Making an Anime!

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Are you one of those people who just can’t help but want to know everything behind the things they are obsessed about? Well, I am. And I am obsessed with anime! One afternoon, with nothing on hand, I traveled high and low throughout the Internet for everything I could find on how to make an anime. And here I am, reporting my findings for the sake of my fellow anime lovers, who might share my interest.

1st Step: Come up with an original plot

While majority of the series we see nowadays is an anime adaptation of a manga or a light novel, standalone films are often works of pure creation and not uncommon at all. The production houses think of an adaptation as a safe bet, riding the hype train of the existing work on paper; which means that almost everybody who liked the manga or the light novel will see the anime to guarantee a financial success.

The animation studios, do try to show pure creativity once in a while. Rather, there are some studios which are solely dedicated to the art of creating an original story and work and pride themselves in it instead of making an adaptation. As said by the eminent Hayao Miyazaki himself:

“When the original story is from a manga, the work of creating a world has already been done by the author. No matter how faithfully you turn it into animation, how much you expand on it, the essential basics of creating a world have already been done, and you cannot avoid being secondary to it. Although it may be good training, I think it is worth bearing in mind that animating an original manga is unrewarding even if the result is popular with the general public.”

And this opens up a whole new world called original anime. While the idea for an original anime comes within the animation studio, without the production house’s approval it won’t happen. After the production house’s gives it an ‘okay,’ the work starts. A team is assembled from within the studio and they start work.
If by some perchance the production house and animation studio end up being one and the same, then it breeds unprecedented creativity in the work that ends up setting examples in the industry.

Since it is an original work, the first order of business is character design and plot development. The plot comes mainly from the one who initiated the idea, mainly the animation director. Like in the case of “Spirited Away,” Hayao Miyazaki came up with the plot in a way to provide the female fans of anime something substantial to watch instead of just romantic anime. After the plot is developed, a screenplay is devised. The character design gets finished by that point and the work on animation begins.


1st Step(Again?): Publish a Manga & hope it gets popular

Making an anime can be costly. Costly as in they can run up a bill of about a couple million yen excluding post production costs. So the anime studios don’t generally touch an idea that hasn’t taken the form of a manga, got published in a magazine, and became popular.

The reason is that making an anime on a popular manga confirms a good deal of popularity for the anime because fans of the manga would be willing to watch its anime adaptation and purchase related merchandise in future. It’s a safe bet, and the audience gains too – thus creating a win-win situation.

For light novels, it’s even tougher. They have to rank high up on bestseller lists to even dream of having an anime adaptation because even ranking higher doesn’t hold much promise of an adaptation in the case of light novels. Of course, there have been exceptions where not-so-popular novels got adapted, but only a handful.

For example, Hetalia received a huge positive boost from its fanbase and that triggered an anime adaptation.



2nd Step: Pre-Production Planning

In case you did draw a manga that became popular and got picked up by an anime studio, things go out of your hands and into their hands. The staff of the studio sit down and decide basic stuff like how many episodes the anime will have, which parts to add, and if some stuff will get cut. An elementary character design discussion also takes place in this meeting. After this meeting all the actual work takes place.

3rd Step: Beginning production

Well, now it’s time to begin work. The core stuff gets divided into appropriate departments and the staff begins to work. But there are some sub-steps here.

1. Writing the script and creating storyboards

Before anything else, the script is written. Once the script is finished, it is reviewed by the director, the producers, and finally the author. And once that is out-of-the-way, the work on the storyboards begins.

It is generally the director who creates the storyboards. It is his vision of how every scene would pan out and how the anime will play out – like how long a shot would appear, how much screen time a particular character would get, etc. Kind of like a real director, except he’s drawing stuff instead of just screaming at people!(P.S. He totally does scream at people too! 😉 )

2. Layouts

Making layouts means arranging the storyboards as they would appear in the actual finished product. It is also the first time where you would get to see the background elements like trees, rocks, buildings, etc. It’s like the rough drawings.

The order in which the cels would appear is also determined at this stage. Finally, when the layout is done and is approved by the director, it gets sent to the “background department” where the artists will prepare the finalized cels for animation.

