Since 2012, SWORD ART ONLINE has been making huge waves in the world of anime. For a light-novel series to be adapted into an anime that has attracted worldwide success, this is a feat that not many light-novel series can achieve. Bringing Sword Art Online mania to Madman Anime Festival 2016, fans had the opportunity to meet SAO Director Tomohiko Ito, SAO Character Designer Shingo Adachi, and A1 Pictures’ Producer Atsushi Kaneko. Talking all things animation and the production process for Sword Art Online, check out the following extracts from the panel!
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Host: What are you looking forward to seeing in Melbourne?
Tomohiko: We arrived just this morning so we haven’t had the time to enjoy delicious food. Even though we are here for a short time, we’re looking forward to having a great time in Melbourne.
Adachi: This is my first time in Australia. It’s a very beautiful city. Even though our stay will be short in Australia, we hope the SAO movie that will be released later in 2017 does well here. This will give us the opportunity to come back to Australia and enjoy more time here.
Kaneko: I’m still actually tired. However, I am looking forward to the steak that I will be having for dinner! [audience laughs]
Host: Sword Art Online is quite a popular series. Are you able to take us through the process of producing SAO? What is involved in the process, and what is your role in the overall process?
Tomohiko: As you know, SAO started out as a light-novel, and we had to create the animation based on the light-novel. We then began writing the scripts and breaking the story down into visual format. My job as a director is to delegate roles to respective people such as Adachi-san. At the end, I bring it all together and check everything.
Adachi: Before I began this project, I read the light-novels and that is how I began creating the images. Even before I began SAO, I had a huge interest in the show because I love online gaming. There was a time where I played over 300 hours of game-play so the fact that the concept of SAO is online gaming…I love it. On top of that, I do enjoy drawing the art. The process of coming up with illustrations for future online gaming was something really attractive to me. And to have that background in online gaming, it was useful in terms of creating this SAO world.
Kaneko: Basically, I work with Ito-san and Adachi-san, and will often give them my personal opinion on many things. While there is only three of us here on stage, there are so many staff members involved in this creation process. We’re talking 10 times, no, 100 times the amount of people that takes to create something like Sword Art Online.
Host: Adachi-san, are you able to go through the process in developing the character design?
Adachi: If you look at the SAO light-novels, there are a lot of illustrations in the novels such as character designs, costumes, swords etc. So really, most of the character design has been done. However, my role as a character designer is to look at the art, and make it simple and productive as possible. This is to make it easy for the animators so they can actually move the characters freely on the stage.
Every person has their own way of translating and adapting content into moving animation. When we design characters for a particular series, we have to bear in mind that the people who watch the series haven’t necessarily encountered the original light-novel series. So we have to design and animate something that is acceptable by all, and make sure the designs make sense.
Host: What kind of challenges do you have to go through when animating the Starburst Stream scene?
Kaneko: As you know, this story of SAO is about how the main character, Kirito, is rather skilled in the game. So in this Starburst Stream scene, there was a lot of pressure to make the scene good. We can’t mess up or we will get into trouble. There was a lot of people involved in this scene to make it really good, and we succeeded. No matter where we go, people always say that this scene is one of their favourite scenes. This makes us really happy about it.
In this episode, we actually handed the job down to our juniors, and together, they animated the scene together. As discussed earlier, we have a very large team who works together which is normal in the Japanese animation industry. With that, the challenge is: how do we get a large number of skilled people to come together and create a scene like this? So from there, you kind of have to reach out to friends, and see who has worked on similar scenes before. Hand in hand, the scene turned out to be major success.
Host: What goes into a battle scene that has so many different characters?
Ito: Technically speaking, you simply just have to keep drawing [audience laughs]. Like earlier, we do reach out to a lot of people who can help us. And with a scene like this where so much is happening, you have to start looking for people who are specialised in these type of scenes and there isn’t that many.
Reaching out to people who could help us with the storyboard and animation, we actually began designing and animating the characters using CG. However, we ended up drawing the scenes as the process of drawing the scenes help create force, and it also shows the impact of the action a lot better than CG. And also, it was partly because, production wise, it was easier for us.