On Day 3 (Sunday) of Fanime, I went to a panel where I witnessed the background process of Gurren Lagann. As a trooper, I stared wide-eyed at the screen and took notes with my Blackberry so I can share with you all what I've learned.
Granted, it was a difficult thing to do. I tried to catch the names of the people who were interviewed for each segment of the documentary but I missed a couple names. Sorry for any information I cannot give but I tried.
The panel was separated into two parts. The first part is the documentary itself that lasted rougly an hour and twenty minutes. The second part is a question and answer portion with some staff that worked on the series and/or movie.
If you haven't finished Gurren Lagann, there are spoilers within the documentary thus there are spoilers here in this blog entry. You have been warned.
The actual video I witnessed had interviews from various staff members ranking from the highest people (like directors) to the lowliest peon (inbetweeners). Since the documentary is divided into several sections, my notes here shall be separated into those same segments. Some parts were longer than others so I may not have many things to say about each section.
Well this isn't part of the actual video but they were saying things before they showed it. As I already stated, this is a world premiere documentary. Not even Japan saw this documentary, I see this wondrous new video before most. This video showcases the beginning of the Gurren Lagann series from the last two years of production.
It was filmed by Mario Hirasaka (apparently the director's friend who lives in Germany).
Originally, Kamina was set to die in episode 20 but the creative writing staff didn't see Simon growing enough with Kamina hanging over him so he died sooner. Usually they would write a few storylines per episode before the episode and lead directors decide which one to use. Their brainstorming sessions look like normal meeting tables with papers thrown together as they discuss what they need to do in an episode.
For Yoko's character, they wanted to show a "wholesome sex appeal." For example, the lead character designer commented that Yoko's bangs are big because it shows her strength.
Simon was designed to look like a flat character. Using this type of design helps make the audience not label him. His neutrality is helpful in developing his character as he grows up into his GARness.
They intentionally made Kamina seem like the main character in the anime so the viewers will not be focused on Simon. That way, the viewers see Simon grow from Kamina's example.
The head designer of the mechs said that the most difficult to design was Gurren Lagann itself. In the beginning, GAINAX was going to gear the mechs to be more real and mechanical. After many MANY rough drafts, they stuck with a "magical" aspect. The focus of Gurren Lagann was to have an atmosphere similar to feudal times. Each mech has its own personality. One animator commented that he thinks they all look dorky. They wanted to make the mechs look uncool so the viewers are mislead and eventually fall in love with the quirks of each mech.
The lead designer also stated that there were lots of drills for Gurren Lagann because he did an old work where he had a character sincerely labeled "Drill Dick Man." The documentary had a footage of the guy with a drill literally placed above his wee wee.
The lead director here says she didn't have many leeways for choosing colors and that she just followed the higher ups' suggestions. When she got to decide what colors to choose, she would get nervous and unsure of herself. She comments that it was tough schedule-wise but she managed. She has an attachment to Zoushi (that seedy looking guy with the pink shirt) because she got to choose his color design.
There are some shots from Production IG here. Most of the editing done here is using storyboards for the episodes so the other sub-divisions (like voice acting, inbetweeners, etc) can work on other parts of the show.
There are video clips of Studio T&T. Simon's seiyuu talks mostly through this segment. He says that voice actors/esses get directions from only one person - the audio director Toru Nakano. Voice actors rarely speak with the other directors directly. The other directors would be in the room too but the seiyuu would only know what to do from Nakano-san. The video recording room is separated into two segregated sections. One room is full of the seiyuu while the other room is full of directors. There is a window inbetween each room so they can all see each other.
One example they showed here was the line "Sorry for the wait, Nia" said by Simon. He gets criticized by the many different times he said it. Directors comment how Simon sounds too girly, shoutay, and not young manly. Eventually he nails the line down and one of the directors laugh and say "good enough."
Sometimes the seiyuu would get anxious because they can see the directors talking about things but they just sit in the recording room waiting for instructions as the directors talk it out.
For those that don't know, the inbetween animators are those that add the animations inbetween main frames. Many of the interviewed inbetweeners say that each sheet should be neat but done speedily. You usually would get 200 yen per sheet. One inbetweener said that on a good month, she'll make 300 sheets but the average is usually 200 to 250. Many inbetweeners talk about their personal goals and how they want to get into the main animated eventually. There are lots of young staff in the inbetweeners.
To check the inbetween animations, the director would flip through the pages multiple times. He feels that the general viewer won't care but when he sees it, he can get mad easily. All of the interviewed inbetweeners say that the inbetween director was harsh and demanding to them. One comments that he was very terrifying. Eventually, they all learned and he doesn't get angry as the series progressed. There were less and less retakes since each inbetweener learned the fundamentals.
Key animators draw the frames where they want to see the action change. They don't draw the process of it actually moving (that's the inbetweeners' jobs) but they draw the focus. They'll look at 3D models of characters and often times draw over the frame lines. There are time sheets where they label where key animation is and they'll leave blank spaces for how many inbetween animation there has to be between each key animation. The producion advance staff look through the table and frame animations while making comments on them. It gets passed to the animation director who will look through it and correct things. The animation director says it is not a troublesome job. Instead of holding meetings to say how to change something, they'll draw argue. This means they'll draw a part of a frame that needs to be changed and write a small note why things need to be changed a bit. The example they give here is Rossiu's eyes being smaller in a scene to show more remorse.
