Anime is more popular than ever before all around the world. We talked to some of the studios who actually produce anime to hear some of their thoughts about anime production and a few backstage stories too. This interview series is produced as part of a collaborative project between anime news site Anime! Anime!, Tokyo Otaku Mode, and Chinese language site Bahamut.
Check out the rest of the interviews here.
David Production’s representative works: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Cells at Work, Ristorante Paradiso
David Production’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has received overwhelming support from fans for fully recreating the manga’s appeal in animation. With animation which makes it almost seem as if the manga images are moving, and manga sound effects appearing on screen, it’s the anime adaptation fans have been waiting for.
COO Koji Kajita set up David Production with fellow Gonzo employees in 2007. We sat down with Kajita alongside JoJo’s producer Nobutaka Kasama who also came from Gonzo to talk about their story.
[Interview/composition = Minako Nakamura]
Getting Back to Basics by Sincerely Confronting the Work
– When you left Gonzo to set up on your own, what kind of studio were you looking to create?
Koji Kakita: Before setting up, we didn’t really have any animation plans or particular conviction in the path we wanted to take, but we had to get a few projects off the ground to stick to our quarterly budget. For that reason, we couldn’t be so particular about video or really polish our stories. At that time we were really listening to what the fans who kindly kept watching our shows were saying. After that I thought we had to refocus and concentrate on making things properly. I wanted to create a studio where we approached the work sincerely and improved the things which weren’t working so well.
After that I decided to start with analogue rather than digital. Gonzo was known for being good at digital, so I wanted to deliberately start off by strengthening our analogue credentials while also committing to training animators.
– Mr. Kasama, as another founding member, what was it that made you want to follow Mr. Kakita?
Nobutaka Kasama: Back then, when I was working at Gonzo, I felt the same as Koji so I decided to follow him. To fulfill his ideal of rebuilding from the ground up I decided to talk to some of the other staff members and production team.
It really was going back to basics – starting right from one room in an apartment (laughs).
The creators put their desks right on the tatami. There was no space for production desks so we worked from the kotatsu. So we really had started again from the ground up.
Our Best Weapons Were Thorough Research of the Original Property and the Spirit of Challenge
– After you set up, you started with production on Ristorante Paradiso (2009). What difficulties did you encounter?
Kakita: The two years after we set up were more about studying hard for our future than struggling for the present. With help from some of the industry’s most prominent figures, we were studying approaches to production and methodology. We introduced ourselves to production companies and asked them to advise us about the best way to improve through our work. Without thinking about it, we received a lot of help with production and learned a lot too.
Kasama: Every company has a different approach to controlling the schedule and ensuring quality, so we studied that for a while. Speaking for myself, it’s best not to get attached to a particular format but to produce with a system that can be adjusted to the needs of the project and customer.
– So, you wanted to reevaluate the importance of approaching the work from the viewers’ point of view. That dedication to an ideal is truly reflected in the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure adaptation. What’s your best weapon for polishing your shows as a studio?
Kakita: If you’ve been entrusted with a show, the first thing you need to do is research it properly. Which parts of it the fans really like, why the franchise has been able to continue, etc. The director and creatives need to talk to the members of staff who are fans of that franchise to figure out what sort of people like which parts and hold intensive brainstorming sessions to make sure the work is fully understood.
Kasama: However, you don’t want to end up just copying the source material. You need to get the “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” that matches fans’ impression of it. When it came right down to it we were struggling for a solution as to how to match fans’ vision of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (Parts 1 and 2) and Stardust Crusaders (Part 3), rather than just adapting exactly like the manga.
Truthfully speaking, we put a lot of effort into Stardust Crusaders, which has a special place in fans’ hearts, and created custom image designs so that it would feel like you’re watching the same anime across the seasons. You can see the essence of the original manga in the anime, but we also added new scenes so some fans have been surprised noticing the differences. As for the “added value,” it’s more about making the anime that fans really want to see. Not just for the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime, but for all the anime we make.
Kakita: That’s another thing, we don’t just make it the same, we always add something new. With the JoJo’s anime, we wanted to make it so that you’d know it was JoJo’s instantly even if you were just channel hopping and spotted it. We weighed up various options wondering what was strange and what not.
As for Cells at Work, we started with the concept that the viewers could experience the same things as the cells working inside the body as if it were an amusement park like Disneyland or Kidzania. We took great care with the background. The sky had to be pink so the area near the skin had to be illuminated by light. That’s where the initial proposal from the creative team was coming from.
Kasama: That’s right. “How about this?” the team would ask. “It looks fun, let’s do it. Well, let’s talk it through with everyone else anyway” – that kind of thing. The work became more fun that way.
Everyone came into this industry because they had a determination to make a particular kind of anime and I think their feelings are very important. The director and all of us try to preserve the “taste” of the piece, but within that each individual offers their own proposals, and as a producer I want to create a system to support that idea.
Kakita: I always say, try to add at least one new idea. If it goes OK you’re in luck.
Kasama: You don’t get anywhere without failing, it’s better to do something rather than nothing, even if it doesn’t work out. That’s what we think. We just have to make sure we don’t tank the company (laughs).
Shifting to Full Digital
– You said you intentionally avoided digital when you set up the company, but now you’re full digital production. What made you decide to change your production methods?
Kakita: Kasama and I had experience of the shift from cel animation to digital, so we definitely thought about moving towards digital animation. What we needed then was to train staff, figure out materials and software, and come up with an idea of how we wanted to use them. So around 2009, we started to put together a team under digital animation head Masato Ujibe to move towards full digital animation. Recently, Singaporean company CACANi has released 2D animation software with automatic finishing functionality. When it went on sale in Japan two or three years ago, it had a lot of bugs and was difficult to use so it didn’t really take off. However, Ujibe thought it might be useful and kept on with it, requesting bug fixes and new features, and got a good response. So the efficiency of the program slowly improved.
