How is ANIME Made? – The Complete Anime Production Guide

Come on, admit it. When you watch your favorite anime there’s not a speck of thought that comes through your mind about how it was made and what was the process that the series went through just to have that amazing quality. You may be thinking that when the Japanese make anime, they’re organized and clean, and always on schedule just like how other things work in Japan. But not so fast, it doesn’t work like that.

The process of producing an anime is so chaotic that you can even compare it to that time you tried to fry something and the oil keeps exploding like it’s World War 3. The production is full of missed schedules, revisions, and a whole lot of paperwork, but undoubtedly they still deliver as amazing shows. 

Today, I’ll take you through the process of how your favorite series was created. We never appreciate the hard work it takes in creating something so beautiful yet complex, so maybe this article may let you fall in love more with the treasure called anime

There are a total of 3 major steps before an anime can be aired these include: Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production.

Read More: 17+ EXCITING Manga & Anime Attractions in Tokyo

Table of Contents

Pre-Production:

1. Pre Production Anime

Presenting and Approving the Idea

There are a total of 2 major source materials where anime is made from Manga/Light Novels and Original Anime Scripts. In order for pre-production to even begin, the publisher must present his/her source material to the production companies such as Aniplex and Viz Media who will pay for most of the expenses such as broadcasting, advertisements, and the production itself. Production companies will also handle finding sponsors. But if you’re planning to make your Manga or Light Novel in the hopes of making it into an anime, hold your horses. First off, there’s a lot of competition and second is that the publisher will also help with the costs, so don’t think that you’re not gonna spend a single penny.

Next is that the Animation studio (eg. Clover Works, Studio Wit, MAPPA, etc.) will also take a look at your idea or source material and see if they want to take on the project. If it’s an anime original script then the studio might lend you a hand in terms of the expenses. But approval can take time and depend on how big the project is. Also, take note that anime original scripts take longer to approve than source materials such as Manga or Light Novels.

The Staff

After your ideas get accepted by both the production company and the animation studio, the next thing is that the anime studio will select a dedicated staff to work on the project. Some of them may be full-time staff that are directly employed by the studio while others have designated departments and/or hire a large number of freelancers. It’s basically Haikyuu!: Eromanga Sensei Edition.

1- Publisher

This is you. The one who owns the idea and the source material. You’ll also serve as the Script Supervisor. This job is for the one who will write the dialogues of the characters and determine the overall plot, setting, character development, and other related actions. The publisher/script supervisor also has a team of writers that do most of the work, your job is more of being an editor rather than being a writer yourself.

2- Producer

The producer is the one who works directly with the production company. He/she is the one who finds pieces that have the most potential of being adapted into an anime. The producer also handles the financing and promotion of the project. They have a ton of influence over the project so they are included in major meetings and decisions.

3- Director

You probably know the meaning of this job so I’ll explain it as easily as I can. He’s practically the boss. He oversees everything. He is present at every stage of production, he is responsible for the storyboards, and has the final say in every decision including the final assessment of each episode. If you’re gonna relate him to an anime character, he’s Rimuru Tempest from “The Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime”.

4- Episode Director

If the Director is the Final Boss then the Episode Director’s are the Mini-Bosses that you find in every 10th stage of a dungeon. They are assigned to a specific episode that is directly working with the overall Director. It’s pretty self-explanatory, even a goblin would understand.

5- Layout Director

The layout director positions the character in the background. They give a blueprint of how the final product of the scene should look. They also handle the angle of the shot of the character in the setting. They are essentially the cinematographers of the staff.

6- Art/Film Director

I know right, there are a lot of directors getting involved. The Art/Film Director or in other studios known as the Photography Director is in charge of the background and setting of the anime. He is constantly working with background artists to handle the specific lighting, color, shadow, and even weather. One such popular work of Art/Film Directors is the backgrounds of Makoto Shinkai Films which are breathtaking.

7- Animation Director

The animation director is the highest-ranking animator that is assigned to the project. He/she usually finds problems in the consistency, quality, and if the keyframes need revisions. Take note that there are a lot of Animation Directors such as a Chief Animation Director, and other lower Animation Directors. It’s a pretty stressful job considering you’re the one to blame if something goes wrong. Animation Directors have to be on point and check every single line so that everything else goes smoothly. 

8- Concept Designer

The concept designer, of course, designs the concepts. He is in charge of how the characters look especially when in their environment. They also make decisions to change any part of the character and this occasionally happens when the project is a Manga/Light Novel adaptation. This role is often more important as some also serve as the Chief Animation Director. What more is there to say? He makes sure that your favorite waifu looks good.

