Violet Evergarden Roundtable #1: Hand-drawn Animation Staff

This is a newly translated roundtable featuring the staff involved with the hand-drawn animation portion of Violet Evergarden (key animation and in-betweens). It was published in the “This is Who We Are Now!! 2019” book sold alongside tickets to the 2019 KyoAni & Do Event.

“Looking Back at Our Works”

Violet Evergarden

Roundtable 1:

Series Director: Haruka Fujita
Character Designer/Chief Animation Director: Akiko Takase
Prop Designer: Hiroyuki Takahashi
Prop Designer: Minoru Oota

Emphasizing passion

– How was everyone here decided to be a part of Violet Evergarden (hereafter Violet)’s main staff? 
Takase: I was responsible for drawing the illustrations in the original novels, so I first thought that would be it for me. So, when I heard that a commercial for the novels was going to be made, I wondered who would get to design the animated characters and serve as animation director. One day (Taichi) Ishidate-san suddenly asked me “What kind of roles were you thinking about wanting to do on this Takase-san?” and I answered “I want to be character designer and chief animation director!” A little while later it was decided that I would be the designer and chief AD for Violet. I was so happy when that news came. 
Fujita: For me, I was a little involved in the commercial you mentioned. I didn’t have a title for what I did, but I would do things that didn’t require me to be a part of the animation staff like check over the music made for the commercial. Since Ishidate-san knew that I wanted to be involved in Violet, before we started work on the actual TV series, he asked me something like “What would you like to do Fujita-san?” I told him “I want to make this series richer than before, so anything is fine with me.” That was when I started working as part of the main staff. At first I didn’t have a name for my role, but later on we decided to call it “series director.” 
Takase: Did it feel like you were Ishidate-san’s assistant at first? 
Fujita: It felt that way. I felt that it was important to convey my passion for Violet and how much I wanted to be involved before I was given any specific role. So while I was called a “series director” I wasn’t just involved in the directing role; I took on a wide breadth of duties like checking over model sheets too. However, this was the first time that I was doing these duties, so it wasn’t like they were leaving everything up to me. I would look over something before Ishidate-san checked over it, told him what I was concerned about, and then gave my own responses when I consulted with Ishidate-san…… I was able to give my opinions on how to present the subtleties of the character’s inner emotions and the consistency of the story. 
Oota: I was asked by my supervisor “Oota-kun, you’ve got an interest in these tiny details and props, so why don’t you try prop design?” I trembled as I accepted the offer. 
Takahashi: By the time I was asked to be prop designer for Violet, there were already too many things to design, so I asked if Oota-san could join too. 
Oota: That’s why I started as assistant prop designer at first, but before I knew it, they dropped the “assistant” part. I was so surprised! (laughs)

– With two people both serving as prop designer, how did you decide to split the workload? 
Takahashi: We talked about how we would possibly split the workload at the beginning, but for some reason I ended up in charge of the vehicles and weapons while Oota-san handled the rest of the props. 
Oota: That’s how it went. I would handle what was needed in the episodes while Takahashi-san would take care of the tough to design props. 
All: (laugh)  
Oota: I had an interest in designing props before, but when I heard someone say “We want to build a world in Violet where you can feel like you can go to that country, so we also want props to feel like they truly belong in that world’s history,” I remember my back stiffening. I hadn’t thought about props that were balanced between fantasy and reality before, so I was very nervous as I was thinking about their designs.

