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Breaking Down Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba's Incredible Animation | Animator Spotlight


It’s the start of a new decade, and the definition of modern anime creation will continue to evolve in these 2020s 3DCG will improve and expand, compositing will allow anime creators to realise more ambitious visions and digital animation can speed up workflows and accommodate efficient international collaborations

We all have things that we’d like to see improve in this next decade But for Ufotable, a studio that has been a pioneer in the combination of 2D and digital elements, my only message to them is: Just keep doing what you’re doing and this time, pay your taxes Because while they’re accomplished in the technical side of anime production, what makes Ufotable productions exceptional is respect 3D isn’t regarded as a last-minute decision, compositing isn’t outsourced to another company Instead, these digital creators are a part of the company, and most essentially, are invited to contribute ideas at every stage of the anime creation process

This is how Ufotable created Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba In the last half of the decade, Jump anime took a bit of a turn It was once the standard that if it’s serialised in Jump, it should have a whole bunch of weekly episodes Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Gintama, Reborn, there appeared to be a trend of airing as many episodes weekly as possible, with as few breaks as possible The problem is obvious, it’s a pain in the ass to schedule, and there’s a higher chance of the quality dropping

So back in the 2010s, we started to see a shift Less endlessly running series, and more seasonal works According to Jump Editor in Chief Hiroyuki Nakano in an interview with ANN, this is due to the change in landscape and how much more practical shorter shows are It can still go on for years but through renewals, fitting more neatly into the schedules of more studios So enter Ufotable, a team currently buried in the Heaven’s Feel movies, a masterclass of animation and digital effects

These films are incredibly accomplished in their use of lighting, speed, impact, framing and atmosphere And so when Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba debuted, it was… okay Early episodes of Kimetsu no Yaiba aren’t lacking in animation or digital accomplishments, but especially compared to the Heaven’s Feel films, the direction lacks the breathless moments that we expect from the studio This isn’t necessarily director Haruo Sotozaki’s forte though He’s good at taking advantage of 3D backgrounds and digital effects, as is the case in the first episode of his Tales of Zestiria the Cross, but there’s a list of other directors at the studio who have succeeded in using digital assets in more surprising ways

In a lot of interviews, producers and directors will talk about wanting to capture the original mangaka’s vision But Demon Slayer producer Yuma Takahashi mentions that for Ufotable, the goal is in making something even better So while there’s some shots like this wibbly wibbly woo one that’s ripped straight out of the manga, there’s other choices like this shot, which was exactly the breathless moment I was looking for The manga panel looks something like this But storyboard artist Masashi Takeuchi transformed the scene into a glorious one-shot with Tanjiro finding his footing in the rotating room

For any other studio, this could be a nightmare to coordinate, but the Ufotable studio is built in such a way that it allows for open communication between departments When I interviewed Ufotable Digital Chief Yuichi Terao, he told me that because of the lack of separation between roles, it helps build a rapport with the whole team Another example of the close teamwork between the digital and animation teams is the iconic water breathing techniques This isn’t just an After Effects plugin, like many of Ufotable’s best digital effects, this is a combination of several different hand-drawn elements, composited together to form waves But Demon Slayer isn’t all about action

It’s about Tanjiro, Nezuko, Inosuke, and the other one Character art is a huge priority for the show, and there’s extra care put into making sure they always look good This was one of the best parts of character designer and animation director Akira Matsushima’s work on Tales of Zestiria the X The characters look consistently charismatic Or in Sorey’s case

Hot Consistently hot One of the key elements in achieving this in Demon Slayer is in the occasional thickness of the linework, giving close-up shots that extra bit of impact Another is in the eye shape and size Matsushima character designs have distinct eye shapes based on their personality

Even Inosuke’s boar eyes were given a glassy vague look, emphasising his batshit nature But this is most important for Nezuko, who has to communicate entirely through her eyes Pain, anger, determination, happiness, each of these eyes are carefully considered by Matsushima and the animation team But when you do a video about Demon Slayer animation, there’s one specific scene everyone wants to talk about And here it is

And this too: Animator Nozomu Abe is /the/ celebrity cameo for action anime If the creators want to make a scene particularly memorable, they hand it off to Abe With an knack for character action and especially effects animation, he’s lit up iconic scenes from Sword Art Online, Accel World, and Madoka Magica, among others And his relationship with Ufotable ever since Fate/Zero has been incredibly valuable There are complaints that Ufotable overdoes it with the VFX and that can sometimes be true