The animation supervisor makes sure everything fits in the television time. They also check to see if they match the character models and concept art. They also check for inappropriate things (this is not defined in any way other than "inappropriate" so take it as you will).
Studio Bihou focused on the background art and color here. The art director chooses which person is fit/adequate for certain jobs since some are good at still figures while others are better at homes or whatever. In a scene, they usually divide the atmosphere into color palettes. For example, the underground scenes in Simon's village were blue toned to represent the reclusive nature of the village while the sunrise/set parts of that episode are in orange tones to represent escaping that life and going on an adventure.
The director of the photography department usually sleeps at the office. Each episode takes roughly 4 to 5 weeks here. Some things they work on are paraffin, glare, gradiation, and other effects. The example they use here is when Gurren Lagann takes the helmet off of Viral's Enki. As the helmet is placed on the head, the middle portion shatters and the helmet transforms into the colors of Gurren Lagann. The effects they added to this scene is extra particles in the debri and the shiny transition between Enki's dull colors to Gurren Lagann's vibrant colors. The documentary had clips before the effects (where everything looked flat) to after effects (where it looked more vibrant).
At Sound Inn Studio, the Gurren Lagann director explained to the composer what the anime was all about BUT that they don't want typical robot music. He left the composer with lots of freedom. A clip was shown of the composer conducting and his face is very expressive. The composer says that he made music so the viewers will think "why are these used here?" type of music. In "Libera Me" for example, he chose to have a soprano and the rapping parts. The soprano part represents the Anti-spirals because the soprano parts show conflicting views compared to the rapping parts. The rapping parts represent the Guren-dan because they are fighting through to get to their goals (Row Row Fight the Power!).
The End of the Documentary
Near the end of the documentary, they showed the main producer at GAINAX and how he was pleased with everyone. They hold a party with all staff members and each head director of a department makes a mini speech of their appreciation to the staff. They share the joys they had and the tough times.
The Question and Answer Portion
Any audience member can ask a question (they just get called on by the translator). The translator would reiterate the question since most people can't hear the questioner's... question. Each question and answer set is separated. The questions and answers are filled with as much as I typed on my Blackberry so it isn't word for word. I might use the word "we" in an answer but that directs to the Gurren Lagann staff and not me. Any commentary I have on questions will be in parantheses. If multiple people answered this question then the answer portion will look like this:
one - answer
two - answer
three - answer
Q) The art direction in episode four was changed. Could you explain the rumors behind this art change because there are lots of rumors around.
A) We don't know the rumors so we cannot agree or disagree with them. The production team didn't think it was strange or wrong. Actually, this episode took the most effort but the people didn't seem to like it.
Q) When adapting a television series to a movie, what do you look for? What changes do you decide and what gets cut?
A) The movie script was written before they started changing things around. That original script ended up being really different to the movie reiterations (I think the translator didn't get the original question and asked something different thus a non-complete answer).
Q) How long does it take to do an episode?
A) Episode one took roughly a year. By the 26th episode, each episode took roughly one month.
Q) Who was the target audience for the Gurren Lagann movies?
A) The movie isn't a completely new thing. We did consider both audiences (the hardcore fans and the ones who haven't heard of Gurren Lagann). There are a lot more people into movies so we hope people saw the movie and want to check out the anime series. We tried our best to stand out. It caught many people's attention.
Q) When were the moments of "I can't work on this series anymore!" or "it's driving me crazy"?
A) one - When my savings account became negative (haha everyone laughed here)
two - "No matter how much I draw and draw, I couldn't sleep at all"
three - When I couldn't take a shower for five days. I must really stink (hahaha everyone in the audience laughed here too)
four - When there are lots of retakes and doing it over and over again.
five - During the tv series, I just got married and it has been a year. I only got to go home once a week and my wife says she wants to burn GAINAX down! (everyone laughs here a lot)
Q) The tv series looks really expensive. What was the budget and did it exceed it?
A) It's usually 120,000 USD per episode. GAINAX already was had their sponsor group meeting prior to the series being made. They were already set in getting 150,000 - 160,000 USD. They would usually end up spending 180,000 to 200,000 USD per episode so they'd go over the budget. They would make up for this loss in merchandise and holding licenses.
Q) In the drawing process, where would you get inspiration? Do you get any from previous GAINAX shows or some other series?
A) Yes we got inspired by some things from EVA. We watched things as reference but we didn't want to copy previous works. We talked about it with the director.
Q) Could you tell us more about Kamina? What/How was the inspiration/concept/personality made for his character?
A) He is not based on any character. Nakashima-san (I hope I spelled that right...) decided specific things about Kamina. The director (and ten others) gave their unput to create how he ended up in the series.
Q) In the first arc, we see Kamina getting killed. When and why did he get killed off and why did you want Simon to be the leader? How were decisions like this made?
