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August 23
2022

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INSIDE THE GRAVITY-DEFYING BEAUTY OF BUBBLE

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Netflix.

The most significant thing introduced during the story creation process was the idea that the part of the body where Uta is touched would turn back into bubbles.

The most significant thing introduced during the story creation process was the idea that the part of the body where Uta is touched would turn back into bubbles.

After building a reputation for working on Death Note and Attack on Titan, which involve the deadly abuse of supernatural forces, Japanese filmmaker Tetsuro Araki was seeking a different creative challenge in the world of anime; he began with a drawing of the aquatic faerie-tale character created by Hans Christian Andersen in the foreground and a devastated Tokyo in the background. “If you look at concept art for The Little Mermaid, the composition of the final animation is basically the same,” Araki reveals. “Perhaps it would have been better to go with images that didn’t show her face, but I think it would have ultimately resulted in the same composition. I wanted to avoid the unnecessary impact created by her face and the strong impression it leaves.” Bubble takes place in Tokyo where a mysterious natural phenomenon that counters the laws of physics has turned the abandoned city into a playground for parkour team battles.

The use of 2D animation meant that there was more creative freedom with the lighting compared to 3D.

The use of 2D animation meant that there was more creative freedom with the lighting compared to 3D.

“Perhaps it would have been better to go with images that didn’t show her face, but I think it would have ultimately resulted in the same composition. I wanted to avoid the unnecessary impact created by her face and the strong impression it leaves.”

—Tetsuro Araki, Director

Director Tetsuro Araki wanted to explore the beauty of dilapidation in his depiction of post-apocalyptic Tokyo.

Director Tetsuro Araki wanted to explore the beauty of dilapidation in his depiction of post-apocalyptic Tokyo.

“For the action sequences, Mr. Wada [Executive Producer Jouji Wada] and his team had a condition from the beginning that the project should make use of Wit Studio’s action animators. I knew that as long as the film had a lot of action scenes, there would always be places I could use the skills I’d acquired up to that point.”

—Tetsuro Araki, Director

“The combination of The Little Mermaid and parkour came about when I approached producer Genki Kawamura with multiple ideas, and he mixed and matched some of them together,” Araki states. “I think this resulted in the creation of more attention-grabbing hooks. It was an exciting experience, as creating an action film that was simultaneously a love story was a new challenge for us.” Upon falling into the gravity-bending sea, parkour star Hibiki is saved by an otherworldly young woman whom he subsequently names Uta. “From the beginning, creating a coming-of-age love story, which we’d never done before, felt like a massive challenge for us,” Araki observes. “After giving it a go, we realized that when somebody who specializes in action works on a love story, the results would often resemble ‘romance action’ scenes. I feel it was very worthwhile though, and we were able to create something truly unique and interesting.”

Araki tried to incorporate the traditional vivid look of Japanese anime while also incorporating realistic layouts.

Araki tried to incorporate the traditional vivid look of Japanese anime while also incorporating realistic layouts.

Bubble is a combination of 2D and 3D animation. “I believe this film showcases and builds on everything we have done in creating the hybrid 3D CG and 2D animation that we specialized in during the production of Attack on Titan,” Araki remarks. “If this were a fully 3D CG film, we would have needed to calculate the correct lighting, which would have been very difficult. But for 2D animation, since they are drawings, you can place the light wherever you’d like, so it wasn’t that big of an issue. It was just a matter of whether or not we thought it looked beautiful. For this film, we used a process for coloring and lighting called color scripting. We had Mizutamari Higashi do the color scripts for important scenes so we could ensure they turned out beautiful. I had never used anyone from that section on my previous projects, so it was new for me. But it was definitely effective.” Executive Producer Jouji Wada had a specific request. “For the action sequences, Mr. Wada and his team had a condition from the beginning that the project should make use of Wit Studio’s action animators. I knew that as long as the film had a lot of action scenes, there would always be places I could use the skills I’d acquired up to that point.”

“From the beginning, creating a coming-of-age love story, which we’d never done before, felt like a massive challenge for us. After giving it a go, we realized that when somebody who specializes in action works on a love story, the results would often resemble ‘romance action’ scenes. I feel it was very worthwhile though, and we were able to create something truly unique and interesting.”

—Tetsuro Araki, Director

Color scripting was essential in making sure that the lighting and colors combined to make beautiful imagery.

Color scripting was essential in making sure that the lighting and colors combined to make beautiful imagery.

Animatics were critical in developing the narrative structure for the Netflix production. “We created the animatics using a program called Storyboard Pro,” Akari explains. “We actually learned the techniques from overseas animators. Director Makoto Shinkai was the first director in Japan to utilize it and show both myself and other Japanese filmmakers that it could be used. When Your Name came out in 2016, everyone realized that it was something they had to learn to use and began adopting it themselves. The advantage of the program is that you can simulate the viewing experience for your team and change the storyboards based on hard-to-follow sections and feedback. This wasn’t possible with conventional flipbook storyboards, and it was difficult to get proper feedback from everyone. Reviewing with animatics is an effective method for improving scenes, so I had already been using them on previous projects, but I significantly improved my accuracy by using them again this time.”

Serving as the main adversaries in the competition known as Tokyo Battlekour are the Undertakers who cheat using technology.

Serving as the main adversaries in the competition known as Tokyo Battlekour are the Undertakers who cheat using technology.

“I think the attraction is in the shock of seeing a familiar cityscape in ruins. I was also very interested in the beauty of dilapidation. However, for this film, I often told the staff not to portray the world as a dystopian one. From the main characters’ perspective, it’s a utopia. … There’s a tendency to immediately draw a dystopia as an unpleasant place, but based on my description, I got [the art team] to depict it as a lovely and beautiful place instead.”

—Tetsuro Araki, Director

Araki has his own unique interpretation of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. “I think the attraction is in the shock of seeing a familiar cityscape in ruins,” he says. “I was also very interested in the beauty of dilapidation. However, for this film, I often told the staff not to portray the world as a dystopian one. From the main characters’ perspective, it’s a utopia. I would also say to the art team that the world outside the bubble was stifling for the characters and that their world should be depicted as a utopia so the visuals would convey their feelings of happiness. There’s a tendency to immediately draw a dystopia as an unpleasant place, but based on my description, I got them to depict it as a lovely and beautiful place instead.” Despite the fantasy aspect, the characters and story had to have an element of reality. “I tried to incorporate the traditional vivid look of Japanese anime while also incorporating realistic layouts. I think my style falls somewhere between realistic and comic book,” Araki adds.

Clouds, bubbles and debris populate the frame but were art directed to prevent them from being distracting.

Clouds, bubbles and debris populate the frame but were art directed to prevent them from being distracting.

One of the reasons Wit Studio was chosen is the ability of their animators to handle action sequences.

One of the reasons Wit Studio was chosen is the ability of their animators to handle action sequences.

“The most significant thing we introduced during the story creation process was the idea of something that would collapse when you touched it,” Araki notes. “It would have been difficult to make it into a film without this element. This idea was suggested by Ms. Kawaguchi, a member of Wit Studio, and I am very grateful to her for this. There was a big difference with and without this concept in place.” Uta and Hibiki share a sad farewell. “I put a lot of thought into the spiral motif and how I could make the scene less sad,” Araki comments. “Uta says at the end that she won’t be lonely because they will meet again in a few decades or a few hundred million years, but Hibiki is both amazed and astonished at the scale of her statement. At that moment, you feel the difference between the scale of the universe and ordinary humans. I included spirals as I wanted the audience to feel Uta’s statement of meeting again decades from now.”


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