Revolutionizing Animation Production — Efficiency Sparks Creativity | Shuzo John Shiota | TEDxKyoto

Revolutionizing Animation Production — Efficiency Sparks Creativity | Shuzo John Shiota | TEDxKyoto

Translator: Ichi Kanaya
Reviewer: Kayoko Shiomi I started my career working for a company that manufactures steel. Now, I run a company
that manufactures animation. Yes, manufactures animation – like the ones you see behind me. No one bats their eye when they hear the word “manufacture” followed by steel. But manufacture animation? Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? You would think animation is created by these dudes called artists. You know, animators, creators, what not. But the likes you normally don’t
associate with manufacturing. In fact in Japan, there seems to be
a common concept, sort of like a stereotype
for people like us in the creative industry. Here are some of the common stereotypes. That we tend to be eccentric, often bordering on bizarre
and unpredictable. That we are unorganized and unruly, because creative endeavors
take over most of our lives. And that includes sleep. The longer hours we work on
our projects, the better it becomes. Hell, daylight sucks. Midnight or the morning hours
is when real creativity sets in. Now, we’re not much for things like teamwork, schedule, budgets and god awful deadlines. Don’t they know that art
needs its own time to evolve? And, that it’s a personal, lonely process? Let us be, I’ll call you when it’s done! So in short, we’re sort of looked upon
as people who are sequestered in our small creative bubbles, you know, alienated from society. Creative types and management
simply do not seem to mix. But today, I hope to
convince you otherwise; that animation production is in fact a very intricate and disciplined process, and likewise, people involved
are not only artistically talented, but they are disciplined. Creativity can, in fact, be managed. When I interned in the steel mill
in Kitakyushu, shortly after joining the steel company, I was blown away
by the sheer size of its facilities, contrasted by the intricacies
os its operations, and all the advanced technologies
that governed it. But foremost, I was impressed
by the people working there – how they devoted their passion
and dedication day in, day out. I remember their eyes opening up
and brightening whenever they told stories about work; stories such as how their predecessors harnessed the ability to control fire and other natural phenomenon in blast furnaces to create better steel, using computers and sensors. Things that were seemed
inconceivable years before, as such delicate operations were at the mercy of eyes and senses, and intuitions of master artisans
with decades of experience. And such masters were highly doubtful that their human touch could ever
be taken over by a computer. Yet, they’ve done it. And as a result,
they were able to produce better, more consistent higher volumes steel. This and other stories just fascinated me. Years on, and when I inadvertently made
the jump into the digital animation field, I was pleasantly surprised that the process of making animation was much akin to that of manufacturing. As with manufacturing, a production line is formed, manned by people with specific
specialties and duties all working cohesively together. As materials flow downstream, data flow. And, instead
of steel products or automobiles, animation content is manufactured. Let me quickly guide you through
the process to elaborate. Any animated content
must start with a story. As John Lasseter of Pixar
mentions time and again, story is king. Now, story may be coming
from the mind of a great director, or as with the case
of our in-house production called, ” Knights of Sidonia,” it may come from a published manga, in this case,
authored by the great artist, Tsutomu Nihei. The story is then turned into a script, all the elements that arrive
in the story must be designed, and storyboards created
to ensure visual continuity. All these and others are the blueprints, you may say,
for manufacturing animation. We head into production, where the designs are all
turned into CG models. Modeling is sort of akin
to sculpting inside the computer. Everything you see on screen
must be modeled, including heroes, robots, heroines, villains, spaceships, environments, and Onigiri. And even Natto!
Because you see, heroes must eat. (Japanese)
You can’t fight on a empty stomach. Right? So, skeletons and rigs
are implemented into the models that give the animators
freedom of control. The animators, in turn,
use these controls to breathe life
into otherwise inanimate objects. They animate frame by frame,
joints to joints. A full days work
of a professionally gifted animator can only reap 3 to 5 seconds
of animation per day. So, we need a lot of them, working cohesively in collaboration
to finish a 22-minute episode. Lighters provide mood to the scene – be it indoors, outdoors, summer or fall, day or night. All these elements are then computed in a networked mesh
of 3700 nodes of CPUs, compiling over 9 million files, each project utilizing over 57TB of data. In the process of producing
an animated show like “The Knights of Sidonia,” an aggregate of 178 people
