Considering the quality of your work, is it safe to assume you get many requests that you have to turn down due to schedule conflicts?
(Laughs) To be honest, I mostly get asked for commissions or the legendary “I have an amazing project I am doing on my own and I want you to animate on it.” But yeah, as you guessed, there are so many offers that I have to decline a lot of them. Since leaving “Les Gobelins,” I made myself a promise that I would never sleep less than 6 hours per night. For now I have managed to keep that sleep schedule.
Going back to the salary, do you sometimes choose the projects you work on based on the pay? Is it a deal-breaker if you can’t negotiate the wage? If not, do you instead decide based on the title itself or the staff behind it?
I’m probably not the right person to answer this question, because I earn almost nothing from working on Japanese productions. Most of the time I don’t even check how much they pay me to be honest. The vast majority of my work and around 95% of my salary are from French productions – I can live comfortably from that. I consider my work on Japanese productions as a hobby, what I earn from it can be called pocket change. As an example, the pay for 3 episodes of BORUTO is still less than one month’s salary from France. So, to those whose main source of income is Japanese production, don’t follow my example: negotiate your rates! I have the luxury of being a privileged freelancer who is often invited to work on super cool projects with incredible artists, while at the same time covered by the french system. So, my only criteria when I choose a project to work on is the enjoyment that project can give me, and of course my schedule.
Now I would like to talk about your work on BORUTO #204. It was your first time as an action animation director, right? How did you handle it? Did you get total freedom from the episode director, Ogiwara-san, or did he give you some guidelines that you had to follow?
My work on BORUTO #204 was quite an experience for sure. I had already gotten offers in the past to work as an animation director (AD), both on Japanese and French productions, but I always declined. The reason for this is that I love animating. In France, the ADs that I worked with weren’t animating anymore or they animated very little and that put me off a bit. I remember that Asaoka-san (the production assistant) offered me to be AD on BORUTO #192 but I had to decline because of my schedule. In the end, I can’t keep declining these kinds of offers eternally. Also, in the event that I have a lot of free time or there’s a project/episode that really appeals to me, it’s worth trying it for the experience at least. For my work as action AD, it was interesting to have access to all the files for that episode’s entire pipeline. Such as the previews of the episode as it evolves little by little* and the roughs of all the animators.
The way it was organized was really simple. Unlike an animation director, I didn’t pick the cuts to correct or even what parts I had to fix. For example, on Hiroto Nakagawa-san’s cuts I was asked to only correct the effects, so I added some impact frames, changed the timing, added some layers, etc. For some other sequences, like Sasuke’s Amaterasu, I changed some poses to make the sequence more dynamic. For example, the cut where Sasuke put his hand in front of his face just before re-opening his eyes. On Julien Cortey’s part, since we often worked together and I had total faith in him, I only gave him stick figures. Basically, I had total freedom in the way I executed these instructions. There was also Mr. Vincent Cooper’s sequence, which by the way Shuu Sugita-san said that it was his favorite part of the episode: he followed the storyboard very closely, but sometimes something that works well in the storyboard might not work as well in its animated form. Mr. Cooper couldn’t have known that in advance, so it was one of the rare cases where I was asked to re-do the whole sequence from scratch.
If I had the opportunity, I would have contacted all the animators individually to give them notes so they could correct their cuts themselves (if they were interested and had the time of course), but Asaoka-san was clear about the fact that I had to do all the corrections myself. Also, I didn’t have all the information about which animator did which cuts, and there wasn’t even time to contact anyone so it wasn’t an option for this episode anyway. That’s probably my only real regret: I wish I could have talked to everyone and discussed each cut in order for the team and the production to reach greater heights. In addition to that, I also wanted to correct more cuts and perhaps talk with the rest of the staff like the compositing team.
At what stage of the production did you start working as action AD? Also planning-wise, did Asaoka-san give you a longer schedule compared to when you worked only as a key animator?
My work as action AD took place right between the layout phase and the corrections from animation directors. To be specific, after receiving the layouts, there is a first step which consists of viewing the animatics (layout rush) and I had access to it, then after that step and while the enshutsu (episode director) was correcting the approved cuts, some cuts were sent to me with instructions about what to correct. When I was done with those, I would send the cuts back to the studio. For reassurance, my work as action AD was done after the layout phase so I was already done with my own cuts. Planning-wise, the episode director saw my LO and requested me to be action AD. However to give you an idea, Asaoka-san asked me to be AD on BORUTO #192 while the storyboard of that episode was almost done, so roughly a bit less than a month before the start of the LO phase.
It’s a well known trend that schedules are getting tighter and tighter, partly due to overproduction with even high-profile productions affected. In that kind of climate, animators are less likely to clean their own works. While at the same time, we often find too many cooks in the kitchen with an army of animation directors working to keep a single episode’s drawings on model.. What is your stance on that topic, also do you sometimes think about focusing on projects that give you enough time to be fully in charge of your animation?
