Polygon Pictures: The Anime Factory | Anime Studio Spotlight

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding 3D animation.
A constant fear that Japan might go the way of Disney, removing the concept of a mainstream
2D production. And it’s always interesting to research into those that create 3D series
despite this culture. A constant scepticism and dismissal of not just your products, but
the method in which your products are made. Which is why it was very interesting that
Polygon Pictures, a Japanese studio that had won awards in America, showed a renewed interest
in creating anime. Starting in 1983, Polygon Pictures has had
a 30 year run of being one of the most celebrated Japanese studios globally. With business partnerships
ranging from Disney, to Hasbro and to Capcom, you’ve probably seen their work even if
you didn’t realise it. Remember the opening video to Street Fighter 5? Polygon Pictures.
Remember the opening to Ghost in the Shell 2? Polygon Pictures. Suffice it to say, the
studio has come a long way since they made this penguin themed shampoo commercial Although, when talking about Polygon Pictures
as an anime studio, we’re referring to their recent career regarding Knights of Sidonia,
Ajin: Demi-human and Ronia: The Robber’s Daughter rather than spending the next hour
on the animation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens Seasons 3 through 5, although it’s important
to keep their history in mind. Last year, the CEO of Polygon Pictures, Shuzo
John Shiota delivered a TED Talks regarding the work efficiency of the studio. It’s
a 12 minute talk and bizarrely it’s only got 5000 views, which is ridiculous. But what
Shiota outlines in his talk is that Polygon Pictures is one of the most efficient anime
studios working today and that’s not just a fun fact. That’s a life-saving one. Low
wages, bad hours and chaotic production schedules are things that plague the anime industry
today and we’re constantly getting reports of terrible working conditions and episodes
having to be delayed. In a study by the Japanese Anime Creators
Association, it was found that 85% of anime staff don’t have children and that’s with
the average staff member being in their mid 30s. And that’s because mainstream anime
production isn’t one that grants many opportunities to do things that aren’t working. But Shiota
is quick to point out that this situation does not include Polygon Pictures, as their
approach to anime production and the corporate structure they’ve built from their constant
successes in the States have put them in an ideal situation. For example, Polygon Pictures
had completed production on 10 episodes of Ajin in November of 2015, two months before
it was set to air. For the sake of comparison, the support studio
Wanpack reported they were doing work on Twin Star Exorcists Episode 1 in March and that’s
with the episode going to air on April 6th. More recently, Yuri on Ice ended up delivering
two different versions of Episode 4 to two different broadcasters, the first one to Crunchyroll
and then the second to the Japanese TV network, TeleAsa. And in that short time in-between
deadlines, they’d continued working on the episode, doing corrections right up until
the last moment. Whilst much of the industry runs around and panic when production gets
messy, Polygon is the snarky kid in class gloating about how he finished his homework
months ago. And because of Polygon’s highly efficient
scheduling and production, as Shiota mentioned in the TED talk, creators get the chance to
spend more time with their families and it really does sound great. If you want to actually
get into making anime, applying to Polygon Pictures would probably be your best shot.
Not only are you actually going to get paid better, but the studio encourages foreigners
apply. So, if you want to work on anime, I’d heavily recommend applying to Polygon Pictures.
That is, if you want to work here. Cubicle next to cubicle, row next to row. Not even
the architecture can stop this place from looking emotionally draining. 3D animation takes time and in order to maintain
their status as the highly efficient anime factory, individual creativity is dead. That’s
not to say products aren’t creative, but it’s creativity on an assembly line. Unlike
2D animation, you’re not going to have one person animate an incredibly stylistic cut
that turns an episode from good to amazing. Rather, you have a storyboard artist who planned
that scene and you will spend your entire day animating 3 to 5 seconds of it with little
room for personal agency. And the next day, you’ll be animating a different 3 to 5 seconds.
