GRAPHICS SUPERVISOR: A DETECTIVE STORY
How did you get
involved in computer graphics?
AKIKO-SAN: In university
I studied animation production. The first studio I started working at
was a small company; they were kind of the first in the industry in Japan
to try integrating computers into their traditional hand drawn pipeline.
Since they didn’t have a lot of work at the time, it fell to me
to do some research and figure out how digital tools might fit into their
work flow. So, by default, I became the one who knew everything about
computers and computer graphics at the office. Then I was hired by Studio
4°C [Animation and Production Design
studio for: SECOND RENAISSANCE: PARTS 1 & 2, BEYOND, KID'S STORY,
A DETECTIVE STORY] to do computer graphics rather than production work,
and have been here quite awhile. I’m now the Computer Graphics Supervisor.
MATRIX: Can you tell us some
of the titles you’ve worked on?
AKIKO-SAN: The first thing
I worked on when I came to Studio 4°C was a music video directed by
Koji Morimoto called ‘Extra’. It used a lot of interesting
3-D, which was innovative for the time. Over the years I’ve done
a lot of commercials here, as well as music videos, and directed the computer
graphics for one of Morimoto-san’s movies called Noiseman. Most
recently I directed the computer graphics for a feature film called Spriggan,
which was produced entirely in house here.
MATRIX: What was your first
reaction on seeing THE MATRIX?
AKIKO-SAN: From a technical
standpoint I was really interested in all the visuals, and the special
were like nothing I’d seen done before. After the movie was finished
it left me wanting more, and wondering what would come next.
MATRIX: How did you feel when
you first heard about THE ANIMATRIX and the possibility you might be
working on it?
AKIKO-SAN: It was a combination
of emotions: I was very excited in anticipation of being involved in a
project like that, but also felt pressure to come up with something
different than what had been done on previous productions.
MATRIX: How has the experience
been working with
AKIKO-SAN: This is the first
time I have worked with him, and he was quite different from the other
worked with before. It was difficult to get used to his working style,
much let me do whatever I wanted, even proposing some interesting ideas,
since he also wanted to explore new ways of showing animation. In the
turned out to be a very good experience.
MATRIX: What makes him unique
in his working style?
AKIKO-SAN: Most of the animation
directors I’ve worked with up until this point have all had an extremely
clear idea of what they want to do, and have been pretty specific in
my contribution to their work. In Maeda-san’s case, though he does
have a clear idea of what he wants, he’s also very influenced by
the people around him. In the end, you have a lot of freedom working
but at the same time it takes a while to figure out what he wants sometimes
and how you’re going to contribute to that.
Where in the process did you come into the project?
AKIKO-SAN: I started about
a year and a half ago [early 2001], when Maeda-san had just finished his
of storyboards; I’ve been involved pretty much from the earliest
stage possible in how computer graphics are going to be used.
MATRIX: Were the storyboards
for the computer sequences as fleshed out as the rest?
AKIKO-SAN: On the
first set of storyboards, every scene was drawn to the same level of detail.
After we had them in hand, Tanaka-san, Maeda-san and
I sat down and tried to figure out which cuts we would do using computer
graphics and, within
those, what techniques we would use.
MATRIX: What was your first
reaction reading the script and seeing the boards for THE SECOND RENAISSANCE?
AKIKO-SAN: My first impression
was that it was incredibly violent with a lot of battle scenes. Spriggan
also had a lot of battle scenes, but they didn’t use many computer
graphics for that. It was pretty much in the plans from when I first got
involved; that these big battle scenes with all the suits could only be
done using computer graphics. So I was a little unsure at the beginning
was going to pull off a lot of those shots.
shots did you find most difficult?
AKIKO-SAN: There were two
aspects that were particularly challenging. One, SECOND RENAISSANCE needed
a lot of 3-D characters, and typically the work that they do here
in the computer graphics department is usually a lot of two-dimensional
compositing and effects, and 3-D background work. Actual animation of fully
articulated characters is not something they do everyday. That’s
not only the case at Studio 4°C, but anywhere in the industry, so for
it was a big challenge because I had to do the set up and actual animation
of characters myself. Also, this was the first
show where a software developer was on site actually working with us to
create software that would produce images that, though executed
using 3-D, would look like hand drawn animation. It was interesting for
me to work side by side with a software developer, to basically design
programs that don't exist.
MATRIX: What kinds of new software
AKIKO-SAN: There two main
tools: one was designed to project hand drawn backgrounds onto 3-D geometries,
you could have a camera move within a 3-D environment where the elements
would still look hand drawn. It produces a very interesting hybrid look.
To make it work, I’d take a piece of hand drawn art work and then
create 3-D geometry that conforms to the contours drawn in the artwork,
re-project the artwork onto the 3-D geometry. Once that’s in place,
it gives me quite a bit of freedom of camera movement in the scene.
The other piece of software was based on a tool that allows you to render
3-D data so it looks hand drawn. It looks like it’s cel animated
with the usual ink, contour lines, and tones. The painted areas, rather
than having smooth, reflective surfaces, look like
someone inked and painted them. What we worked on together was refining
that tool so I could use it to match their house cel animation style.
MATRIX: Describe how the 4°C pipeline flows once you get past the storyboards.
