As background for my investigations into Gundam production history, I've put together a brief overview of the process of anime development and production. Much of this is documented elsewhere in more detail, but the following should cover the main points relevant to Gundam works.
☆ Click the image thumbnails below to see them at full size! ☆
Also known as "pre-production." This is where the idea for new series or movie is developed, usually by a small staff. The animation studio formerly known as Sunrise—now Bandai Namco Filmworks—has a planning office (企画室, kikakushitsu) devoted to developing new stories. For robot shows like the Gundam series, sponsors such as toy or model companies are usually involved in the planning stage as well.
The planning stage culminates in the creation of a formal proposal (企画書, kikakusho) which makes the business case for the new work and describes the story and characters. This document may include preliminary character and mechanical designs. Once it's been approved by the studio and the sponsoring companies, the project moves to its next stage...
Proposal documents for Space Combat Team Gunvoy, Mobile Steel Man Gunvoy, and Z Gundam: Char's Counterattack.
The work of making the anime itself. When the proposal is approved, a target release date is usually decided, so the staff are now working under a strict deadline.
For planning purposes, weekly television series are broken up into blocks of 13 episodes—about three months—known as cours (クール). The initial contract often covers only the first two cours (half a year), and a supplemental contract extending the series is then signed after the actual broadcast debut.
The lead creative role in an anime work. There are several other roles—animation directors, art directors, directors of photography, sound directors, etc—that use the term "director," but they all report to this one. The exact duties of the director vary from one work to another. As well as supervising the production, they're often involved in story planning, scriptwriting, and storyboarding. Director Yoshiyuki Tomino even writes the lyrics for his theme songs, under the pen name "Rin Iogi."
The term chief director or general director (総監督, sōkantoku), associated mainly with Tomino, was also used by Yasuhiro Imagawa on Mobile Fighter G Gundam and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko on Gundam The Origin. This presumably means something, but I'm not sure what...
Also known as "unit director" in the context of a movie production. This is the person who manages the production of individual episodes of a series, or portions of a movie. It's fairly common for them to draw episode storyboards as well.
More commonly translated as "series composition." (I may end up conforming to this.) This is the overall plot for a TV or video series, on which the individual episode scripts are based. In every Gundam television series, except for those directed by Tomino, one of the scriptwriters is responsible for the overall series structure.
Also known as "screenplay" or "teleplay." In anime production, there are two distinct types of script. The initial version written by the scriptwriters, which includes dialogue and brief descriptions of the action, is referred to as a scenario (シナリオ) for obscure historical reasons.
Once the final draft is approved, a storyboard artist goes through and divides it into numbered cuts (see below). Later in the production process, the script will be reformatted into a recording script (録音台本, rokuon daihon) in which all the dialogue and action is separated into cuts. This version is used for recording dialogue, and most of the anime scripts we see reproduced in books, magazines, and bonus materials are recording scripts of this type.
In "Z Gundam Historica 03," scriptwriter Akinori Endo describes the scriptwriting process for individual episodes of Mobile Suit Z Gundam:
First, there were Director Tomino's liner notes. Based on those, the scriptwriter would create a structure (plot). We'd have a meeting with Director Tomino about the plot we'd made, receive various criticisms and instructions, and then start working on the actual script. The script would be rewritten from a first draft to a second draft, and maybe a third draft depending on the situation. Once it was fairly complete, Director Tomino would take over. That was how we went about it.
Draft scripts for Mobile Suit Z Gundam, Gundam ZZ, and Char's Counterattack; recording script for Char's Counterattack.
Pages from the final script draft for Mobile Suit Gundam F91. Note that this "scenario" version includes dialogue and action descriptions, but no cut numbers.
Pages from the recording script for Mobile Suit Gundam II. The dialogue and action here is divided into numbered cuts, based on the storyboards. Cuts "0-1" through "0-54" represent the opening recap of the previous movie.
Although these aren't normally part of the production process, Yoshiyuki Tomino often sketches out key scenes from his stories prior to the storyboarding phase. These are similar to the "beat boards" used in Western animation, and my impression is that Tomino tends to do this while he's waiting on script approval so that storyboarding can begin.
Image boards by Yoshiyuki Tomino for Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack.
Image boards by Yoshiyuki Tomino for Mobile Suit Gundam F91.
