Making Anime in Japan

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LateWhiteRabbit
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Making Anime in Japan

#1 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:41 am

I just wanted to post this link to an article on Kotaku in case people haven't seen it. It's about a manga by an Japanese artist exposing what it's like to work for a anime studio.

This Short Manga Shows How Tough Making Anime Can Be

It honestly reminds me a lot of the American studio system as well, which, as some of you know, I was a part of until the studio I worked for folded. We got paid by the frame, just like the animators in Japan. Basically, we got paid a base hourly rate, which was quite low compared to similarly educated people our age, then we got paid an extra amount per every finished frame. We also got bonuses for finishing a scene before the deadline, or a larger bonus for turning it in early AND perfect. (Getting this larger bonus was referred to as "catching the mythical white stag". It happened ... but so rarely that whichever artist managed to pull it off got a standing ovation from the rest of the studio. Yeah....)

Then there were the long hours - like the manga shows, it is very common to work long and extended hours. My normal work weeks BEFORE crunch time were routinely 60 hours a week with one day off. Officially, you could take Saturday's off if you wanted to, but God help you if did.

Team Lead: "Hey. Didn't see you on Saturday."
Me: "Yeah, I took the day off."
Team Lead: "Oh...okay."
Me: "Was I not supposed to do that?"
Team Lead: "No, no. It's fine. It's allowed."
The team lead's disappointment was palpable, however. I didn't do that again. Six day work weeks from then on out! The studio was basically divided between those artists who worked on Saturdays and those that didn't. Guess which artists they kept after things got difficult?

Then you get "crunch time", which could be official or unofficial. Basically, it was official when the studio had to submit finished scenes to the publisher by a deadline, and we were falling behind. Unofficial crunch time was when YOUR scene was due INTERNALLY and you were behind on it. This is what the manga was talking about when it says "too slow and you're fired". You basically wrote your own workday and timetable - you could take an hour lunch or a two hour lunch, no one much cared. You just had to have a certain output - for instance you may be given 2 or 3 weeks to finish a scene. If you missed a scene deadline once, you were warned. If you missed a scene deadline twice, you were written up. If you missed a scene deadline three times ... pack your bags kid, you're going home. Oh, and those 3 strikes and you're out deadlines didn't reset when you got a new scene. We had team leads get fired for missing deadlines.

You could appeal a missed deadline if you had very good reason - but it had to be something about the SCENE, not your personal life. In other words, you had to successfully argue the original deadline for the scene was too short considering the requirements for the scene. You could not argue that you had been sick, been in a car accident, or any other excuse. They didn't care. The timetables for how long a scene should take were decided by 3 people - the studio director, a team lead, and an experienced artist, all coming to a consensus.

Occasionally, you could submit a scene early and still miss the deadline. That's because we had "dailies" where the studio director and team leads (and sometimes other artists) would sit and watch your work projected in the studio's mini-theater to critique the scene, offer suggestions, and gauge progress. I once submitted a scene early I thought was perfect (chasing that white stag) and they found a few little nitpicky problems in dailies. No big deal, and normal. So I fixed the problems and resubmitted the next day. And they found NEW problems. All of them tiny and almost non-existent. I fixed those the following day and resubmitted. They found brand NEW problems, all of which were pre-existing from the other dailies. This repeated for an entire week past the original deadline, until, exasperated, I stood up in dailies after the team lead present pointed out a new nitpick (a section of a background extra's sleeve forty feet back in a dense crowd wobbled 2 pixels for 2 frames or 1/12th of a second) and cried out, "For the love of God, Josh! (Names changed to protect the innocent.) Does that really matter?" The studio director agreed with me and we "shipped it". I wasn't warned or written up for a missed deadline, as the scene had been "almost perfect, except for one tiny thing" for a week. :roll:

Crunch time consisted of 12 hour days, then 16 hour days, then 18 hour days. We had a high burnout rate, and like the manga shows, we occasionally would have someone just collapse from exhaustion. For a little while I actually slept at the studio so I wouldn't lose the half hour commute time coming and going. We'd have artists walk outside, rapidly pace in a circle, yell at the top of their lungs, then come back in and keep working.

The pay scale is actually depressingly similar to the one in the Japanese manga, too. And did I mention missed paychecks, like your job NOT PAYING you because their check hasn't come in from the publisher yet? So not only do you make peanuts, sometimes you don't even get those. I think the truth of working at a studio as an artist or animator can be summed up by this sentence:
"I was working 60 hour weeks, sometimes 18 hour days, and I couldn't afford to keep my apartment." :| That's what I get for trying to live by myself rather than live with my parents (impossible, as they lived hundreds of miles away) or shack up with other artists at the studio. :?

But yes, it's all worth it to see the finished product on the big screen. As rough as the work was, it was still very fulfilling and rewarding, and I'd rather work in a studio again than work with the public like my current day job. I wish I could shout at the people, "I'd rather be working 18 hour days for slave wages than have to deal with you!"

