The Vital Background Art: Interview with Background Company Studio Pablo Vol. 1

Have you ever carefully examined the background while watching an anime? The characters and voice actors go without saying, but the background pictures also play an important role, and they are vital in creating the atmosphere of a work.

Nowadays, background images are gathering attention, and blogs introducing beautifully drawn background illustrations are becoming popular. Also, background images modelled after actually existing places are becoming a topic, and fans are visiting these places. Studio Pablo is a company that, even in Japan, values background creation that uses a lot of manual labor. Having participated in the production of popular titles such as The Flowers of Evil and Hetalia: The Beautiful World, we asked Studio Pablo what background illustrations are in the first place, and also about their fixation on manual labor.

TOM: First, what is a “background company”?
Studio Pablo: There are many stages in the production process of an anime. Even if I gave characters as one example, in reality, it looks like the following: drawing the important positions of a character’s movement (original pictures), drawing the lines in correspondence to the movements between two original pictures (animation), checking the animation (animation check), deciding the basic color of the character (color scheme), deciding the character’s color in each scene (color coordination), and painting the character (finishing touches). Background means our job is to draw the places where characters interact, such as schools or rooms, and a company that is specialized in drawing backgrounds is called a background company.

The contents of our work are divided into “art setting,” that is, elaborately deciding on the image of the world the characters live in; drawing the “art board” to capture the image of the world; and the “background” phase where we actually draw the background. Newcomers start with background, but if they become assistant art directors or art directors, they can draw art settings and art boards.

TOM: How many background images are used in one work?
SP: If it’s an anime in the 30 minutes frame, the broadcast time itself is around 22-23 minutes, so the cuts can range from 250-400.

We need to draw 70-80% of that freshly, so that means we draw about 180-300 pictures.

TOM: Can you use the same background multiple times in a piece of work?
Yes. It is called “multi-use,” and the more multi-use images there are, the less the overall number of images we need to draw, and the time used for a single image increases.

Whether we make multi-use images or not is decided in the “storyboard” phase. If we make an often appearing place, for instance, the outside of the protagonist’s house, into a multi-use and always show it from the same angle, it becomes easily understandable for the viewers and it also reduces the work. If there is less work, we can take more time on other important cuts.

TOM: If you are given elaborate requests, what work protocol do you take on?
SP: First, after receiving the request, we decide on the art director. The art director talks with the core staff of the work such as the directors and producers, they decide on which style it should have, and they create the image of the work. When the image is about ready, we create a line drawing of the world of that anime. This line drawing is called the art setting, and it is the blueprint of the anime’s stage. Then, we make the art board, the colored version of the art setting, so that we can share the world of the work with the staff. Using the art board as a reference, we draw the background images - the background manga. The art director then checks the background images and delivers them to the production company.

For the main characters to be able to vividly move around, there are various schemes conducted for the background that are secretly supporting them. Next time, we are going to hear about Studio Pablo’s fixation on getting most of the work done by hand.

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

The Vital Background Art: Interview with Background Company Studio Pablo Vol. 1 1
The Vital Background Art: Interview with Background Company Studio Pablo Vol. 1 2
The Vital Background Art: Interview with Background Company Studio Pablo Vol. 1 3
The Vital Background Art: Interview with Background Company Studio Pablo Vol. 1 4
The Vital Background Art: Interview with Background Company Studio Pablo Vol. 1 5