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Making of Blood+ OP 3 - Part 4: Photography

TV series Blood+ eventually featured 4 different opening films, directed by different creators with totally different graphic styles. All films have a slight twist to the ordinary, but the third version, seen from episode 26, somehow stands on its own. This film of just 90 seconds, that was recently selected in competition for the 11th Holland Film Festival, obviously has an interesting production story behind it. So we have asked the staff to tell us more about their work. In this fourth and last special feature, we met Hisashi Ezura and Yumiko Nakata, in charge of that delicate process of putting so many different materials together, otherwise called "photography."

Staff Profiles

Naoyoshi Shiotani
Sequence and animation director. Born in 1977, he's one of Production I.G's most promising young creators. His main works include Windy Tales (2004) and Blood+ (2006), and served as key animator in a number of I.G works, such as Otogi Zoshi (2004), The Prince of Tennis - Two Samurai: The First Game (2005) and Tsubasa Chronicle - The Princess of the Birdcage Kingdom (2005). He's a soft-spoken nice guy with a naughty boy inside.

Idumi Hirose
Color designer. Born in 1977, she created the colors for many well-known I.G titles, such as Dead Leaves, Innocence, Otogi Zoshi, xxxHOLiC and Le Chevalier D'Eon. Widely reputed Production I.G's super idol (as she would promptly confirm if asked). Nickname: Hokki.

Production assistant of undisclosed age. Before Blood+ he previously worked in Windy Tales. His trademark glasses and his distinctive humbleness made him a popular character. According to unconfirmed I.G in-house legends, last year he received the most Valentine chocolates in the entire studio, even outnumbering celebrated veteran animators. His recently adopted refreshing shaved head apparently improved his popularity.

Hisashi Ezura
Director of Photography. Born in 1967, his main filmography includes Ghost in the Shell (animation segment for the 1997 game edition), Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), Innocence (2004), Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (2006). His technique is commonly described as "Ezura magic". Wild on the outside, but mild on the inside, he is the boss of the so-called Ezura Team within the digital section of Production I.G.

Yumiko Nakata
Photography. Under Ezura's supervision, she worked in a number of productions, such as Linda's Chains & Rings / Tsepi y kol'tsa (2003), Innocence (2004), The Prince of Tennis - Two Samurai: The First Game (2005) and xxxHOLiC - A Misdsummer Night's Dream (2005). Cheerful Chiba-born young Nakata is one of Ezura's most valiant assistants, and from here originated her nickname, "Sister Ezura."

Ezura-san, you were the director of photography. What was it like?
Ezura: They'd told me that the cels were not finished in the usual way. When I actually saw the material, I thought the rough lines and the image of the story fitted well. I was careful not to distract from the original idea, and I thought that could only be accomplished by adopting the mood and the feel as if it was colored directly onto the original drawing. If people saw them as paint data or scanned background data, then that's like you clumsily reveal the devices in the theatre backstage to your audience. This had to be avoided. The trick was to make them look as if they were the original drawings.
Matty: How did you actually do that?
Ezura: We contemplated how we could balance the different materials. We transferred pencil lines, neatly painted parts and hand-drawn sections onto the areas filled with solid color. This is to add marks, noise or some small fuzzy scribbles onto the screen. But if you overdue with such tricks, the rough feel of the line drawings would not come through. A strong touch would not necessarily make the scene look better. Sometimes contemplating these things too much lands you in a mess. Surprisingly, it comes out nicely when we just do it in a matter of minutes.
Shiotani: What worried me the most was the drawing touch and the background sticking out when we emphasized the artistic elements. But when I saw the finished work, I thought, "wow."
Ezura: Saito-san [*] is good at rendering action scenes, so I asked him to boost the tension. Nakata-san is good at staging drama, so I asked her to do mainly the drama part and the time-lapse sequences. I think the idea of assigning tasks was effective. When you are working separately on each scene, you barely realize that, but when we put them together, you could tell that Shiotani-san knew exactly where the credit text was to be going in while he was constructing the layout for each scene. This surely came from his experience as key animator.

How about you, Nakata-san?
Nakata: I enjoyed it a lot. It was easy for me to incorporate what I wanted to do. It was fun to mull over how I would do things.

Is there any particular scene that you liked while working on the project?
Nakata: The parts where the colors change.

Ezura: When we use a still sequence, the impressions of the scene tend to fade, but the change of colors shines out in this one. You sense the innate timeline within the footage. That's why it's so impressive.
Hirose: I also consulted Nakata-chan to advise me about how colors would alter after filming. I had to choose colors when the face(s) turned this way. I wanted to deliver the sensitivities that I found specific to Japanese women.

Ezura: Nakata-san originally studied Japanese painting. I am looking forward to seeing her further utilize her Japanese painting techniques replacing the paint brush with After Effects. I have a lot of blind spots myself, but at the same time I know that working as a team, we can successfully cover each other's blind spots. Nakata-san enduring personality patiently covers me when I get burnt out. And Saito-san complements my work with his stunning skill on action scenes. When the three of us work together, compensating for each other as we do our jobs, then we shouldn't end up with a monotonous end product.
Matty: Ezura-san took care of the scene at the beginning, where the title appears.
Ezura: I asked Nakata-san to create the materials and I constructed the scene using bits and pieces from my personal effect library. Working with After Effects, I tend to input the layer structures into my memory, but as the number of layers progressively increased, my brain started hissing for overheating. (lol)

What are the things you pay special attention to when filming?
Ezura: I make sure I make the most of the lines drawn by the animators. Filming is like cooking curry with the materials that are given to me. As a chef, I shouldn't make all the ingredients taste the same even though they might loose their shape a bit. I must make a curry with line-drawing flavor, so that the customer doesn't ask, "what the heck is this?"

How did you like participating in this project?
Ezura: We did not have to film and concoct something exciting with boring materials. The storyboards were already powerful, so that energy just stayed on as we worked through key animation, in-betweens, paint, and backgrounds. With the digitalization of animation, a large variety of plug-ins and tools has become available. Although I am in the section that deals with digitalization, I do believe in the power of the original drawings, because I used to be an animator myself. Even with the help of digital resources, you can't compete with the power of the original drawings, which have to be compelling in the first place. I think this particular work revealed the potential of a renewed "power of drawing" that can't be substituted with digital resources.

How could you keep that temperature and energy throughout the entire process?
Matty: Everyone who participated played the main character. We all worked together and tried to come closer to Shiotani-san's original idea. Everyone was complaining (lol), but had fun as well. When we were through, the staff members, each one of them, asked for videotaped copies and said they were happy to have taken part. I was really glad.
Shiotani: I was really lucky to have the opportunity of doing the filming with Ezura-san, and work on background, color setting, and in-betweens in house at I.G. We could communicate our requests and opinions right away and exercise them. Without this environment, the project wouldn't have been possible. And all the staff members contributed their ideas about what they wished to do or experiment. Those who participated said that it was fun and challenging. I am so glad that we had a great time together.

[*] Akira Saito, one of the main operators in Ezura's section.

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