Interview with Shinichi Suzuki
2D Animator and founder of Studio Basara
Shinichi Suzuki, director at "Yugen Gaisha Anime Koubou Basara" (Studio Basara). Professional key animator in Japan. Mar's key/in-between animation teacher when she studied animation in Tokyo.
Anime's mentioned (including his works)
- Gatchaman, 1972, Tatsunoko Productions
- Neo-Human Casshern, 1973, Tatsunoko Productions
- Hurricane Polymar, 1974, Tatsunoko Productions
- Time Bokan, 1975, Tatsunoko Productions
- Tekkaman The Space Knight, 1976, Tatsunoko Productions
- Cat's Eye, 1983, Tokyo Movie Shinsha
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, 1988, Walt Disney Television Animation & TMS Entertainment (Season 1) & Walt Disney Animation Australia
- Akira, 1988, Tokyo Movie Shinsha
- The Tigger Movie, 2000, Walt Disney Pictures & Disney MovieToons & Walt Disney Television Animation & Walt Disney Animation Japan
- The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, 2000, Walt Disney Video Premiere & Walt Disney Television Animation & Walt Disney Animation Canada
- Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), 2008, A-1 Pictures
- Cardfight!! Vanguard, 2011, TMS Entertainment
- Free!, 2013, Kyoto Animation
- Hibike! Yūfoniamu (Sound! Euphonium), 2015, Kyoto Animation
-Osomatsu-San (Mr. Osomatsu), 2015, Pierrot
- Yuri!!! on Ice, 2016, MAPPA
- SanGatsu no Lion (March Comes in Like a Lion), 2016 (Shaft Animation Studio)
- Gakuen Babysitters, 2018, Brain's base
- Return the Favor, 2018, Maru Exposito
Filmed in 2018
To find part 2-3 of this interview, keep scrolling.
Hey! It's Mar, author of Believe in Fake Magic saga. Today I am interviewing for you a professional animator in Japan in his own Studio. So, we'll enter there and I'll ask him more about how he entered the animation industry 40 years ago, how things have changed, what is the process, and so on.
He is one of the key teachers who helped me out making Return the Favor, the animation graduation project I did at an animation school here in Tokyo. He knows SO many things. I really admire him. He worked in movies like Akira, he works for Disney from Japan, and many, MANY, many others.
Let's start with a self introduction
I've been working in animation for 45 years. When I was 16, by chance, there was an animation studio close to where I lived. Really, I entered through personal connections. Back then I was not in a good financial condition, and I was receiving "Seikatu Hogo"(public assistance).
People from the city hall came to the school, they asked: "what will you do after graduating?" (It is a normal thing that they come to ask young people) So I went to meet them. "And which work do you want to do?" they asked. And I applied for work where I could draw.
At that moment I didn't know how to animate. But by chance, there was an animation company in my town. There I did work for Tatsunoko Productions. Like Gatchaman or Taimu Bokan. That was my start. And then... I did various works at Tatsunoko. "Casshern", "Tekkaman" "Hariken Porimar" And Taimu Pokan. I worked there for 3 years and a half. And I started at "Shin-Ei Douga." Doraemon's?
Although it had a different company name back then. It was called A Productions.
I went there to see how it was. Then, I called. "Do you do interviews?" So I went. And I entered. And then.... what did I do there...? From Shin-Ei Douga, I also took a lot of work from a company called "Tokyo Movie". Like Cats Eye and... Cats Eye... and what else did I do? Anyway, lots of anime. There I participated in collaborations.
My first year and a half was inbetweening (douga) and then key animation (genga). "Cats Eye," collaboration products, and then I took some productions from the US. I started with Pooh there. The Winnie the Pooh TV anime would be shown in the US.
About animated movie productions and creating Studio Basara
After various works there, I participated in Akira's movie. It took like a year and a half.
So, in Japan, does it take 4 years as well?
No, not 4 years.
I mean, from the movie start until it is done.
From the script?
It takes 4 years right?
If it is just the animation part... 1-2 years?
Yes, more or less. The key animation takes around 1 year and a half. After that, the background and inbetweening part is tough.
And it is very detailed.
That one is really impressive. Then, some of the ones who worked at Tokyo Movie together gathered. And we became independent.
After working in Akira, you created the company (Basara). Technically, stopping from Shin-Ei Douga.
Yes, I think so. When we worked in Akira we were already independent. It was kind of unintentional.
You worked for years doing key animation, and even participated in animation movies. Entering "by chance" to the animation industry, and then making an animation company is a big step! I really think it is great.
