Obvious and Less-Obvious Issues With Anime’s Digital Transition (Arihara Seiji)

This is an editorial by Arihara Seiji, a veteran animator and director who worked for a quarter-century in the industry (at least a decade on each side of the year 2000), who writes about the tangible positives and some less-tangible negatives of the digital transition. This includes issues with a substantially less personal work environment, a more murky creative structure, and jobs being more vulnerable to outsourcing.

Original Article: http://anirepo.exblog.jp/259145

Headline: The Digital Transition and How it Manifested in Anime
Sub-Headline: On the digital transition and issues which resulted; March 28, 2004
Author: Arihara Seiji

Title: The age of anyone as an anime creator

As we acquire new technologies (and software) and the skills to use them, such as the ability to copy photos to a PC using a scanner, from this transition from simple digital signals to complex digital expression, we have arrived at an age where production of images and videos, production of visuals, dubbing, printing, at any rate just about anything can be done by a single person. Those tools and the skills to use them have become standard in this world, and this standardization and homogenization has brought about rapid advancement from the world of cel animation, disorientation, and new topics of discussion.

Title: Things the digital transition has improved

The digital transition has made the chloride vinyl cels (vulnerable to impurities and dirt and tearing as they are), as well as paints and film, obsolete. As a result, it resulted in positives such as the following:

a) Conquest of cel anime’s weak points (acts of god)

Release from cel dirt, cel looseness, cel tears, cel impurity, color changes due to cel overlap, cel processing, film damage due to the Newton ring phenomenon, waiting for paint to dry, and other such difficulties.

b) Conquest of film production’s weak points, technical expression made simple and easy

These include line tests, momentary movements, production of clone frames, easily redone image processing and such.

c) Cels, paint, photography stands, editing machinery are all removed, freeing up office space

Title: Problematic points and topics which have arisen

While the transition has made things very convenient, it has actually given rise to a number of sticky problems in the workplace

a) Communicating and inheriting techniques

While veteran technicians have not adjusted well to the environment where PCs are used and the skills required to use them, the younger technicians with a lead in processing digital materials have tended to be treated as more important. However, the exceptional techniques cultivated in the analog era have tended to not be passed down well.

b) The type of labor makes work more private

In the type of work environment where everyone is facing their computer screen, mutual communication among the staff is neglected, and there’s a magnified individualization of working hours and labor. If things are left as-is, the tendency will be for staffs to adapt more separated, more freelance, more small office/home office dynamics.

c) Blurring and decay of defined roles

On a technician’s PC, there is a collection of software for the purposes of editing images and videos, so if you consider that a mistake in the coloring or camerawork or backgrounds or effects can be corrected, it becomes a situation where anyone can do it. Because of that, it has become possible to correct all sorts of mistakes in the filming and editing phases, and animators, painters, background artists have come to resent when retakes are requested.

At the same time, as filming mistakes can be fixed in the editing phase without asking the film technicians for a retake, the borders between each job start to erode, and there is a real danger of their focus on their role regressing.

Also, as this fixing can be done relatively easily at any phase of production, it gives birth to the train of thought “let’s just put down on paper, and we can fix it later”, and there is the danger of a focused work environment starting to break down.

d) Provides a rationale for restructuring of roles and outsourcing

As skills and technologies have become standard, productions are now possible that surpass the separations between people, offices, and nations. On the one hand, these facilities do cost money. If the current system, which prioritizes cheap, fast production, is not modified, freelance productions will consequently grow and national productions will consequently decline, and we will grow more and more dependent on foreign production.

Title: How do these changes manifest?

In the case of TV anime, the digital translation has made possible some efficient and appealing shots, but, if it goes poorly, only a fraction of the cuts will be meticulously-rendered and spectacular, and I worry that this may leave impressions that will be bad for the balance of the work as a whole.

As both functional and financial reasons drive a tendency towards subcontracting and outsourcing, it may be that even cheaper, faster, and more spectacular shots will be requested at the expense of the story.

The shape that manual labor takes is one which requires a lonely creation process, and now anyone can experience what it’s like to be an image artist or a creator. But if we do not become conscious of these changes and require balanced communication among staff, the standards of production will perhaps tend to decline, to become marginalized.

Topic: Standards for the betterment of anime production

How, given the basis of this new form of production work, to construct a communication framework and system for collaborative productions?

With the blurring and reshuffling of roles, who will be in charge of what for how long? How many employees of each type should an office have? It is now a time when we must come to grips with a new work environment, and come together to set a standard for production appropriate to our current situation.

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