Free! Timeless Medley Roundtable #1: Hand-drawn Animation Staff

This is a newly translated roundtable featuring the staff involved with the hand-drawn animation portion of Free! Timeless Medley (key animation and in-betweens). 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”

Free! Timeless Medley

Interview 1:

Director: Eisaku Kawanami
Character Designer: Futoshi Nishiya
Prop Designer: Seiichi Akitake

A title that delivers the “Free!” Series

Free! Timeless Medley (hereafter “Free! TM”) consists of both scenes from the TV series as well as new visuals for both the “Bond” and “Promise” films. First, we’d like to ask you about the new portions.

Kawanami: The amount of new hand-drawn animation needed for these films, if we convert it to TV series episode lengths, was just under an episode for “Bond” and from around 1.3-1.4 episodes for “Promise.” Since “Bond” has so many walking and running cuts, there may be more animation frames than I remembered, but since “Promise” has so many still cuts, I think it has fewer frames per cut than “Bond” does.
Akitake: Even just using the TV series’ visuals, the films were already wonderful to see.
Nishiya: It felt like a finished product of the TV series for fans who had watched the series up until now. When we were converting this to a film, I didn’t have to draw any new designs for the existing characters, but I had to create new designs for characters who’d appear here for the first time. I quickly worked while trying to recall my memories of designing for the TV series so there wouldn’t be any disjoint between characters.
Akitake: Would you say that they match the mood of Free! Endless Summer (hereafter “Free! ES”) episode 1?
Nishiya: They fit the drawings at that time the best.
Kawanami: Once it was decided that the film wouldn’t just have characters from Free!, but characters from High Speed! The Movie as well, I met time and time again with series composer (Masahiro) Yokotani-san. As we imagined each of them continuing to swim in school and their feelings for why they continued to swim competitively, it felt like we assembled the franchise piece-by-piece like a giant puzzle.
Nishiya: It took me a little time to return to my previous Free! drawings since it had been over two years since I last worked on it before “Bond.” Once I heard that Asahi and Ikuya were going to appear as high school students, I simply thought it would be fun and was honestly happy to draw them older. Since they appear by themselves in their scenes and not tied together with the rest of the characters, I didn’t get the impression that it was that difficult to draw them.
Akitake: Ikuya in particular had a good feel to him once he became a high schooler.
Nishiya: Since I hadn’t thought about how to draw them as high schoolers, it was incredibly emotional for me.
Kawanami: While it would be really lively to have both Free! and High Speed! characters together, for “Free! TM,” trying to explain where all the characters stand and their relationships together are was incredibly difficult. I wracked my head around that aspect. However, since this would be an anime film that continued on from the TV series featuring a huge cast of characters, it had to be a title that didn’t ruin the enjoyment of seeing everyone while still being a proper film. So I aimed to make “Free! TM” two films along that line. To make it easier for the High Speed! characters to connect and feel part of Free!, I thought about what I wanted to make their image motifs become.
Nishiya: The opening scenes with Haruka and Makoto along with Rin as a child were incredibly moving. In particular I didn’t think that the tale with the Matsuoka family would be depicted that richly. Oooh, I’m about to cry just thinking about those opening scenes. (laughs)
Kawanami: I personally didn’t have any hesitation about making those childhood memory scenes, but I was worried about how the fans would like them or not all the way until finishing them.
Nishiya: Since Rin’s family environment was so thoroughly depicted in “Promise,” I thought that it would communicate his temperament towards life beyond swimming.
Akitake: In “Bond,” the childhood scenes with Haruka and Makoto were so cute that I thought a lot of people would be able to enjoy them.
Nishiya: When I heard about this project, I thought vaguely “I wonder if this is going to be enjoyable,” but I also had high expectations for director Kawanami-san in how he would re-structure Free!.
Kawanami: Since I’m the newest member among all the main staff in the Free! series, knowing that the staff who have interacted with this series for a while, including both of you, would help me out was immensely important for me.

– Were there any newly made scenes that still leave an impression on you?

