Today I start a new series on this blog, that’ll focus on interviewing creators from all kinds of fields, from animation, painting/illustrations, writers, translators, and so on. For this inaugural article nothing better than start with a newcomer to the anime industry, Lucas Cisterne, he is a French Background colorist, Compositing Operator and 3D CG Artist working in Japan for little more than a year.
He managed to land an internship on studio Ufotable for he’s graduation year, and there he worked on series like Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer), Fate Stay/Night Heaven’s Feel II and the game God Eater 3. Meanwhile, he left Ufotable and went, freelancer. I highly recommend you to read he’s recent “One year in the Japanese Animation Industry: A Colorblind thread” where he tells about he’s an inspirational story more specifically.
On this talk with Lucas, we chat a little about an overlooked but very essential phase on anime production that is Photography (撮影, Satsuei) and the beautiful art the is required for the artists that make it. Of course, we also talked about his path to becoming an artist, his times at Ufotable and his future ambitions and projects.
Studios like Ufotable, Kyoto Animation and Shaft are well known for having amazing photography departments. Did some of these studios influence you to follow the path of background artist / composite operator?
- Yes, of course, Ufotable and KyoAni. Comix Wave too, those three have a way of thinking that is really photographic, even if sometimes they push a bit too hard. There’s always a clear intention and I like it. When I was younger, I was a real nerd about cameras, so it’s really interesting to use the techniques I learned a while ago in my anime compositing.
- And for the backgrounds, I think that in the end, everyone (in the anime industry) has a common goal, that is to be realistic, then it depends on the Art Director (美術監督) which path you take and what the end result is, but if you want to do realistic backgrounds for animation, Japan is the place to be, I think.
So, you went to an animation school, did it crossed your mind to become an animator instead?
- Yes, at Pivaut School I got an academic formation first, in anatomy, perspective, and color. I always got more comfortable with backgrounds and finalizing pictures.
- So, when I specialized in Animation, I enjoyed animating characters, but it felt less natural than painting or compositing. For me, it would take way too much time to end up with an okay-result, so I prefer to let that part to the talented fellows.
By the way, your graduation short “Growing Up” looks great! Right way the realistic backgrounds caught my eye.
- Thank you very much! At that time, I was really in my Your Name phase, I think it’s a bit really obvious. (laughs) But the story is really personal, and I managed to do everything I wanted and even more, so I’m always happy when people enjoy it.
I definitely enjoyed the story!
You went and applied for an internship for an animation studio in Japan, did any of your colleagues considered this option or you were the only one that got the idea?
- Ah yes, as they saw me doing it, they understood it was possible. But a lot of factors made it hard for them to try. I got really lucky to start at Ufotable and that they paid me. A lot of studios only accept interns without paying them, and not really helping them to settle in Japan.
- But from times to times I see people trying it too, so I think it tends to become more a thing. But of course, if you don’t speak at least a bit of Japanese, it will be hard to enter a studio, even if some are getting English-speaking staff, it’s still rare.
That’s really nice from Ufotable’s part, they even had an English speaker. Am I right?
- At first, then I became the English-speaker. (laughs)
About the time you spent at Ufotable, how was your integration there? Did you always have someone guide you?
- Yes, at first there was Heidi, which could speak English and was ending her internship when I get in. So, for two-weeks she fast-trained me. (laughs) Then I got under the supervision of Yoshida-san, she can only speak Japanese so we got a lot of misunderstanding at first, but in the end, it went well.
And you worked in-studio, right?
- Yes, I always work-in studios in Japan.
Any funny story from your time there?
- I have some, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about it. (laughs)
Ha-ha, I see…
What kind of new techniques did you learn, or better saying, what processes did you get better at or learn to do it. Ufotable is crazy good at 3D environments, composite mixing 2d, and 3D perfectly together and their animation overall is amazing, how’s that influenced your learnings?
- I basically got better at understanding a storyboard, the intention of the animator and the background artist. And then managing to put my touch too. It’s always a tricky challenge but I love it.
- Ufotable influenced more in the way I have to organize my production side. But of course, I learned how to merge 2D and 3D, they do it in a very marvelous way.
A lot of people misinterpret composite as the coloring phase of the production, for those that don’t know about it, what is the actual workflow of a background and composite artist?
- As I said, compositing is the final stage (after all the clean-up and coloring stages), where you receive all the materials (frames) and try to make it as good as possible. My workflow depends on the production and the intended style, but usually, it’s a lot of tryings and learnings.
Besides the standard art director indications, what are the most common requests you receive from the animators’ notes?
- Usually what I receive from animators are the focus point, the speed, and the position of sliding objects. But I heard some animators come all the way and pick themselves which render they exactly want on the image.
We’ve seen a lot of animes getting restricted by tv stations with all kind of censoring and horrible dimming on the flashier scenes like the ones we see, for example, in Symphogear XV. It is also your job do get those “scenes” like the tv stations want it to look? What’s your opinion on it.
- We usually make 2 versions, one for TV, and one for the VoD/DVD/Blu-Ray release. So yes, it’s our job to do it. My opinion is that as long that it doesn’t bother the story, it’s “ok”. But it always makes me sad that an artist even unconsciously gets censored.
Do you have any preference for the projects you work on? Or it’s fine as long as you’re able to put your talent in practice?
- If I like the story, I enjoy working on it. And then I do my best to make what I do to look good.
I see that you directed a couple of shorts already, directing is a path that you want to pursuit soon, maybe you want to climb your way up to Art/Photography Director?
- Maybe, one day. I’m too young and unexperienced to say. But it’s something I want to try at least once yes.
As I usually ask (even though most of the time it can’t be answered xD), I must ask you if you have any project you worked or you’re working that you could reveal.
- I’ve been on several projects coming by the end of September and beginning of October, but I can’t say it yet because my name hasn’t been announced. (laughs)
I was expecting that. (laughs) I’ll look forward to your upcoming projects.
- Thank you!
Any final comment for the fans that might want to appreciate more of this art (Background art and Photography) but don’t know how to start?
- Hmm. It’s rare to find stuff that explains well those kinds of stuff, but every frame is a painting is a good show that I recommend. Otherwise just try to analyze the most films and anime, and anything you’re seeing.
Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring artists like you that may want to pursue a similar path?
- I’d advise starting learning Japanese as soon as possible. To work on your basic skills, anatomy, perspective, color, composition, …
- And try stuff, you can copy stuff, it’s the best way to learn, but don’t steal. Enjoy what you’re doing, and of course, sleep a lot. Your body is your tool so, take care of it. That’s all!
Thank you for your time!
You can find Lucas at @SRTeki on twitter and look for his works at his ARTSTATION.