There’s a lot to say indeed and I’m not sure I have a definitive opinion on that matter myself. First, because I work from France, so I can’t directly see how the productions are going and also because I’ve never been late, so I can’t say I have personally suffered from that situation. For a myriad of reasons, I love doing the genga for my cuts. Naturally, having full control of your cuts is ideal, but also for the pleasure of drawing and being able to learn from the corrections received from the animation directors. Indeed, as someone who has always been bad at technical drawing, doing genga is an opportunity for me to learn from animators who are masters. So, for those reasons, I’m always sad when I can’t clean my drawings, but those are the rules of the industry: it’s something I was ready for, and an integral part of the job. I have no problem with a director changing my layout, and as long as it doesn’t create awfully troublesome situations, they’re entitled to make their own decisions. If you participate, you must follow the rules of the game, that’s how it is. However, that doesn’t mean that a discussion between the director/supervisor and the animators whose cuts got changed shouldn’t take place. I would have loved to do that with Vincent Cooper when I changed his cuts on BORUTO #204. I wish I had a conversation with him, but again, only the people involved are concerned here.
The only exception, but it’s based on the French industry so I’m not sure it’s all that relevant, is when I worked with a supervisor who was delaying the production because of his late corrections. One obvious example, among others, was him asking an inbetweener to clean by hand all the frames of an OL of a rock that was a still drawing that would be slid during compositing. While we’re at it, and to reinforce the fact that the reason behind a cut changing doesn’t matter much, I recently saw many people criticize the communication between studio-side staff and animators, but in reality the communication is exactly the same whether the cuts are kept the same or redone. A cut changing doesn’t necessarily mean that the director couldn’t convey their intents, but perhaps rather that their intents changed, or they didn’t realize how the storyboard would look once animated.
For example, I insist on the fact that Vincent Cooper’s cuts on BORUTO #204 were totally accurate to the storyboard.. However, when the director saw how the animated version of his storyboard looked, he realized he wanted something else. And that also goes for a production that is running late. It’s easy to storyboard a 10-second cut with several characters on screen, but when it’s animated, you realize that it would be a pain to clean and inbetween, especially if the director started a new job between the time they’re doing the board and the time they’re doing corrections. This is something I saw recently on a production I did layout for. So contrary to what one might think, it’s not always a matter of communication. Sometimes there are reasons specific to each production or director that make changes necessary. As surprising as it might sound, unless there are very basic mistakes ,changes aren’t always the fault of the animator.
And I will sort of contradict myself here, but after supervising cuts myself, talking with some people, and directly seeing some layouts, I know that there are some badly done layouts that should have been corrected but have not. If those layouts can get approved, it’d be a mistake to think that altered layouts are necessarily bad. Every production has its own circumstances, and those should be investigated and questioned rather than pointing fingers at people. It’s the system that needs change; any other consideration is useless. It’s too easy to attack sensitive human beings while some are benefiting from a system that is the true culprit. My point also applies to people saying things like “anyone can be hired nowadays,” effectively putting the blame on “anyone.”
Personally, I would be lying if I said I were a victim of that system. All the studios I worked with contacted me, even several times, to work with them again. And that’s why I stay discreet when there are big arguments on twitter. I’m privileged, I easily get work on Japanese productions, all the studios I worked with liked my works, I have never been late…it would be hypocritical for me to criticize a system that treats me so well. The times I couldn’t clean my cuts are largely compensated by the times I could, and as surprising as it might sound, even productions like Madoka Magia Record S2 where I rarely cleaned my cuts were challenging. I learned a lot from this…rather special production. I got faster thanks to it, so the constraint of not being able to do your own clean-up can create new challenges and is possibly an ideal environment to get better.
Regarding the last part, knowing that you wouldn’t be able to do the genga for your cuts, did you try to compensate in your LO?
Yes, more and more with my drawings. Animators have their own way of doing and pushing [the level of detail in] their layouts. It’s made even more obvious when you get to see other animators’ layouts in a given production. I had that opportunity on Fate/Grand Order Camelot 2nd movie, and seeing everyone’s layouts, you truly realize that everyone has their own way of doing it. There are those who animate on 2s and 1s from the layout phase, those who draw stick men, those who draw very clean and polished layouts, those who draw more abstract stuff with shapes… It goes without saying that all these animators are already renowned in the industry so all these different approaches are valid.
But working on Madoka Magia Record S2, an extreme even among tight productions (to give an example, there were around 2 weeks between the start of the LO phase and the air date for episode 7), I realized that even if artists didn’t have issues following my intents for the animation, it was a lot more difficult for them to clean the drawings. So in order to simplify the tasks for these artists cleaning my drawings, I started adding more shading and highlights and having more and more details in each successive episode. Episode 7 isn’t out yet so I don’t know how my recent experimentation will look like, but looking at episode 6 and comparing it to episode 5, I believe I’m on the right track.