They also draw initial and final versions of the different settings, backgrounds, and the world where the story is set on. With that in mind, the role is on an entirely different level as he even has to make several monster types, powers, and moves if it is an action or fantasy anime. This role takes a huge toll on how the concept designer spends his time on other things except for work. 

9- Key Animator

The key animator is the one who draws keyframes which are the main poses, movements, and distinct emotions of the characters. They usually draw high-quality and detailed frames. Their work is usually based on the layout or storyboard and the number of key animators working on a single episode can vary depending on the events that will occur. A more action-packed episode will most likely have more key animators than an episode that has more dialogue. Remember the scene in MHA where Overhaul got wrecked? That took a whole lot of time to animate.

10- In-Between Animator

The in-between animators are the ones who finish what happens in between keyframes. In every anime, there are usually 24 frames per second and most of those are in-between frames. It makes the animation more fluid. in-between animator’s salaries are probably one of the lowest there is since this position is only a temporary step in all of the animator’s careers. Although an important job, being an in-between animator is not an ideal career choice. This where most of the hired freelancers go to.

11- Color Artists

As the name suggests, color artists are the ones who color the frames that the key animators and in-between animators make. Of course, as everything is modernized the color artists use gadgets and editing software to color the frames. They are in close ties with the art/film director so that the colors are correct and the characters do not look weird when finally put together in their respective settings. You wouldn’t want to see a rainbow-colored dog in a serious show like Jujutsu Kaisen. 

12- Recording Director

They are the ones who handle the sound, voice acting, and music that will accompany the show. There’s nothing more to say other than they were the ones who directed the “ara~ ara~” dialogue that you guys love so much.

Now that we’ve discussed the ones who will be involved in making the anime series you proposed, let’s move on to how they will do it. The production!

Production:

4. Anime Production

The production involves several steps and lets all of the staff that we talked about earlier participate in the process. So without further ado, let’s get into it!

Concept Design

The character design process’s difficulty and length are based on the source material. If the source material is a Manga, most of the time the characters will look exactly or similar to their original character design in the Manga. But if the source material is a Light Novel or an original anime idea then the characters have to be visualized by the artist according to their description of the Light Novel or script.

The artist will draw every part of the character from their body shape to the structure of their eyes. Sometimes the artist might change some things to better fit their overall aesthetic. That’s why manga readers sometimes complain when their favorite Manga is getting an anime adaptation because sometimes they change the characters’ appearances. But I bet you want to meet Levi and Mikasa’s character designer huh? You simply.

As mentioned before, not only do concept designers make characters but they make the world where the character resides. He/she also has to make sure that the environment created suits the plot and overall aesthetic of the character. It is also a daunting task to avoid cliches since there are so many anime that exist.

Before the designs are finally transferred to the storyboard they must have a thorough evaluation from the Director, Producer, Publisher, and Art/Film Director. The concept designer’s job is very difficult since if the character design or world-building is not enjoyed by the audience, it will be present for the entire duration of the series, and it will be his/her fault.

Storyboards

Once your script’s been finalized and the concept designs are approved by the Director and the Producer, it’s only just text. The storyboard will serve as the visual guide on how your series will flow. It’s usually the job of the Director to create the storyboard. They are usually rough sketches and not highly detailed drawings. They play an important role as they also contain notes about the camera movement, the dialogue, and the length of the shot which is indicated by the number of frames. 

Storyboards also become a basis for the next step and the artists that will be involved in it. Since it is finalized by the Director, there should be no extra scenes or different angles. 

If the source material is a Manga, the storyboard is mostly based on the Manga panels and is much easier and will take a lesser amount of time compared to original anime ideas or Light Novel adaptations. So have patience if your favorite Light Novel series is taking too long to make an anime adaptation.

Layouts

The layouts are handled by non-other than the Color Artist! You won’t survive long in this world if you believed that. Of course, it will be overseen by the Layout Director along with the Director and maybe even the Producer. The Layout Director will fill in the details of the camera movement as well as building a blueprint in how the final shot will look by positioning the cells that were assigned in the cut and the specific background. In other words, they are forming the overall composition of the scene.

Some layouts have multiple contents from the storyboard combined in one cut. The layouts will be approved by the Director and the Producer before they will be distributed to the Art/Film Director who will always keep the original copy and it will also be given to Key Animators to start the animation process.

Key Animation

Key animation as discussed earlier is handled by key animators who only draw essential frames in every scene. These can range from distinct emotions, emphasized movements, or even both as seen in the picture of Deku. They draw high-quality frames that are the basis of the in-between animators and the structure of the whole flow of the animation. The key animation frames also feature where the shadows and the lighting will be present on the cel. Key animators base their work on the storyboard. Since this is such an important job, key animators who have great reputations even can alter the storyboard or draw their in-between frames.

