Manga artists embrace advanced 3D CG tools
Plus: Anime rises in South Africa; Crunchyroll settles class action lawsuit; Employing people with disabilities in anime production; and more
This is the weekly newsletter of Animenomics, covering the business of anime and manga. Today is Wednesday, October 11, 2023.
In case you missed it: Toei Animation is sponsoring a 50-foot balloon of One Piece lead character Monkey D. Luffy at New York City’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.
Artists embrace advanced 3D CG tools to create manga
As digital drawing software becomes more common in manga production, artists at the forefront of the industry are embracing 3D CG tools like Unreal Engine and Blender that are usually used in video game and film production.
Why it matters: Digital production tools give artists an opportunity to speed up labor-intensive work in the manga drawing process, such as creating detailed environments and prop designs.
Driving the story: Manga artist Inio Asano, known for Solanin and Goodnight Punpun, demonstrated his use of Unreal Engine to create the new series Mujina into the Deep in an hour-long presentation at Unreal Fest Tokyo in June.
Although Asano began using 3D models in the drawing of Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, he took CG work to the next level in Mujina into the Deep by creating a one-square-kilometer city setting complete with props.
Asano’s workflow for Mujina into the Deep includes using Blender to create 3D models, Substance 3D Painter to create textures, Unreal Engine to combine all 3D assets into a single panel, and Photoshop to add filters and inking.
Zoom out: CGWORLD magazine’s November 2023 issue is highlighting Asano and fellow artists Takuma Tokashiki and Tadahiro Miura, who are also utilizing 3D CG models in their manga.
Miura, in particular, has worked fully with 3D CG since debuting in 2011, using Blender to create models for both characters and background props.
Yes, but: Learning 3D CG and working with 3D models require a significant time investment at the beginning of the manga creation process.
There was a six-month period in which Asano worked solely in CG and didn’t draw. It also wasn’t possible for him to do CG work in parallel with writing.
File management for organizing 3D assets and models is also a concern for those unaccustomed to a fully digital workflow.
Of note: Asano believes procedural generation tools like Houdini, developed by Toronto-based SideFX, could help reduce the amount of time needed to create 3D models manually in the future.
Anime rises to challenge western media in South Africa
Responding to the growing international popularity of anime, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) participated in its first Comic Con Africa in Johannesburg last month and organized a matching event between Japanese and South African companies.
Why it matters: The anime character business emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as a challenger to western media properties in South Africa’s pop culture market.
Driving the story: Hobby Island, a Johannesburg-based retailer of character figures and the exclusive agent of Bandai’s Tamashii Nations action figure label, has seen sales of anime figures rise since 2017.
Managing director Frankie Chow told JETRO that Hobby Island’s customers prior to the pandemic were largely high-income adults who bought Marvel and other western figures.
“However, our customer base has expanded to include children, as children who are staying at home more often due to the coronavirus have more opportunities to watch anime at home,” Chow said.
Yes, but: Hobby Island’s main challenge is converting customers who buy from local vendors importing anime figures without an official license.
South African anime viewers can also access pirate websites, but Hobby Island sees many customers who purchase their products after discovering anime on paid streaming services like Netflix.
“However, there are only a limited number of households that can afford the monthly fees for such services, so I think there will be a limit somewhere,” Chow said.
Zoom out: Japanese anime companies signed 34 contracts with South African companies in 2021, according to industry survey data compiled by the Association of Japanese Animations.
This number was larger than contracts signed with any other African country, but still behind other emerging markets in Southeast Asia.
“With anime and manga arguably being one of the most famous Japanese exports, JETRO is looking forward to meeting a variety of local businesses to help grow anime exports to South Africa,” JETRO Johannesburg project director Mizuho Nakanishi told local media in July.
Clippings: Crunchyroll settles privacy class action suit
Crunchyroll reached a US$16 million settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by two users who allege that the streamer violated the U.S. Video Privacy Protection Act by providing subscribers’ personally identifiable information without their consent to third party sites. (Anime News Network)
Technology conglomerate CyberAgent, the parent of video game and anime production company Cygames, has established a new subsidiary to work on the research and development of generative AI for use in anime production. (Animation Business Journal)
Manga Plus, Shueisha’s international direct-to-consumer manga reader app, has launched a two-tier paid subscription service. The service has 6 million monthly active users and is managed by the Shonen Jump+ editorial department. (ICv2)
An Oricon survey has found that 61.5 percent of digital manga readers in Japan read for free. Among different age brackets, the 50–59 group was most likely to use such services as paid users. (Press release)
Toei CEO: China has financial edge in anime production
“China, in particular, is remarkable. The technique of animators who draw pictures has advanced dramatically, and there are many interesting works of Chinese animation coming out now. In terms of production expenses, far from being a rival, they have more financial muscle. Chinese companies poaching talented Japanese staff has also been a topic of discussion for some time.”
— Fumio Yoshimura, president and CEO of film production company Toei
Context: Yoshimura told the Zaikai business biweekly that Toei and its subsidiary company, Toei Animation, will increase collaboration and new investments in the group’s production studios to improve the working conditions of their workers and retain Japan’s edge in animation.
Yes, but: The threat of poaching isn’t what it sounds like. A Japanese anime studio employee told Japan Business Press in 2019 that there were no signs of poaching of Japanese animators by Chinese animation studios.
Recruitment efforts by studios in Beijing and Shanghai instead targeted Chinese animators trained by and working for Japanese animation studios.
Bottom line: To alleviate persistent labor shortage, anime studios need to ensure that they can retain trained workers, Japanese and non-Japanese.
People with disabilities support TV anime productions
Kyoto-based creative media production company Shake Hands Media Products is finding subcontract work with larger anime studios while employing people with disabilities, significantly raising their earning potential and standard of living.
Why it matters: Founder Tomoya Sawada told The Mainichi newspaper that Shake Hands connects people with disabilities who have difficulties finding stable employment with an anime industry that is facing a labor shortage.
How it happened: In 2018, while Sawada was a visiting researcher at Ritsumeikan University, he began a project in Shiga Prefecture that hired people with disabilities for manual work such as parts manufacturing and agriculture.
Since establishments that provide job support for people with disabilities often can’t afford to pay high wages, Sawada began researching other types of businesses that could increase the value of the job done by workers.
Sawada eventually settled on anime key animation after exploring web design and illustration work, establishing Shake Hands in April.
Behind the scenes: The work environment in Shake Hands’s office is tailored to each employee’s condition, with potted plants set up all over the workplace to create a relaxing environment.
For people who have difficulty understanding ambiguous expressions and nuances, anime studios’ use of time sheets and specific instructions to guide character drawings makes it easier to avoid misunderstandings.
For those who find it difficult to concentrate, curtains are set up around their workstations, which are set at a distance from their coworkers’.
One big thing: “It’s still a long way off compared to ordinary companies, but we’ve been able to raise the income of people who used to earn below ¥10,000 [US$67] a month to nearly ¥100,000 [US$670],” Sawada told The Mainichi.
To date, Shake Hands has done key animation work for six television anime productions, including Chiikawa and Spy Classroom.
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