Just thought I'd post this for any young and aspiring artists and animators to show its not all gumdrops and lollipops, and you'd best get used to poverty, crippling debt, and ramen noodles in exchange for those little moments of euphoria when you see it all come together and you see someone enjoying your work.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#2 Post by PyTom » Fri Jan 25, 2013 3:04 am

I've seen described similar things before, for other parts of the industry. It's my understanding that voice actresses are paid in the range of hundreds of dollars per episode, but the most successful of them command far more, and make money though singing/events/etc.

If I remember correctly, Freakanomics pointed out that this sort of business model is prevalent in a lot of industries - If I remember doubly-correctly, baseball and illegal drugs are the examples they used. You have a few high-paid "superstars" at the top of the industry, a small number of moderately paid "lieutenants", and then a lot of low-paid grunts at the bottom. In many cases, what the grunts are paid is less than they'd be paid for alternative work - in drugs, some people accept risk to life and liberty in exchange for a salary that is lower than minimum wage.

What's happening is that people accept the opportunity cost of working a low-paid job in the hope of achieving stardom. Is it worth it? I guess that's up to them to decide - but people should go into such opportunities with their eyes open.
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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#3 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Fri Jan 25, 2013 3:15 am

PyTom wrote: What's happening is that people accept the opportunity cost of working a low-paid job in the hope of achieving stardom. Is it worth it? I guess that's up to them to decide - but people should go into such opportunities with their eyes open.
Yeah, pretty messed up. It'd be better if everyone was paid a decent livable wage, but the superstars at the top have no desire to change the system and the ones at the bottom have no power to change the system. It hurts the industry as a whole, as most artists' careers in the industry are only 5 years long. How much better off would the industry be if it didn't keep burning out those with experience and replacing them with ignorant newbies willing to work for nothing? It happens in the game industry as well.

Something is seriously wrong with an industry when anyone with more than 10 years experience is considered "old guard" and an amazing anomaly. ::sigh::

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#4 Post by Biomass » Fri Jan 25, 2013 4:20 am

Your post reminds me a lot of this show (Animation Runner Kuromi):
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclo ... hp?id=1146

The problem is there are far more artists seeking work than there are good jobs for them. They are easily replaced so employers see no problem with extracting maximum benefit from one until burnout. You said it yourself, you miss a deadline, you're fired. How can they afford to fire any staff if a deadline is being rushed? Clearly there's an army of replacements at their beck and call.

The stars of the system couldn't change it even if they wanted to. They cannot control who wants to be an artist and who doesn't.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#5 Post by SundownKid » Fri Jan 25, 2013 5:02 am

It's all about supply and demand, when the job has only a few people able to do it, then the job pays more and is more lenient. However, when you have a load of artists bum-rushing to get a job in anime because it's popular, they are expendable and have to work a lot more. It's the same for a lot of art, really - it has an inherent allure to it and a low barrier of entry, so you get tons of prospective job seekers.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#6 Post by nyaatrap » Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:12 am

It's one of mystery why there are still people who want to be an animator otherwise. Its capital flow is said to be failed, and person who want to be an animator is treated as insane: because high skill, less money, and work as a slave.
Why Japanese doujin market is so huge? I think it's because it's a market for professionals who can't live with only their payment.
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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#7 Post by DaFool » Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:05 am

The irony is that a typical anime episode nowadays is barely interesting to watch. With so much effort you'd think they'd pick more memorable subject matter i.e. an author's last semi auto-biographical life story before they die or something like that. Instead you'd get something like OreShura which is a blatant Bakemonogatari + Chuunibyou clone it's not even funny (it was actually the first time a behind-the-scenes special emphasizing "we'll try to do well on the market" turned me off completely).

It's no wonder this season is filled with 3 minute shorts... production companies realized some stories don't even merit 22 minutes.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#8 Post by Blue Lemma » Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:19 am

@LateWhiteRabbit: since you had to be on time so strictly, I'm seeing extra irony in your name ;)

Cool info, thanks for sharing :)
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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#9 Post by SundownKid » Fri Jan 25, 2013 9:17 am

Look at it this way, if the animation industry in Japan collapses, the animator job will become sought-after again and they will be treated better in the workplace. (Which it looks like it's in the midst of doing seeing as how most of the animes are so otaku-pandering these days).

It reminds me a lot of the video game industry (or film industry) in terms of crunch time. I'd say that positions in the game industry are incredibly sought-after as well, so studios basically are able to abuse their workers because there's nowhere for them to go.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#10 Post by EroBotan » Fri Jan 25, 2013 9:32 am

Blue Lemma wrote:@LateWhiteRabbit: since you had to be on time so strictly, I'm seeing extra irony in your name ;)
haha, nice one XD !!
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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#11 Post by Ayutac » Fri Jan 25, 2013 9:57 am

My only experience of Anime Making was with the Anime Golden Boy, so this post was good for my education. Thank you for sharing, LateWhiteRabbit :)
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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#12 Post by Deji » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:41 am

There are people out there willing to sacrifice many things in order to achieve whatever it is they want (stardom, skills, seeing a project completed and successful).
I'm the opposite, and it irks some of my clients/commissioners, since they expect me to work my ass off and make sacrifices for the sake of a project, while I couldn't care less - I work in order to live my life, not to live my life through work. While I admire people willing to work like that for the sake of a goal they have in mind, I have no intention of becoming like that myself.

