. Not all of the episodes will be complete before the first broadcast so while the anime is airing the studio will still be hard at work on making sure each episode arrives on schedule, often cutting it dangerously close.
Another point of clarity worth mentioning is that studios will often collaborate with other studios to meet production schedules, which means having to coordinate between multiple companies to make sure everything is up to snuff and possibly having to deal with unexpected issues because of miscommunication and other problems.
To further complicate understanding anime production, most anime studios will have completely different teams for each show because of the way the industry is set up. Most animators, character designers, etc., and even many directors, are freelancers and will work with many studios during their careers. As a fan, it can be useful to follow the writers, animators, and directors of shows you like instead of going by studios for this reason. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, like Kyoto Animation, which has long-term, salaried staff.
THE FUTURE & FINAL THOUGHTS
Making anime is no simple task, it involves numerous players from the beginning and requires an enormous amount of human effort from a wide variety of fields to make it a reality. An unfortunate reality of anime production is that many of the people in the industry are very overworked, underpaid, and have low job security. Thankfully, this is getting better thanks to advances in digital tools, better business practices from certain studios like Kyoto Animation and Studio Colorido, and initiatives like the Animator Dormitory Project. We're hoping this trend continues so that the animators that produce the work we love can have happier, more stable lives!
We hope that you enjoyed this feature on the anime production process. As always, feel free to ask a question or leave a comment below. We hope our article has been informative and interesting for you and that it will aid in your enjoyment of anime as an art form! Sakuga awaits!