Japanese anime is more popular now than it has ever been before. These interviews with anime studios will reveal the behind-the-scenes processes and emotions that go into making anime. This is a large-scale project done in collaboration with anime news sites throughout the world, such as the anime news site Anime!Anime!, Tokyo Otaku Mode, which has 20 million fans on Facebook, the huge Chinese site Bahamut, and more.
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Graphinica’s best-known works: Participating in a number of titles using 3D-CGI like Girls und Panzer as well as their own titles such as Rakuen Tsuihou – Expelled from Paradise –, Juuni Taisen, and HELLO WORLD (to be released on Sept. 20, 2019).
Graphinica participates in a lot of different titles by contributing techniques like 3D-CGI. They produced the 3D-CGI movie, Rakuen Tsuihou – Expelled from Paradise – in 2014, and in 2017, they were the prime contractor on Juuni Taisen, a work by Nisio Isin and Hikaru Nakamura, as they expand their fields of work. What is Graphinica aiming for? We sat down with Graphinica’s president, Nobuhiro Itou, and CGI directors Akio Shinohara and Shinichi Miyakaze.
[Interview and article by Ryota Fujitsu]
– With 2014’s Rakuen Tsuihou, 2017’s Juuni Taisen, and this year’s HELLO WORLD, is it safe to say that Graphinica has been taking an aggressive stance over the past few years?
Itou: This spring, Graphinica reached its tenth anniversary. We’ve grown five times since then and over the past ten years, we’ve raised creators so that we can make works centered within our own company. That’s given us many opportunities to try our hand at different titles.
– Rakuen Tsuihou is a Toei Animation project, so how did Graphinica become involved?
Itou: We were first told about Rakuen Tsuihou when we were building a studio in Sapporo and hiring new people. We had the confidence that we could do it and we also believed that we should take it on in order to train new, young creators. It was a title with some high hurdles, but thanks to the collective hard work of the staff with Seiji Mizushima as the director, we were able to make something that was praised highly.
– On the other hand, you were a contractor on Juuni Taisen, but that was a hand-drawn anime not made with 3D-CGI. It was entirely different from everything else Graphinica made before.
Itou: Actually, we had wanted to work on a TV series for a long time. We ended up working on Juuni Taisen after Avex contacted us. It’s true that 3D-CGI is one of our mainstays, but when we were thinking about how to make it the best we could, we decided not to be particular about making it entirely out of CGI and decided to focus on the animation instead. We have staff members who can work in both analog and digital media, so it wasn’t an issue. On the other hand, we had our 3D-CGI directors take care of the action scenes. From now on, we want to be a studio that can combine 3D and hand-drawn creators, their tastes, and conditions to put together the best organization we can.
– Do you plan on keeping this studio as the main contractor on projects?
Itou: No, I don’t. There are many studios who switch from subcontractors to main contractors as the studio grows, but here at Graphinica, we will not refuse being entrusted with digital production tasks. As long as we handle the jobs entrusted to us with care, we will be able to gradually increase the number of titles that we lead.
Itou: We’re part of Memory-Tech Holdings, a group that puts an extreme amount of effort into video production and optical disc manufacturing. Within the group is Qtec, a strong anime post-production company; Pony Canyon Enterprise, which produces music; and REAL-T, which specializes in video editing. Each company in the group has the same goal of contributing to the Japanese entertainment industry through our different tasks. I personally believe that companies that don’t contribute to the industry don’t succeed, so in order to keep Graphinica growing, we won’t stop contributing to different titles.
– What moment could you call a turning point when you think back over the past ten years?
Itou: Our turning point was when we started expanding into other areas. Right now we have studios in Sapporo and Kyoto. This development means we meet more people and each studio has people who want to work with Graphinica in their hometowns. There are many people who want to work in creative jobs without having to come to Tokyo, so I would like to assertively increase the number of regional studios. I think that’s a big point in contributing to the animation industry.
– What do you think Graphinica’s strong point is?
Itou: First is our employee training. We train young creators who just joined the company until they’re able to speedily demonstrate their talents at work using the know-how we’ve accumulated over the past ten years. We started with 62 people from GONZO’s digital department, and even with the addition of young staff, the total level of experience has not decreased due to this training process. This is partially because we have the animator and director, Ichiro Itano, working with us from the very beginning. Mr. Itano has a huge influence on the practical way we work, but other than that, he teaches our young staff how creators should see the world and how they should work, so he creates very important relationships with them. Another very important point would be the tasks we’re entrusted with, as I mentioned earlier.
– So undertaking certain jobs is connected to the company’s strengths.
Itou: That’s right. By accepting jobs from other companies, we can meet various people and work in different genres. By working only on our titles, we’d be able to come up with our own characteristics, but by working on titles for other companies, we can be stimulated by others. Those are opportunities for creators to grow. In that regard, I’m very grateful to the top creators in the industry who work with us.
– Do you have any opportunities to hear the reactions from fans?
Itou: We work mostly within the domestic market, so we can meet fans when we exhibit at events around the country. In those cases, we can meet with them directly. Otherwise, we see comments on social media complimenting us or our titles. If we get the chance, we’d like to connect with foreign fans and I’d also like to establish a Graphinica event. At any rate, I’d like to create more opportunities to be in touch with our fans.
– In 2019, you’ll release the TV anime that you were the main contractor for, Re:Stage! Dream Days♪ and the aforementioned HELLO WORLD.
Itou: The production company, Yumeta Company, became part of our corporate group last December, and we will jointly produce Re:Stage! On the other hand, I believe HELLO WORLD is a title that is critical to this company as it’s our 10th anniversary. It’s an original project that we received the chance to work on from Toei and Tomohiko Itou, the director of Sword Art Online. This title will become a turning point for Graphinica, so please look forward to it.
