In case you’re not aware, Toei Animation recently (last year) moved to a new mega-studio located in the city of Oizumi in Nerima, Tokyo. After been at the old studio for 60 years, Toei and all its departments gathered in just one place stuffed with luxury and high-end conditions and a refreshed design, with lounge and working areas that will make its business counterparts drooling of jealous.
The move was effectively completed in January 2018, both its working conditions, design, and space are the best you can see in the industry. Toei’s production area is divided by two floors, one for traditional and digital 2D animation and one for the 3DCG department, in addition to each floor having its management department. This new building was built to house about 600 employees, currently, more than 500 people operate in the studio. (The number may have increased to more than 750 employees, as of March 2019) About 200 are staff related to CG, and the remaining 300 are from the 2D department, as well as the management team and the new Toei Museum Operations Department that opened the doors in July 2018.
Unlike other studios that have their main staff of 10 to 50 people gathered in the studio and/or are split between sub-studios, such as the studio Bones, Toei brings together all of its departments and staff in just one huge studio. Note that its old studio was a building with about 60 years of existence, and it is expected that this new building will last for the next 100 years. When designing its construction, the emphasis was on the design of the “drawing” chairs, with the new digital environment, it was necessary to adapt the workstations for both the paper drawing and the ones that are already made on tablets.
Although it is an advantage to do the work digitally and send it online, it has also a negative aspect that is the fact that the communication between the staff can be fragmented, the workplace was divided by walls in the drawing and finishing sections, each with your enclosed space. Now, the new digital work zone was made to encourage greater ” mouth to mouth” communication, just as the floor was built to lessen the noise of the steps.
Kazuo Sakai, producer at Toei, actually went to the US to visit Pixar and DreamWorks studios to gather some references. Sakai said that the difference in realities was too big, so, many aspects could not be adapted. Manly the environment, communication space, preview room were the main models that were adopted.
In the United States, the studio designs are made to facilitate discussions between the staff in case there is a need to redo some scenes in the production, however, in Japan, this sometimes isn’t possible due to lack of budget. Or at least in most studios, because Toei took that style and adapted it to the Japanese reality. The work environment in Toei’s studio was made so that the staff could preview a scene before it was finished in an appropriate space for both CG scenes and scenes done in traditional animation that has a room of its own. You can then repeat the animation process several times without weighing heavily in the project budget.
Taking the best out of technology
To take full advantage of the new technology available, Toei is tackling some issues about working conditions in its process of working style reform. Some of the improvements that Toei has applied lately, were the digitization of the workflow, creation of new tools to support production, such as specialized training for both traditional and digital animation.
Speaking of reforms in the labor system, Atsutoshi Umezawa, producer at Toei’s, says that in terms of work system they need to address the problem of working hours, not only in the anime industry but also in the country as a whole. It is essential to reduce working hours without harming the output of the work in question, it is necessary to identify, verify and eliminate “waste” in the production process. Umezawa also adds that at Toei they are always looking for ways to improve the workflow in a way that saves time and manpower, such as improving working conditions.
One of the great examples of serious workflow scanning, Takeshi Himi, CG producer, says scanning is certainly a necessary part of making the flow more efficient. But, not only, but also trying new techniques that were not possible to use before and that can improve the process. Himi also says that the industry will change dramatically as more and more studios are adopting the digital flow, its advantages are enormous, as the time of collection and delivery of production materials will be greatly reduced, such as the possibility of work with overseas talent without the need to travel. (Example: Studio Lan works with animators from around the world, they produced To Be Heroine, and occasionally participate in animes like Boruto, Black Clover and more recently in One-Punch Man 2)
Toei Animation has its own 3DCG production system (the best in the industry) and has created a management system called “Drawing Data Manager” applied to 2D digital drawings. When used it is possible to see the progress of the work in real time, facilitating the accuracy of identifying errors or failures. In addition, Toei has also released its own “Digital Time Sheet”, which completely digitizes the often-tiring process of marking each frame assigned animation sequence. With the “Drawing Data Manager” system and the “Digital Time Sheet”, it is possible to synchronize each scene more easily in the digital process. Currently, one-third of the episodes produced by Oshiri Tantei are produced entirely in digital format and uses “Digital Time Sheet”.
Himi believes that the “Digital Time Sheet” not only benefits Toei but also the industry, so the plan is to make it available to other studios at no cost. (It’s already available with the software Clip Studio Paint) Himi further emphasizes that the great strength of the western studios, which is their independence and technological means more advanced and capable than in the east. Himi further adds that a team of about 10 people continues to develop and create new creative tools for management and productivity.
Kazuo Sakai, producer in Toei, says that in the previously mentioned anime Oshiri Tantei the “hashi” (chopsticks used as cutlery to eat) were all digitally drawn. Sakai points out that certain learning is required for the use of software design, in the process of analog design it may be only necessary to change tool, but in software, it is necessary to know the combinations or shortcut buttons, move materials between folders, etc. To make this process easier, Toei now has a digital training with around 100 participants, and every year more people join. Specifically, in addition to the traditional drawing training, digital intermediation is also done, depending on whether the animator meets the criteria. For example, one episode of Oshiri Tantei was digitally animated by veteran staff around the age of 60 thanks to their training.
Umezawa ends by saying that although 3D animations in Hollywood are well accepted, the same isn’t true for Japanese 3D animation. At the moment, Toei is working to develop a 3D printer that can reproduce the spirit and skill of an artist. While refining such techniques, Toei also plans on creating IP (Industrial Property) for the studio.