Anime Boston 2023: What It's Like to Work in Anime (UPDATED)by Reuben Baron,
04/12/2023- After reviewing the panel footage, ANN has corrected the amount of time Lu spent animating the Ghost Devil. The cut took a week; not two days. ANN regrets this error. The rest of the article is below.
Have you ever wanted to work in anime without having to move to Japan? This goal is more achievable than you might think — as the growing demand for anime overwhelms the Japanese production pipeline, studios have increasingly sought out international freelance animators to work on their shows. Anime Boston 2023 hosted a Q&A panel with five such freelance animators: Curie Lu (Chainsaw Man, Tengoku Dai Makyō), Vincent Chansard (Boruto, One Piece), HAMIL (Utawarerumono, Mushoku Tensei), Fypher (A Couple of Cuckoos, Black Clover) and Kendrick “Ken” Kamau (Kubo Won't Let Me Be Invisible, the upcoming Hikikomari Kyūketsuki no Monmon). Chansard is based in France, while the other four panelists are from the United States.
After introductions and going over the shows they've worked on, Lu played a Sakuga MAD video showcasing highlights of the panelists' animation works. This montage was heavy on action scenes, and when asked about what inspired them to get into animation, their answers mainly focused on action animation: Lu cited Spencer Wan's work on Castlevania, HAMIL was taken with Yutaka Nakamura's animation in Sword of the Stranger, and Fypher was influenced by the snappy rhythms of Gurren Lagann. Kamau's big influences were less action-focused — Mike Inel's YouTube video “What if ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ was anime” first made him want to be an animator, and it was a quieter moment in the Asura's Wrath DLC animated by Hiroyuki Okiura, showcasing the hero simply walking with “power and guts,” that solidified his drive to work in animation.
Working on action scenes comes with challenges. Chansard says that schedules tend to be pretty uniform for animators regardless of the length of complexity of their assigned sequences, and action sequences, by their nature, take longer. Sometimes schedules become downright unmanageable. The schedules for Wonder Egg Priority and Chainsaw Man were cited as particularly bad in this regard, with the latter production having to complete some shots in just two days. Lu had to clean up a shot of the Ghost Devil's hands in Chainsaw Man Episode 8 in a little over a week while having bronchitis and fearing she might have COVID. Her phone roll that day was filled with hundreds of hand-reference photos, and she ended up drawing around 350 hands in total. Curie was also offered another cut with a two-day deadline but she turned it down.
Pay for beginning animators is per cut, so those who can work fast and get more cuts completed have an advantage over those who work slower. Those who can both animate quickly and build strong working relationships sometimes have the opportunity for a “bond” with a studio — not a formal contract, but a verbal agreement to work with one studio that will pay them more. HAMIL has such a bond with Studio White Fox. Chansard said he's been paid very well as a full-time animator on One Piece, where he's particularly proud of his work on the Kaido vs. Yamato fight in Episode 1048.
If you're not a “speed demon,” as Lu describes Chansard, working in anime can be a frustrating experience. The different panelists each had different methods of dealing with these frustrations. Kamau likes to multitask when the work becomes mind-numbing and emphasizes making time for hobbies. Fypher tries to hyperfocus on doing the best possible job on the parts he finds most frustrating. HAMIL also recommends taking breaks when possible and advises against perfectionism. Lu recommends crying to relieve frustration; she's also now taking a full-time job with Spencer Wan's Studio Grackle, which will allow her a more reasonable schedule than freelancing has and give her time to pursue personal projects such as “Yaoguai,” a short film about monsters from Chinese mythology.
If you still wish to pursue work in Japanese animation in spite of all its challenges, all the panelists recommend having a strong social media presence. Anime production assistants often hire artists straight from Twitter. Degrees are described as being basically useless in terms of employment — Lu and several of her co-workers are college dropouts, and she claims even high schoolers have been hired by PAs on Twitter. HAMIL notes that having a degree can be helpful with immigration if you want to work in Japan. Kamau recommends attending Lightbox Expo and going into Discord groups for more involved networking.
For digital animation software, Lu, HAMIL, and Kamau all use CLIP STUDIO PAINT. Though this is a paid program, it's cheaper than others on the market. Lu also recommends Blender if you want a free 3D animation program. Fypher uses Toon Boom Harmony, which is a bit divisive among the panel — Ken describes it as the industry standard, while HAMIL has “beef” with it. Chansard is the one panelist who primarily uses TVPaint.
It wouldn't be an animation panel in 2023 without someone raising the specter of AI animation taking jobs from human artists. Everyone on the panel is uncertain about the future but can easily see things going bad if there's no ethical regulation on the technology. Chansard is assured Toei is not going to be using AI, and Fypher suspects directors will be against it, given how much of the quality of anime comes from being able to sense animators' individual personalities. Kamau joked about the recent viral animation of Will Smith eating spaghetti before saying he suspects that AI might do more damage to the Western animation industry given that most of its animation jobs are outsourced already. If most Japanese studios are still animating on paper and sending documents via fax machines, he thinks anime should be safe from AI for a while.
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