Heaven, Hell, Reality: Three Looks at the Business of Animation Production: Part 3. An Examination of the Production Costs of “Bamboo Blade”

(this is the final segment of a three-part article reposted from ADTRW for posterity)

Data: Leaked due to “Kintama” virus, mid-2007.
Analysis: Original; Study of Modern Visual Culture Vol. 2 (Buy: 現代視覚文化研究 2 (三才ムック VOL. 185) (三才ムック VOL. 185))

In the past few years, a relatively unusual type of virus has become widespread in Japanese P2P; called “Kintama”, “Kintama the Unjust”, similar, its malicious action is not a destructive payload, or a remote-control software, but rather the sharing of the user’s Desktop or My Documents back onto the networks it spreads through. This is usually only good for voyeuristic thrills, but it’s occasionally done far more—there have been several high-profile scandals involving leaks it’s caused in both business and the SDF.

In this case, the planning-stage top-level budget for Bamboo Blade was leaked shortly before its broadcast, as well as a top-level staff list for the entire production. Access to this level of budget information for an animation production is exceedingly rare, with typically only approximate sums for theatrical releases known, and provides a good look at the costs of the “average” late-night, core-market show in the modern era.

As an introduction, Bamboo Blade itself is one of the concept fusions that have been so notable these past few years, combining bishoujo character designs with classic sports drama; further, it’s based on a somewhat-popular comic, meaning that expectations existed as to both content and quality before any actual information came out.

The following information has no official confirmation, and likely was changed at least somewhat during later planning and discussion, but serves as a window into the finances of an industry often recently described as “subsidized by the animators’ fathers not charging them rent”.

The portions of analysis below taken from Study of Modern Visual Culture Vol. 2 are credited to Mr. NAMIKI Takashi (President, Oh! Productions; animator as early as Mazinger Z and Heidi of the Alps); Ms. KUDO Hideko (founder, Studio Cats); and Mr. A (currently mid-level production staff at an unnamed company).

From the top:

SERIES COORDINATION:        \46,000 (\1,200,000 / 26)
SCRIPT:                    \200,000
CHIEF DIRECTION:           \200,000
MAIN CHARACTERS:            \38,000 (\1,000,000 / 26)
SUB-CHARACTERS:            \100,000
PROP DESIGN:               \100,000
ART DESIGN:                \100,000
COLOR PLANNING:             \77,000 (\2,000,000 / 26)
STORYBOARDING:             \250,000
DIRECTION:                 \250,000
CHIEF ANIMATION DIR.:      \100,000
ANIMATION COORDINATION:    \200,000
ANIMATION DIRECTION:       \400,000
LAYOUT:    \600,000                 (\2,000 ea., 300 cuts)
                   >---> \1,200,000
KEYFRAMES: \600,000                 (\2,000 ea., 300 cuts)
TWEEN FRAMES:              \840,000 (\210 ea., 4000 frames)
FINISHING:                 \798,000 (\190 ea., 4200 frames)
ANIMATION CHECK:            \80,000 (One month at \80,000 monthly)
COLOR COORDINATION:         \70,000 (One month at \70,000 monthly)
FINISHING INSPECTION:       \70,000 (One month at \70,000 monthly)
SPECIAL EFFECTS:
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS:     \300,000 (Two months at \150,000 monthly)
SETTING MANAGEMENT:         \60,000
COORDINATION DESK:          \60,000
CG PROCESSING:             \100,000
BACKGROUNDS:             \1,050,000
FILMING:                 \1,050,000 (Inc. line shots and SFX)
LINE SHOT RESERVES:
EDITING:                   \200,000
SOUND:                   \1,300,000 (Inc. reusable)
VIDEO EDITING LAB:         \100,000
EXPENSES:                   \15,000
OP/END:                    \200,000
SUBTOTAL:                \9,554,000
PRODUCTION RESERVES:       \955,400 (10% of budget)
TOTAL:                  \10,509,400
EXPECTED PROFIT:         \2,490,600 (\109,400 less than the planned 20%)
PRODUCTION COST:        \13,000,000

SERIES COORDINATION: \46,000 (\1,200,000 / 26)

  • Necessary to stitch together the various scripts and work from several animation companies to a cohesive whole, and check for errors.

