Director of Photography × Assistant Director of Photography

Takeshi Katsurayama × Ryo Iijima (Part 1)

In the process of producing animation, the "photography" could be said to provide the finishing touches to the visuals. The position of creating effects and moods and visual atmosphere, and directing that process, is that of the director of photography. Mr. Takeshi Katsurayama has been director of photography not just on "THE ORIGIN" but also on many previous Gundam works. Working with him was assistant director of photography Mr. Ryo Iijima. We spoke to them about the job of "photography" in this two-part interview. In the first part, we talked about the basics of photography in anime production.
- How did you come to be involved with THE ORIGIN?
Katsurayama: I joined when the producer Mr. Osamu Taniguchi asked me to come on board. I've been the director of photography on every Gundam title from "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED" to "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UC," so coming onto "THE ORIGIN" felt like a continuation of that. Incidentally, the company I am affiliated with, Asahi Production, helped out with some of the CG sections of "THE ORIGIN." Asahi Production started out as a shooting studio, and now we do a wide variety of things from digital work to cinematography planning and production.
- You had an assistant director of photography this time, too.
Katsurayama: When our company takes on any title, we appoint a director of photography and another person in an assisting-type role. In terms of job duties, the director of photography puts the director's instructions into action, but a theatrical release or a TV series requires a large amount of material, and support is needed for that. He may be called an assistant, but Iijima has been the lead director of photography on other works. On this occasion, I happened to say that I wanted to work with him, so we were paired up.
- In a sense, you'd think having two directors of photography could make it more magnificent.
Katsurayama: Yes. Regarding that, I was uneasy about handling the volume of work on "THE ORIGIN" by myself, but I thought with him as well maybe we could pull it off. I know from having worked on many Gundam jobs that they're not like other projects. I knew it would mean a large volume of work, and if we had a director of photography like Iijima as part of the staff, then the two of us could talk over things together.
- What were your thoughts when you were asked to work on "THE ORIGIN"?
Katsurayama: In the original manga, the episodes are massive and include the One Year War, and when I first heard they were going to adapt it for anime, I thought "If they do all of it, the workload is going to be brutal." I was a little afraid. (laughs) For now, they're doing the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla," but even so – if you think about Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's comics, that part is still undoubtedly epic. So there was a pressure in terms of how I myself could express this through the anime's photography. I also felt deeply emotional.
- Had you read "THE ORIGIN" manga?
Katsurayama: Well, of course lots of the staff in our company love Gundam, and they'd been buying the comics and letting me read them.
Iijima: I'd been buying them myself.
Katsurayama: I think I read it more in connection with work than out of personal interest. Before I got into this industry, I liked Gundam works, and I also bought plastic models and watched the anime. But once I myself came to be involved in Gundam as work, I became mostly unable to look at related manga and anime anymore. Still, there are a lot of Gundam-related titles, so I'm always gathering info on them.
- I'd like to ask about the details of the job of photography. These days, the work is being done digitally, isn't it?
Iijima: That's right. It's gone completely digital, and basically the process is geared towards computers.
Katsurayama: In the old days, we used to have a thing called an animation stand, a setup where the camera would hang down over it from above. The cels and background art would be overlaid and set on it, and you would literally "photograph" it. Nowadays, we use software like the one called After Effects, and combining elements becomes one of the jobs of photography. In the old days, the elements were the cels and the background art on paper. Now those things are in the form of data, and what's more, in "THE ORIGIN" CG-related data is also an element so that gets merged in too. I know the era of shooting on film well, and this is completely different. Of course, digital and film both have their own pluses and minuses, but when you factor in the costs of maintaining the equipment and the cost of cels and film, the merits of working digitally are great indeed.
- It must be better for making corrections too, right?
Iijima: Corrections are decidedly easier to do in digital.
Katsurayama: In the past, to do corrections you had to do things like cutting and pasting cels, and fix the materials that way. Now you can make as many adjustments as you want by using image processing software, so that is a huge advantage. Depending on the situation, you can even draw stuff in yourself if something is lacking. That said, even if you can make as many corrections as you like, they still take time and that can make things difficult.
- In terms of time, does it make things quicker?
Katsurayama: When using film, you also have to develop what you shoot, and that requires physical time. You don't need to develop digital, so you'd think that time has now been freed up. However, that time ends up getting used up in work to the last second. Also, when shooting digitally, the time needed to shoot one cut is short, so it's quite efficient. We were allowed quite a bit of time to shoot "THE ORIGIN," but that included the time for creating the elaborate artwork as well. On an ordinary TV series, you could only use two or three days to shoot, so in terms of the difficulty, I don't think it was much different.
- In the process of shooting, in the past you would slide cel art and backgrounds around, bring the camera in for close ups, and have to actually move things to film. Have those technical aspects changed greatly?
