Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Roundtable #2: Digital/Background Staff

This is a newly translated roundtable featuring the staff involved with the digital and background portion of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (backgrounds, painting, compositing, 3D). It was published in the “This is Who We Are Now!! 2017” book sold alongside tickets to the 2017 KyoAni & Do Event.

“Looking Back at Our Works”

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Interview 2:

Art Director: Mikiko Watanabe
Color Designer: Yuuka Yoneda
Director of Photography: Akihiro Ura
3D Director: Norihiro Tomita
Special Effects: Rina Miura

Presenting a real lived-in feeling

– Please tell us any points during production of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (hereafter “Dragon Maid”) that you were attenuative towards.
Watanabe: It’d have to be “gentleness.”
Yoneda: That’s right. The director (Yasuhiro) Takemoto-san talked about “wanting to make a 30 minute rest period.” As for creating visuals, he aimed for “something simple and easy to understand.” Since our company had made works that felt a little different previously, I think our presentation of that kind of title was really good.
Watanabe: This time it really started for me with awareness of “the characters’ lives” when working on backgrounds.
Yoneda: Kobayashi-san’s room really feels like someone lives in it. Even though the screen feels warm and comfy, there’s a sense of real life there like the way things are laid out and overturned beer cans. I think those points where garbage is laying around is really good for that.
Watanabe: Whenever I would talk with Takemoto-san of “what should I do on the backgrounds,” he’d say “It’s alright. Please do whatever you’d like.”
Ura: That’s giving you a lot of space.
Watanabe: Since he said from the beginning, “I want a lived-in feeling”, I compacted everything to be simple so that the other staff could draw it easily. However, he said to “add more trash or something” so I gradually added some while worrying a little whether it’d attract the audience as a woman’s room. Though he said “it’d be nice if there was so much stuff that you couldn’t see all the way around the bottom of the room. We don’t need open space either,” there’s spots where I requested “at least I’d like to have space near the electrical outlets.” (laughs)
Yoneda: If you don’t leave space around them, you’ll have a fire.
Ura: I think Kobayashi-san would pay attention to them though. “Is this room safe at all?” (laughs)
All: (laughs)
Yoneda:  As the furniture and other things in the background had pretty colors, it was tough for us to add colors to the animation portions. We paid attention to things like how the sofa was orange, so we couldn’t have the characters wearing orange colors. When it was time to choose colors, we would select them based on harmony with the background.
Watanabe: Since the backgrounds have such bright colors, any color that’s white-ish has a bit of a risk to it. But I planned the colors so that when the characters were on top of the background, it’d have the feeling that you could see them properly despite the brightness.
Yoneda: If all the colors are pale and fluffy, then the visuals give off a wearisome impression, so I tightened the colors for Tohru’s dress, hair, and eye colors. If I put light colors there, then the image would become flat. When deciding the color of the lines, Dragon Maid’s primary lines were a pale brown. By using that as the color for those lines, the amount of colors we could use when painting was immensely decreased. The character that worried me the most was Fafnir-san. Since he was to have black near the primary line’s color, I made it a paler black in order to have the line’s color be darker.
Miura: Tohru’s dress’s color was the furthest dark it could go.
Yoneda: That’s right. Instead I thought the reverse. “Let’s have Fafnir-san’s lines float!” I didn’t think about him being anything other than pitch black. You’ll understand if you see the visuals, but for only Fafnir-san, you can see lines and such floating on his clothes.