A) We'll make this clear: Simon was to be the main character from the beginning. Kamina was a big role because we wanted Simon to develop from a boy to a leading character. He gets that through Kamina, his driving force. We wanted Kamina to die early because Simon would then take the lead to become the hero.
Q) (I think a Japanese tourist asked this question because it was asked in Japanese) What is the background between the changes of the fight scenes from the series versus the movie?
A) one - In the end of the movie (the combining battle with the four generals), we decided that is where we wanted to end. Everybody though we would end in episode 15 where Lord Genome died. We wanted to show Simon independent at the end. We needed the fight with the four generals changed.
two - It was done during the announcement press conference. This was our first robot anime since EVA. Robot anime was becoming less mainstream so we wanted this to be like a test to graduate. We meeded to make a good robot movie to find a new direction for the company. We graduated and we won't have to make another robot anime for a while (aka milk the series GAINAX? Thanks... =_=)
Q) What's the background information on Yoko's character? Why is she the sexy one and how is she set to be the fan service character?
A) one - Why? We should always have a sexy character! In robot anime, there's always a set. It was a natural process. We decided what kind of female character we needed. We decided we needed at least two female characters, Yoko and Nia. It's like EVA being a pair of girls, having two is good.
two - What I've heard, she was based on Fujiko from Lupin the 3rd.
Q) Where did you get the drill idea? How was that decided?
A) In Engrish literally: "The directors likes drills!" (It was really cute)
Q) (I didn't catch this question that clearly) How does Gurren Lagann compare to other robot characters? It can throw galaxies!
A) (they were confused so they gave a general answer) We didn't concern ourselves over other series. We just did anything we wanted.
Q) I would like to know more about the storyboard process. Were there many storyboard artists?
A) "I remember you from last year!" (he got all excited because he remembered the person who asked the question from last year's Fanime). For the duration of the anime, we had 6-8 storyboard artists. Each episode has one storyboard artist and once they finish, they go on to the next episode that isn't being worked on. Episode 8 was done by the assistant director.
Q) Why doesn't Leeron age? (HAHA)
A) (the guy laughed). He just looks like he doesn't age. He's just trying to look young. He uses spiral force power! (everyone laughs)
Q) Was there a connection between the manga Uzumaki and Gurren Lagann?
A) There isn't one but it's pretty scary (giggles abound)
Q) The first episode had a couple minutes that never appeared later on in the anime. The battleship didn't look like that, why was the storyline changed?
A) The spiral force was too strong and so it changed itself! (haha more laughs yay)
Q) Was there any inspiration from Time Odyssey? For example, aliences attacking humans when they reach a certain population cap.
A) Actually, I don't really remember if it was in a discussion or not.
Q) There were a lot of characters who died. Who was it hard to let go minus Kamina?
A) one - actually when characters die, it makes the story more interesting because they died (laughter here)
two - For me, it was Kittan. The story was good when he died.
three - Nia. (that's all that was said)
four - Nia. I understand she had to die for the story but it was sad.
five - for me, it was Kittan. I felt sorry for Yoko. First Kamina, then Kittan.
six - Adiane (he repeated her name like five times in a row!)
seven - Kamina! (the translator corrects him saying you can't say Kamina) lots of thinking and he then says the twins because he met the voice actors for dinner and it was really sad to see them.
Q) Could you please introduce yourselves, we didn't find out who each person is. (... I can't spell Japanese names and this part was really fast so I don't have everyone down...)
A) one - Animation director Yamada-san removes his shirt to reveal a white tshirt with Kamina's tattoos. He comments that he was shocked to see himself in the documentary looking scruffy and tired. Last year, he remembers seeing Nia and Boota and he was inspired to come back to Fanime this year because of the fan love.
two - Kojima-san. He says he was interviewed in the documentary but he thinks he said things he should not have said.
three - Key animation director (didn't catch name). He worked in the parallel works series too.
four - (didn't catch name). She worked in animation. She loves the fan passion here.
five - Ishikawa-san in animation. He says he can't wait to see everyone at the party (sadly it was limited to 100 people with a voucher and I wasn't eligible to get one since I had a press badge. Well it was hard to get the voucher because you had to win it but still...)
six - Makamatsu-san. He works in the composition department. He's happy to see everyone and he hopes you like what he does.
seven - (didn't catch name). She worked in the composition department in the movie. She is a fan of the tv series and she enjoyed the documentary because she watched it as a fan.
Q) In one of the parallel works "episodes," Gimmy does not have any pants on. He was also taking people's clothes and stuff. Why?
A) The parallel works is what it means - a parallel world. It could be possible that it makes sense. The director of that episode wanted to show "Gimmy's wee wee." (that's what the translator said and everyone laughed)
The End... End.
After the Q&A section, there were autographs. I mentioned in my Day 3
blog entry that I got autographs on my LE bag from part two of the dvds. I also got my friend to get me a piece of paper with their signatures too.
Boy that was exhaustive. I hope you enjoy the tl;dr entry!
Previous Fanime 2009 blog entries:Day 0Day 1Day 2Day 3