A Guide to Anime Production

Friday, August 30, 2013
How to Anime - A guide to anime production

While we spend hours of hours watching anime, we don't actually know much about the process and effort behind the final product. How is anime made? As an amateur artist, I just had to ask myself that question and did some research.

I guess it is time to share my infinite knowledge who knows, maybe you'll appreciate the next animation a little more from now on.

Before I start, I want to show this chart AIC made a few years ago, to show each step and stage of their production process:

Pre-Production: Planning the Anime Project

The first step of the anime production is the planning. This is the stage where the team gets presents and discusses the ideas of the upcoming project.
Once the basic story, its world view, and the personalities of the characters have taken form, they begin drawing up a project proposal and selecting further staff like the director, writers, designers.

The project proposal purpose it to present the product and contains an outline of the work, the characters, visuals and information about the work’s target audience and sales points. The staff begins the search for investors to help produce the project.
Since the most anime are adaptions of manga or light novels, the sponsors end up backing up the front costs.
This is a rather interesting point since half of the money ends up somewhere else and not in the hands of the animation studio because the TV broadcast costs are amazingly high. They can be up to 50 million yen for a late-night broadcast slot for a long running show.
The Studios often end up underfunded and that's where sales of merchandise, DVDs and figures come in to compensate.

After a sponsor has been found, they start selecting the team for writing, design, a director ect.
The design team is responsible for characters, mechas, costumes and such. If the anime is not an original work, where they have to design all that from scratch, then their job is to simplify the manga design to make it suitable for animation.

This pretty much sums the planning process up and once they're done with the design and story, they start working on the first episode.

Production of the Anime

Sneak peek at Production I.G. by Danny Choo

The production process will go through several stages such as image boarding, storyboarding, layout, key animation, second key-animation, animation directing, In-between animation and framing, painting, special effects and compositing.
The scripts for the series are sometimes written by different writers or just by one based on the overall script. The final scripts are reviewed by the director and if possible by the author of the original work.

After that, the storyboarding begins:


Example storyboard from the Chobits Opening.

The storyboard is often created by the director alone, in case the project is a full-length movie and drawn on a A4-sized paper. They act like blueprints that are necessary to figure out how to convey the ideas of the story through the performance of the characters, the number of cuts or shots, camera angles and movement, and time management like the duration of the shots as seconds and frames. The storyboards need to be done before the art production can begin.

The art production involves layout, key art, and in-between animation. Responsible for the layout is the key-animator.


Layouts from Spirited Away

The layout is where the director makes decisions about the angles and compositions, like the positions of the cels that will be used in the cut and the background art.
In each cut, background details, stuff that might happen off-camera and the characters' actions need to be decided, so the scene can be set.

The overall feel of the series, including the positions of the characters, angles, light direction, and shadows are discussed in the art meeting.
The animation supervisor and chief animator will examine the layout and make necessary revisions.
Revisions usually only outline the exact parts that need to be corrected.

Animation: Key Animation

Original animation, or key animation is the most important step in the animation process.
It is a perfect sketch on paper of how the final animation cel will look like, complete with details on coloring, shadows, highlights and movement.
It determines the core of the animation or fixed points of moving objects, like the locations where each footstep is landing. Around 30 key animators can be working on a single episode of anime, each one working on a separate part.
Usually, it is only the key animator who is responsible for the final style of the animation.

In-between Animation

In this step, the images in-between the key images are drawn so the images begin to move. This is handled by less experienced animators they receive clear instructions from the key animator on how the in-between animation should look like, and simply fill in the gaps with drawings. This is supervised by the key animator to make sure that there are no awkward movements.

And the animation is done, with all that combined.

Animation from Gurenn Lagann.

Top: key animation. Middle:  in-between animation. Bottom: final animation, colored and with background.

Compositing: Coloring and Effects

Once the animation is complete, the images is painted onto a clear celluloid sheet (Cels). Once the black outlining is done, the color paint is applied to the back of the cel, basically just filling inside the lines. Then the special effects are created to add additional detail to each scene.

The backgrounds are drawn by artists who specialize in a style more reminiscent of traditional canvas paintings. This long and difficult process, due to the artistic qualities of the background. This is why you'll see re-use of backgrounds for different scene or episodes.

Scene from the Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita OP with its beautiful unique background art.

Once the coloring and effects are done, they can be processed as animation. Today's animation studios rely on "RETAS! PRO" for doing so.
In the past, before the use of digital cels, drawings were filmed over backgrounds. The software allows to make digital cuts, add the background digitally, adding effects like lightning and the use of CGI animation.

After the composting is done, the post-production begins. Adding sound effects, music and voices for the characters. But the dubbing is a another chapter and I won't go into detail for now.    

Sources for the article:
PRODUCTION I.G - Tokyo, Anime production process  link
Sunrise link
Kanzentai - Production Guide link
Various articles on Halcyon Realms link
Nurse Witch Komugi omake -
How Anime is made link
AIC  - Introduction of anime production link

1 Reply so far - Add your comment

  1. very helpful i used some of the information here for a school project thank you