Kobayashi-san’s original apartment

It’s difficult because it’s simple

– How were things in the compositing section?
Ura: Our company’s works have had a lot of composition processing, but for this title we talked about “only doing the bare minimum needed.” Instead what we aimed for was only decreasing the information content to make it easy to see.
Tomita: Though there was a direction to boke a little, there wasn’t a lot that the compositing section was instructed to do. We were truly free on “Dragon Maid.”
Ura: However there were times where we thought we should process it like when we thought “this is a good scene…..”
Yoneda: Like the scene in episode 1 where Tohru is returning back after Kobayashi-san rejected her request. Other episodes would have backlighting, or the room’s colors submerged in darkness, or the nightlight making an impression. There were many scenes where the atmosphere changed because of that.
Ura: During those times, we’d think “this would be a good scene” and quickly process it to make it feel great. We’d modulate points and try to do whatever we could to make it easy to view. In other words, we’d change things in order to simplify it. On this show, once the compositing section judged something as “a good scene,” then we’d composite it to our own liking.
Watanabe: I remember talking with the background staff saying “this is a good scene, so I think they’ll use some boke techniques on this one.” (laughs)
Ura: However, when we felt that things looked great as-is, then we wouldn’t process it at all. I really dislike it feeling like “here’s the data”, so I want to bring out the softness in the visuals. When thinking about what to do for that, I’d usually apply a weak filter over the whole picture itself on other titles, but here, I’d just apply a bit of processing to make the lines themselves more gentle without doing that.
Yoneda: The main lines for the characters were indeed processed like that by the compositors.
Ura: This time all of the series was processed like that, though maybe not at a level that people watching would notice.
Yoneda: They wouldn’t understand without seeing the before and after on these monitors.
Watanabe: They might not understand even after seeing the processing of the data.
Ura: Processing it like that is adjustable. You can see what’s not processed when you see everything together.
Yoneda: Certainly when part of a scene needed re-doing, there’d be something saying “the atmosphere in this one cut is different,” and when I’d check it over, only that cut wouldn’t be processed. Even looking at it objectively, you could tell that it was different because it wouldn’t have any.
Ura: Processing this is delicate, but it’s that delicacy that determines the mood for the entire scene. You may not be able to understand when you compare it when you see it, but like jabs in boxing, they gradually add up and show effectiveness. Even though we’ve commonly said that “Dragon Maid” is a simple title, there’s actually some points that took a lot of time even though you wouldn’t realize it. Because of that, I feel it was a “success” when people say “there wasn’t any processing” when it’s called “simple.” Instead it was rough because it’s simple.

Before and After processing

Cute by any means

– Next, were there any notable points for the special effects?
Miura: There were “standard effects” in the effects we used for the dragon girls in their “horns,” “cheeks,” and “gradations in hair.” Also in certain points, we’d insert “tail gradations” when needed. Anywhere we noticed was “cute by any means”. Personally, I was fixated on inserting highlights in the chests.
Yoneda: In the drawings, the skirts would feel light, but because you would properly add shade to the drawings, it felt more three-dimensional compared to when it wasn’t shaded. That was something that you did without us asking, so I’m immensely grateful.
Miura: I just wanted to do that. (laughs) Previously, I’ve handled a lot of anime where female characters are protagonists, so my fixations towards female characters are strong.
Yoneda: Your “coloring brush” is impressive Miura-san.
Miura: That’s the best compliment I’ve been given. What was impressive to me in this title was competing opinions with Ura-san. Promotional illustrations are still images, so I could handle all the effects myself, but when it comes time to the TV series, there’s too many things like the hair gradations for the painting section to handle. Because of that I asked the compositing section to handle some, but I had a lot of discussions over who would be in charge of what.
Yoneda: Everyone wants to do a lot of things at the beginning, so there’s lots of conversations about “what’s important to keep in this series until the very end” and “which section would be responsible for that?”
Miura: Right. This time handling the hair and such was a struggle, so when we were talking about who would do what, though the compositing section would handle that, I remember Ura-san saying “since we’re doing the hair, please take care of the horns.”
Ura: I didn’t mean to push that hard. (laughs) I just requested that of you because you’d have the technique to make the best images Miura-san.
Miura: In the end, we worked well with a good plan, but it was troubling when Elma came around. The other dragon girls only had two colors for their horns, so blurring them was easy, but Elma’s horns, shadows, and skin colors weren’t easy to blur, so I had to handle it a different way than the other characters. What was the most work was the times was brushing her face when she went pale and blurring those three colors. Because I had to apply a pale brush on top of the horn brush, it was a ton of work. In the end, I became very familiar with that technique, so my time spent on the boundary lines went down.