Katsurayama: We often talk about panning the camera, moving the artwork, and sliding, but those processes can be handled in After Effects. With regards to camera movements, we have these guides from the director and episode director which are like blueprints, and we follow those in creating the movement. But they're the same as back in the film days when you'd move the stand and shoot. The foreground and background art are separated into layers, and each of those are made to seem like they're moving in the software. With digital, the software will automatically make corrections, which makes things more efficient too. Also, so-called effects are created and inserted in shooting, so the flipside of being able to do a lot more things in digital, is that there is more work to be done.
- When merging the elements, are you also able to immediately check how things will move?
Katsurayama: Yes, you can. You take what you've shot and render it and deliver it, and then it gets edited. But before rendering, you can watch a preview. When watching the preview, you can see whether the cut is perfectly complete. And in cases where the cut needs to put the intentions of the episode director first, we have the director and episode director come to the shooting studio, watch the preview together, and check a test movie before it's finalized, then we make adjustments if there's any difference from what they intended. In the past, we couldn't know what the final result would look like without developing the film. So there were a lot of color errors. And even if we wanted to redo something after developing it, there wasn't enough time. Now, with digital, if there are coloring mistakes we can catch them in the preview and fix them right away. That's another big advantage of digital too.
- This is very basic, but does the director of photography not only give instructions to the operator, but also do shooting themselves?
Katsurayama: I think that depends on the director of photography, but even when I divide work among my staff, I still use the software myself and process what we've shot for each and every cut. Naturally, we don't do things in pairs. I get the operator to do his process, check it, and edit it into a finished form for delivery.
- As director of photography, in addition to that work, you also have to give direction for the final product, right?
Katsurayama: Right. You definitely have to look at all the cuts, and make sure their connections and the instructions of the director and producer are fully included as you work. If there's something lacking in the work materials, you need to communicate that to the production and ask for the material. Those kinds of administrative things also need to be done by two people.
- When shooting live action, for things like the lighting, specialists come in to adjust the brightness of the scene. But in anime, are those types of adjustments made at the shooting stage?
Katsurayama: That depends on the project. On "THE ORIGIN, "we didn't do lighting or stop down the lens while shooting, but where absolutely necessary we did adjust the lighting. For instance, in live action, lighting effects in a scene can cause lens flare and add spot lights – in anime, that's all the job of the director of photography.
- On that same note, effects created by lenses and lighting are carried out based on the opinions of the director and episode director, right?
Katsurayama: We set up a shooting meeting, and there, based around the storyboards, we listen to any wishes they might have, like. "We want this scene to be backlit" or "The sunlight is strong here, so please put in a band of light created by incident light" or "This is an intimate scene, so add black shadows and gradations in front of the characters." Then we actually shoot those scenes to reflect that. In concrete terms, doing that means confirming what elements we need, and putting in orders for everything we need for shooting it as well. However, since going digital, it can all be done in the software, so a lot is left in our hands. But that responsibility makes things quite difficult, and to a certain degree you have more relationships of trust with directors and episode directors. If neither party understands the other, you often have to have discussions to find out how they want the art to look. Ms. Nana Harada, the director of Episode 2 of "THE ORIGIN," is someone I have worked with for about ten years, so even without instructions, I feel I still know what she wants in many ways. That said, you still need to find out their exact intentions, and if you don't have the shooting meetings, then they won't end up in the final footage.
- Each project is different, but when you compare "THE ORIGIN" to other Gundam works, what's distinctive about the shooting process?
Katsurayama: On "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED" and "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM 00", the director's inclination was that the mobile suits should be treated with textures so they had almost character elements. "THE ORIGIN" is closer to "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UC", with its more restrained shooting process. We're not trying to be too cunning, and we're keeping in mind that we don't want to emphasize photographic effects as we work.
- Gundam has long-time fans who've seen every series, as well as new fans, and the shooting process changes along with them, doesn't it?
Katsurayama: I think it does based on the target audience, but if there are people out there who become interested in Gundam at the age I am now, then little kids will be starting to watch it with those adults too. "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM AGE" was aimed at young children, and we were conscious of that in the shooting process, so it changes based on the project. For "THE ORIGIN," I tried to draw out what Mr. Yasuhiko and the episode directors wanted. It's not like, "This is Gundam so it has to be this particular way." Rather, there are great differences from one title to another.

Next time, we talk about how the photography was approached, which parts were most difficult, and specific scenes when it came to working on "THE ORIGIN."