Otakon 2015 – Aldnoah.Zero Creators Panel

The host of the panel was the Marketing Specialist of Aniplex, Joanna Metoki. Joanna called the staff of Aldnoah.Zero one by one, escorted by ACP cosplayers. What a royal welcome! The director, Aoki Ei was brought onto the stage by the Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia and Eddelrittuo. He was followed by animation producer, Nagano Toshiyuki escorted by two Inaho Kaidukas. Finally, the producer, Kurosaki Shizuka stepped onstage escorted by two Slaine Troyard cosplayers. The panel started with greetings from the creating team.

    Aoki: *in English* Hello, everyone! My name is Ei Aoki, the director of Aldnoah.Zero. *switching to Japanese* Today, we will talk about how we made Aldnoah.Zero so I hope you will enjoy our presentation.

    Nagano: Good morning, everyone! I’m the animation producer, Nagano. We will like to talk more about the deep end of the production, which is how we’ll entertain you today.

    Kurosaki: *in English* Hello, everyone! Thank you for coming today. My name is Shizuka Kurosaki, the producer of Aldnoah.Zero. Our panel is very exciting so I hope you will enjoy it too!

To introduce the series, they show the English dubbed trailer. The English dub premiere for the East coast was actually during the Friday panel, the day before. Since the staff were actually present to watch the dubbed, Joanna asked them to share their thoughts.

    Kurosaki: I was watching the screen with everyone yesterday and I was very impressed with both the English and the Japanese voice actors. I really enjoyed watching your reactions because the Japanese audience-unlike, you guys-are more reserved. *audience laughs*

    Nagano: I got to watch Aldnoah.Zero on the big screen and watching it made me recall all the challenges we faced during the production. Getting the audience reaction is the best reward.

    Aoki: We got to watch Aldnoah.Zero on the big screen. I was worried because at first with the turnout since we arrived to an empty theater. As the seating started and the theater filled up, I knew that it was going to be very good.

The conversation turned to the history of Troyca, the production studio of Aldnoah.Zero with Joanna asking questions Aoki-san and Nagano-san about the studio.

    Q: How did you come up with the name, Troyca?
    Nagano: The founding members for the studio was myself, the production manager, Aoki-san as the director and another one who was in charge of photography. It started out with the three of us as the founding members. We decided the three departments would form one studio. Troyca refers to three forces uniting.

    Q: How was Troyca given the project of producing Aldnoah.Zero?
    Nagano: Long story short, I used to work for the Anime International Company, AIC. Originally, Aldnoah.Zero was suppose to be made at AIC. But for various reasons, it was not possible to make the series at AIC. So with Troyca, we went to Aniplex and met with the producer there and the other studio, A-1 pictures, we arranged to have Troyca produce Aldnoah.Zero.
    Aoki: The story was just as Nagano-san said. In a way, the studio, Troyca was created to produce Aldnoah.Zero, but it was a high threshhold task for us since it was the first project for the studio.


The staff brought photos for a rare behind the scenes look at the studio and the office.

    Nagano: The lower right is the animators at work. If you can see where the yellow towel is, that’s where the character designer and animation director, Matsumoto-san is. The inside, is where the desks of Aoki-san and other directors are. On the left side are shelves of reference materials, recommendations to each other from staff. We wanted to have a free-access library so that is what it is.

    Nagano: I’m sorry this is so messy, it’s the production room. This is where we yell at each other, insult each other, otherwise engage in productive activity so our tears and sweat can become beautiful shows. *audience laughs*

    Aoki: *points* *in English* My desk.

    Q: What kind of music do you listen to?
    Aoki: I tend to love film so I tend to watch foreign film as I work, Hollywood films are my favorite.

    Nagano: This is an animator at work, actually, the animation director. He is working on a glass surface since it is lit from the bottom so that they can work from a reference from another sheet. I do believe is working on one of the key animations.

    Nagano: This is the character designer, Matsumoto-san at work. She is not an outgoing person and doesn’t like making public appearances or be shot in photos so this is a rare photograph of her.

    Aoki: These are shikishi and snacks from fans.
    Nagano: This is from the 1 year since airdate in Japan so in commemoration of the anniversary, fans sent alot of gifts.

Pointing out that Aldnoah.Zero is not from a novel or manga, Joanna asked the creators how the series came to be.

    Aoki: The birth of Aldnoah.Zero was between the producer at Aniplex, Murakami, Urobuchi Gen and myself. We wanted a giant robot show. We started pre-production 4 or 5 years ago and spent about a year coming up with the story. The final form of the story concept came from Urobuchi-san which was the beginning of the production.

The next part was the character designs which show some of the original styles.

    Nagano: This is not the final character design, but it is the original concept art drawn by Shimura Takako-san. Based on the original concept sketch, we have Matsumoto come up with the anime character design.

    Q: How did the character’s heights get decided?
    Nagano: We look at the characters and then create a balance of heights. First we come up with the heigh of the main character, Inaho, making sure that other characters do not overlap with his height. Inaho is suppose to be a younger brother character, so his height is slightly lower then the average Japanese height.

    Nagano: The Martians are set to be taller. Slaine is set to be average height of a Japanese so he would stand out against all the others.

To get even deeper into the production of anime, the creators went into the start of the storyboard of the scene.

    Nagano: The storyboard is the cutting board of anime, cut by cut. The storyboard is where we lay out the action of each character, each line and how long it lasts.

Key animation, the creation of the animation itself is shown page by page.

