I think it’s important and interesting to learn about the basics of the media we all love, and one of the most critical questions is: how is anime made? For me, especially recently, it was a burning question that I ended up researching in detail. For the sake of other anime fans with the same question, I thought I would share my findings. So, if you want ammunition to bring back fire the next time you find yourself caught up in an argument about the benefits of anime, or want a fresh way to view anime, I hope this article will be of use. Over the past year, my growing interest in this side of things has truly opened my eyes to the talent, art, passion and beauty that can be found in Japanese animation. This article will focus on ANIME-anime production, but the same general process applies to films and OVAs as well. That said, there can be a lot of variation between studio and individual productions.
The process of making anime is complex, with many steps and stages. This chart from AIC’s English website is a good visual overview of what I’m going to discuss:
This process depends on who is driving the idea and who is supporting it, it could be the animation studio itself together with the sponsors, but many anime are adaptations of manga or light novels, in which case, the publisher charges up front (including the cost of having it featured on TV stations) . Production companies (eg Aniplex) gather staff, sponsor, and view advertisements and merchandise. While many people describe studios as cheap, only about half the budget often goes to anime studios, with the rest going to broadcasters and other contributing companies. The broadcast costs are very high – according to blogger, ghostlighting – around 50 million yen for the late night timeslot of 5-7 stations for the 52 episode series. You can see why anime can be such an expensive business. For example, Full Metal Alchemist, which has a Saturday 6pm slot has a total budget of 500 million yen (before surcharges).
When the core staff is set up, they meet and plan anime, work on series composition (how the anime will play out in each episode / during the series), and select further staff such as character designers or mecha. One of the most important core staff is the director. To understand the role of a director, you can think of them like a film director, but instead of dealing with actors, they are dealing with animators making character films. Their general involvement is attending meetings and making decisions to manage the schedule, budget, and quality of the anime.
After the initial panning session, designs (characters, mechas, costumes, etc.) are then created. Design is definitely an important factor in creating a good anime. The character designer has the task of simplifying the manga / illustration design so that it is suitable for animation, or, in the case of the original anime, coming up with a new set of characters based on the description from the director / producer. Character designers often go on to advise animation directors on corrections to animation that should be made to stay close to their character models (in which case they are generally credited with being the Chief Animation Director for the series).
After the story and design were mapped out, the first episode was tackled.
The first step is to write an episode script. After the synopsis / episode plan, the full script is written, by one person for the entire series or by several different authors based on the outline of the overall script supervisor (staff credit: series composition). Scripts are reviewed by the director, producer, and potentially the author of the original work before it is finalized (after 3 or 4 drafts, often). The episode director, who is overseen by the overall director then takes the backbone of the episode and has to plan how it will actually look on screen. While the director has the last word and is involved in production meetings, episode directors have the most direct involvement in developing episodes. This stage is expressed as a storyboard (visual script), and the storyboard marks the start of actual animation production.