FEATURE: The Story Behind the "Mob Psycho 100" Ending Sequence: Miyo Sato and Paint-On-Glass Animation
Animator Miyo Sato talks about her unique approach and working on ONE's creation
When adapting ONE’s Mob Psycho 100, director Yuzuru Tachikawa wanted to adapt the source material in fantastic ways. And so, by combining the talents of a skilled staff, an anime with an incredible mix of animation techniques was born.
Of course, these talents had to extend to the show’s opening and ending sequences. Mob Psycho’s ending, a complex product of paint-on-glass animation, comes from Miyo Sato, a Tokyo University of Arts graduate and animator who has had her work nominated for multiple international animation contests.
We at AnimeAnime.jp invited Miyo Sato to discuss the process behind the ending sequence.
To begin with: what’s the story behind your involvement with the ending sequence?
SATO: One of my colleagues told me that the director was looking to include oil animation, so I shot him a couple of emails. After we’d talked about it, he got me started on some cuts from the main show.
You did the scenes with the spirit in episode one, correct?
Yup. I’m primarily working on scenes involving spirits or horror (Laughs).
I noticed that your work on the show is in color, even though the ending is in monochrome?
Yes. I began work on my assigned cuts once they’d finished with the storyboards, layouts, and timesheets. I used those as references.
Were you familiar with the tools of the trade? Did you know how to read a timesheet, for example?
Not at all. I’d never used a timesheet before, but the director insisted that it’d be a useful skill to learn. So, working backwards from the key frames I had, I began using the timesheet for my in-betweens. I animated on two or threes. (One second of animation can contain as many as twenty-four frames―animation tends to become smoother as more of those 24 available frames are used.) Sometimes there were specific requests written into the timesheet, but other times I had to work it out myself.
So you worked from the key frames backwards. What’s the process behind creating paint-on-glass animation?
Well, I have a workstation set up at the studio now, but it’s configured very specifically. I’ve set it up so that no natural light gets through. In the center, I’ve set up a drawing table, and right above it, there’s a camera I use to take pictures of each frame as I complete it. Underneath the glass panes, I have an LED light box for tracing. There’s a Dragonframe-enabled (Dragonframe is a software program often used for stop-motion animation) computer set to the side, which I use to display and reference the frames I’ve finished. As for the painting itself, I mix some watercolors with glycerine, paint directly on the glass, take a photo of the completed painting, and then move on to the next painting.
So how do you manage when you need to correct or edit something in a previous frame? What if the animation supervisor asks you to redo some frames?
Oh, if we need to correct anything, we can turn to Photoshop for previously-finished frames. Basically, once I finish a painting, I need to take a picture, pass it through the program, and have it checked. If it’s alright, I move on.
How did they decide that they wanted you to work on the ending?
Somewhere along the line, it seemed we’d forgotten about the ending, so I was glad when they finally brought the topic up (Laughs). Soon afterwards, I got to listen to the ending theme at a meeting. My first thought was to create something intense and cool, something where we’d get a profile of each character. But they told me that the opening already took care of that (Laughs). The director was the one who suggested that we use the ending to detail Reigen’s morning. There wasn’t much mention of his private life in the source material, so the director thought it would be worthwhile to explore that aspect.
From Concept to Product
I see. So that’s how you decided on a direction. How did you go about realizing it?
We began by compiling a list of things we thought Reigen would do after waking up. We took a lot of photographs to use as reference materials, both inside and outside. A part of this involved going to Chofu to see if there was anything we could use.
Because the original work is set in ‘Chomi’ (Condiment) City. I’ll admit, though, that it wasn’t a very productive trip (Laughs). We just took some pictures along the river and left. Afterwards, I went through and organized the reference materials and transcribed them to a storyboard. The director took a look at the draft and had the editing department come in and clean up some of the photos. At that stage, we axed a number of cuts and ran a video mock-up of the ending using the song and the photos we took. Then, after all of that, I finally got to painting.
But you ended up not using a storyboard, right?
I did when it came to the really tricky segments, but it was faster for the editing department to compile the cuts afterwards. So I mostly went without the storyboard.
About how long, in total, did it take you to complete the ending?
About a month.
Were there any parts you found particularly difficult?
I think the biggest problem was character proportions. The sequence is largely rotoscoped (rotoscoping is a method of animation that involves tracing over pictures), so I had to make a lot of adjustments to the characters and the backgrounds as I painted.
Could you go into more detail about the rotoscoping?
Dragonframe is capable of playing videos, so I’d play the video on the PC and check the paintings against the video. I’ve always wanted to try rotoscoping a paint-on-glass sequence, so I’m glad I got the opportunity.
I know Yoshimichi Kameda, the character designer and chief animation supervisor, posted some design sheets for the characters’ hands. Was that a problem area for you?
