Masato Yoshitake

In animation production, the person responsible for assembling what's animated in the studio and connecting the shots that have been filmed into a single piece of footage is the editor. In concrete terms, what is the editing process that makes the tempo of the drama and the movement of the characters more impressive? We spoke to Masato Yoshitake, chief editor on "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), about what specifically needed focus when editing "THE ORIGIN."
- First of all, Mr. Yoshitake, please tell us about what the work of editing is on the anime you're in charge of, for those of us who don't have that basic knowledge.
Yoshitake: Anime editing work can be broadly divided into two types: "offline" and "online." In offline editing, you get ironed-out individual shots from the episode director to work with, and you create footage from them that flows as a single scene. In online editing, you take the footage connected offline and put it into the final format with original-picture quality, adding on-screen captions and so forth.
- In terms of the process, at what point in time do you become involved with the project?
Yoshitake: Starting with the movie used for post-recording. Before post-recording takes place, we connect together what are called "line tests" in which each shot is made from animation in the line-drawing stage filmed by the photography team, and when the voice actors add their voices, it's made to flow naturally. While the shots are being animated, the episode directors don't see things as scenes, but largely check the level of completion of each shot as an individual unit. However, no matter how amazingly well-done the shot is on its own, when you connect two or three shots and see how they come together as a scene, it often feels like it's dragging out a bit. For example, in a fight scene, even if each shot looks fine, when you put them together, it feels like, "He says something, then there's a bit of a gap, then there's a punch." In cases like that, if the characters' emotions are rising, then to express that, we cut out parts of the shots and connect them back together. On the other hand, when creating a sad scene, if there's dialogue up until the last moment of the previous shot, it won't communicate the sadness if those words resonate too strongly. So in that case, we add space and extend the length.
- In other words, you consider seriously how the footage connects together, and you make adjustments to it.
Yoshitake: We look at the rhythm of the overall work. The completion of the individual shots is left to the episode directors. We look at those shots, line them up, and then look at the emotion of the scene as a rhythm. It's kind of like that.
- When you think about the editors of a live-action movie, you think about them cutting and connecting filmed material. But in anime, your material is what the animators have drawn. In order for their work not to be wasted, the editing work also takes place beforehand, right?
Yoshitake: From the first cutting (editing) work to the final completion of footage is quite a period of time. So, when editing together a movie for post-recording using filmed storyboards and key animation, if they can still change it, we say, "We'll cut this part," or, on the flip side, in some cases we'll ask them to add more. Also, depending on the episode director, some shots are planned to be edited shorter in later stages, so we make those cuts and adjustments. For example, in an action scene, when one shot depicts a punch from the arm being raised to it being stretched out, and in the next shot the movement begins with the arm extended, if we simply connect them together, then it looks like the same movement happens twice. In that case, we'll cut out some frames from one shot or the other, depending on the directorial intent. At the line test stage, where it's filmed before color has been added, we only have the key animation art for before the movement and after the movement, and the drawings of the in-between animation don't exist yet. So we calculate the number of frames that will go in between, estimate how many pieces of drawing will be put in, and make cuts as part of that editing process.
- So you really do make adjustments to the rhythm and tempo in the finest detail, and see if things flow without anything feeling off in the pacing. The way you present pacing and the way you connect things are, in a sense, things that cannot be separated from the episode direction. In the end, do you make decisions along with the episode directors?
Yoshitake: That's right. Basically, the general director and episode director and I will talk and make decisions. Even if our opinions differ, the three of us will talk things over and look for agreement.
- Regarding the editing process, about how much back and forth is involved in making a single episode?
Yoshitake: First we cut the line test, then we pass that over to the sound team for post-recording. After that, the video comes back to us with the voices added in post-recording, and we cut it again in that form. Here, we make fine adjustments to line up the actors' lines and the characters' movements. At the same time, more and more animation is being completed. For example, if a 3D battle scene comes in, we make adjustments to those movements and solidify the lengths. Then, at that stage, we pass it back to the sound team again for audio mixing, which is the final stage of sound work. Once that's done, it comes back with music and sound effects added, and then color is added, mouth movements are matched to dialogue, battle scene sound effects lag is lined up to the video, even the colors and various other things are explored. We keep doing multiple rounds of retakes. Unlike live action, in animation, audio mixing is not the last stage of the process. After mixing, you enter the editing process once again to align the sound and the images. You look at how the actors actually spoke, and you see if there are any unnatural pauses between lines, or if their mouths are open when they're not speaking, and anything that feels off we fix and adjust through editing.
