So you're the type of otaku who collects figurines and manga like you're storing food for the apocalypse. You learned Japanese by watching a bucket-load of anime and then realised that it would be useless when actually speaking to a Japanese person. You work two jobs to save up for that must-do Japan tour and you would give up everything you owned to become a mangaka. Well, then this article is for you!! Here, I'll take you through what it takes to make an anime.
Now, I am by no means an expert on making animation, but as a novice comic book creator I have spent a lot of time researching plot development and character creation, and the one thing I can say is that everyone has a different way of creating a story. Every person has a unique perspective on life, and as a good writer you will be able to let that shine through in your work, because at the end of the day if you’re being true to who you are, it will be easier to create a solid idea.
Scene from Shirobako
When looking at how to make an anime, you will not only be challenged with having to know how to direct and write a screenplay, but also knowing what makes a good anime, as opposed to a live action production. Meaning that you will need to study the anime genre and the concepts behind it. What makes a good anime? what makes a bad anime? And finally, what kind of message you are trying to convey to your audience. There are so many things to consider!
The Basics of How to Make Anime
Scene from Shirobako
Not to be confused with world creation, plot line is the idea that you want to convey to your audience. While humans can communicate with words we often find that words are simply not enough. That is why storytelling is so highly valued in most cultures, it is a way for us to express our deepest emotions and perceptions through movement, sound, visuals and writing.
Generally speaking plot line consists of ideas, emotions, scenes, memes and themes (moods). A good writer will be able to use all of these things in their story but a great writer will use all of them in harmony.
These are your own ideas. You have a story that you would like to share with people, and in order to do that you'll have to use the other 4 plot attributes the convey that idea. To come up with a plot you will need to understand what you are trying to say? Are you trying to move people with emotion? Are you trying to shine light on a social or environmental issue? Are trying to create an escape from reality for people? Are you simply trying to entertain people?
Finding a focus for your plot stops you from wandering off track and making a meaningless story.
Emotions can be powerful allies or plot destroying enemies. So treat them with respect! When creating emotional impact on your audience remember that you need their undivided attention. To do this you need to have the right build up, even surprise deaths and shocker scenes need build up. For the surprise to have the right effect you need to lull your viewer into a sense of security. Make them believe that everything is alright and that there is no way anyone could get hurt. A good example of this is the “Teacher Suicide” scene from Another. If you haven’t seen it then watch it. Its pretty messed up.
Additionally do not draw emotional scenes out. This can lose favour with your audience as they can become immune to what you are trying to convey. Anime is one genre that does this really well so you have to pay special attention to this when creating one. I cannot tell you how many times I have ended up in tears because of simple things characters have said, but because the creators took the time to build it up properly there was impact.
Creating a scene is no easy task. Scenes are not just about showing two characters in a room, it’s about setting a mood, having the right poses, the right camera angles and the right lighting. It would be pointless to have a horror scare scene in a really bright and cheerful room with pink daisies everywhere, unless that is a part of the shock factor of course. But this could backfire if not done correctly. A good example of this type of “out of place" scene setting would be Jungle wa Itsumo Hare nochi Guu. They actually use the light scenery to make Guu's antics even more creepy.
Scene setting is a topic I could go on and on about but since I am covering this in part 2 of How to make an anime, I 'll refrain.
Memes are an undervalued plot device in my opinion. Memes are how you get your audience to relate to your plot. By creating something that they can identify with you create a bond, something they can care about. Whether it is a character type that is similar to them or a situation that most people have been in you should always use these memes to your advantage. For example, a popular anime stereotype in anime is the school setting. The majority of us on the planet have attended school and most of us wished it was way more exciting. That is part of why this type of anime is so popular.
Themes encompass all of the above. What is the theme of the idea are you trying to communicate? Is the idea a sad one? A happy one? A shocking one?
What emotional themes are you trying to communicate? Are they sad or happy?
What memes will you use in order to convey that theme? Is the main character quiet or are they loud and funny?
How are you going to set your scenes according to this theme? Will they be dark and broody or light and fluffy?
Once you have an idea in mind you need to decide what theme or themes you are going to us in order to know how to proceed.
Character creation is interchangeable with plot line, as you do not need to come up with a story line first. In fact I personally find it easier to create a few characters first and then build a plot and world around them. In my opinion it gives more depth to the characters as their world becomes an extension of their characters, it also helps you understand the characters as individuals allowing you to create more emotional context.
Character development can be one of the most rewarding parts of the whole creative process. This is where you can be completely creative with no limits on what you are creating, your characters can be dark and brooding or light and cheerful. They can be an emotional mess or clever and witty. The possibilities are endless which is why it can also be the most difficult part of the process. That’s why I suggest keeping in mind these few things:
Write what you know.