Based on the final script draft, a storyboard artist sketches out the visuals and divides them into numbered shots or cuts (カット). Each cut is a continuous animation sequence within a scene, and may be represented by one or more storyboard frames depending on the action that takes place. The process of breaking down a script into storyboards is called cutting (切り, kiri).
Anime storyboards are usually drawn on standard templates, five to a page, with accompanying spaces for dialogue, description, and estimated duration in seconds. A single TV episode consisting of about 21 minutes of story animation—excluding the opening, ending, and next-episode preview—typically has a total of about 350 cuts. A two-hour movie generally has more than 2,000.
Storyboards by Yoshiyuki Tomino from the first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. Keen-eyed observers may note that the Gundam was still called the "Gunvoy" when these were drawn.
This is a general term for any reference materials used to create the animation. Setting can include written notes and documentation, but in the production stage it usually refers to model sheets of characters, mecha, and props, as well as background art. The exact requirements for setting art are usually determined during the storyboarding process.
Helpfully translated as "asset manager" in the Association of Japanese Animation's Manual for TV Anime Series Production Assistants, and as "document manager" in the English-language credits of the Gundam Evolve series. This is the staffer responsible for documenting all the setting needed for animation purposes, placing orders (発注, hacchū) with designers and background artists, collecting the completed artwork, and delivering it to the animators.
In "Z Gundam Historica 04," setting manager Shinji Takamatsu describes his role in Mobile Suit Z Gundam:
Looking at the name alone, many people mistakenly think it's a creative job. You could say it's a setting-related production assistant.
In the case of Z Gundam, Director Tomino did the series structure, but after that I ordered scripts and was present during the script meetings. When the scripts were done, I met with the director and the storyboard artists, and during those meetings I figured out which parts required setting and put them on a list. I explained the background art to the art director, and character and mecha setting to the appropriate designers, placing orders according to the schedule. Then I collected their completed work and took it back to the animation workplace. That was the work flow.
It wasn't a creative job where I myself was creating setting, but it was a role that required a complete grasp of a huge amount of setting, so it was very difficult.
In some cases, a separate staff member is responsible for managing the creation of scripts. This role is usually credited as 文芸 (bungei), which simply means "literature" but could probably be interpreted as "script manager."
A list of setting orders for episode 33 of Mobile Suit Gundam. These are broken down into character design orders for Yoshikazu Yashuhiko, mechanical design orders for Kunio Okawara, and background art orders for art director Mitsuki Nakamura (specified by cut number).
The creation of setting for human and animal characters. Depending on the production, there may be separate credits for "original character design" and "animation character design," with the latter responsible for the final setting art.
The creation of mechanical setting, including robots, spaceships, vehicles, and small equipment. Depending on the production, there may be separate credits for "original mechanical design" or "mechanical base design."
In most modern anime productions, there is a staff member dedicated to selecting colors for the setting art. In addition to the main color designer, individual episodes have their own color coordinator (色指定, iroshitei) who establishes the color palettes for each scene.
In the pre-digital era, where animation cels were hand-colored with physical paint, a color chart (カラーチャート) was prepared for each series specifying the available paint colors. The original Mobile Suit Gundam had a very small palette of 82 colors, which was expanded in the movie compilations. By the time of Turn A Gundam, the color designer had about 350 colors at their disposal.
Color charts from the Mobile Suit Gundam movies and Turn A Gundam, plus an example of coloring directions for Fraw Bow. R50, the pink color of Fraw's uniform, was the same color used for Char's Zaku.
In an anime production, this refers to the design and painting of environments and backgrounds (背景, haikei), including space colonies and spaceship interiors. As you can imagine, there's a certain amount of overlap with mechanical design. This department is usually supervised by an art director (美術監督, bijutsu kantoku), and you'll occasionally see an additional art setting (美術設定, bijutsu settei) credit for the background designers.
Where the Gundam series is concerned, by far the most prolific art director is Shigemi Ikeda. Ikeda's credits include Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Char's Counterattack, Gundam 0080, Gundam F91, V Gundam, The 08th MS Team, Turn A Gundam, Gundam Seed, Gundam Seed Destiny, Gundam UC, and Gundam The Origin. He also served as a concept designer on G-Saviour.