AKIKO-SAN: The actual process
can be different for each cut, but my basic job when I get the storyboards
is to have a lot of meetings with the director and the art director to
work out all the details of each shot. In live action filming you’d
call it an effects break down. Because most of the work they do here is
drawn animation, I do another pass asking “Is CGI going to lead this
shot, or is hand drawn animation going to lead this shot?” Every
shot is going to have some components of both, but you can
prioritize each shot in terms of whether hand drawn elements are the
main part of it, or whether the computer graphics elements are the main
Then I start working with my team in the computer graphics group to actually
assign shots to each person on the team. I’ll often do a lot of
shots myself. The director and I work pretty closely together and throughout
course of the production I have to make sure that all the shots match the
visual style of the piece, and are consistent with the director’s
MATRIX: How large is your team?
AKIKO-SAN: On SECOND RENAISSANCE
I had three people working for me at Studio 4°C, and four people
outside at another company.
MATRIX: Proportionally, how
much of SECOND RENAISSANCE is CGI?
AKIKO-SAN: At some point,
every shot goes digital — whether it’s just ink and paint
or a composite, it’s a hundred percent digital by the time I’m
finished with it. But in terms of the actual use of 3-D computer graphics,
on SECOND RENAISSANCE,
MATRIX: So you’re not
only in charge of every shot using 3-D software, but also oversee turning
analog images into digital?
AKIKO-SAN: That’s right.
MATRIX: What were some of your
AKIKO-SAN: The parts I enjoyed
the most were those when I didn’t have other people doing the work.
Where I could get my hands on the material and lay out shots myself and
everything, and get much more involved in the making of the images.
In particular, I really enjoyed the scene in the car factory where the
robots are manufacturing parts. I laid out the whole shot, planned
it, and modeled the robots, as well as animated them. I also worked on
some of the
big background scenes, where you descend into the battlefield on a big
3-D crane for a couple of shots, and move around in the trenches.
MATRIX: How would you compare
working on a mostly non-digital project like Spriggan, to THE ANIMATRIX?
AKIKO-SAN: The software I
use has progressed quite a bit since I did Spriggan, so a lot of things
director asked me to do on Spriggan I couldn’t, because the
software wasn’t there, or the staff wasn’t qualified to do
it. On this project, I’ve actually been able to do everything
asked of me; with technology having advanced quite a bit, there’s
a greater sense of freedom on these ANIMATRIX shorts.
MATRIX: Was it any trickier
because of the nature of SECOND RENAISSANCE?
AKIKO-SAN: It wasn’t
so much a matter of there being so many shots or so many sequences, but
one of the things that was difficult about this project — and it’s
actually something you could say about all animation projects — was
making both sides of the relationship, between the traditional animation
set and the computer graphics staff, work smoothly. I had to work very
closely with both the CGI and cel animation teams. As it happened,
ANIMATRIX there were a lot of first time computer graphics people who
accustomed to dealing with cel animators, as well as some cel animators
weren’t used to creating shots that involved a lot of computer graphics.
It was one of the challenges on this job to become the ambassador
both of those worlds.
MATRIX: Could you describe
the process of going from analog to digital with the hand drawn art.
AKIKO-SAN: One thing
is that, unlike traditional cel animation where a cel animator or supervisor
will look at a storyboard and, based on that, do a hand drawn layout, sub-dividing
that into various hand drawn elements, a lot of the shots I deal with
at the same place — the storyboards — but I’ll actually
do a 3-D layout. With the camera in motion, I’ll decide at that
stage which elements, 2-D and 3-D, to use. So I have a very different
on how 2-D and 3-D elements mingle. Obviously there are some things that
work better hand drawn, and some things where there’ll be a lot
of time saved for them to be done in 3-D; based on those time
I’ll often request hand drawn elements from the staff of cel animators,
and integrate those into something that’s already three dimensional.
very different from traditional cel animation, where it’s all hand
drawn and all the pieces are fitting together by way of a hand drawn layout.
In this, everything starts in 3-D and then some elements become hand drawn,
and other elements, like some of the characters and backgrounds, end up
staying three dimensional.
MATRIX: How would you describe
SECOND RENAISSANCE to someone who hasn’t seen it?
AKIKO-SAN: SECOND RENAISSANCE
is basically a history tale, rather than a story centered on characters.
It’s a little different from a traditional story, but it makes up
for that in its scale and the scope of its visuals. That’s something
I’ve kept in mind while I’ve been doing the digital parts
of the production, how to really open the story up, either through using
elements, or using 3-D backgrounds, and to really try and push the scale.
MATRIX: Touching on the freedom
that you mentioned before, where did you draw some of your inspiration from?
AKIKO-SAN: I have a hard time
putting my finger on any particular thing or image that was more influential,
or important, than anything else. One thing, in retrospect, is that I wish
I’d realized how much freedom I had a little earlier. I regret not
having tried a few more experiments at the outset, and not having realized
Maeda-san was waiting for me to suggest some new techniques until fairly
late in the process. Had I figured that out earlier, I might have gone
out on a limb and tried to push the 3-D images even farther.
MATRIX: What was your reaction
to seeing the final picture?
AKIKO-SAN: All things considered,
I was pretty satisfied with it.
MATRIX: Thank you, Akiko-san.
Interview by REDPILL
Translated by Mike Arias