Nishiya: In “Bond,” I thought the scene with the Iwatobi 4 coming together after Nationals was immensely good. Also I love the impressiveness of that final scene. I thought it was a good point for Ikuya to stand out.
Kawanami: Of course Ikuya’s scenes, but I wanted to highlight Ikuya’s roommate a bit and introduce Hiyori Tono in “Promise” some. Personally, I wanted to have the scenes at the beginning of “Bond” with Haruka and Makoto and the scenes with Sasabe and Amakata talking about the boys in this film so I jammed them in it. Also, our editor (Kengo) Shigemura-san tied together the ending in “Promise” spectacularly. He was able to include the Nagisa and Rei story that I wasn’t able to insert in “Bond.” I requested “Since their cuts have gradually gotten shorter, I’d like to insert all of these here,” and he truly included almost all of that, so I was grateful. Of course the sakura pool from “Free!ES” episode 13 was included as well; I thought the audience would be delighted to see it. I imagined it as part of “Free! TM”’s ending.

Reconstructing it as a film

– Since the film is a reconstruction of the TV series, how did you choose scenes to include from the TV series?

Kawanami: From the beginning, I had planned to construct the story split by school with “Bond” being Iwatobi’s story and “Promise” being Samezuka’s story, but since it was difficult for that kind of story to be constructed into a film, I revised it and focused on characters instead. “Bond” is the story of Haruka and his teammates and “Promise” is a story revolving around Rin and Sousuke. And it wasn’t limited there either; when we were cutting the film together during editing, I would decide to add cuts here and there. I had participated in the TV series as an episode director, but as there were a lot of things that I noticed for the first time when we were checking over the visuals as they ran through on the screen, I would find points where the emotion was lacking and feel like I wanted to add more. “Does this feel good when I watch it?” was important to me. Since the compositing staff who worked on the TV series were right there, they could change something and I could immediately check over it. I remember this being an important title with a “live sensation” to it where we would interact staff-wise and play it by ear. It wasn’t just with the animation; it was the same during recording. The cast and sound director (Yota) Tsuruoka-san would make suggestions and we would decide to change things on the spot. Having been in the director’s position again, I feel that Free! is a work that has been built up beyond what anyone imagined from many people’s opinions and ideas.

– You mentioned the recording session. How was the recording done again for “Free! TM”?

Kawanami: While I was talking with Tsuruoka-san, we spoke about wanting to redo portions that wouldn’t connect to the story when people saw it as a single film, but there weren’t that many really. Even though I say that, the TV series’ drama was something that was built up week by week in the recording booth where each member of the cast created a performance for their character, so trying to have them perform the same for a single scene by itself would be difficult. That drama was something that I think could only come out at that time, so I purposefully used the description of the internal drama from voices from the TV series. But as the background music was revised, I thought it might be better to have it impress on the viewer as a new scene instead.

– How was the drawing process to try and match the new cuts with the previously completed TV series into a singular film?

Nishiya: My impression was that we chose the points from the series whose animation was already good.
Kawanami: I chose the portions that would look impressive as a film itself. I entrusted portions to key animators who had worked on the animation for the TV series as well, but there were portions that tied together bits where a difference showed up. Since “Free!TM” was meant to be shown on a big screen in a movie theatre, I used as many techniques as I could so there wouldn’t be any discomfort seeing the TV series’ visuals. But for the swimming scenes, I chose good animation cuts of course as a director, but it was also important for me to look at them from an animator’s perspective too.
Nishiya: Since we were using the stories from “Free! ES” as the main tale, I wanted to match the atmosphere of episode 1 as I mentioned earlier so there perhaps there wouldn’t be any discomfort with the drawings and so when mixed with the new parts, it would appear to match as one film.

– So your guiding point as a chief animation director was the first episode of “Free! ES”?

Nishiya: That’s right. When I think back on it now, I had a hunch that was the right time frame. Come to think of it, I remember talking with director (Hiroko) Utsumi-san after we finished the first season about how it “felt like the drawings had changed from the early drafts.” She specifically pointed out things like the width of the characters’ shoulders.
Akitake: So their shoulders became wider?
Nishiya: I hadn’t noticed it at all, but whenever I drew promotional illustrations for Free! after it finished airing, I unintentionally broadened their shoulders too much and their proportions had changed because of it.
Akitake: I would’ve pointed out that their shoulders were too narrow! (laughs)
Nishiya: I thought “Naturally she would take a close look at that….” I’m thankful she mentioned that. When we started work on the second season and I started working on the first drawings for “Free! ES,” I was able to work on them with my own “near perfected designs.”
Kawanami: When I look back, the drawings in “Free! ES” were all gorgeous.
Nishiya: All of our staff really put their best efforts into them.