Making it from scratch

– How was 3D animation used on this show?
Tomita: As everyone here has said, the mood of this title was different from our past works, so we used new 3D animation on the minor characters and such.
Yoneda: Since proportions were different from those titles, you couldn’t use those previous assets, could you?
Tomita: That’s right. I had thought about adjusting those things, but I knew it’d be quite the challenge, so we started from scratch. We tried to make portions like the face contours feel round. Female characters would be rounder than male characters, so we kept that in mind while working on minor characters as well.
Yoneda: I wanted people to see those minor characters and think “they used all these colors too!”
Tomita: I wanted them to see that too. I’ve no sense of what colors match, so you helped us immensely by making those colors Yoneda-san.
Yoneda: Not at all. I just made sure that the colors put on 3D objects/people matched what we had done previously in “Dragon Maid.” You helped us with the cars since I’m not good at mechanical objects.
Tomita: We tried to restrict the amount of details in cars and such to the best we could. One compositing technique we had used previously, where we applied gradations in shadows, wasn’t used here. At that time, we were adjusting the amount of details in the 3D objects, so we adjusted the highlights on it instead. Since the edges of the characters had highlights on them here, we also deliberately applied them on the 3D models as well. We had pondered whether or not to attach them, but we thought they were an essential component of the world of “Dragon Maid.” Also, the screens like during the video games were said to have a “realistic” component to them.
Yoneda: Like in the game that Fafnir-san plays at Kobayashi-san’s apartment? That changed the scene to an immensely different atmosphere. It was amazing.
Tomita: At first, the armor-wearing character in the game was made with the same “Dragon Maid” proportions, but Takemoto-san said “nah, this should be realistic,” and so we made it what you saw. At that time, we were constantly adjusting the balance of that character’s proportions.
Yoneda: Fafnir-san’s eyes get covered when he’s playing the game and so the character continually rams into a wall, right? Didn’t the meter also decrease then?
Tomita: That’s the action meter. Whenever a running attack occurs, the meter drops.
Yoneda: So detailed!
Miura: You also made other games like a racing game and online RPG too.
Ura: I’m quite fond of racing games so I did that and it was immensely good.
Tomita: We were given a rough direction of “make it feel like a certain racing game” so we made the designs and such in 3D. From there, it was easily created.
Ura: All of the displays, not just games, are like that. There was that direction of “this should be realistic.”

3D character colors

Hidden cooperation and heartfelt scenes

– How did each section cooperate with the others?
Yoneda: For hair, we had previously handled it where the hair would have gradations from upwards and downwards, so in that instance we would simply paint the animation drawings and hand it over to the compositing section as-is. But this time Ura-san proposed that lines would be split into two portions during the drawing stage and from there we would paint those drawings in three steps. For Tohru, her hair would be yellow and then divided into orange and pink sections. If we did it how we had done previously, then we’d use a technique to deepen the yellow color into a single color, but with this new technique we could insert two different hues in order to achieve the gradation we’re familiar with. For Kanna, those colors would be a pink and purpleish feeling.
Miura: And furthermore with this technique, it would be possible to insert gradations into separate parts to distinguish the bangs and back of head.
Yoneda: As this gradation was popular, that proposal of cooperation helped us out immensely. It was just linking everyone together to cooperate on the details.
Ura: There were certain brushes like for the hair that were linked between the sections too.
Watanabe: Speaking of cooperating, I spoke with Ura-san about the computer screens from the background section. Originally, the desktops on the computers were to all be handled by the compositing section, but he mentioned that “there’s so many computers in Kobayashi-san’s office that it’s a pain.” To reduce each others’ workload, we changed that plan so that the background staff would handle the distant computer screens by simplifying them into a white-ish color and have the compositing team handle the images on the desktops that we wanted to display.
Yoneda: The keyboards and mice were 3D as well.
Tomita: They were. We even pushed down on the keys to match the movements of the fingers pressing on them. However, they weren’t all 3D; there were some portions where the background staff drew.
Watanabe: The background staff drew small things on the inner part of the image thinking that it would surely look better if they were draw in the background. Just like with the computer screens I mentioned earlier, things that were closer to the viewer or that Kobayashi-san interacted with were entrusted to the 3D staff.
Yoneda: Since drawing each and every keyboard and then painting them would be an immense workload, having them be 3D helped us out immensely.
Tomita: Since we had made keyboards at the same time we made 3D layouts for Kobayashi-san’s office, it was easy for us to use them in the final product.
Yoneda: The 3D section is constantly helping us out.