But in the cases of Abe’s cuts on Fate/Zero, Unlimited Blade Works, and especially the Heaven’s Feel movies, it’s a tailored blend, with the digital team working to emphasise what’s great about the original animation, rather than try and improve it Abe appeared on three episodes of Demon Slayer, the first was in Episode 12 in which he desperately tries to make Zenitsu seem cool with a burst of electric energy, preluded by cuts of anticipation His next time was on Episode 17, again trying to appreciate Zenitsu with a cut that feels similar to his Excalibur shots from the Fate series, filled with debris and raw energy And then, Episode 19 The moneyshot

The festival of sparks and flames are amazing, and the timing of the sword strike makes the whole thing so incredibly satisfying, culminating in a halo of flames, with so many different elements moving on-screen When we think back on Demon Slayer years from now, it’ll be this moment that we remember There’s so many small things that contribute to the overall quality of the scene When Tanjiro strikes there’s only sparks coming from one side of Rui, but after these two frames, the entire right side lights up The same shot is shown from afar as well with the same technique

It gives us a sense of the impact of the strike When Tanjiro follows through, we get the same kind of deep red impact frames as well It’s a rhythm of power, with each moment accentuated by these brief sequences that you wouldn’t notice in realtime and a testament to the relationship between Nozomu Abe and Ufotable But this wasn’t the only killer cut in Episode 19 It was set up by this shot where Tanjiro charges Rui down, igniting his water breathing arts

I spoke earlier about the teamwork between Ufotable animation and digital teams and you can get a feel for this collaboration here Moving 3D backgrounds give a sense of space, and in a situation where Tanjiro is getting sliced by threads, there’s a real urgency to him being able to master this new technique quickly It’s also worth mentioning that most of this isn’t in the manga In the original, it’s just one page where he cuts the threads The whole extended sequence was the idea and creation of the Ufotable team

The animation is incredible, particularly in regards to the changing form of the flames, but the distinctive colouring and the way in which the fire lights up dark forest as Tanjiro swings it about is a testament to the idea that it takes a village This episode was directed by Toshiyuki Shirai, a director who is in himself, from the words of the Ufotable blog, an outstanding key animator It’s often the case in anime where great animators can inspire other great animators by planning out episodes in ways that allow them to do their best work, and that seems to have happened here as well At Ufotable, the environment is set up so that anyone can have an impact I asked digital chief Yuichi Terao if he was interested in being a director, but he believes that the title of series director isn’t that important and that you can make an impact from many roles

Terao has proved this for years as a compositing director, but in the final episode of Demon Slayer, he served as both an episode director and storyboard artist in addition to his compositing role This isn’t his first time in a director’s seat, since he previously created the digital heavy opening for the TheAnimeGuild timeslot and he previously was credited as a storyboard artist for the opening of Fate/Zero among others It seems to be that Terao is formalised into a leadership role when the digital effects are getting ambitious and he needs to be there to work with the whole team Of course, he does this anyway because of Ufotable’s tight nature as a studio, but being able to plan out shots as a storyboard artist and supervise them as both episode director and compositing director means that he can really hyperfocus on a specific vision In the case of Episode 26 of Demon Slayer, it’s not hard to guess which part he was in charge of

The meeting of the demons in an MC Escher-esque cluster of buildings is something that only a Ufotable team led by Terao could achieve It’s occasionally a bit off-putting as the camera moves so much, but I absolutely love it Having a 2D character trying to escape from a maze of complexity is the sort of thing you just don’t normally see in anime, and had Aniplex and Shueisha selected any other studio, we wouldn’t have anything like this This is the original manga panel for that scene The idea is there, but I can’t help loving the extra steps Terao took to elaborating on this world

Demon Slayer will be moving on to the Infinity Train film this year and hopefully, we get to see more of the highs of the series represented than the lows Although judging from Ufotable’s current track record in feature films, I reckon it’ll be just fine Thanks for watching The Canipa Effect As a part of the Patreon tier, Daniel wants to give a shout out to the Chrono Clavis Kickstarter, a 3D feature anime created by just one person The project has been funded but it has just a few days left to reach its stretch goal for English subtitles

I’d also like to give a special thanks to all of these viewers for supporting the channel, in particular I’d like to thank Austin Hardwicke, Chariotwheel, Daniel, deadermeat, Ellipsism, Frog-kun, Jacob Bosley, Jakob Gadhe, JRPictures, Mike Tamburelli, my own mother, Noland Soga, Ryan Rodriguez, ShiShi and Thatjuanartist If you’d like to help out the channel, please consider visiting Patreoncom/TheCanipaEffect

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