3. Animation

This is the part where your favorite character would transform from a black-and-white image to a colored one that moves! Or at least be prepared for it. And as we all know, the anime is still “traditional,” i.e., it’s still essentially hand-drawn and it still remains a great art form.

The process of animation starts with the key animators starting to create the animation drawings. Each key animator is assigned a number of scenes they have to create by the animation director (more on this role in a bit) and the key animators create the expressing features of a particular cel. Though they are required to follow the storyboard, many animators are known to go beyond the guidelines of the storyboard and give their own distinctive flavor to the anime.

There’s also this one guy (or girl) in the animation part of things, who is known as the animation director. This guy is a more experienced animator, who is paid a little more and he, more or less, oversees the animation process. He is the one responsible for checking the consistency in the drawings of the key animators. He is the one making necessary corrections and often gets stuck having to redraw entire frames. The number of animation directors differs from project to project, with some of them hiring one for every single episode.

There is also in-between animation, which is done when the layout drawings are passed from one key animator to another. It is mainly an underpaid and thankless job that is often outsourced to Korea or China. Yes, animation studios are slave drivers. The in-between scenes are also checked at this point, with express directions from the animation director.

But what would blow everyone’s mind is the number of drawings that is needed for a single episode of an anime. While a good animation director would do wonders with less than a thousand frames, but for many anime, the frame count would run up to a mind-boggling 10,000 frames per episode!

The studios generally try to cut down on this number, naturally. Remember that the more the drawings, the costlier it gets.

4. Compositing or filming

This isn’t really ‘filming’ in the traditional sense, but then again it does bear some similarities. What starts it all is the digitizing of the hand-drawn layouts and coloring them with a specified color palette (differs from studio to studio). This used to be done by hand, but now computers are used for the sake of efficiency.

Moreover, the use of computers and digitizing has given birth to some very interesting visual styles. After the coloring is done, these become the modern equivalent of the ‘cels.’ And after all this, the ‘filming’ begins.

The finished and colored layouts are now processed into animation. Specialized software is used for this. A Google search revealed that the industry leader was RETAS! PRO. I don’t seem to be able to find its price but reading through various forums hinted that it must cost a lot.

Also, 3DCG seems to be a lot more popular among anime studios. Mechas, cars, and even background characters are sometimes made using 3DCG. The visual effects are also added during the ‘filming’ part. The effects are generally hand-drawn, but effects CG is added for brightness and good visuals. And after that is done the anime moves into editing and post-production phase.

4th Step: Editing

Editing is not cutting random pieces of the anime that someone doesn’t like or approve. Rather it’s dividing the episodes into intervals so that time slots for adverts are kept and it doesn’t feel like it’s cut out abruptly.

5th Step: Post-production

There are two further sub-steps in this step.

1. Completing production

Completing production refers to roping in voice actors, roping in a music director, and recording the opening and ending themes. After the dubbing is finished and the opening and ending themes, along with the sound effects, are edited into the episodes, the finished products move into the hands of the PR departments.

2. Publicizing and broadcasting

The “finished product”, i.e., the set of the completed and edited anime episodes, is then passed on to the publicity department, which would take it to various TV networks and local public areas with maximum exposure. Once the TV network is decided, they have to finalize the time slot in which the show would be aired.

A late-night slot could cost around fifty million yen. A prime-time slot like six in the evening would probably cost around half-a-billion yen approximately. After paying off the TV network for the time slots and other associated costs, adverts and merchandise for the concerned anime are made. It’s just publicizing at this point.

Since the anime would generally be based on an already popular manga, a dedicated fanbase for the anime is more or less expected. If the anime becomes highly popular in Japan, foreign rights are also sold for it.

Here’s a Basic Recap:

  1. Planning
  2. Concept Design
  3. Character Design
  4. Background (drawings) Design
  5. Key Animation
  6. In-between Animation
  7. Color Styling
  8. SFX Animation
  9. Editing
  10. Dubbing (voice)
  11. Sound Effects Editing
  12. Music selection
  13. Final Sound Editing
  14. Promotion & Release


Hope you enjoyed reading.

Van Wider

Van Wider is our light novels expert who covers other genres as well. His level of skill in leafing through manga and light novels is probably unsurpassed by the lot of us at Nihonden. He writes in quick summaries that are always easy to gulp down.