Creating elaborate designs

– Do you recall any experiences while you were drawing the prop designs? 
Takahashi: The typewriter that Oota-san drew from so many different angles was used as the base for a 3D model. That design was incredible! 
Oota: The details on the characters that Takase-san drew were so rich that I thought “I can’t let the props pale in comparison!” and so unintentionally I kept drawing and drawing…… 
Takase: When I saw Oota-san’s typewriter, I felt like he had drawn “how he lives” in that drawing. I wonder if that drawing expressed “Oota-san is this kind of person!” 
Oota: Surely I think that you could see what each person’s attention is focused at when you look at their prop designs.  
Takahashi: Oota-san is attentive though. I feel like his senses are much sharper than my own. 
Oota: Really? 
Takahashi: My drawings are detailed, but they’re the kind of “How about this! It’s pretty detailed isn’t it?! I even drew this too!” (laughs) The delicate sensitivity of Oota-san’s designs are their charm. 
Oota: You may say that, but my drawings might have an anxious feeling to them. There’s a lot of random explanations added to them. 
Fujita: Explanations are also very important too. 
Oota: The props in Violet also reflect the world itself in the series, so whenever I submitted a design, I would always think “I wonder if they’ll like it, but it’ll be okay if they reject it and give it back…..” 
Takase: All of them were wonderful designs, so it’s alright! (laughs) 
Oota: Takahashi-san, were you attentive to anything like the density of lines when you were drawing designs? 
Takahashi: I’m the type of person who wants to express things in lines, so I always draw too many. (laughs) If I was left alone, then the lines would just increase, so I tried to balance with Takase-san’s drawings….. 
Fujita: And they matched perfectly! 
Takase: I was incredibly thankful that Takahashi-san’s designs were so dense that I didn’t have to worry about the density of my own designs, especially on mechanical things.
Takase: I also thought about what to do with the number of lines to draw. I’m originally the kind of person who draws a lot of lines too, so when I was designing the characters for the animated series, I wondered if there were too many lines or not. But as we wanted this to be “a realistic series,” then we wanted to not have the characters “float” on top of the backgrounds and since real people have a lot of detail to them and their clothing, I realized that it might be alright if there were a lot of lines for Violet. 
Fujita: It’s a struggle to draw so many lines, but there’s not many works like that, so I feel like everyone felt it was different. Everyone on our staff fundamentally wants to make the title better with their work…. 
Takase: I feel everyone here is so much better than I am! 
Fujita: I really love your clothing tastes, Takase-san! I had so much fun whenever a new design came to me. 
Takase: Thank you so much for saying that! I’m so happy you felt that way! 
Fujita: It wasn’t reflected that much on the screen, but the clothing worn by the people in each region matched with their social class. All of the characters at the Mechtig Festival had such cute clothes. 
Oota: It was so wonderful that you could feel the culture of each region through the character designs in Violet. 
Takase: Each region’s clothing shows how the people live and their classes, so reflecting those details helps present a “realistic world.” Ishidate-san was also very fixated on that too.

– You also created many detailed portions like letter designs, stamp designs, and the sealing stamp design as well. 
Oota: Ishidate-san was the one who said that he wanted the sealing stamp to have a flower motif. 
Fujita: I thought it was your idea Oota-san! 
Oota: No, you were mistaken! (laughs) There were various flowers that appeared throughout the title, so flowers themselves were a very important item in building Violet’s world. 
Takase: One of the reasons behind the characters’ names were flowers too. 
Oota: However, it was me that thought what flower would be appropriate there, so I drew it while studying flower language. 
Fujita: There were other motifs inserted like Liden being surrounded by the sea as well. 
Oota: That’s right. Since I didn’t say that I wanted to create a lot of variations at the beginning, that was the result of me thinking that I need to make different patterns when they appear on-screen. The flowers and animals featured in those motifs are one of the themes of this title: that sense of being alive. It may be represented in the abundance of animals moving around too. Also, I wanted to create a written language that was unique to this world, so I created a design sheet just for this title. That was a lot of fun. 
Takahashi: Ishidate-san would show me something so I could understand his objective for a design, “something like this,” but other than that, he essentially left the designs up to me. Perhaps he knew how picky I am about mechanical things and vehicles. (laughs) 
Takase: Your designs mixed together function and fashion. They were so lovely. I could also feel a sense of nostalgia looking at them too….. 
Takahashi: While I drew a motorcycle in Violet, it took me a lot of time to figure out where to stop drawing the design. Vehicles with many different parts like motorcycles aren’t simple, so I couldn’t summarize everything on one sheet of paper. I had to draw it over several sheets. Along with the design sheets, I placed the motorcycles I used as references but drew designs to show how this motorcycle’s engine is different than the ones I used. 
Fujita: Since that motorcycle is so elaborate, I thought we have to create a lot of cuts where we could show off how elaborate it is on screen. (laughs) 
Takase: There were a lot of cuts highlighting that motorcycle! 
Oota: Even as a fellow designer, I was in amazement when I first saw it. 