SCRIPT: \200,000

  • Adds up to \5,200,000 for the entire series. The coordinator for Bamboo Blade, KURATA Hideyuki, is also the scriptwriter; this makes for a nicely bulky paycheck, but leaves no one else to pin the blame on if things go wrong.

CHIEF DIRECTION: \200,000

  • “Unlike the old days, the chief director can probably tag on storyboarding too, for a totaly of about \450,000 an episode, which sounds fair.” (Namiki)

MAIN CHARACTERS: \38,000 (\1,000,000 / 26)

  • Roughly, each main character was worth \125,000? This isn’t exact, though, as it may include some of the recurring minor characters.
  • “This definitely doesn’t appear to include the payment to the comics author. Also, while it seems a low salary on its own, it can also be combined with chief animation direction, for a total of around \300,000 a month. However, this didn’t occur.” (Namiki)

SUB-CHARACTERS: \100,000

  • “About \10,000 each for non-recurring designs, which seems a bit cheap.” (Namiki)

PROP DESIGN: \100,000

  • Everything from kendo gear to cellphones, on a per-ep basis. “This makes it seem like an internal projection. … For this line of work, the amount of work really depends on your talent.” (Kudo)

ART DESIGN: \100,000

  • Converting storyboard backgrounds to finished product. “Simple work, and a lot of it’s done early in production; this is about right.” (Namiki)

COLOR PLANNING: \77,000 (\2,000,000 / 26)

  • “Even though the main characters are established in the beginning, there’s still sub-characters for each new episode. Still, \77,000 is high; in my experience \50,000 is about average.” (Kudo)

STORYBOARDING: \250,000

  • “Pretty much right for a TV series. If you’re good, you can do this in a week.” (Namiki)

DIRECTION: \250,000

  • Effectively the guy that has to coordinate everything, making sure the animation matches the storyboards. “In the old days, this had the image of `Chief Director”, but now it’s more like the old `Directing Assistant.’ It looks like the demotion came with a paycut, but combining this with storyboarding gives you \500,000 an episode. … Also, there’s the responsibility of coordinating with the filmers, and creating the after-recording data, as well as layout check and occasional correction.” (Namiki)

CHIEF ANIMATION DIR.: \100,000

  • Responsible for matching things up to the layout and cuts, and finding any animation mistakes or problems.

ANIMATION COORDINATION: \200,000

  • Herds the animation subcontractors. “\200,000 is very high; I think this is 2-4 people at \50,000 to \100,000 an episode.” (Namiki)

ANIMATION DIRECTION: \400,000

  • “A bit high, but Bamboo Blade may justify it. I’d expect more \300,000 to \350,000.” (Namiki)

LAYOUT AND KEYFRAMES: \1,200,000 (\2,000 ea., 300 cuts)

  • “We normally pay around \3,500 for a combined cut, but \4,000 is about right for this. It used to be a good way to make money, with a good worker able to pump out about 100 a month, but recently, the amount of detail has made it more like 50. A lot of higher-level staff also do this in spare time.” (Namiki)

TWEEN FRAMES: \840,000 (\210 ea., 4000 frames)

  • Outsourced a lot. “Put together with layout and keyframes, it’s about \2,000,000. This is the level sponsors have been insisting on for two decades or so.” (Namiki) At 300 or 400 frames a month, the lowest-level animators earn \60,000 or \80,000.

