Key Animators (Genga)
Once the storyboard is ready, the director and key-animators start working on the layouts. The layout is a sketch drawn to the final size based on the storyboard, defining character positions and backgrounds. Mostly the director makes the decisions about the composition and the angles.
Hayao Miyazaki was responsible for the layout of Anne of Green Gables, but disagreements with director Isao Takahata lead to Miyazaki’s departure from the project and Nippon Animation studio in 1979. Miyazaki said, 「アンは嫌いだ。後はよろしく」, which can be roughly translated as, “I hate Ann. After you.” (Source).
Layout from Macross: Do You Remember Love?
After the layout is approved, the animators create key drawings that require another approval and the time sheet (exposure sheet or xsheet) that defines the movement and timing of the scene and breaks down everything by frame of film. At this point, the timing indicated on the storyboard may be changed. The key-frames can be drawn with 2B-pencils and colored pencils for shadows (blue) and highlights (red). Key Animators also indicate the number of in-between drawings.
Animation Supervisor (Sakuga Kantoku)
Checking is especially important for the shows that have many key animators to ensure consistency. Animation Supervisor checks and corrects the key animators drawings. The reasons for corrections vary, but one of the most important ones is to preserve the original character design. In fact, many character designers also serve as Animation Supervisors for the shows.
Are you up to the task? Spot the difference 😛
Director involvement in key animation checking also varies. Miyazaki checks and corrects the drawings himself (at least he used to), Takahata checks the drawing, but tells key animators to re-draw them, while Oshii leaves it up to other staff.
The In-between animators draw missing drawings between the key drawings. Fluidity of the animation is based on the number of in-between drawings. Fluidity of an animation also depends on the amount of drawings per second. Anime is shot at 24 frames per second. You can make a drawing for every frame of movement or you can let a drawing last for two (“shooting on 2s”) or more frames. The less frames per movement, the more fluid is the animation. Thus, if you shoot on 1s, then you’ll see change in every frame.
Here is an example from Bōnen no Xamdou: Nakiami’s wink.
I slowed down the animation to one frame per second to let you see the changes. Note that the foreground and background changes every two frames, but at different intervals. Two birds and Nakiami move at the same time, while the bird closest to Nakiami is not in sync with them to make the animation more dynamic with some change in every frame.
Frame 1: Nakiami Position 1, Bird Position 1
Frame 2: Nakiami Position 1, Bird Position 2
Frame 3: Nakiami Position 2, Bird Position 2
Frame 4: Nakiami Position 2, Bird Position 3
In-betweening is relatively non-creative job, and those who can endure it two or three years may be promoted to key animation. In-betweening jobs are often outsourced to other Asian countries, including China, Korea, and Philippines. For example, many cels for the show Bubblegum Crash were done by political prisoners at a prison near Beijing…
Take a look at animators from Toei Animation Studio in action working on One Piece 🙂