- We heard that for the post-recording movie for "THE ORIGIN," you added your own voice as a placeholder, Mr. Yoshitake. You don't hear about that much on other projects, but could you tell us your intent behind the way you put your own voice on the video?
Yoshitake: On "THE ORIGIN," with Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko as the general director, being in charge of editing means there's a lot of pressure from all around. Normally with studio work, you read from the script along with the video material as you edit the footage. But in those cases, the voices are not recorded, so there's no data left over. However, in this case, reading the script in some places there was jargon and specialized vocabulary that was hard to say, or there was a distinctive way to speak the dialogue, so I thought as a guide I'd put my voice in there first. Before "THE ORIGIN," I'd inserted my voice on other projects and tried editing them that way as an easy way to communicate to people that, "I'd like this line to be said for this long" or "If you speak over this length of time, the rhythm should be like this." So I employed that on "THE ORIGIN," too. If you only have the line test video, your impression of it tends to be that you're just looking at a bunch of pictures. But Mr. Yasuhiko commented favorably that if you add voices to it, it's easier to understand, so we've been continuing on that way. In the beginning, I thought about not putting my voice in the data for the sound team because my own voice was not something that other people could enjoy listening to, but Mr. Yasuhiko said he wanted me to. I figured it might provide some laughs to the staff, so I went ahead and did it.
- "THE ORIGIN" is longer in running time, so recording and cutting in voices is also a harder process, isn't it?
Yoshitake: That's true. If there's a lot that needs to be spoken in a particular way, it takes time. In episode 5, Gihren's speeches, Dozle's interaction with his family , and other scenes like that took a lot of time. Recording my own voice alone took nine hours.
- It takes a lot of time, but does whether you cut in your voice or not have a big influence on the result?
Yoshitake: Of course, the way each editor does it will be different, and some people will put in their own feelings while they read. In my case, when I edit the same place multiple times and it gets re-read, the length changes, and some places get ambiguous. In that sense, by establishing a fixed length as decided, I can show not intuitively but concretely things like, "I'd like to drag out this line this far here," or "I'd like to get this line close to this." By doing so, it's easy to communicate my intent convincingly. The job is to create rhythm, so you think about the duration of each line, like, "In this scene, the character's emotions are running high, so the lines should be delivered quickly," or, "The feelings are relaxed in this scene, so we'd like them to speak calmly." That's the process.
- Mr. Shuichi Ikeda, who plays the role of Char, also said that watching video with added voices as a guide before post-recording made the post-recording easy.
Yoshitake: It makes me happy to hear actors saying so. "THE ORIGIN" has many distinguished veteran voice actors in it, and after they actually finished post-recording, they often far exceeded what I'd imagined. After post-recording, I sometimes had to re-edit when I found those unexpected elements – such as "He read this line this much longer," "He performed it much more forcefully," and so forth.
- What are your thoughts about talking with Mr. Yasuhiko in your role as editor?
Yoshitake: I got the impression that he thought deeply even about the small details. In discussions with other directors, they sometimes make abstract requests that are less about characters' emotions than visual things, like, "This bit is cool, so I'd like to stretch it out." But Mr. Yasuhiko is different. He's not ambiguous, like, "I wonder if this would be good if it were a bit longer." He explains his intentions clearly, like, "This character is feeling sad, and his words don't come to him immediately, so I'd like this space to be longer." For example, in the part in Episode 4 where the Black Tri-Stars' Zakus and the Guncannons fight, there's a scene depicting the archetypal movements of a Jetstream Attack. At first, I cut it like an ordinary fight scene. I thought it was a simple battle combination. But after cutting it that way, Mr. Yasuhiko said, "I'd like this shot to be longer." I said, "If we extend it, the rhythm won't be any good," and he said, "This shot shows the precursor to the Jetstream Attack, so I want to show it clearly." He had a clear vision of that foreshadowing, and "those movements are based on this." That was a help. Also, in ordinary combat we don't put in slow motion, but because of all that I thought it made sense to use slow motion.
- Did you have any exchanges with Mr. Yasuhiko that left an impression?
Yoshitake: Mr. Yasuhiko is himself an artist, so of course he hated when the art that was drawn got cut in editing. But the job of editing is cutting, so I have to think how to convince him. Occasionally he says, "You cut this here." Sometimes I wonder, "Why did he notice it when I just cut two frames?" (1 frame = 1/24 second), but that awareness of his is incredible.
- Were there any points that were specific to editing "THE ORIGIN"?