from 12 different nations, contribute 203,680 hours of their life, to finish 43, 000 tasks, to composite 8,400 shots, to ultimately create 528 minutes
of finished animation. Phew! That’s a lot of work
to blurt out in one breath. So imagine actually doing it! Luckily, artists are not the only people
involved in production. Production managers
and coordinators are available to manage the massive amounts
of information and interaction that happens on an hourly basis. And though we work
in a digital environment, good old face-to-face communication sometimes via video conferencing systems with our overseas partners, are just as important. Good communication is still the basis
for a successful production. So, I hope you can see that artistry is not the only ingredient involved in cooking up an animated show. Artistry combined with structured
processes and great management, I feel, is the only recipe for creativity. So my hope is this. If we can source the vast amount of knowledge and expertise accumulated
by our manufacturing industries regarding management and operations, and combine them
with the great talent base of artists that arguably creates the largest volume and most diverse range of animated content in the world, we can totally be on top of our game, and that on a global basis. For this purpose, we conduct Kaizen practices
time and again to improve on our efficiencies, and make technological advances. To be honest though, initially when we started, we had pushbacks from some artists, some of them saying that our emphasis on efficiency
runs counter to creativity. That the practice of Kaizen
so effective in manufacturing, does not apply to creative endeavors. To that, I always pushed back, citing the same story
of the blast furnace, telling them, “The people at the steel mill
devised a way to control fire and other natural phenomenon to create better steel using computers, and this through constant Kaizen. You tell me that your mind
and behavior is more volatile and unpredictable than fire
and natural phenomenon?” After a while, we started to see
real significant results – some of our productions improving
on their efficiencies by more than 25%. What’s more important though, the artists started to realize
because of improved workflow, they no longer have to deal with menial, repetitive,
and unnecessary tasks, but instead, spend the time saved
on real creative stuff, improving their work. Instead of our initiatives
deterring creativity, it enhanced it. The ultimate nod of approval coming from our multiple Emmy Award wins for our TV program, “Transformers Prime”; an accolade which is equivalent to winning the Academy Award for film. Thus far, I’ve talked about things we’ve borrowed
from other industries. But there is this one
management principle that I’ve learned from within, and that I prioritize
over everything else that I’ve said. Guess what it is? It’s “Motivation Management.” What gets you up
every morning to go to work? Sure we work for fundamental reasons. We have to provide
for ourselves and our family. But do you go to work because you have to, or you want to? In our business, we produce products
that are designed to make people laugh, smile, cry, sneer,
angry or even scream. In order to trigger our
audiences’ emotions, we of all people need to be
emotionally engaged in what we do. There is no “if”, “ands”
or “buts” about that, it’s just so, or it won’t work. So how do we ensure that? It’s not rocket science,
but it’s not easy either. We just need to be vigilant, we need to be stubborn
to preserve our self awareness. Foremost of which is to be involved
in projects that we believe in, that we love, that we can be proud to show. The feedback from the audience
is our ultimate reward. Our workplace where we create this stuff
must be full of positive energy, fun and comfortable. We need our staff to be emotionally
and physically healthy. We spend almost as much energy
on our parties as we do on work, because I feel that it fosters
a festive and collaborative, as well as an outgoing atmosphere. And of course, we need to ensure
that our staff have enough time to spend with their family
and loved ones, to have the time
to explore life and appreciate it. But is this something
that is specific only to our industry? I don’t think so. All businesses can and must be fun. All businesses must be
accompanied by creative minds, just as all businesses must strive
for innovation and efficiency. Just as we’ve learned
from other industries, I hope that other industries
look upon us, not as the wild, kind of eccentric,
bizarre, crazy guys, but for true inspiration for the betterment
of their products or services. Today, people do not buy just
the software or just the hardware. They buy a holistic product that will
give them the right emotional lift. Just as we learned from other industries regarding management
and operational issues, you should look upon us on how to add the all important
emotional element to your products and services. Only through true collaboration, can we make a new product
or service genuinely new. Let’s do this!
We’re not that weird. We’re just fun. Thank you. (Applause)


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