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! 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 pictures. They hide the picture while doing a painting. Aha. And you rather paint from imagination. Yes… You work for anime with “fantasy” backgrounds. Oh, I have a question. When background artists use photographs to make a background, do they use pictures they have taken themselves? Or do they look for them online? Ah, I think both. I mean, some things are not available right outside. In that case, you may buy books. Reference books. Or you research in photographs online. This is a question related to earlier but,… I have heard that many new animators don’t endure more than a year int the industry. Hm At least from what I’ve been told. Is it the same pattern for background artists? Like, they start working but quit within a year. Ah, in the animation department… Yes, the animators. Yes in backgrounds it also happens but, to begin with, there aren’t many interested in the background art. That’s right. From an anime dept vocational school class of 20 people, only 1 or 2 wan to do it. From that class 6 or 7 will become animators. And 3 or 4 will quit. From that class, at most 3 will be interested in background art. And usually, do they keep working in the industry? No, actually many may stop. I believe they shouldn’t stop, just try another anime company. I keep telling them in class. (???) They are closed (???) Ah you are right. But actually, since I entered to the vocational school, I realized people are really connected to others in other companies. There is a strong community feeling. Ahh. At least that’s what I felt. They know people all around. I thought it would be more closed and individual work. From what I’ve read. in US companies the studios tend to be more close with their information. Like “don’t tell certain things to people of the other studio”. In Japan, right? No, that’s for the US. Since I entered the school I saw I could gather lots of inside information easily. “Did you know that guy works in X?” That is something that surprised me. Really? So in the US they are more closed? It feels that the rival feel in US companies is stronger than in Japan. “Rival” “Competition”.
ooh… It looks more strict. I haven’t worked there either though. So this is just a feeling from reading information and talking to others. And when I entered the vocational school in Japan, I saw a strong network between staff. “Do you need an introduction in X company?” But when it comes to money… Ah, right. People will try to hide the salary rated from where they work. So it there… Because if the salary is good, they’ll try to go. Aaah. Then, there are taboo topics. Like money. What are other taboo topics? The money is the biggest one. Then, there is time. Time? Working time. Ahhh! Like, when you start working in the morning, and until when in the night. Sort of “overtime” taboo. Yes. Well, technically there is no “overtime” since it is freelancing. I see. Other thank that, is there another taboo? For example, which projects are starting. Aaaah No, that is not really a secret. At least, I am not the type who would keep it secret. So it depends on the person. Yes, it depends. It makes sense. And it will change depending on your group. Yes. If there is no reason to hide it then… What is your favorite anime you have worked in? From the ones I participated? That I worked in… I like… Kurenai or Guskou Budori. I did Guskou Budori with Suzuki san.
Note: In another interview on this channel! Oh, I see. With good anime, what do you mean? I mean that you enjoyed doing it. The yes, the two I just mentioned are the best. Even if they are a bit old. The reason is that the director didn’t intervene much. Ah, so you had creative freedom. When I have creative freedom, that is the best. And the result also looks great. With noisy directors it is not the same. And then, for example… Has it happened that you’ve been asked to work in anime you liked, but then after working on it you don’t like it anymore. I don’t… Because the director was too demanding. Ahhhh yes that happens a lot. Like “no, don’t I won’t interrupt your creation much”. But as it starts, they get in the way. Do you have an example? Like, they ask for too many checks? More than doing many checks,… Depending on the results they they give you an OK, BAD, REGULAR review. Eh, what? The result? which result? I mean that they will check your final background and give you feedback then. A good director will tell you what they want before that. “This is my vision of what I want to create.” “Can you do it?” So it is from the settings time. Yes, the director is specific early. The director needs to give the details. If this happens in the beginning, usually everything goes smoothly after that. They would only ask for corrections for very specific parts. I see. “Only change this” Now, how many… (Japanese issues) …animes? With how many anime companies are you working with? Now? Anime companies come to you with requests, right? Now, “Asahi Productions” Asahi Productions. “Studio DEEN” (Orphen’s) What else am I doing…? There two are the biggest I guess. And then… There are also independent ones I do with friends. Then I just do the boards and art direction. Do you do mostly anime and video game backgrounds? No, I don’t video games at all now. Now it is just anime. Anime for TV (TV anime). How about movies? Not really. Do you watch the anime’s you’ve worked on when they release on TV? Look Oh! A new puppy! Wait what? Hahaha Ehm… What did I say? Hahaha This one (dog) distracted you. So, after you finish working for an anime, you give it to production, and they put it on TV. Do you watch it on TV? I look at it as a check, but… They also send it to you with a DVD, right? Yes. But I don’t look at with with so much excitement. Since I get absorbed looking at the art. Ahhhh I end up not understanding the story itself. Maybe it is not the case but, I guess sometimes a phone call comes and they request you to wok in a specific anime, and you don’t know the story but you take the job. Has it happen that after working in it, you became a fan? Aaahh Actually, once it is finished, I guess I do like it. In Kurenai it happened. “Oh, it looks pretty good.” I see. I liked the final product and backgrounds. In general, do you watch anime often? Not at all. What? Really? There is no time. No time for anime… Well, technically, you “watch/see” anime everyday (the art). hahaha I really don’t watch anime. Amazing. I watch movies instead. Movies? I watch a movie everyday. A video/dvd. Do you watch movies while working? Yes, sometimes. I use Netflix. Ah, I see. The person watching this video may be wondering about entering the anime industry in Japan. Is there some advice you’d like to give? Young animators from your country? Or from other countries. But, anyway, non-Japanese. And they want to work in the anime industry in Japan, right? Or, is there something you can share that you learned from working in the animation industry? Something I learned… Something I wished I know beforehand? I think drawing fast is an important thing. Fast artists. How to become fast,… Probably this is more relevant to animators, but many people want to become animators since they are kids. Or want to become mangakas. Yes, it is more usual to want to make comics. So it is important that at the beginning you draw what you like in sketchbooks and so on. Yes, I think that is the best (draw what you like). Something I did in the past is to time myself when drawing (from start to end). And then I note the minutes next to each drawing. You kept track. Exactly. Then I could see my drawings and check how much time it took. “oh, now I am faster.” I see. I did put emphasis on that. And you did that for sketches and for complex illustrations. Correct. “How many hours”. Do you still do it? No, that was at the beginning. The interview ends here. Thank you very much! She is sleeping. So cute!! Where did Coco-chan go? (other dog). She went back. Hahaha