Hmm. Not exactly "create a company." We were already a group of people ready to work. We just needed a space.
But usually, most do key/in-between animation for other companies directly. And some become freelancers. But when making a company, you also became responsible for others. How come you chose that?
By coincidence, there were various people thinking about it. I see. So it is more like a group association. Exactly. We wanted to be independent, together. That way we decide on our own.
I see. At Basara, you don't create anime from scratch. But you receive orders from other companies. Like, the animation itself... (key animation),.. And background. We also do compositing.
Which anime have you been working on recently?
Gakuen Baby Sitters
Oh, right! I saw that! So, Gakuen Baby Sitters... And from here I can see... Osomatsu-san?
Yes, but just backgrounds. And Vanguard. It is inspired by a card game. Also... Yuri on Ice? It is so great.
Aren't you doing your own animation company? Yes! That is the plan. So not just animation.
Correct. Animation and manga. I thought of a saga. I can do the manga with a small team or alone. After it grows, I will start with animation (again).
The company you're working at now is unrelated, right?
Yes, that is right. But I am learning a lot there. Then in my free time, I work to build my own company.
Hey! This is the second part of my interview with Suzuki from Basara. Previously, we talked about his history, his career, how he entered the Japanese animation industry...
This time we'll go deeper and talk about the struggles, what does he enjoy, and he will be giving advice to aspiring animators.
What is the current flow of work? You receive a phone call from another studio...? Or...?
Yes, that's it... More or less there are some companies that always contact us. Well, mainly. The things we do come from OLM, Brain's Base, and TMS Entertainment.
These are studios that bring work to Basara. And sometimes you receive orders from others. Then Basara does the drawings/backgrounds and delivers them back. Do you have to do retakes? (redraw cuts)
Yes. Lately, we don't do in-between animation or final art/edition. We used to do that though.
Now Basara focuses on key animation and backgrounds. That is still cool! And very difficult...
But there is pride. Do you watch the anime you have worked on? I do not watch them that often. Since before... Oh right, you get the DVD's. Do you watch those then?
Yes! Also, there is animation where the dialogues are recorded before animating.
Now the schedules are so tighter. In reality, when the animation is all painted and done the voice actors add the voice. But then they wouldn't be on time. So they do it with the video storyboard like in your anime.
That is the situation so, they record the voices while watching the video storyboard. So the voice comes earlier.
That is when we actually start drawing. Isn't it reversed at Disney? The voice is even previous to that.
I think so.
What do you like and enjoy from working in the anime industry?
Hmm... Well, I guess what I like is drawing! Obviously. Also, I can use time freely.
But, because of the company, there are situations without freedom, right? Everyone follows the schedule on their own, so that is ok. I am not managing like that. Just like "this is by X date." And then they just continue.
So, you meet with the team, you give them the cuts to draw, and they deliver it to you.
Yes, exactly. I add corrections to what they bring. That is more or less how it works.
Looks like fun!
Since you entered this industry, what have you struggled with?
I am not sure. But the animation nowadays is pretty tough. The details… I can't check everything.
It has too many details!
Right, many lines. That is how it is.
It looks like lots of retakes are necessary...
Right! But since it is becoming digital, things got easier.
Are things easier for traditional (paper) animators when some things are done with CG? Even with CG, isn't it the same for the (drawing) animators?
Not really. The way of drawing for edition is different since it became digital.
I see. So, the animation got to a greater level. But for the animators, since there are more lines, it got worse, right?
In Japanese animation, for example, in games, you get feedback, right? When it comes to anime based on videogames, character design is very important.
Its design has many parts and so on. And it is complex. Lately in such animation, the original creator... (stop) Going back, anime companies selected the character designer.
So the animation company (producers) decides who the character designer is.
"This person designs the character." "The other is director of animation"... Now, the decision comes from the video game company (or others). "This person will be in charge of design."
And that person who designs the character... If it is not someone from the animation industry, the design gets difficult to animate.
Well, there are people who know how to do it. And there are those who don't.
It makes me think... what was the name of that anime? The main character's head was a leopard... and the body...
Yeah... it sounds tough to animate.
It looked so difficult! The animal head had a pattern. So if the pattern/volume is not well drawn when animating it must look terrible!
It becomes a comedy. There are lots of cases like that lately. Vanguard, which we work on, is also complex. Because the designs are based on the game's cards. The people designing the cards care about the sponsor first, not the animators. Obviously.
But those sponsors also pay for the TV anime. And then, since the design is complex, it becomes difficult for the animator. Still, later it looks beautiful.