The number of frames included in the key animation will depend on the fluidity, speed, and nature of the scene. The frames included in the key animation will be approved by the Animation Director before they will be transferred to the in-between animators. Key animations are usually the highlight of the scenes, one example is when Gojo from JJK first used his Domain Expansion, Infinite Void.

Second Key Animation

Second Key Animation is a relatively new addition to the process of making anime. It serves as somewhat of a stage where animators double-check the key animation before passing it on to the Animation Director.

In-between Animation

Anime artists are in a love-hate relationship with in-between animation. One is that it’s an important role because it gives that smooth motion to the animation, and it also has one of the lowest-paying salaries any animator should have. In-between animation is where freelancers and animators without experience are thrown to. In-between animation is where you draw the frames between the keyframes that key animators drew. Since most anime are currently running on 24 frames per second as mentioned before, there are only a handful of keyframes present so in-between frames fill up the rest.

There is also an In-between supervisor present that checks the consistency of the frames so that it doesn’t have any weird motion between the keyframes.

Colored Digitally

Color Artists nowadays use digital software to color the frames that are sent to them by the key animators and in-between animators. They also make sure to close the gaps between the lines so that the color will not leak using the paint bucket tool. CG is also added to add a 3D feel to the character. Not only do the color artists paint the skin and hair, but they also make sure to put in the shadow and proper lighting that was set in the frames. Because of the unlimited digital software the colored cells can be put against the designated background to make sure that everything is in harmony.

Filming/Adding the Background

This process is usually handled by the Film/Art Director and uses software such as Adobe After Effects and can run up to 100 layers! If you don’t know how many that is when editing just tries keeping count of how many skittles there are in a pack and try to remember every color. But it’s more difficult than that.

Since everything is being digitized especially after the coloring stage, they are then animated on dedicated software and the background can be added easily. By using those types of software, the background can keep up with the quality and detail of the animation included in the frames. There is a process also known as 3DCG which you will usually see in mechas, cars, or even background characters. 

Effects are included in this phase as well. Remember, Megumin’s Explosion in Konosuba? That wouldn’t be possible if there was no FX involved in the production. Effects help in enhancing magic, explosions, and even the overall atmosphere of a certain scene. There are also subtle effects that you might not notice such as sunset backlight, glare, the shine in the eyes of the characters, and more which give more depth to the 2D animation.

This is an important step in the process and is one of the most difficult as it is like filming.

Post-Production:

The post-production phase is applying the finishing touches and the cleaning up process before a new anime is aired to the public. Just wait a little more and your very own anime will be released worldwide.

Voice Acting and Music

What kind of anime doesn’t have voice acting and sound effects? 

One of the last steps before an anime is released is of course giving life to your characters. One thing that separates the main characters from the background characters is that they have a voice.

There is a screening for voice actors/actresses in the anime industry and it’s a profession with a lot of competition. Famous voice actors/actresses often get big jobs which leaves no room for rising stars. The lines will also be handled and supervised by the recording director.

Other than voice acting, most anime are even given legendary status because of their music and soundtrack. One such example is Unravel from Tokyo Ghoul and Sparkle from Your Name. Do not underestimate the power of music, you may have the power of god and anime on your side but that won’t do you good if your music sucks.

Another important thing to be remembered is the sound effects. Sound effects play a crucial role in enhancing the impact of fights and even comedy. They are one of the most important factors that help apply an atmosphere in a scene.

Refining

Refining is the process where you adjust different aspects of the finished product. It may include revising some keyframes, changing character dialogues, to even adding more special effects. You don’t want to have the Seven Deadly Sins meme frame appear on your anime, don’t you? The final approval should be given by the Director, Producer, and Publisher once they view the episode and determine if it is ready to air. But because of the busy schedule and some studios are even understaffed there are some instances where weird in-between frames appear from time to time.

Captions/Credits

Of course, since anime is now available worldwide, captions must be added so that everyone can enjoy the show. Not only that, but the staff who worked so hard should also appear even just at the end of the episode to give credit to those who worked so hard just to give us entertainment.

Making anime is not just as easy as everyone thinks it is. There is so much hard work put into a single second of a 20-minute episode. It’s better than now that we know the process of creating these amazing shows that we can appreciate the effort of the underpaid and overworked animators who give it their all. A 13 episode anime will take an entire studio a year to complete. Behind every big shot, the studio is a team of dedicated individuals who embrace this chaotic process for us to love the beautiful results. 

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