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to create a character and not being able to understand his/her motives. You may see a character on a show and think “Wow, I really want a character like that in my anime, they are sooo damn cool!”. Stop! If you cannot get into that character’s head and understand them, then you won’t be able to do them justice. The reason that character is so awesome in the first place is because the creator understood that character and what made them tick. They know where and when they would react and in what manner.
A good example would be me trying to understand how a 45 year old man with two kids and a wife would react to something. As a 25 year old woman with no sense of responsibility, it's hard for me to put myself in his shoes. Therefore I wouldn't write about someone like that unless I could find a good case study for that character.
I’m not saying don’t write about people who are different to you, as that would just make for a really boring and one sided story. I’m saying that if you do, try and get a case study or look at how that character type was used in other anime, you will eventually find a repeating pattern that helps you understand them better. It will only benefit your anime in the end.
This is one of my pet peeves when it comes to any storytelling medium! You have a character who acts in a certain way the whole way through a series and then for some reason, out of the blue, they do something that is so out of their character just to conveniently create or solve a plot development. This is only fine when there is a valid reason behind it, say the character is possessed or something, otherwise you start to make your audience doubt your stories validity. And that is when you get the plot-hole-trolls who like to rip your work to shreds. This breed of troll should be treated like a zoo animal. Do not feed!
One of the best ways to test your characters limits is to play with them a little. Once you have a few characters created and a basic plot you will find yourself thinking up all kinds of scenes. This is a natural part of the process and you should try and encourage this behaviour in yourself. I like to write these imagined scenes down and then adjust them when I feel the need.
In these creative moments you should toy with your characters emotions and reactions, try and see what makes them cry, what makes them laugh and how they interact with one another. This sounds really odd, I know, but think of it as method acting for writers.
This is something I learned a little later on but for the love of all that is Otaku, learn to have fun with your project! I got stuck in thinking that I had to be serious in order to finish the project but when I let go and just enjoyed what I was doing things became way more natural. I finished the plot line for the first season of my comic in two weeks and drew the first 20 pages of the first book in the following two weeks. Its was fun and I was creating an entire world around me.
So take a deep breath and get ready to dive into a whole new world because that is the path you are going down if you choose to take on a project like making an anime.
Character development may seem like it’s a part of the character creation process but I really believe it needs its own section in this article. This is also an important step, but not one that needs to be set in stone.
Where character creation is the design of a character, be it stereotypical or original, character development is the end result of that character creation. This is about who you want that character to become as the anime plays out. This is especially important in anime as anime is very focused on emotion. Take Yuki Takeya from Gakkougurashi! for example, at first she seems like this really spaced out happy character, but as the series goes on you come to realize that she is incredibly fragile and scared. She evolves into a more stable character in the end who comes to accept what is happening to her but still manages to smile.
You shouldn’t completely change your character into something new as that would not be very realistic, we as humans will always be who we are at the core. But we live and learn through our interactions and experiences and that is what you want to do with your characters to.
Give them challenges that they can overcome and grow from, give them relationships that make them better or worse people and avoid making them invincible. Characters who can overcome everything never learn or evolve so they are never allowed to become more than what they already are.
Scene from Macross Frontier
This is something I find lacking in most novice writers’ story lines. People seem to forget that their characters exist in a world of their own. Yes, your characters may exist in modern day society on planet earth just like the rest of us but their everyday life may not be the same as yours. The way we see the world depends on a lot of factors, what culture we live in, what customs we keep, what age we are, what experiences we've had. No one sees the world in the same way and this can affect a story greatly. When creating the world take a few things into consideration.
Are you going to have extraordinary characters in an ordinary world and how do their extraordinary views affect their surroundings?
Are you going to create ordinary characters in an extraordinary world and how do their surroundings affect them?
Are you going to have extraordinary characters in an extraordinary world and how will they affect each other?
Anime is a very visual medium so you always want to focus on the unusual in all of the above situations. There is no point in creating something cool if it’s never going to see the light of day, unless it’s an enticement ploy, then give the viewer just enough but leave them wanting more.
Fffeww. I think I may just have written an essay here. Rather unusual for my lazy self, but as you can see this is something I'm passionate about. That is why this is only the first part of a four part series on how to make an anime. Next week I will be taking you through the next step in this fantastic process, I will be discussing how to refine your story line and how to turn it into a proposal for potential artists and studios. In the meantime you can find me at All Otaku Online or visit our Facebook page where we share whatever the hell we feel like.
Until next time, sayounara, and thanks for all the fish.