    Aoki: Key animation is created by the animator taking the storyboard and actually realizing that into drawings. This is the cut where Inaho is opening the door. The yellow piece in between would be corrections made by the animation director or instructions from the director.

After the key animation, Joanna quickly went through the animation of the separate pieces. She noted that although we’re not aware of how many pictures she is going through, we can see the ‘animation’ come alive no the screen just by ‘flipping’ the pages.

    Q: What is the differences between key animation and the animation?
    Nagano: This process is called in betweens, where the key animation is cleaned up and there is art in between to fill in the animation. The in betweens are done by other animators and key animators.

Another painstaking process is the paint process. Even though animators are now coloring in on the computer and not with actual painted cels, it is still a process of layers, details and shadows.

    Q: Why is the door yellow?
    Aoki: There are two instances when a door will be painted this particular color. In one instance, we are adding texture in post [production] then we leave this color as a placeholder. Otherwise, the animation is delayed which requires this placeholder.

Joanna pointed out that both the eyes and the mouth are on separate layers.

    Nagano: Yes, in other to streamline production, we just have the eyes and mouth move.

    Aoki: The backgrounds are drawn by someone else other then animators. I believe this was drawn by the art director, Ito Akira-san. I think you can tell that background art is more detailed than key animation.

    Nagano: This was originally called filming where we put the art and the background art together according to the timing sheet. If you see the upper left when Inaho is coming in, you can see sunlight. Those kind of effects will be put in at this point.

    Aoki: You can see that the animation that we’re seeing is Inaho opening the door. If you see the storyboard and the final animation, you’ll see that the animation is exactly made as the instructions of what is listed in the storyboard. As I was the one who drew the storyboard, please excuse my drawing.

The short clip of the final animation was shown. Interestingly, it was a dubbed clip. As another example, they went through a clip and animation explanation of Slaine firing a gun in episode 3.

    Q: Is that blood on the storyboard?
    Aoki: This is the effect: there is blood on the storyboard. *pause* I’m just kidding.

From the conceptual art on on the storyboard, to the key animation, painting, background, composite and to the final animation was shown.

    Aoki: This is the timesheet. This instructs the inbetweens of how many cuts go into between the frames as well as well as the timing of the effects.

Joanna polled the audience of their favorite scene from the two cuts. The floor opened for questions from the audience.

    Q: My question is concerning the mechanical designs. Each side was very distinctive. Was the design distributed between two designers? What was the approach to the mecha designs?
    Aoki: That was the original plan, to have different designers for the Earth side and Mars side, but our regular designer was very fond of mecha design so he did both as a one-man job.

    Q: Troyca is a new production company. Did you outsource your animation or is everything inhouse?
    Aoki: Most of the work is done inhouse with a little bit done outside.

    Q: *spoiler warning* Was the AI in Inaho’s bionic eye a character in the early drafts of the second season?
    Aoki: The AI that you see in Inaho’s left eye was coming into conception in the latter half of the first season. We basically feature it as one [a separate character].

    Q: *spoiler warning* After season 1, Inaho dies and gets revived. What did you think of the fan reaction online?
    Kurosaki: Since we are in production, so we know what will happen to all the characters. We also know that the main character is not supposed to die, in the context of the real world. Looking at the fan reaction on twitter, fans were really shocked that he died. We really felt that our fans had alot of love for our characters, it was our biggest stake.

    Q: You directed three series with suspiciously similar names, Ga-Rei-Zero, Fate/Zero and now Aldnoah.Zero. Can you explain why they all have ‘zero’ in them? *audience laughs*
    Aoki: It is a fluke. I didn’t come up with the title Aldnoah.Zero, it was the one of the producers, Hayashi. If he took into consideration that ‘zero’ was in the title than, it would fit in the Aoki style of titles. *audience laughs*

    Q: You mentioned that you had several challenges bringing this title to life. What was the biggest challenge?
    Nagano: One of the biggest challenges that we had was poor staff attrition. Some of them started not showing up to the studio. There were one or two cours where we were really worried about whether or not we could really finish up production.

    Q: Was there any concept of crunchtime, or overtime in order to get the product of Aldnoah.Zero produced?
    Nagano: We certainly had overworked crunchtime, but that was not only because of Aldnoah.Zero. The story is pretty common in all of our anime shows. The wonderful thing is that once it’s over, it all turns into fond memories.

    Q: *from one of the ACP cosplayers* How do you find the designer, I-IV? Which is your favorite mecha from the show?
    Aoki: Actually, I worked with designer, I-IV on a previous show and that was how I got to know him. He is actually on pivix so you can find more of his works there.
    Kurosaki: My favorite is Slaine, so I like the Tharis. He is like a knight on a white horse.
    Nagano: My favorite is Hellas, the one which turns into a giant hand and flies off.
    Aoki: My favorite is Inaho’s Sleipnir. It also took a very long time to come up with that design. In honor of that, I’m wearing orange. *audience cheers*

The guests pulled the numbers for the raffles. The first was ‘Extra Day’ from the Aldnoah.Zero event in Japan (autographed by the guests).

The next was an original soundtrack cd and shikishi signed by the musical team of Aldnoah.Zero, a rare gift indeed.

Original scripts from episode 1, episode 13 and episode 8 were given personally by the guests to the fans.

A group pic was taken with the audience to close the panel. After the panel, I rushed out to get to the Romi Paku panel…from the Hilton to the BCC. Ikimasu!