A special credit for artists who contribute to multiple areas of the production, such as uniforms, insignia, and world-building technology. Examples include Mamoru Nagano (Mobile Suit Z Gundam), Yutaka Izubuchi (Mobile Suit Gundam 0080), and Kanetake Ebikawa (Gundam Build Fighters, Build Fighters Try).
Special credits for consultants who assist with background research, usually related to science-fiction technology and military matters. Examples include Tadashi Nagase (Mobile Suit Z Gundam, Gundam ZZ, MS Igloo), Shigeru Morita (Turn A Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, Gundam Seed Destiny), Shinya Ogura (Gundam Evolve, Mobile Suit Gundam UC, Gundam NT), and Tsukasa Shikano (Gundam The Origin).
A selection of setting documents prepared by Shinya Ogura for Gundam Evolve and Mobile Suit Gundam UC.
This process is fairly similar to that used in traditional Western animation. On the advice of Matteo Watz of Animétudes, I've discussed each of the steps in more detail below...
This term is sometimes used as a shorthand for the entire animation process, but technically, I believe "animation drawing" refers to the initial drawing stages—layouts, key frames, and in-betweens. The finished drawings still need to be colored, and composited together with painted background art, but the pure drawing work is certainly the most glamorous part of the process.
The person responsible for checking and correcting the layouts, key animation, and completed animation sequences, ensuring that motion is smooth and characters are "on model." The job could perhaps be more accurately described as "drawing supervisor," and on the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko instead requested the English-language title アニメーションディレクター to reflect the broader creative role he intended to play. On a series, each episode has its own animation director, and sometimes there is also a chief animation director overseeing them.
With Mobile Suit Z Gundam, Sunrise introduced a dedicated mechanical animation director to supervise robot battle sequences. This practice has continued to the present day, and modern Gundam series often have separate credits for "character animation director" and "mecha animation director."
The first step in the animation process. These are essentially refined versions of the storyboards. A detailed layout is drawn for each cut, breaking down the image into its individual elements so they can be worked on separately, and these elements are often color-coded in the layouts.
Animation layouts by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko from the first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam.
Sample animation layout, and animation director's revision, from the booklet included with the Turn A Gundam I DVD.
A series of drawings that establish the general sequence of movement for every animated element, such as a character or a mobile suit. The so-called genga-men (原画メン) are responsible for drawing both layouts and key frames, under the supervision of the animation director. They also create exposure sheets (タイムシート) listing all the elements of each shot and the exact timing for photography.
Animation layout by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko from Mobile Suit Gundam III, and individual key frames showing Sayla's subsequent movements.
This part of the process is often translated as "in-betweening," but the Japanese term literally just means "animation." This stage involves two main tasks, in-betweening (中割り, nakawari) and cleanup (クリンナップ).
As the name suggests, in-betweening is the creation of intermediate frames that connect the key frames together. The dōga-men (動画メン) also clean up the line drawing of each frame so that the animation is ready for coloring, and include guidelines showing the exact placement of shadows and highlights.
Sample in-between frames from the booklet included with the Turn A Gundam I DVD. The system used in this production was to leave three in-betweens between each key frame. Here, frames 1 and 5 are cleaned-up versions of the original key frames.
The final stage of animation work, which concludes with coloring (彩色, saishiki). In the traditional animation process, the in-between frames were traced or copied onto transparent animation cels, and then physically painted. After Turn A Gundam, Sunrise shifted to a digital process in which the line drawings are colored on a computer.
Before the digital era, this process was called "shooting" or "photography". Here, the completed and colored animation is combined with the background art, under the supervision of the director of photography (撮影監督, satsuei kantoku). It is then edited to create the finished animation sequences.
In anime, the voice actors (声優, seiyū) usually record their dialogue after the animation is near-complete. This is technically part of the "post-production" stage, after the animation has been composited and edited. The dialogue is combined with music (音楽, ongaku) and sound effects (効果音, kōkaon) to complete the anime.
The audio aspects are supervised by the sound director (音響監督, onkyō kantoku).
This is just a brief overview of a subject covered in much more detail, and by much more knowledgable writers, elsewhere. Here are a few resources for deeper investigation:
Mobile Suit Gundam is copyright © Sotsu • Sunrise. Everything else on this site, and all original text and pictures, are copyright Mark Simmons.