FINISHING: \798,000 (\190 ea., 4200 frames)

  • Denoising cel scans, redoing the lines, and finally digitally painting. Where are the extra 200 frames coming from? “They can’t be failures. Maybe they’re doing each character in some frames seperately and compositing later? Or maybe it’s old-style A-cels for lipflaps.” (Namiki)

ANIMATION CHECK: \80,000 (One month at \80,000 monthly)

  • “This is on the cheap end—it’s more likely to take two months nowadays to scan all 4,000 cels by eye (for errors, bad perspective, &c.,) and even still the person doing it pretty much has to hold down another job.” (Namiki)

COLOR COORDINATION: \70,000 (One month at \70,000 monthly)

  • “Up until now it’s been more like \50,000. The same worker can do 4 or 5 episodes a month, so it’s really not that bad.” (Kudo)

FINISHING INSPECTION: \70,000 (One month at \70,000 monthly)

  • “It sounds cheap. But on the other hand, it’s just looking at the 4000 pictures and making sure they’re all the same color.” (Namiki)
  • “It’s closer to \50,000 here, and often combined with color coordination for \100,000. This is outsourced sometimes.” (Kudo)

SPECIAL EFFECTS:

  • Lighting and wave effects, and others. Folded into filming here.

PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS: \300,000 (Two months at \150,000 monthly)

  • “\300,000 for two months is pretty good. Beats getting \150,000 and it taking three months to finally get done.” (A)

SETTING MANAGEMENT: \60,000

  • Gets to make sure everything matches. “You need him around for every ep just to handle things like guest characters’ clothing design, and things like DVD covers and magazine art.” (A)

COORDINATION DESK: \60,000

  • General management. “Some of the reserve budget probably finds its way into this guy’s paycheck.” (A)

CG PROCESSING: \100,000

  • “Interesting that it’s only \100,000. Nowadays, even doors and walls are done in CG a lot.” (Namiki)”

BACKGROUNDS: \1,050,000

  • “Interesting that they didn’t go for the standard round number. There’s about 300 frames involved here, so it’s \3,000 or so a frame. … It’s kind of a pain, though. It’s about three hours to draw most, with the gradations expected nowadays, and the more complex can take a whole day. Six background artists on a show would split this and each take home around \150,000 a month, which is about standard for entry level; if we brought it down to \1,000 a frame, they wouldn’t be able to pay their rent and would end up dying in the streets.” (Namiki)

FILMING: \1,050,000 (Inc. line shots and SFX)

  • “Could be cheap, could be expensive. Depends on just how badly things synch up when the audio track comes in.” (Namiki)

LINE SHOT RESERVES:

  • Digital compositing obsoletes this.

EDITING: \200,000

  • “About right, especially with equipment costs.” (Namiki)

SOUND: \1,300,000 (Inc. reusable)

  • Effectively half the production; this is music, voice acting, and effects, all under one line item. “I wish we had a full breakdown on this. … They’re probably using actresses still near their debut, since there’s so many bishoujo ones nowadays. So about \15,000 per girl per episode.” (Namiki)

VIDEO EDITING LAB: \100,000

  • “A day’s work for a BetaCam operator and audio mixer, to get the TV stations something they can broadcast from.” (Namiki)

EXPENSES: \15000

  • “Maybe it’s paying the power bill? No, not even enough for that. I guess if it’s combined with other shows.” (A)

OP/END: \200,000

  • “It’s normally \150,000 to \200,000 an ep for this kind of thing. It’s not noted as a per-ep cost, but since everything else is…” (A)

PRODUCTION RESERVES: \955,400 (10% of budget)

  • “Rent, copies, office supplies, rounding the budget off to around \10,000,000. Copies alone are good for about \30,000 an episode.” (Namiki)

EXPECTED PROFIT: \2,490,600 (\109,400 less than the planned 20%)

  • “Much below \2,500,000, and there’s not really that motivation to do it, but… putting it this way is just asking for the sponsors to negotiate you down. Claiming \1,500,000 is better.” (Namiki)

CONCLUSION

  • “For a bishoujo show, everything’s in the character work. If the faces and poses are right, it all falls into place, but especially if the faces are wrong it fails. Special attention has to be paid to the hair and eyes, so it’s check, check, check. Also, if you diverge too much from the original work, you’ll lose fans.” (Namiki)
  • “Nowadays, due to the fanbase’s demands, it’s far better for an entry-level worker to be particularly talented than to work hard at animation.” (Namiki)

To give further detail, the apparent and eminently-believable planned production schedule follows:

Schedule image Schedule XLS

(Buy vol. 1: バンブーブレードDVD 一本目)

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