Today we’re interviewing Arai Sensei. He was one of my teachers when I was studying animation in a vocational school here in Japan. He does background animation for animation, videogames and such. And he has his own studio. I’ll be adding English subtitles to the video.
Because… I’ll try to do my best and interview him in Japanese! Good luck to me!
I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for your time. Could you please introduce yourself? I am Kazuhiro Arai. I do anime backgrounds. Why did you decide to enter the anime industry? Why? Close to my house,… well, not this one. A studio open close to my house. Aha. And I liked painting. And, since they painted in that company, I brought them a painting I did. I see, a portfolio. No, it wasn’t a portfolio, just a painting. Just a single painting. I brought them a fanart from Uchuusen kayama. It was good so they agreed to have me try there. That’s so nice. And that was already for background art. Yes, that company focused on backgrounds. And from then, you’ve been in the anime industry. Correct. I also went to a vocational school. It is the same school where I teach background now. (???) Mar: And I am grateful for that. And that is until now (teaching + working in the industry). I started at the company “Mascotto” (now inexistent). What type of job did you do at that time? Arai: At the beginning?
Mar: Was it as a part of a team? What did I do…? I worked for “Sazae san”. and “Hokahoka Kazoku”.
Oooh! And…I also worked for Toei. So I also worked at Dr Slump (Arale-chan) and others.. Woah, amazing! During that time, there was an art director, and he checked your backgrounds. That’s right. So your art kept improving. That’s right. From what moment did you start your own studio? Auhmmmm This “Studio Homare”. This, uhm.. Mar: From that company, to the creation of this studio. After I graduated from vocational school… I worked with my teacher for a while and I made a career transit to the company which my teacher Kanekubo worked for. I had a teacher called Kaneboko-san. And he worked at “Mascotto” (where I started). Aha And I worked there. Kaneboko is a great artist. He/she worked as an art director.
Note: An art director is the direct superior of background artists. I worked as his assistant. So I was an art director assistant. And gradualy I became an art director myself. After I quit there, I worked for Sunrise. Well basically I stopped there and I worked with Suzuki-sensei’s.
Note: in another interview in this channel! And after that I worked at Sunrise, which produced “Reizunar” (Robot anime) There were a lot of robot animes in that time! Did you work in Gundam? Not in Gundam TV anime, but for a movie series Oh, I see. I worked at AIC, for Megazone 23. And Tatakae! Iczer One So, then you quit working at Suzuki’s studio, and created this studio? Correct. And you actually work with students. Students? My students? Aha. Yes Koyama and Sakai were students at the vocational school. ??? Sakai does art direction. And Koyama does something similar too. Hmmm They are both really good by now Haha Could you please explain us what’s your process? For example: “First I am given a project,…” First I get a call or an email from the producer. They send me various information, and check the schedule. If it fits the schedule, then it gets settled. Do they give you a deadline already? Hmmm a deadline… They give me a rough view of how many months I have. Sometimes it is strictly decided in advance, but not always. When it is not strict, there is more margin for corrections and improvements. When it is decided in advance, it all becomes really restrictive. Hmmm And in those cases, within one project, do they give you 1-2 chapters for example? Or do you take the lead for the full season? What do they ask you? There are situations where the art director (me) and its team is in charge to do all the backgrounds. But not necessarily. So different companies do the backgrounds. In that case, would 2 different companies participate in the backgrounds of the same chapter? In the same chapter? That’s not… That wouldn’t be good. Right. 1 chapter=1 company (at least). For a movie, it is possible that they could hire various teams but that’s not common anymore. Not even for movies. I think so. In that case, do the ask freelancers? Hmmm. Probably. They (had? have?) a room for staff but most background artists are freelancers. And they work in different projects at the same time so… I see. Before, studios had staff dedicated to 1 single project. So they were together in a building/studio. So they’d work morning to evening in Dr. Slump for example. Exactly. But now they do other things all together. Getting back to the process: you get the storyboard. And they ask you to do the backgrounds for the full chapter. Yes. And then, they give you the graphic bible for the series, and ask you to do backgrounds based on that. Yes, you mean the graphic bible and settings. If I am the art director, I do the settings Oh, of course. and I do the graphic bible. That is the job of the art director (you). Yes, the art director. And the art director shows the graphic bible and settings back to the producer? Well, the producer sees it but usually, you show it to the director. The director and editor check it. And from then you start?
