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Difference between French and Japanese animation industry

AW: We would like to ask you about the difference in working environment and culture for animators between France and Japan. In terms of technical things and business practice, are there any differences in the way of making animation between France and Japan?

EM: Basically, in France the animation is based on the American model, the Disney model. Usually you have different steps. In current animations, you have to draw the key poses. You have the layout art and you have the background design. In Japan, some of the steps are mixed (Figure 1). That means the animator makes his own layout so it saves time and also he has better control of the cut which he’s doing because when you do your layout, you can completely control your movement according to the perspective and have a better match between characters and the background.

Figure 1: Comparison of process making animations between Japan and France (This is an example of workflow. In France, the workflow could be different depending on where the production is.)

EM: You can see it clearly if you check some Ghibli (*14) movies and Disney movies. There are good points and bad points in each of them. In terms of pure global image, Japanese animation is really strong. I mean, the perspective is really strong. In terms of acting, American animation is stronger than Japanese animation because they put more details into micro expressions that Japanese animation doesn’t really care about. For example, if you compare lip syncing in Ghibli animation and American lip sync, there is a big difference. Yapiko Animation has an animator from DreamWorks who is really good at acting and a Japanese animator coming from Ghibli. They are really respectful of each other.

They respect their own work and method. It’s really fun to see each of them animating on the same project. For me, it’s really amazing to see that and I would like to push this experience further to get more interesting animation which mixes both techniques: Japanese techniques and American techniques. I feel that we can maybe make a feature film or something like that. We can make something really amazing.

*14: Studio Ghibli (in Japanese): http://www.ghibli.jp/

The difference in communication between Japan and France

AW: On the business side, as a producer you said that you now also communicate with clients. How is it different to communicate with clients from France or from Japan in a business way?

EM: Okay, basically it’s easier to communicate in Japan with my clients because things are faster in Japan than France. When you decide something, you take time to decide what you want to do at the beginning. Once it’s decided then it goes pretty fast in Japan. In France it’s always difficult because first you talk and you decide something, then some people change their minds and decide something else and after that you have to talk a lot to go forward even if you started the project, it’s still not decided yet. Maybe you have to redo some work. It’s interesting because you can share so many things in France. In Japan you share at the start and after it’s finished. In France, you always share, even if you are doing a project. Sometimes it’s really hard when you have to redo something that you did because someone has changed his/her mind. Artists don’t really like that.

AW: So you mean in Japan, from the moment the decision is taken, it goes very quickly. They don’t usually go back on the decision.

EM: No. They don’t go back on the decisions.

AW: Which they do in France?

EM: Yes, in Japan, that’s why they talk a lot at the start but when it’s decided, it’s clear. The process is started. The speech takes time but is really important at the start.

AW: Okay. It’s good that you know both sides.

EM: Yes. It’s really important to know, so when clients come in Japan, I tell them the Japanese way because we are in Japan so if we want to get the best from Japanese animators in the organisation then we have to work in their way. If it was the opposite, if I had Japanese clients asking me about the European way to make animation, I think I would recommend the Japanese way to do it because it’s better.

What does the Japanese animation industry look like?

A similarity between Japan and America

AW: What is it like to work in Japan? Could you please share your impressions and opinions about working in Japan as a professional animator? Not only the technical differences, is there a difference of approach as a creative artist?

EM: Two things. If you compare France, US and Japan, there are more similarities between US and Japan than France and Japan. I mean, in France, usually, the system is more independent from artists. There is no star system in France.

AW: Star system? Do you mean like being a superstar?

EM: Yeah. In France, when a company needs an animator, they just need an animator. They care of course if he/she’s good or not, but they won’t care about the name because most animators’ name don’t appear in any TV shows in France. For American studios and Japanese studios, the name is really important because it appears when the credits roll at the end of the show or the movie. Especially in Japan, people’s names appear at the end of every piece of a television show even if they make just one cut or two cuts. So when I came in Japan, I was really impressed with the respect that studios can give to animators. When I was in France, I just felt that “maybe I do my job and nobody cares so I go back home”, I take my money and that’s all.

AW: I didn’t know that. I was not aware of that.