Takase: Since Takahashi-san was so well-informed about military equipment, we could rely on his knowledge a lot. 
Takahashi: Not at all, I told you what I knew, so I have to thank you for relying on that reality when drawing your design sheets. 
Takase: You don’t have to do that! Ishidate-san also talked about “designs based on reality” so I felt that when we were depicting war, especially the part that’s said to be life and death for people, we could not make it feel like it was fantasy. Previously I didn’t have any interest in military-type things, but listening to you talk Takahashi-san was so fun that I started to become interested myself. The history is amazing. When I heard about why wrist watches were created, I was incredibly touched. 
Takahashi: Wrist watches were originally created by the army. The gun wrist watch was originally used to measure the amount of time that it took to ready a gun. 
Takase: When I was creating the character design sheets, I would go ask Takahashi-san about military uniforms and things like that and he’d give me this detailed explanation. At first I didn’t understand any of it at all, but as I researched further, I was able to design the characters. I’m also truly grateful for Takahashi-san lending me some military-related references too. 
Fujita: It’s very important to understand the details when thinking about designs. 
Oota: Each portion of the design is meaningful. 
Takahashi: (Jyoji) Unoguchi-san in the background section also knows a lot about the military, so I would go ask him “what do you think about using this” when I was designing weapons. And then the next day a plastic model of that weapon would be placed on my desk. I was shocked that someone would bring such a thing here! (laughs) There’s a lot of people who know about military things lurking around in our studios. (Tatsuya) Ishihara-san knows a lot about guns, so I would talk with him about various things when designing. 
Oota: Would you think about what kind of weapon each character would use based off of the character designs from Takase-san? 
Takahashi: They were related to that. Takase-san would come to me to ask my opinions, so I would wait to see what kind of military uniform designs she created. I would then use the designs referenced for each country’s army uniforms for my own reference and reference the weapons those countries used in real life to match the designs that Takase-san created. I drew a lot of weapons, but there were a lot of vehicles that I drew too. Land, sea, air, I drew all of them. Well, I don’t regret anything! 
All: (laugh)

Persistent Animation

– You’ve spoken about this being “a work grounded in reality,” so would the presentation of surrounding colors reflecting onto the characters be one part of that?
Takase: It would be. In reality, background colors would be projected on people, so because we wanted the characters to feel like they were living in that world, we took the colors that were drawn in the background and reflected them on what was drawn to represent that effect.
Oota: Was there something specific that you wanted to show by inserting that reflected light?
Takase: I thought about how by reflecting the light, rounding the bodies, and so forth, it might be good to show a more three-dimensional feeling to the drawings. The ground would reflect onto the characters too to make them appear better and three-dimensional.
Oota: It certainly does.
Takase: Although I say that, it was considerably more difficult than I expected even thinking about it a lot…. It easily increased the amount of work for the animators, and because we inserted one color of the backgrounds, the colors between shade and light could differ and appear separate, so we had to do a lot of trial and error in the end.
Fujita: For the reflected light portion, it had a lot of success with Leon in episode 6. The dimensionality it brought out with him was very beautiful.
Takase: That it was! That was an immensely beautiful reflected presentation.
Oota: With the reflected light, Luculia’s tears in episode 3 were also pretty.
Takase: That was a technique that episode 3’s director, (Noriyuki) Kitanohara-san thought about and gave us.
Fujita: Depicting her tears by having them collect at the bottom of her eyes and to draw only the reflections and not drops made it feel like her eyes were very wet from those tears.
Oota: That was perfect for the world of Violet. The tears that ran down also truly felt like they were sinking into her skin too.

– How did you insert reflected light? Did you have to decide what to do each time?
Takase: For us to decide whether to include lines of reflected light or not, we basically wouldn’t insert them at times when the character was directly lit, but when they were in the shade, we would insert a reflection of the earth portions like walls or floor onto the character. We didn’t differentiate between “types of light” like solar light or indoor light.
Fujita: We also thought about the amount of light as well.
Takahashi: I was in charge of episode 11 with the scene inside the mountain hut. There was only the light from the fireplace in it, so we didn’t use any reflected light since there wasn’t a lot of light with it.
Takase: Even though we would decide to include reflections at the animation stage, we wouldn’t know what color to use until it was being painted, so we had to go in afterwards to adjust depending on the scene.
Fujita: When we were adding color to the drawings, if something stood out too much with the amount of reflection, then we would shave that amount off a bit.
Oota: From the drawing side, we would be the ones inserting that light, but it felt difficult to emphasize the amount of area for light to be inserted. If we had too much, then it wouldn’t feel like light and would just appear that the image was corroded. We went forward thinking it was a high risk, high return technique.