Yes. then you start the backgrounds. So, when you get to do 1 chapter worth of backgrounds, do you delegate some to other members of your team? Or even give chapters to other companies? Or do you usually do it on your own? Aaaah I don’t want that. I would not commission other companies. So in this case I give it to Koyama (in this team). Or to others I know that can do it, depending on their strenghts. Of course. Depending in the project. If there is no schedule, I would keep chapter 1,3,5, And then ask someone else to do chapter 2,4 That’s how it gets divided. If we do that, I then check it only. There is only 1 art director per project. And that person gives work to his/her team, as well as delegates to other teams. Am I right? Eh?
ah… I mean. I mean… So, for example, in Sazae San anime. It has a season with 12 episodes. Would you do the full season worth of backgrounds? No, right? Ah, other companies.
Other companies do it too. But all companies use the same settings and graphic bible created for that anime season. Yes, exactly. And that is what you do. Yes, the art director (me). And you also check other people’s backgrounds for the season. Correct. Understood. As I’ve talked with others, it seems the deadlines for the animators are super strict. With backgrounds it is longer. Is there margin for background artists? The shortest they give you is 3 weeks. 3 weeks. we have 3 weeks. In 3 weeks, how many backgrounds do you do? Usually,… uh Usually I think we average 300 to 350 backgrounds. Wow! 300 – 350. Wait, in 3 weeks,… Yes. 300 backgrouns.
Yes that’s what we do. Wow. Wel.. That’s awesome. Imagine 3 weeks. Aha. It goes like this: Ahh Chapter 1, chapter 2,… Chapter 3.
I see. Chapter 4,… they overlap. For example, now we’re doing chapter 1, 2, 3, 4… Until ch4. We do them together. I see And then it has to look like the same place. For example, in cut 1… For example if the first scene happened in this room. We would draw the same place from this and this angle. And then from this other. So in one scene many backgrounds will be similar. Aha. There is that at least. Still, it is awesome. And then… about the price… Is it decided by the producer? Or do you decide by checking… Money? Yes. The price is decided in advance. (Mar) Before starting. (Arai) You check the schedule.
(Mar) You check the Storyboard. No, no, this is before there is a storyboard. That much in advance? Yes, in advance… The price is decided when checking the schedule. So then, maybe it becomes really terrible. That is right. If that happens, …well. If the amount of work is higher than expected, you let them know, so the price increases. For example, when there are many big scene backgrounds? So, for example, if we settled there are around 300 backgrounds, but actually it gets to 400,… Ah, I see. In that case,… we ask wether the price can increase. So, the price is set per cut? No, in background art the price is set per chapter. 1 chapter=X yen. I see. So, more or less 300 backgrounds. 1 chapter=300 backgrounds. ??? And that is around…110,000-120,000 yen. But if the background number increases Then the price per backgrounds decreases, right? So we ask for an increase to 130,000-140,000yen for example. Otherwise the team’s salary gets low. That is why I act as a manager (studio director). So I have to negotiate. You need negotiating skills.
Haha Of course. That is how you have to do it. Staff can not complain directly to the producer. Oh right. If I don’t tell the producer, they won’t get the money. It makes sense. And it that moment, there is not even a storyboard. Exactly. It seems difficult! So it is not like you see “this chapter has 100 backgrounds” beforehand. Yes, you have no idea.
It is before the start so it is just approximating. I see. No one has started yet at that point, right? Sometimes it becomes easy, sometimes it becomes tough. When it gets easier than expected, I won’t complain. I do if it gets tough. Hahaha, of course. Comparing to when you started working in the industry, what changed? Did something change for art directors or in general? Like, the change to digital. Yes, the change to digital is a big change. There are barely artists doing backgrounds traditionally now. Your specialty is still painting traditionally? I don’t paint traditionally anymore but… anyone can paint digitally. And I don’t like that. Because of techniques like “copy-paste”? Yes, copy-paste. And I hate drawing where everything looks like a stamp. Right, like you can notice that a tree is the same. (¿¿¿) I rather backgrounds that are different drawings from each other. That is what I want to do. This digital shift is something known. Are there other changes? Like, management-wise. Like, now everyone is becoming independent. (???) You mean “gyara”? Well, in 40 years of course it has changed. But… How? I think background artists have it better. For animators, it has become double hard. What they do is difficult. Right? Backgrounds are also difficult to do but… it doesn’t compare to the animator job. Even if it is different. And you can copy-paste. And use recourses. So overtime the background artist’s job became easier. Some parts yes. Some thinks got tricky. So, overall, working as a background artist is better. Yes, I guess. Possibly. You know, even if you don’t have a very high level, you can do backgrounds because there are resources from real pros. Of course. Now is normal to use photographs. Right, they take the picture and paint above it. Yes, exactly. So they don’t need to be so good at drawing. And example is… Makoto Shinkai. The director Makoto Shinkai does it often. That said, it is beautiful. Studio Chizu also does use photographs as reference. They don’t do paintings. They cover them. They hide the picture while doing a painting. Aha. And you rather paint from imagination. Yes… You work for anime with “fantasy” backgrounds.