– As you look back at the visuals of the TV series, these memories of working at that time come back to you?

Nishiya: They do. Well, I think I was really working hard during that time.
Akitake: When I think back on them now, I remember earnestly working hard on those swimming scenes too. (laughs) I’m so glad that we had many wonderful scenes from “Free! ES” that we could use when making “Free! TM.” I was the animation director in charge of episode 10, so it was quite emotional for me to see that the important scenes of Rin noticing Sousuke’s shoulder and the Samezuka team swimming together could be used in “Promise.” I remember feeling indebted to chief animation director Nishiya-san when we were working on the series.
Nishiya: Those portions were really good too.
Akitake: Nishiya-san was working in the Animation Do studio in Osaka during that time, so I remember thinking how it felt different than usual then.
Nishiya: As for the story, no matter how many times I see it, the tale of Haruka and Makoto facing off in the 200m Freestyle always impresses me. It’s my favorite of all the stories that appear in “Bond.” I was immensely absorbed in its depth when working on “Free! ES”, so I feel like it truly ended in the blink of an eye.
Kawanami: Looking back, we truly put a lot into these characters in the Free! series. And not just us at Kyoto Animation or Animation Do as well; the others outside our studio like the cast have also spent a lot of time and put a lot of energy creating these characters too. I don’t think this story would be the way it is without meeting all of those people.
Akitake: That’s true too. One of the appeals of being able to continue on with a series you’ve worked so much on already is that the characters continue to grow.

– Were there any points that you revised the visuals from the TV series?

Nishiya: For the animation portion, I revised portions that bothered me for character expressions and such, but there weren’t that many at all.
Akitake: We inserted changes during the compositing process. Those were done to further increase the richness of the water.
Kawanami: In order to make the new cuts smoothly fit in, we had to rebuild the layouts to keep the same actions as before.
Nishiya: This was a personal experience, but when we started work on “Promise,” I had been away from the Free! series for a while, so it felt like my sense of Free! hadn’t returned. So to recover that sense, I tried drawing my corrections with a blue color pencil. I usually use a normal pencil when I do corrections, but it felt good when I tried drawing and worked on our paper. So that’s how my sense came back to me. (laughs) From there everything went smoothly.

– Finally, please tell us your thoughts now that work on “Free! TM” has finished.

Akitake: I was already fired up seeing the remodeled footage for the movie alone, so when I saw the all-out competitions and bonds between friends again before my eyes, I was simply moved to tears. I think this was a great way to look back on the TV series. Each character has their own individuality, so I feel those who are seeing the series for the first time with “Free! TM” as well as those revisiting the franchise will be able to find something new that fascinates them about the characters.
Kawanami: I didn’t want to have any regrets if “Free! TM” were the end of the Free! series, so I wanted the end to have a big finale feel to it. I especially have an attachment to the final scene in “Promise” with Haruka and Makoto walking the streets of Tokyo.
I think “Free! TM” goes naturally with “Bond” starting off with Haruka and Makoto’s story and then “Promise” ending with them together. After finishing both films, my feeling that “Free! TM” is a combination of both “Bond” and “Promise” together as one title was strengthened. For example, on the night that Haruka and Makoto have their argument at the festival, there’s a scene before that where Haruka collides with Sousuke who’s also worried. That scene is put in “Promise.” We worked on these films with that same intent: that “Bond”” and “Promise” would be two sides of the same story. Whether you were coming into the franchise from the films and want to see the TV series or you’re looking back on scenes you already loved, I think you will enjoy watching it.
Nishiya: Thanks to all the fans who have continued to support us for a long time with the “Free!” series, we can also continue to do our best. Please continue to look forward to what’s coming next!

– Thank you for your time today.

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