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Digital Technologies Revolutionize Animation Industry

March 16, 1999

The advancement of digital technologies and falling software prices are revolutionizing the anime (animation) industry. Once dependent upon hand drawings by professional artists, the major animation studios are now starting to fully integrate digital technologies into the anime production process. On the other end of the spectrum, the ability to create homemade anime on an inexpensive personal computer has made it possible for amateurs and semiprofessionals to get in on the act, swelling the ranks of the industry's anime creators.

Computers Allow for Greater Self-Expression
Traditionally, the creation of anime has included the labor-intensive task of coloring in the "cells," or sheets of transparent cellophane film, by hand. Consequently, this work has often been outsourced to other Asian countries with cheap labor markets, creating a headache for companies trying to coordinate overseas production and domestic editing work. With the use of digital technologies on a desktop computer, however, pictures can be colored in with a click of the mouse. It is also easier to redo work, and the range of colors available is virtually unlimited. Cameras are no longer needed, and editing can easily be accomplished on the keyboard. The labor-saving effects of digital technology are truly remarkable.

This has led to a rush to achieve fully digital production of anime for television, where mass production is essential. Studios that produce film-length anime are also working toward fully digitized production: Many of Japan's famous anime directors, who brought Japanese anime onto the world stage, promise that pieces integrating digital technologies on a large scale are "in the works."

Saved labor is not the only benefit gained by digital technologies. One other benefit is the more varied forms of self-expression afforded by the computer. Digital technologies allow for the perfect integration of complex movements, including smoothly flowing backgrounds that look extremely accurate from the perspective of the characters and audience. It is also possible to freely integrate richer textures and patterns in the images. Moreover, looking ahead to the coming of such digital media as digital broadcasts and DVD, if works are digitized from the start it will be that much easier to adapt them to these secondary uses.

Producers Wanted: No Experience Necessary
As anime rides the digital wave, there is one more phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Up until a few years ago, the production of an anime film required tens of millions of yen (hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars); today, however, all that is needed is an ordinary personal computer. In short, we have entered the age where an amateur can easily create his or her own "homemade" anime.

In addition, powerful yet inexpensive software capable of coloring and editing two-dimensional animation, as well as creating three-dimensional computer graphics, is now available to the general public. Some software manufacturers hold computer graphics competitions, and schools and courses for those who wish to seriously study computer graphics technology are opening one after another. Homemade anime is flourishing.

Because of this, amateurs can make their professional anime debut without having to work their way through the ranks, and professionals from such other industries as industrial design are increasingly crossing over into anime production. The influx of amateurs and semipros trying to enter the anime industry could open a world of new possibilities for Japanese anime.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.