We also sat down with CGI directors Akio Shinohara and Shinichi Miyakaze.
– How did the two of you end up working at Graphinica?
Shinohara: I was originally working at GONZO, so when the CGI department got divided up, I stayed here. I was young then, so it didn’t really matter to me (laughs). So I feel like it’s gotten pretty big.
Miyakaze: I used to work freelance, but 5 years ago, I applied to Graphinica and was hired. The biggest reason for my choosing to work here was that they hired me as a full-time employee. Also, since Graphinica doesn’t just focus on 3D-CGI but also has editing and filming departments, I could trust its management, too.
– Mr. Shinohara, you worked on ANEMONE: Psalm of Planets Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution, and Mr. Miyakaze, you contributed to SSSS.GRIDMAN. Both of those titles became hot topics. Mr. Miyakaze, what was it like working on SSSS.GRIDMAN?
Miyakaze: For SSSS.GRIDMAN, we were ordered to have the fights between Gridman and the kaiju to be reminiscent of tokusatsu (live-action films made with lots of special effects). They wanted it to be like tokusatsu in the way that it seemed like the characters were wearing costumes, so I thought I could do it. It would have been harder if they had asked me to make the kaiju seem like real, living creatures.
Shinohara: I watched SSSS.GRIDMAN and thought it was fun. For example, the effects weren’t very constrained, like forcing something to be made in 2D. It had the spirit of “anything goes as long as it’s cool,” so I felt like the animators were able to freely use their imagination and I liked that a lot (laughs). There aren’t many jobs where that’s possible.
– I heard the camera angles were very difficult.
Miyakaze: Actually, not really. We intentionally made the storyboards at an angle that eliminated the feet, so that really helped. The camera was often set at Gridman’s or the kaiju’s feet and pointed up, so their feet were automatically cut out. There were times where there was a lot of camera work, but being able to change the point of view is one of the strong points of 3D-CGI. However, if we move the camera a lot, the scenery also becomes 3D-CGI, so we had to be careful to stay within the limits of TV animation. For example, if we were filming a panorama, we didn’t make it accurately, but instead made cuts that made it seem like a panorama.
– In ANEMONE, the scenes in which the main character, Anemone, and the heroine, Eureka, were young girls were made with 3D-CGI.
Shinohara: We had experienced using that technique during Rakuen Tsuihou, so we thought we could do it again. Also, the animator Ayumi Kurashima participated in that title and taught us how she would do it in 2D animation. That, along with the hard work of the young creators, allowed us to skillfully mix 2D expressions with 3D characteristics.
Miyakaze: I helped a little bit with ANEMONE, but I thought it was really difficult (laughs).
Miyakaze: For example, for scenes with a lot of movement, it’s not really noticeable if the hand grabbing another character isn’t drawn too well. However, since ANEMONE needed really natural movements, that sort of thing would be fatal. It’s not something we could do for TV. It’s because it was a movie that we were able to do that.
Shinohara: There were a lot of things we gave up on, even in the development stage, because of time. We still have a lot of room for improvement on details like shadows, so we want to keep challenging ourselves on making more efficient art that looks hand-drawn. I’ve talked a lot to other staff members around me about how to prepare and develop that.
– Did you have a lot of time when you were working on SSSS.GRIDMAN?
Miyakaze: It progressed very well, which is one reason the 3D-CGI also came out well. It was so good that it made me think that we could take that opportunity and change the entire process of making anime. Still, 3D-CGI requires a lot of prep, so it doesn’t mesh well with how the final step in current hand-drawn anime is actually drawing the art. That’s why I thought it’d be good if we could use 3D-CGI as long as the flow is the same as it was during SSSS.GRIDMAN.
– Over Graphinica’s past ten years, has anything changed immensely?
Shinohara: I think Rakuen Tsuihou was really important because we did our best on the characters. It’s been five years since then, and we’ve reached a point where the way we make characters and our overall quality is entirely different. I have been drawing characters with 3D-CGI for the past ten years. I still aim for the same things, but the techniques I use now are vastly different.
Miyakaze: Our goals haven’t changed. I do feel like our desire to have richness and density similar to that of hand-drawn anime has increased. I personally think Girls und Panzer’s impact was big. We really did well being able to do that weekly.
– In our interview with Mr. Itou earlier, he said that Mr. Ichiro Itano’s presence was also important.
Shinohara: I think he’s right. Mr. Itano does not just hold regular lectures within the company, but we also ask him to check our work.
Miyakaze: We asked him for a lot of help on SSSS.GRIDMAN, especially since he worked on the ULTRAMAN movie.
Shinohara: His lectures aren’t limited to just 3D-CGI, but are on a wide variety of topics like hand-drawn animation techniques, storyboarding, and direction.
Miyakaze: I’ve participated in his lectures since I joined the company, but it’s more than just his teaching techniques. What I find important is how to express ideas and answers. They’re good chances to learn the importance of thinking flexibly.
– Do you check fans’ reactions?
Miyakaze: I did during SSSS.GRIDMAN. The series was done when it aired, so we couldn’t do anything if the reaction was bad, but I was really happy to see that the audience figured out what titles we were making homages to. They knew what we wanted to do. The messages we received on social media were the fastest reactions we saw. Someone in our company will definitely look at them!
Shinohara: I was also worried about the reaction after ANEMONE was released, so I searched for them, too (laughs). If we get comments on social media, we can see them, so I’m grateful for that.
– Do you have any messages for fans?
Miyakaze: Graphinica is a good company, so I have a great work-life balance…
Shinohara: I’d like people who like our work to join the company and create titles with us. I want to keep making high-quality titles, so please look forward to that.
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