A bit of reality rooted in a warm world

– Please tell us a story unique to “Dragon Maid” for each section.
Ura: Since programming screens appear in this series, we actually used real programs.
Miura: Then if you typed them out, they’d work?
Ura: Yes. As we were using a theme of “making a screen that a real programmer would see,” we chose that to bring out a real feeling in the show. We went to an office to collect reference material for Kobayashi-san’s office and at that time we did various things and were able to receive some programs during that time. We were really fixated on that portion.
Watanabe: In contrast to making the visuals simple, we paid a lot of attention to several points adjusting this and that beforehand. When we went for reference studying, I thought about how they wouldn’t use ordinary cups when drinking something since they were working on machines. As Kobayashi-san’s office would have a more relaxed feeling to it, I thought about where could we make something that would feel realistic in her workplace.
Ura: It was really fresh to not have the main location not be a school this time. That office setting is characteristic of “Dragon Maid.”
Tomita: There were lots of things scattered around on the desks.
Yoneda: There were. I worked on the coloring of the office staff while thinking about what kind of life they led. This person and this person are friends……. I would just casually imagine scenarios like that. (laughs)
Watanabe: The posters in Takiya’s room were amazing too.
Yoneda: They were all drawn by the animation staff and then the background staff inserted them as posters.
Watanabe: Since each title on the poster is different, the backgrounds, animation, everything was drawn differently and painted different, so they each had a different way to be composited as well.
Miura: (Naomi) Ishida-san complained about that on the episodes she handled. “I can’t handle these colors!” (laughs) It must have been difficult for special effects too with that direction of “change everything with the cheek brush”!
All: (laughs)
Watanabe: Since each of the stickers on the refrigerator were drawn one by one, they changed the feeling of that item.
Miura: I kept admiring how detailed things were drawn like how there was an illustration on the mousepad.
Yoneda: We were really fixated on bringing out that realistic feeling.
Ura: Comiket was amazing too. It’s probably been the most amazing Comiket that we’ve drawn up to now, right?
Tomita: Though we used 3D for the minor characters, at first the episode director said “it’s alright to use still images.” But we moved them around thinking “nah, they’re not good if they’re not moving around.” Your eyes stop moving around the visuals if things aren’t moving, so we moved them not wanting that to happen.
Watanabe: Honestly, I was scared that it would become part of the background staff’s responsibilities, so you helped us out. (laughs)
Tomita: The cosplayers were all in different complex costumes, so surely that must have been a lot of work for the painting section to decide colors, right?
Yoneda: Since we had a general idea based on the costume, the coloring staff were able to decide on colors to attach that wouldn’t take away from the existing characters’ outfits. Also since the final episode’s content was very serious, the colors used in the backgrounds were less brighter and we made special colors that were a bit darker than the main line colors just for that episode.

Takiya’s room

It was fun to make

– Finally, please tell us your thoughts looking back on “Dragon Maid”.
Tomita: For me personally, I have strong memories looking back on those Comiket scenes. While working on them I had lots of thoughts like “could we cut back on this?” While I would talk with Takemoto-san, he would say that he wanted more minor characters packed in that space. That was the worst part. However, since it was tough to see the parts that I didn’t want to show, I think it turned out alright.
Ura: Personally, the characters drawn by Kanna bring back memories for me. I was in charge during those scenes where she’d write, so I would go to the animation staff and talk with them about how best to draw those characters. They would have a competition over who would best understand her emotions when writing them and pick who would write them based off that. Since Takemoto-san wouldn’t know who we selected to write them, the winner would be delighted. “I won!” Since they had to write so many things, it’s almost like they lost. (laughs)
Watanabe: For me it’s not having any “blurring.” Usually we have many titles where we blur the background images, but this time they were truly clear. It was really fresh to know that the background portion was finished with what was drawn. It was immensely fun to draw while bringing out every bit of shoulder power I had.
Yoneda: It’s used in the opening too, but the scene where Tohru embraces Kobayashi-san still remains for me. Usually Takemoto-san doesn’t give detailed instructions related to coloring, but for that scene he said he absolutely had to and was immensely particular about every single color.
Miura: I remember quite well mentioning that I wanted to insert a feeling in the broken glasses lenses like highlights during episode 13. As it was nearing the timing that I’d get immensely told off that it wasn’t done, I quickly fixed that. I only remember thinking if I’d be able to finish it in time. At that time, I felt just how important glasses are to characters that wear them. Also the “tail meat” was impactful for me. When it appeared “disgusting, “ I felt so happy. (laughs) I brushed each single cell with a bluish brush because I was fixated on it. That was the first time that I had used green on the steam coming off of food.
Yoneda: Truly “Dragon Maid” was a title we all had fun working on.

 – Thank you for your time today.

One thought on “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Roundtable #2: Digital/Background Staff

  1. Pingback: Yasuhiro Takemoto: A Warm Reflection – Visual eValuations

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