To each their own, I guess ^^;
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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#13 Post by DaFool » Fri Jan 25, 2013 12:08 pm

LWR, was your studio traditional 2D that during the time Disney said "Hey, Pixar's doing well, let's make everything 3D and get rid of 2D"?
During the past decade, I've witnessed my workplace go from 300 artists down to 10. During the severe downsizing, we sold all the animation tables. Remember Animo software? It's now gone. It seems for western style animation the only choice today is Harmony.

I've been looking out for flash anime but most of them are just terrible in execution. The best flash anime I remember was Thermae Romae but that probably worked because the designs weren't too anime to begin with. I sincerely believe most anime today, especially those based on 4-panel gag manga, don't deserve a full hand-drawn treatment. I think they should be done paperless.

I know, flash animation sucks by default, right? But look at the following:


Most western animation for the adult timeslot look more like Adventure Time, but I'm thinking it's possible to have an appealing, "grown-up" design that's suited to a paperless workflow. And if so, there should also be a good anime-style design that is also suited for paperless. The problem is most anime action is designed in full 3-dimensional space, so there isn't much opportunity to just use tweening.

Anime studios are also notorious for spending too much on background detail, the only studios I know who attempt to stylize their backgrounds are Studio 4C and Shaft. It would be interesting to see if one day an anime studio attempts to make a full paperless production with flat but textured and stylized designs. That way they won't have to outsource to Vietnam an China.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#14 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Fri Jan 25, 2013 12:41 pm

Blue Lemma wrote:@LateWhiteRabbit: since you had to be on time so strictly, I'm seeing extra irony in your name ;)
Haha. Yes, I suppose that us pretty ironic. Let's just say I have sympathy for that poor rabbit rushing around with his pocket watch trying to keep timetables to avoid losing his head. I did have the honor of being the very last artist still employed by the studio, helping finish scenes side by side with the studio director when the studio ultimately shut its doors.
Deji wrote:There are people out there willing to sacrifice many things in order to achieve whatever it is they want (stardom, skills, seeing a project completed and successful).
I'm the opposite, and it irks some of my clients/commissioners, since they expect me to work my ass off and make sacrifices for the sake of a project, while I couldn't care less - I work in order to live my life, not to live my life through work. While I admire people willing to work like that for the sake of a goal they have in mind, I have no intention of becoming like that myself.

To each their own, I guess ^^;
I actually agree with you. In fact, most studio artists after 5 years in the business would agree with you. It's why my ultimate goal is building a freelance career I can live solely off of. Besides the horrid hours and miniscule pay, studio artists also have to contend with the failure and dissolution of the very studios they work for. The sad truth is, most studios don't live past 1 or 2 projects, because the publishers treat THEM just like the studio treats the artists - as burners to be used up and then abandoned.

It is pretty disheartening to know you can do everything right and still be stuck job hunting every 2 years.
DaFool wrote:LWR, was your studio traditional 2D that during the time Disney said "Hey, Pixar's doing well, let's make everything 3D and get rid of 2D"?
During the past decade, I've witnessed my workplace go from 300 artists down to 10. During the severe downsizing, we sold all the animation tables. Remember Animo software? It's now gone. It seems for western style animation the only choice today is Harmony.
Nope, we were a 3D studio that used 2D animation to create the effects. All those 3D conversion movies you see in theaters are created by a team of artists going in and drawing 2D splines over every single detail in a scene and then animating them through out the entire shot. Like traditional 2D animators, we had to deal with "economy of line" because we needed a shape for everything, but not too many shapes, and we had to use as few vertices as possible to get the animation done. Everything was done with tablets.

This is a good overview of the process.
And this is a good overview of a very similar process to what it was like in our studio.
Finally, a quick look at the software we used.

Our studio director had previously done a lot of work with Disney, but on their live action side, not their animation side.

I love the traditional 2D animation, and I think it is enjoying quite a comeback as studios discover how to do it economically using paperless methods.

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Re: Making Anime in Japan

#15 Post by akizakura » Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:39 pm

This whole thread is really interesting, thank you LWR! If you don't mind me asking, you mentioned freelance - do you mean completing short animation projects like Makoto Shinkai did before he got big.
DaFool wrote:Most western animation for the adult timeslot look more like Adventure Time, but I'm thinking it's possible to have an appealing, "grown-up" design that's suited to a paperless workflow. And if so, there should also be a good anime-style design that is also suited for paperless. The problem is most anime action is designed in full 3-dimensional space, so there isn't much opportunity to just use tweening.

Anime studios are also notorious for spending too much on background detail, the only studios I know who attempt to stylize their backgrounds are Studio 4C and Shaft. It would be interesting to see if one day an anime studio attempts to make a full paperless production with flat but textured and stylized designs. That way they won't have to outsource to Vietnam an China.
I've always enjoyed the detailed backgrounds of anime, but I can totally understand how that can drag out a production. I'm new to Flash, but it seems a lot of Flash animations are done without a lot of visible lineart. Is it just a style choice or is there a reason?

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