And so on. And no matter how many parties are thrown or how much fun you might end up
having with those 3 to 5 seconds, your creative voice in the product is quiet. Even though Polygon prides itself in producing
anime in ways far different to the rest of the industry, that doesn’t stop them from
trying to adopt the anime aesthetic by any means possible. And whilst I genuinely do
believe that their shows look good, an opinion not exactly widespread, the intentional hindering
of frame rate does it no favours. 2D animation doesn’t run at a consistent frame rate,
animators work with an amount of drawings depending on the action and time available,
a skill that these guys have been harnessing for years. And whilst 3D studio Sanzigen’s President
Matsuura Hiroaki heavily defends the practice, they work in the same building as Trigger
and it’s not unheard of for them to share staff between their productions as they are
both parts of the Ultra Super Pictures conglomerate. Daizen Komatsuda, the director of Sanzigen’s
Bubuki Buranki was heavily involved with many Gainax and Trigger shows as an episode director,
animation director and animator. So along with various 2D veterans on staff, Sanzigen
productions have found a way to work with their president’s questionable philosophies. But Polygon doesn’t live above a load of
eccentric 2D animators, they work next to a convenience store. So whilst Polygon will
cut frames in a tragic effort to be more like traditional anime, it’s done both without
the 2D expertise required to emulate its competitors and without the incredibly talented creative
forces that Studio Orange might boast with its mecha animation. But this isn’t to say that the studio should
be discredited or dismissed. Regardless, Knights of Sidonia was one of my favourite series
of 2014 and it showed that with 3D animation, you can open up a whole new world of perspectives,
with POV shots, a dynamic camera and some really neat single takes, spinning the camera
around to show different parts of the action rather than cutting. With Polygon’s workflow,
these moments can be assembled efficiently and without dips in quality or rushed moments. And it’s not just the action scenes either.
With Ronia: The Robber’s Daughter, Polygon’s collaboration with Studio Ghibli requiring
a lot of character animation, there was some genuinely nice moments that were unfortunately
interspersed with what I can only describe as uncanny pitfalls of character conversation.
However, this evolved into the character animation of Ajin, which took some of those ideas, but
added more features and texture, allowing for some genuine resonance. Ever since they began to create their own
series, there have been steady improvements and an increase in staff. New animators, new
supervisors, new effects artists, brought on from both other parts of the studio or
just new hires. It’s not like Shiota and the Polygon staff saw the issues they had
and were complacent with it, there is a constant motivation to create a better product than
what came before. For example, both Ajin and the second season of Knights of Sidonia is
an improvement on the original Sidonia series. And now, if the trailer is indicative of anything,
the upcoming Blame film appears to feature more detail in not only the character models
and design, but also the way the environments reflect light, creating something that can
really stand up to its 2D rivals. In 2014, Studio Orange CEO, Eiji Inomoto once
said: “I feel that most of the work I’ve done till now has been a battle. I’ve been
fighting the audience’s impulse to reject CG.” 3D creators aren’t trying to change anime,
if anything they’re begging for our approval by trying to fit within the confines of an
accepted aesthetic. But in the process of compromising, 3D artists have grown, learnt
and improved in some brilliant ways. Polygon has come a long way since the days
of the Superhard penguin and despite shortcomings, it’s worth always giving them the benefit
of the doubt as there’s a passion to the process as Shiota attempts devise new ways
of improving their product for the audience whilst still being able to keep their creator
friendly schedules and policies. In 2014, Kobun Shizuno the director of Knights
of Sidonia once said, “ If I ask Polygon staff members to output higher quality work,
at first they tend to tell me it would be difficult to achieve. But once they start
working on it, it seems their passion as creators make them work harder and harder, and finally
they deliver amazing quality video footage”. I mentioned earlier in this video that the
creative voice of Polygon animators is quiet, but their passion for improvement screams
out and I believe that if they haven’t already impressed you with their recent works, they’re
going to try and try again until they do. Thanks for watching The Canipa Effect. Studio
spotlights take longer to make, but it’s always a rewarding process that I hope to
accelerate in 2017, by not only focusing on the most popular of studios, but also the
smaller teams that have a profound effect on our favourite shows. Let me know what you’d
like to see covered in the future in the comments.

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