The Japanese government is hoping to alleviate some of the pressure animators are facing in the anime industry.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) met with around 100 representatives from the anime industry on February 20th. The meeting had information about how technology is being utilized by production companies and that an industry standard software is being determined.
METI hopes that the adoption of unifying data standards and animation software will help in the sharing and creation of in-between animation within a studio. Traditionally, a team of in-between animators are given paper files containing keyframes and it’s their job to draw the images that are “in-between” the keyframes to create smooth looking animation.
A 30-minute anime video has about 8,000 in-between frames. Let’s put that into context with some simple estimates to see how hard it is to draw each of those frames:
Let’s pretend that an anime studio hires 10 in-between animators for their weekly airing anime (it varies between projects with anime like Death Parade hiring just 4 animators). If each animator is able to complete a new frame inside 10 minutes on average, then in one hour they each can make 6 frames. So a team in one hour can finish 60 in-between frames. It would take the whole 10-person team 133 hours to animate the 8,000 in-between frames for one episode. That would take 19 hours a day if they all worked 7 days a week.
Staff sizes, speed, and in-between complexity varies wildly from production to production so these are just estimates for illustration purposes but it’s easy to see how any improvements in this current model would be welcome.
If technology can support animation in new cohesive ways, it may even help studios who face major animation issues like Maerchen Maedchen that recently had to delay it’s last two episodes due to production challenges. The studio, Hoods Entertainment, took time off to come back and improve on animation quality on earlier episodes but this was the best they could offer fans.
During the meeting, METI also acknowledged that profits don’t always make it back to the animators. They believe that the industry needs to be more profitable and efficient before the structure can be changed. The adoption of a standard software could potentially streamline the animation process and hopefully help reduce the long works hours, something many animators have spoken out about on social media.
Most anime studios rely strongly on hand-drawn animation and use technology largely for minor touch-ups, animation effects, or small background features. Although some studios like Polygon Pictures (Blame!) and Orange (Land of the Lustrous) have found success by adopting CGI tech and embracing technology in a big way.
The industry’s poor working conditions have been well documented, with low pay and long hours being responsible for 80% of animators quitting within three years and a growing talent shortage. This shortage has led to an increase of foreign outsourcing so productions can be finished on time.
While METI reported the undisclosed standards have been agreed upon, it is unknown how many studios will implement them.