– As for training staff, what kind of things were you doing?
Kakita: First off, they needed to remember digital animation was work. I thought it would be better to move to digital after getting their skills to the same place as they were on paper, but even if their ability to draw 3D and achieve the strength and appeal of drawing by hand was weakening, the merits of digital were still superior.
Don’t misunderstand me, when you think about “animation,” images are the raw material. With digital, the images you draw will be used by other sections and directors in various ways, and that becomes something that’s easier to accept. On the other hand, cooperating with others to draw pictures, something we haven’t quite managed until now in the animation industry, is something we’ve become very conscious of. So, it’s been around three years since we got rid of transparent tables for digital tablets. It’s not just storyboards and drawing going digital, but we need to be edging towards video to create a new CG department.
The borders between 2D and 3D VFX are becoming ever more unclear and I think they need to go on being unclear. At the moment, CGI is mainly outside orders and tie-ups, but we can use the ambiguity of the video to make moving picture animation so that directors at the same studio can participate in production. Not that much time has passed since our foundation, but we have started to see some results.
– What are the pros and cons of digital production?
Kasama: There are two main advantages to full digital production. The first is, the time and cost involved with shifting has fallen so you can create an environment where you can concentrate on the business of making images. It’s easy to share information, communication difficulties and transmission loss have also decreased. Lots of people think the fall of costs not directly related to quality and the amount of time falling are a good thing.
The second thing is, the creative teams from all areas have become conscious of working on the same thing through being on the same platform. The key animators, in-betweeners, backgrounds, CG, etc., the connection between the various departments is becoming seamless with resistance falling as everyone works together on the same material. As the various members of the team begin to feel they can complete work easily with digital, they can start looking at their work from a wider point of view.
If I have to say something negative, then maybe it adds additional complication to the workflow with office walls falling and people having more freedom.
Kakita: But, as I want people who want to do it to try, I recommend shifting to digital. I’ve seen people start to talk to the animator next to them about what kind of picture to draw or what kind of materials they want them to use now that people have an image of using it from the storyboarding stage.
Digital can connect many different animators, and I think we’re really increasing coordination day by day. With all that, using video software you can even add music to videos you’ve edited, that’s the direction I want to go in right now. A lot of people in the industry are shocked (laughs), but while remaining cautious, I want people to take the challenge.
– What kind of things are you thinking about as you try to build that kind of environment?
Kakita: We’ve built our production system on our experiences up to now. With the introduction of digital, there has been some ambiguity with roles and the changes which are occurring, but fundamentally we’re taking the challenge to create a system in which we can invest in taking added value to the highest point. Personally, I’m very conscious of needing to communicate inside and outside of the company and going to listen to people’s thoughts directly.
Cells at Work has been a big hit in China with 140 million views on Bilibili. Everyone was asking about it when I went there on a business trip but when I asked them why they liked it so much, they had a completely different view of it than I had.
There are a lot of moe and fantasy franchises, but this one appeals even to non-anime fans because it’s set in the human body and features anthropomorphized cells. When I thought about that I realized it was universal and would likely play well with a general audience, even across the world. So it’s something which has been a real blessing for us.
Making the World Happy Through the Power of Animation!
– What is the aim of your studio?
Kakita: Ideally, we want to make the world happy through the power of animation. As an animation production company, we usually dedicate all our strength to creating wonderful animations, but we also want the people who watch them to be happy.
That’s not quite all I mean. Approaching the work earnestly, working hard, polishing technique and sensitivity – if you can create something people enjoy, then the work will be “good.”
If you can customize for overseas viewers in terms of media and distribution, you can bring about a change in the business model. If by that you can revitalize the economy you’ll make the world happy (laughs). As a studio we’ve already rethought people and technology, and along with creating animation that people of all ages can all enjoy, we want to set up a business model where we can profit from putting out good work as “merchandise,” and we’re aiming to make it the kind of industry people have been dreaming of entering.
Kasama: I want to make things which linger in people’s memory. I grew up enjoying all kinds of media, not just anime. I want to give something back and leave something of myself behind. I want to create something that people still remember 10 years later rather than just forget about at the end of the year. That’s my primary goal.
Kakita: Kasama is really going for it. He never takes his foot off the accelerator (laughs).
Kasama: Kakita mentioned setting up the CG department. It’s not just me undertaking the challenge but all those working on creating a new way to make animation through fusing 2D and 3D. We want to find a way of making film where both of them are well used.
Kakita: We’re currently in the middle of making the Ensemble Stars TV anime. There are a lot of singing and dancing series using CG models, but we wanted this one to be a little different. I can’t say exactly how, but we’re really challenging ourselves to bring 2D and 3D together to bring fans singing and dancing scenes like they’ve never seen before. With the concept of blurring 2D and 3D, we’re really stepping on the accelerator.
Kasama: To speak for myself, being moved by video and entertainment is not an ordinary thing. To put it another way, you can’t create an interesting show without “discomfort,” “fetish,” “peculiarity,” or “malice.”
As for 3D, the models have become the basic foundation so there’s a danger of things becoming homogenized. Mixing those homogenized images with the individualized 2D, we can give it a little personality, so that’s why I think we should keep on blurring the lines between 2D and 3D.
– It’s very exciting to wonder what sort of images will emerge from this process. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add for the fans?
Kasama: I want to make things that leave a mark on the people who watch them. A good kind of mark, of course. We’ll keep working hard on the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure series too, so make sure to look out for that!
Kakita: I want to keep on making things that make people happy, both the ones that work on the anime and the people watching, so please keep supporting us.
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