The same goes for BORUTO: when I didn’t have an opportunity to clean my own work, the real issue was my drawings. However, I should say that I wouldn’t have been able to push my drawings that much when I was starting. I can only do it now because I’m getting better at drawing through my work experience. It’s not something trivial: only once you start getting comfortable with an approach – and I insist on that point so that people who are just starting don’t kill themselves doing that – it’s easier to push the level of details on your drawings in order to simplify the next phases. I would also like to point out that animation directors don’t correct all your drawings, but instead they pick a few ones that are important. However, if the cuts aren’t corrected by the animation directors or aren’t cleaned by the original artist, it’s expected that the drawings are of lesser quality. It sounds obvious, but putting more work on the drawings makes it simpler for the next phases.
Now, one should be careful with that approach. I do it myself because I’m getting more comfortable and I believe I’m rather fast in general. I’m repeating myself, but especially if you’re debuting, you’re not paid enough to kill yourself doing this. What matters is to submit something readable with correct notations on time – don’t be late adding a bunch of colors. I do it myself because I’m comfortable enough to polish my layouts while still being on time.
How do you communicate with Japanese staff? Did you learn the language or do you communicate in English?
I try to talk but I’m much better at reading. Though, so far all the producers spoke English or had a translator during the meeting to translate what was said from both parties. Sometimes the directors themselves spoke English, like Hakuyu Go-san or Shinichiro Watanabe-san. Generally speaking, the bigger a project/studio or staff is, the better the resources for foreign staff are.
It’s becoming vital for staff working with foreign animators to speak English or have translators available.
Indeed, there’s also more and more foreign internal staff. The PA at Pinejam wasn’t Japanese either.
How do you manage handwritten notes, or when you want to write some instructions on your drawings? And by extension, how do you handle all the notations and conventions specific to Japanese animation? Do you sometimes feel you’re limited by them?
For handwritten notes, I read them by myself. There are still some kanji I can’t identify but I manage to understand the overall meaning, especially since the notes are logical and can be understood by looking at the corrections themselves. Beyond that, I must admit I rarely feel the need to write something on my drawings, they are already enough by themselves. I may add some text, or if the drawing is complicated, some arrows to indicate little elements. When it comes to notations, indeed it was hard when I debuted. Like, I’d have an idea for a cut, but I wouldn’t know how to indicate it. However, seeing increasingly more corrections and references that studios sent me, I eventually understood how to indicate some effects in the timesheet. Little by little, you have a collection of notations that you know by heart and that you can use when needed. Nowadays, my timesheets and the indications on them are always the same, because it comes from the way I animate. I needed some time to adapt and experiment. It’s a lot of information, but you get used to it.
Your style is quite consistent and revolves around your strengths like your mastering of perspective and space. Would you be interested in trying different styles, even ones in direct contrast like Kanada school animation, or do you prefer developing your own style and pushing it to new heights?
(laughs) I’m surprised that my style isn’t more Trigger-adjacent or Kanada-like considering the influence they had on me. I imagine that what I do comes from what I was taught at Les Gobelins. I was mostly trained with character acting and body mechanics in mind, rather than action. That may be why I’m mostly doing action now, but I can’t distance myself from the importance of volume that was instilled in me. I don’t think I really have an answer. I think the topic of style is a mental trap – I just do what comes to me naturally and what I have fun with. I will eventually see where it goes and what classification people will assign to my work.
It seems like you’re comfortable thanks to your situation in France, but are you considering working in Japan one day? Similarly, would you be interested in doing storyboard/direction for Japan? Is it a goal of yours?
Regarding Japan, my answer is clear: going for tourism on vacation, why not…but living there? Never.
As for the second question, it’s not exactly a goal, but something I am curious about. I think I will try doing storyboard/direction for Japan. I think I will wait for the right project at the right time, I don’t wanna rush things, I’m having plenty of fun with animating already.
Finally, do you have any big goals or dreams for the future?
(laughs) hmm…well, my experiences in France, my main priority, highlighted the fact that the French industry is lacking a studio that can handle action projects more open to the world, whether it’s the workers or the techniques. There’s clearly a demand for that kind of project, whether in France, the US, Japan, etc, yet France still struggles to open up and adapt to different ways of working. A lot of French studios are still quite chauvinistic. Of course there are exceptions like Studio La Cachette that I deeply love, but the structure can’t quite get the right staff for that kind of project and also collaborate with foreign creators and talents. There’s good and bad in French pipelines (the same goes for the Japanese industry) and let’s not even talk about the mentality for some projects, but basically there’s little self questioning under the pretense of a tradition or “French touch.”
That’s why we need a new studio, more open, with more interesting projects than the ones in France right now, while at the same time continuing to provide the good conditions known to France, and ideally with international budgets. As surprising as it might sound, France has the smallest budgets among the 3 biggest countries producing animation, even though we have the best work conditions (the US has the biggest salaries).
But well, that’s still only a thought for now, I already have many people in mind that I would want to collaborate with, but I’m waiting for the right project to start it all. Once I get to it seriously, I will animate much less and I don’t know if I can make that sacrifice right now, I’m still having too much fun animating (laughs).