If they draw it right!
What is a good thing you learned thanks to working in the animation industry? Something you can say as advice.
What could that be...?
Something you would say to people who want to become animators.
Be constant and draw every day. Of course.
It is not something you can achieve just in one day.
One of the things needed to last long, is to keep drawing constantly and establish your own pace or schedule. You have to do that not to burn out. If you just push through the night, you will hurt your eyes.
We are humans.
Draw a lot, and drink at night.
That last part is up to each one to decide (laugh).
What I want to say, is to draw every day constantly.
Keep drawing everyday. Thank you very much!
You, Suzuki Sensei, were one of the teachers who helped our group create the graduation project Return the Favor at Tokyo Design Academy.
So, I would like to show you the final video, and receive comments about it. Is that ok?
(Both start watching Return the Favor’s video)
The music suits the atmosphere.
It is really good. The music is done matching the visuals. As I mentioned before, Japanese would not be able to put color to the trees like you do here.
But you have Momiji(red leaves) in Japan! I said that before but... Is it so different?
I don't know. It is the atmosphere...
The atmosphere... I added purple trees. Why do the red ones stand out that much to everyone? It makes me curious...
Ah, In this version the mist is not fixed yet.
Yes, correct. I will change that.
The eyes are fixed.
Yeah. But I need to fix the mist in all this scene.
Yes. It makes me remember the voice recording day.
Mister Dragon made a huge effort! Oh, and Oda Sensei mentioned she likes the skid part. I think it is good thanks to Suzuki Sensei's help.
(now somewhere else) In here when it turns black... This!
Why did you add it?
Hum...Not to show that Wendel is tearing the cloth apart. I added the sound, but I don't want to spoil it exactly.
Since later I show the cloth on the Dragon. "What is that sound?" "Oh, the feather is there." "Aaaah the cloth!" Those are the thoughts I want to provoke. Maybe I should make the sound louder.
Yes, you are right
Without that people have doubts.
Currently it is difficult to get it.
We come from white, show a cut, then black, then another cut. It is difficult to understand it...
About the ending...
It reminds me of the Jungle book.
Really? You mean the style?
No, the illustration itself. It has a similar atmosphere.
I can't remember it. Disney's Jungle Book?
Maybe... when the kid is with the wolves?
Hmmm maybe? Probably I am wrong.
I don't know!
But generally, when I looked at the storyboard, it already felt like "ooooooh". (continuous????)
You were especially strict, with the number of drawings
More than the amount... it was with the movement. There were ways to do the same with fewer drawings. In Japan we don't use that many drawings.
But I wanted to make it move properly.
Well, I understand that. But in the result, the amount matches well the movement.
Suzuki sensei asks: What do you think (about your animation)?
Mar: Hmmmm. Fifty fifty? But given the time we had, I am proud of it.
Suzuki: You were pretty strict about the planning and scheduling. It was tough, right?
Absolutely. When I said "this is until X day." But it went farther. "Ok, I made changes, now is until Y day." That was tough. Before that, I used to work on art projects like that, by myself at my own speed. But this time I had to consider each one's skill level and timing. It was the first time I struggled like that.
More than advice... how can I say it. Everyone has a style when they are drawing/working. For example, Karaki, Matsubara... Tokano and Oda. Just think about these 4 people.
When you think about their styles. You know the answer, right?
With that in mind, you can figure out the best managing style. You can see all that naturally. ANONYMOUSNAME is good at cuts that are difficult and interesting. She will work on them properly.
Exactly. But I learned that by trial and error!
That is how the schedule broke. That was the problem. "Know your team."
Yes. Keep an eye on that.
When I looked at the video storyboard, I noticed that the animation timing was somehow weak.
The change from cut to cut was like:
“Cut ___ Cut ____”
That felt odd. The pacing would be bad.
I saw that. But you kept adding changes to the key animation video. The place where he stabs the spear to the ground. Where Wendel runs away. On screen, it can't be that slow. That full scene was slow.
I had a problem making the key animation video. For example, in the spear falling, you make 1 drawing with the spear up, and 1 with the spear stabbing the ground. But in the video, up is there a long time and down would stay there for such a fast time. It moves fast to the next cut. It is very fast. So in the video I let the spear in the ground for longer.
I was afraid people wouldn't get what's going on. What should I do in these cases? Advance the spear down?
In the video test, you can't ever really judge the final look. The cut changes. Exactly, people can't see the action in between and gets lost. So I could made everything a bit longer, or advance the key animation drawing inside the cut.
