Akira is such an influential movie in that it introduced many westerners to the genre of adult anime, and it has a unique style in the way it was lavishly created.

The Akira Production Report was made in 1988 while the film was being made and is available as a 50 minute documentary with facts about the film and interviews with its creators. It is a fascinating insight into the technical processes involved in such a high profile, high budget anime, and I have added as much as possible. Believe me- it's all great stuff!

 

 

Direction                  
Akira began life as a manga published in Young Magazine on Dec 6th 1982
Katsuhiro Otomo
"As I originally developed the comic, I used each issue to build more depth and size
to this mammoth city. I kept trying to achieve this by creating a variety of situations to
stage the graphic story telling, but with film you get to combine this all into one.

I think it's more convincing on film than in a serialized comic strip. A comic is just a
picture, with animation you get to add colour, sound and motion; this way I felt I could
really create the type of environment I wanted to depict as Neo Tokyo.
There is no one hero in Akira- there are central characters, Kaneda, Kay, Tetsuo, the
Colonel, they could all be called the 'heroes' of this motion picture. It was never my
intention to build this story around one central character, rather, I attempted to show
many different personalities of life and personality in the vast megalopolis of Neo
Tokyo C.2019."
- Katsuhiro Otomo

 

Film Fact: Made at the Akira Production Studio, Mitaka, Japan, Otomo made all the storyboards for the 783 scenes in the movie!

Akira Studio

"It's difficult to express in words what I wanted to express in this film, you could
interpret a film based on its theme or technique; certainly this film can be judged
on those terms. But I can't say it's a movie about friendship or para-psychology
because its just not that simple.
For example, I can't simply tell you this is a story of the friendship between
Kaneda and Tetsuo, it  would not be an accurate description of the film.
I think I put many different dimensions into each character and the film, therefore,
can have several meanings.
I also wanted to to use the film to experiment many new techniques- such as the
number of colours and use of orange for night scenes.
These, as well as many other technical innovations were the hallmarks of this
production. I wanted the film version of Akira to exist on many different levels.
I hope the audience can get a feeling for what we achieved and that they will be
excited by it".     
- Katsuhiro Otomo

'The Gang' are among the main charas


The animation director talks about the direction process:

"Of course the ideal situation would be to produce the the film in sequence, to be
able to draw each scene and then put it together with the next scene as the producer
desired. Unfortunately this never happens given the tight schedule and deadlines
of animation.
For Akira we're using four different chief sequence directors for the project, I don't
know how it'll tirn out until we're finished.
Nevertheless I was really moved by the sophistication of Otomo's work and I'm really
committed to getting it right"!
        
       - Nakamura, Animation Director
NakamuraColour sheets


Lighting techniques described by the photography director:

"Most theatrical are mainly comprised of daylight scenes, but in the case of Akira
most of the action takes place at night. This created several interestig problems.
We had to take extreme care and use the right photographic equipment to achieve
the desired effect. It was Mr Otomo's wish that the film have an overall dim look;
that is most difficult to achieve with a camera. So I got around it by overlapping the
drawings against each other as well as against the background".
- Mizawa, Director of photography
Mizawa

 

Colouring


Colouring processAdding dots to form lights
"The most difficult part of this project was to show the vastness and complexity
of the construction zone. In order to show how large the city is, we have to
draw thousands of individual buildings and structures. To show depth, we must
use perspective. For instance, we begin with 3mm windows, the one behind
would have ones 1/2mm, and the ones behind that could be represented only
by a dot or a line.
We had a lot of night scenes and one usually uses blue tones to create that
effect. But I tried to use an unorthodox colour scheme stressing reds and greens.
It's an experiment I always wanted to try and Otomo approved. That's why I was
so very happy to be involved in such a progressive project with an innovative
artist like Otomo at the helm"!

     
      - Mizutani, Art Director
MizutaniNeo Tokyo Colour scheme




"The film takes place mainly at night. If you take a look at the colour chart, you will
see the tremendous variety of dark tones, many colours you'd never see in any
other animation. There's such subtlety in the variations that you wouldn't notice them
on a television screen, but in the theater, the large variety of colours, it really makes
a difference. It helps to create the night scenes".

      
      - Yamana, Chief Colourist
YamanaShikishima overlooks the city

 

Film Fact: 70 staff members were employed to do the artwork,
and 327 individual colours were used to achieve the effects!