– Was there anything you came to realize again after having worked on a title with lots of challenges for animation?
Fujita: Once more how Ishidate-san continued to persist for high quality work until the very end. We had two episode directors for the final episode and during our allotted time until the very end, we continued to converse back and forth with the animator staff about the animation without giving in. The checks for the animation surrounding the characters’ gaze were very intense. We were called the “gaze police” by everyone else. (laughs) We would draw a lot of lines and color them differently so that the animator could understand where the characters were looking. So our corrections would be when they saw lines with colors.
Takase: When I was checking over the completed animation as chief animation director, there were moments where I could see what the person who drew that cut was thinking. There were also some people who wrote about the portions they were curious about. As I was working, I made adjustments while thinking about the characters’ emotions. There were some that showed emotions that I hadn’t pictured for those characters too. When I saw an expression that made me think “this is great!” I let it pass without any changes.
Oota: When you see something drawn by someone that you hadn’t imagined before, you think “I see now!”
Takase: You begin to feel that way especially as chief animation director. Because you’re the final person who can adjust something, you see what each of the animator, episode director, and episode animation director were thinking when handling something. I was always moved when I saw something new.
Oota: Anime frames are “beauty by subtraction,” so you aim to somewhat simplify things as you’re working, but when you draw without care for that, I think you’re able to draw some really cool images. “There are rewards for what you draw,” so to say. Of course there’s also mistakes present too. (laughs) Violet’s mechanical hands are cool. Because our animation staff had learned from Takahashi-san’s instrument corrections with Sound! Euphonium in attaching detail to metal pieces, I think we were able to thrive with Violet as well.
Fujita: Like with how to shade them too.
Oota: Yes. Before Eupho, we wouldn’t have dreamed of inserting black shadows into the darkest points or to insert reflective light coloring into the animation. When we included those in our drawing of instruments in Eupho, I feel like everyone on the animation staff improved at drawing metal objects.
Takase: I love how amazingly cool the representation of metal objects and how the highlighting of those objects feels like it cuts away have gotten since we started drawing instruments in Eupho. But really, why wouldn’t you draw those portions…..
Oota: There probably wasn’t someone like Takahashi-san who understood how to create those structures….. Everyone somehow copied how cool he showed those things…..
Takase: Why would you draw those highlights cut off?
Takahashi: When light hits an object, there’s only one point where it doesn’t hit it. It actually doesn’t highlight an entire flat surface like it wraps around it, but since curved surfaces are made of continuous flat surfaces, when the surface moves and light hits it, it appears like the highlighted portion continues as well. That’s why originally it was right to cut off the light on the same surface.
Oota: I get it now, it’s how that surface captures the light. But it’s still complex even after you explained it.
Takahashi: Well, even though I said all that, it’s something you really have to do yourself. (laughs)
Takase: The right answer is as long as it looks cool!

– Finally, what goes through your head looking back at Violet’s production again?
Takase: It was a title I put a lot of effort into and was fun. It’s become a special title for me.
Oota: I never thought we’d do a movie after Violet! (laughs) It was a title that we did all we could on, so I want to use that experience to energize me like “I’m going to get even better now!” As a prop designer and as a member of the animation staff, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it was a title where you had to learn new things. I was also able to acquire perseverance while working.
Takahashi: I became a fan of Oota-san’s prop designs. I hope you continue to work on prop designs in the future as well. You’ve also become a director, so I’ll take this time to say that even though you’ve become one, that doesn’t mean you can’t design at the same time! (laughs)
Oota: Designing was fun and I still want to do it, but it feels like it’ll be difficult to do it all over again.
Takahashi: Designing something with a base and designing something from scratch are two completely different things. I really admire you for being able to think about designs from so many things.
Fujita: I’ve continued to work on Violet projects, so it doesn’t feel like I can look back on anything now, but I feel immensely happy to have been involved in this title. Being able to be so close to Ishidate-san and to study closely his stance on how he creates a title and how he thinks or constructs a title has immensely widened my horizons. It’s been a great experience for me to challenge myself to create something with new options going forward.

– Thank you for your time today.

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