Then people has time to see what happens. And move on. I struggled a lot there.
Yeah... Obviously, until you make the in-between animation video, you can't know how it really looks.
Right. I was actually strict on the timings. I watched various graduation animated shorts online. They generally look very slow. And I hate that. But if my cuts were too fast, you can't get the story. I pushed very hard and made many changes. But if I made too many changes, the team would struggle.
Also, in the final screen, you have color. Things are way easier to catch. The image sticks to the eye better.
So...even if the test videos feel fast, it should be ok. Even for myself.
I watch these pictures many times. The eye gets used to them.
That is also a problem.
And then, how can I say it... It feels slow. It is difficult to judge the speed.
That is why I showed the video to different people.
But most made contradictory comments! I really didn't know what to do! I saw it too many times myself too. I saw it so many times that I got motion sick.
That is how it gets, right?
What to do then?
In those cases, just go back to the original plan. Think "What did I want to do?" Remember the feeling when you did the storyboard.
And you also had the music. So you can't change times freely. It can’t be changed.
But the music came with pieces. So I had some margin. For example: If I add more slow motion here, I can cut there.
I did that various times. That wasn't such a struggle.
You get better at it the longer you do it. Pile up experience. "If I do this here... " "ah... maybe...?" "aah..."
"ah... it has to be slower"
Even after I finished it, I can't tell if it is slow or fast anymore. I get the feedback from others. "Ahh, I see. Really?"
"Then it was good I guess." That's how it got. Is it the same in your case?
I think so. You look at it for a long time.
Exactly! Time after time.
And I saw yours from the key animation.
We saw it too many times. But comparing the picture I got when looking at the storyboard for the first time, with this finished version. It is not that different.
Thank you very much!
I put such emphasis on that (timing).
As a whole, I did not feel anything strange when I saw the storyboard.
Isn't that because you made a big effort.
Hahaha You see...
This type of experience is rare in life. I mean... since it's a part of a class, you can be as picky as you want.
Working on your own thing... You would have to make some compromise at some point.
Only if you build your own company (project).
Right. Then you can do what you want.
But if others don't like it either...
... then it won't work!
It was a great experience for you.
Yes. You saw how I acted as an animator director. Is there any other advice you'd give me? You must have seen me make mistakes.
You did things a bit too much on your own. Everything was like "I have to do this!" It is natural, since it is your original project. Hmmm but...
"Trust more in others"?
More than "trust"... More like, if you (Mar) don't finish X, others can't start Y. That's the situation. The original story is in your own head only, Mar.
Right? Of course you think "I have to be the one doing this"... But... well. Everyone made an effort in the in-betweens.
Absolutely. And I did not do in-between painting at all. They did such an effort. I said it clear "I can't do the painting." "If I do the painting, we won't meet the deadline."
"I TRULY entrust you this part!
The team worked so hard. Even with the retakes.
I just saw you at classes with animation drawing.
I didn't see you all paint or do backgrounds. I don't know how that went. Maybe that is why I think you did too much alone. But that is true. The rest of the team did painting and other things. Something else I am not sure about were the slow motion parts.
The current slow motion parts are well done. You did cut the number of drawings that were necessary for the slow motion.
That is true. For example, before we had a hand... How many drawings did I set for it...? 17? But it was just this tiny movement! And similar cuts... You saved the team by making me cut drawings.
Hahaha. I did.
What would you say was good? "You did this well so keep doing it!" Were there good things?
Oh... You finished it at this level. Isn't that amazing?
Hahaha. Thank you very much.
If you got to this result, it means you did things right.
Yes. You wouldn't be here otherwise.
And everyone still looks healthy (not overworked).
That's true. Hahaha. And that is what I think.
You definitely look so quiet today.
Hahaha. That is how I am at work. I mean, when I work, I don't speak! At school, when I draw I am quiet too.
But I have to also teach (and become more noisy).
That makes sense.
I guess I am a bit different in both places.
As a last thing, would you draw Wendel? The boy from the anime.
Oh, this one is Oda Sensei's drawing. Can I see? (as I prepare the paper, he sees a drawing popping from the folder) It is cute!
Isn't it?! So cute. Here's the character sheet. By the way, do you have comments on the character sheet? You see a lot of these.
You made these designs digitally, right?
Yes. Well, the lines were done with pencil, and I paint it digitally after scanning. Although, the eyes have a texture we added digitally. Is it ok?
Eh? "Is it ok"? Of course, I'll draw him.
Thank you so so much sensei!
Send me the next interview!
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