Yoshitake: Being in the robot genre, you'd think there has to be an emphasis on mecha action, but "THE ORIGIN" is not particularly about mecha action. It's about human drama through and through. In the action scenes of "THE ORIGIN," even in the middle of combat, there's drama amongst the pilots, so we don't take the simple approach of increasing the tempo as you would in a normal action scene. Instead we think, "This is Char, these are the Black Tri-Stars, so let's proceed at such-and-such a tempo."
- In the editing, did you consider the image created by the panel layouts in the manga that Mr. Yasuhiko drew?
Yoshitake: I'm trying to avoid reading the "ORIGIN" manga. On other projects with a source material, I read the source and try to learn about the basic details of the world. But I have most of the details of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" in my head, so I didn't want to read the manga and end up putting my own subjectivity on it. Reading the manga and watching the anime are different things, so if I read the manga and have personal emotional feelings about it like, "This part is interesting," then I'll end up unconsciously lengthening it. Also, if I'm aware of what's being foreshadowed, then I'll think, "This is what this actually means," and deliberately hold it for a greater duration. So to avoid any preconceptions getting in, I basically get the storyboards and work from my impression of those. I figure that maybe once "THE ORIGIN" is done and dusted, I'll read it then.
- You said you had watched "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM." Is that something you use as a reference for your editing work?
Yoshitake: I'm not of the generation that enjoyed it when it first aired, but I watched it when it was rerun during summer holidays. Recently, since I became involved with "THE ORIGIN," I re-watched the theatrical and TV versions. That said, in "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" Amuro is the main focus, and the factions that show up are completely different, so I'm not paying too much attention to it. It's set in the same time period, so the way the troops speak and things like that shouldn't be too different, and that's about the extent of it.
- Please tell us your thoughts on actually being involved with "THE ORIGIN."
Yoshitake: I like the robot genre, so that immediately got me excited, but what's more it's a Gundam project, and it's "THE ORIGIN." All I can say is, I immediately said, "I'll do it!" In terms of resolve, I was 70% scared, but 30% of me wanted to try it and see. Sure enough, it does feel like a legendary project, and the pressure was incredible. People around me were saying, "This is Mr. Yasuhiko's Gundam, you know that, right?" There was such a pressure not to fail. So I was very worried about what the response would be to Episode 1.
- The 4-episode "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" is complete, but at which stage were you able to grasp the work's atmosphere?
Yoshitake: Compared to other wholly original works, the characters are already determined to a certain degree, so that made it easy to understand. As a project, I understood the rhythm after discussing it with the general director for Episode 1. On Episode 1, when they'd recorded the voices and we re-cut it, there were lots of detailed requests like, "Here, we want it to be like this." I took all that in and gave it form. In that respect, I think I grasped the sense of it around Episode 2.
- What made an impression on you specific to it being "THE ORIGIN"?
Yoshitake: The thing that made the biggest impression on me in the process is that the crowd scenes are really alive. Normally, people in background groups don't move much. And because they're behind the main characters, your line of sight doesn't go there. But in Mr. Yasuhiko's work "THE ORIGIN," all the crowd character movements have meaning, too. So it was hard to cut. Every background character has intention and meaning, and when you think about that, you end up not being able to cut anymore. But then you have no choice but to make cuts in order to prioritize the emotions of the main characters. Also, there was an incident where I cut out a portion of a crowd's movement which hadn't been animated yet. Later, I realized you couldn't continue to the next shot without that movement, and I put it back.
- Please tell us what's interesting to look out for in terms of editing throughout all the episodes.
Yoshitake: On the contrary, if you watch it and you're aware of the editing, then that's a problem. If the audience watches it for an hour and is focused on the story and there's no interruption in the mood, then that's a success in editing. It's not simply about being speedy. The story has fast and slow parts, so I'm focused on the work as a whole to make people glad they watched it.
- Starting with Episode 5 the story enters the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield." Will the way it's presented change, too?
Yoshitake: Comparatively, there are more battle scenes, so given the strong human dramas we've had so far, Gihren and many other characters will become entangled. While we show them effectively, I'd like to try to increase the tempo step by step.
- Do you have a final message for fans who are going to watch this work?
Yoshitake: Basically, I think the first time you watch it, you follow the flow of the drama, and you appreciate that. If you watch it a second or third time, I hope you'll watch the characters' individual dramas. If you do, I think you'll have a deeper experience of the work. The first time, I don't think you sense much of the foreshadowing of what's to come, but if you look at it in continuity, you'll notice some elements in the second half. So with that structure in mind, at the second viewing stage, with some prior knowledge, more becomes visible. And with this work, if you pay attention to the lines and the pauses between them, too, it gets even more interesting. Each and every character in the crowd scenes was given some consideration, too, so I hope people don't miss that.