Hard at work in the studio


 

Sound / Music        Voices

The voices used in Akira were pre-recorded, a revolutionary technique, especially
in Japan. The dialogue is recorded first then the animation is done to match the
mouth movements and timing. It's quite time-consuming and extremely expensive.
A Quick Action Recorder (QAR) was the secret weapon in the recording process,
used to check the voice and mouth movement of the animated character.
The computer indicates whether or not the dialogue is in sync with the picture.

 "Usually the animator has to check the lip sync by himself, it doesn't always come
out right. When you use this computer you can check everything before going to the
expense of developing the film. This means we can retouch or adjust the timing
during the pre-record sequence. It really improves the end result quite a bit.
It really is quite a significant advance and we couldn't have done it without this
equipment.
when you compare this to normal animation you can really see the difference.
We were also able to mimic the actors' movements as they spoke making the
animation quite realistic. It's been a long time since we've been able to achieve this
kind of accuracy in recording and sync". 

         
          - Murata, Sync Check
MurataSynclavier Sound Sysytem

 

Film Fact: The cels were photographed at Asahi Productions- the film comprised of 150,000 of them!

Cel photography

 

Note: Otomo directed the voice actors

"I just felt that animation here in Japan had become too conventional. I also felt voices are so important in establishing the character in a film, you can realize the effect of the entire film just by listening to the entire dialogue. I wanted more than that. At first I began by interviewing many 15-16 year olds for various parts in the film, but they all sounded the same to me! I should have tried harder in this initial phase. Eventually I ended up using a lot of new, unknown voice talents. In this film, as you know, we used a pre-recording system. I did this because I expected the actors to create their own character personalities. This approach would be better than telling each individual actor how to speak".

- Katsuhiro Otomo

 

"For me this was a first. I know pre-recording is often used in America, especially
at Disney. Once I got into it I felt like I was doing a radio drama; it really lets an
actor get into the part and express himself.
After my first take I was quite amazed. I watched the screen and and noticed the
character I portrayed, it was just like the animated character talking with my voice;
it didn't seem like animation at all.
You can use each word to carry the emotion you want. It really was a fantastic
experience, I was quite impressed".

- Iwada (Kaneda's voice)

 

"I think Otomo is a genious. He didn't push us into any characterisation so we had
to learn for ourselves what he wanted his characters to sound like.
It was a real learning experience; for me that was the most important element in
the whole process".

- Koyama (Kay's voice)

 

The EspersThe Doctor

TetsuoKaneda & Kay

 

                                             Sound Effects

Akira was the first Japanese animated movie to use the 'Synclavier' System
producing a remarkable audio experience, putting the audience in the action.

"This film had a very complex sound effects track. That complexity was enhanced
by the fact that I had to learn by doing on this project. It was quite a bit different
from anything I've tried in the past. Literally everything and anything was used to
create our library of sounds.
We were able to achieve great success with this important aspect of the film. I
feel it was the combination of so many different sounds that created the feeling of
harmony I think you will sense in this film. In fact there was harmony throughout the
entire production of Akira; everyone worked very well together and I'm sure you 
will enjoy the end result".

- Yamashiro, Sound Effects Director
Yamashiro Geinoh Yamashirogumi create sounds

 

                                             Music

It is the belief of 'Geinoh Yamashirogumi' (who made the music tracks. NB- that is
the name of the 'music workshop' as well as his name) that the finest instrument in all of
music is the human voice. It was their chorus that gives the film its special
pressence.

"When I was chosen for this project I was told by Mr Otomo to create my own
music through his story. So that is what I did. It was quite a luxury not to have any
deadlines or budget restraints to worry about on this project. We took six months
and I really appreciate the opportunity that was given me. So the music was
entirely my creation and my responsibility!
I'm not yet sure if our musical score turned out right or wrong. I won't be able to
tell until I have the privillege of seeing the final film.
I will be happy if the music appears to fit the mood of the film. I feel that I came
close to Otomo's vision but only time will tell just how close that really is"!

 
- Yamashiro, Music director Yamashiro Wav Music clip (Intro)Wav Sound FX clip (Bike Chase)Wav Music clip (Milk)

Sound/Music Colouring Direction


 

Well there you have it, a reasonably detailed insight into how Akira was constructed.

Having been made over a decade ago the techniques and technologies highlighted in this documentary, although revolutionary then, are now wide spread and commonplace in the animation industry.

Despite this, Akira still looks and feels fresh- it has aged very well, and still acts as a benchmark for full-length animated features.

 
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