Being respected as an animator

EM: In Japan, even if you don’t earn a lot of money, people are really respectful to animators. They try to push you to do your best. We call a production manager as “Seisaku Shinkou” in Japanese. They always push you to make the best of what you can and care about you. They encourage you to draw and if you want coffee or something, they’ll bring you some from time to time. Sometimes people bring me drinks or things like that when I was working, even if I didn’t ask for them – so even if conditions are difficult because of their schedule, they try to encourage you.

AW: So as an animator you get rewarded with positive encouragement and feelings in Japan more than in France.

EM: Yes. You feel that you are important in Japan when you are an animator. You know that when you work, you are sure that your name will be at the end of the show in the credits. It’s also reported on the Internet so it’s really important for an animator. Before working on a new project, the director of the projects in Japan checks what you did on the Internet or ask references who know you and depending on which projects you worked on, they will consider whether you are a good animator for the project. So they can see if you already worked on great projects. But in France, nobody cares really.

AW: It’s more anonymous.

EM: Yes. Your name really doesn’t appear or really go fast on the show when they have time. I didn’t feel in France that I was really important to my company. That was the way work was, so I didn’t care. But when I was here, I was really surprised by Japan.

Advice for Japanese who want to work in Europe

AW: That’s a good thing to know. Could you give any advice for the people who want to work globally as animators? It could be advice for foreign people who want to come to Japan or for Japanese people who want to work abroad, if you have any advice.

EM: For Japanese people who want to work in Europe, they need not to be scared about language.

AW: Yeah, Japanese people are afraid about communicating in English.

EM: Maybe they need to learn English. That’s important.

AW: Yeah, that’s true.

EM: Maybe if you are Japanese and like to talk and you are not afraid to talk a lot, I think you can go abroad. But those who are afraid or shy, it would be better for them to stay in Japan, I think.

Advice for European people who want to work in Japan

EM: For European people who want to work in Japan, it’s best to have strong motivation. It’s hard at the start and you can’t only rely on your talking and you can’t lie about your work. People will see what you are able to do and your skills. They will evaluate your skills and your skills will talk for you.

AW: I see what you mean. Because in France, you have a good relationship with people and then they will hire you even if you’re not super good.

EM: That’s why I said for Japanese people who want to work in France, if they know how to talk, maybe they can have a great job. If you tell most animators, “Okay, I worked on Bleach or maybe Naruto,” people will say, “Oh my god, he’s really good,” even if you do only inbetween, they will hire you as a high position. It doesn’t work in Japan, so if you come from France and you say you worked at Disney or DreamWorks, they will say, “Okay, we will test you first.”

AW: Yeah. “Show me what you can do”.

EM: If you’re not good, you will start at the basics. Skills and motivation are really important to work in Japan and talking is really important in Europe.

Being a hub for global animation industries

AW: Could you please tell us a little bit about your studio? What do you think the major characteristics of your studio are? You said that you are the first to hire both European and Japanese people. Do you have other specific sides you want to talk about Yapiko Animation?

EM: I use mainly my experience and the contacts I had in the past to improve the studio because when people come here it’s not only to work with us but sometimes it’s also to ask for advice. It’s easier for me because I’m not working alone. I have 2 awesome associates in France (Jean Louis Vandestoc (director) and Severine Varlette (production manager) and we have a great network, many famous people from different parts of the animation industry, that we can contact any time. It’s even good for Japanese people to work with foreign people. For example, recently I had some meetings with Tezuka Productions (*15) and I also had some other studios asking questions about how to develop their network in Europe. Actually, we had a discussion to try to see how to manage this. Since we have some experience in Europe, with television channels and some organisations related to animation, it’s convenient for us to contact them and check with a Japanese studio, what they can do or establish a relationship between them to make the communication easier. We can provide some translation also.

*15: Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd. (in japanese): http://tezukaosamu.net/jp/

AW: Sort of like a consultant?

EM: Like a consultant, yes. We haven’t fully developed that role yet but I think there is a great potential in it. For the moment, we just help like that. Maybe we can develop something more though.

AW: That’s a good way. You are an animation studio but actually creating a bridge between Europe and Japan. You can also give your expertise and help others.

EM: In both ways. Most of them are European or American clients. When I say American, it’s also Canadians who want to work with Japan.

AW: And they ask you for advice and expertise.

EM: Yes.

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