It kind of felt as though he didn’t like what I did with the hands, but I haven’t had the chance to ask him directly. I hope he’s alright with them.
“The paint-on-glass animation actually worked!”
So how did you go about deciding Reigen’s morning activities?
A part of it was imagining what a man might do in the morning. Reigen likes to give off a secretive air, but I don’t think his mornings are too unusual. So I went with some pretty unexceptional activities like watering a plant or smoking a cigarette.
I really like how you had him drink from a cup and have him use what was left to water his plant. That very distinctly feels like something he would do.
I feel like a bachelor isn’t very likely to have a dedicated watering can. It’s an idea that hit me as we were photographing the scene.
The tobacco smoker is a side of Reigen that Mob doesn’t get to see. The way he lights his cigarette is pretty slick.
Right up until he meets up with Mob, the entire sequence is in monochrome. In order to keep the sequence from getting too dull, I wanted to make the smoking cut a little sexier. I even went around asking the lady staff here at BONES what they thought the hottest way to light a cigarette is (Laughs). So I’m really glad to hear that the Reigen fans liked that.
When he meets with Mob at the end, the world fills with color. Whose idea was that?
I proposed that we do the entire thing in monochrome, but it was the director’s idea to use color at the end. I haven’t asked him yet why he wanted to do that.
What was it like seeing your work broadcast?
As I was waiting for the first episode to air, I was incredibly anxious (Laughs). Like, I kept worrying about whether my work would aesthetically flow with rest of the show. Then I saw the variety of animation styles, and my paint-on-glass animation actually worked! I was so happy.
How do you feel about the show itself?
The animation is unbelievable! I’ve been studying animation for a long time, and watching Mob Psycho makes me regret not following TV anime. So I’ve been catching up.
I’m glad you’re enjoying it! (Laughs). By the way, did you find it difficult to animate characters that other people had designed?
I’m just glad I have the opportunity to put my skills to practice. I wanted to know just how far I could go. I didn’t want to remain stagnant in my own style―working with other peoples’ designs is a way for me to branch out.
Do you think your experiences will help you with your independent work?
Absolutely. Without a doubt. I think, especially in terms of horror, that what I’ve done in Mob Psycho has been some of my best work.
Her Career As a Paint-on-glass Animator
I’d like to take a moment to talk about your career. What inspired you to get into paint-on-glass as a form of animation?
When I was attending Nagoya University, one of my friends introduced me to a promotional video―some Japanese studio had produced a video that used a technique similar to paint-on-glass. Up until that point, I’d only ever animated on paper, so the clip confounded me. I watched it over and over, and eventually I realized that it almost looked like it was painted on glass. Around the same time, one of my musician friends wanted help on a promotional video, so I took the dive and used my room as a sort of makeshift dark room, taking photos of the frames at night.
So basically you’re saying you tried to replicate a technique you couldn’t even name?
More or less (Laughs). I bought some acrylic panels, bought the desk I’m using to this day, and set up a camcorder I had lying around the house.
What did you use for paint?
At the beginning, I used mixed oils. But oil dries after about three days, making it hard to work with. It was around that time that I ran into Caroline Leaf; she painted on glass using watercolors mixed with glycerine. And when I tried it, I found that the combination didn’t dry out! So I switched. As an added bonus, I don’t have to deal with the smell of oil anymore.
How did you feel when you finished your first project?
I wasn’t using a storyboard at the time, and I had so much fun playing around with the paints. Paint, when used in animation, has this fascinating, shifting quality to it. And most of the people who saw the finished project were surprised―they’d never seen that before.
I believe you took a brief hiatus from paint-on-glass before coming back to it?
Right. Two years after graduating college, I began graduate work at the Tokyo University of Arts (Geidai). We needed to produce something for our first year, so I figured: why not get deeper into the technique? And then came projects a lot like my “Fox Fears”. I think I work really well when it’s paint-on-glass.
You submitted “Fox Fears” under the ‘Animated Shorts’ category in the Tokyo Anime Award Festival 2016 (TAAF2016) competition, but your work has been nominated for overseas competitions, correct?
Yes. I actually combined sand with paint for “Fox Fears”. You can use your fingers to ‘draw’ with the sand and then blend it with the paint, since they have similar textures. I mentioned her before, but my favorite artist, Caroline Leaf, animated her “The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa” with sand. I referenced that as I worked on “Fox Fears”. On the topic: here in Japan, there are very few animators who use paint or sand, but that kind of animation is comparatively abundant overseas. For example, the independent projects that come out of the Canadian National Film Board are phenomenal. I loved watching those in grad school.
So would you say that you’re drawn to paint-on-glass as a form of animation because it fits your creative style and goals?
Just the opposite, actually. I have no idea how my product is going to turn out. When you animate with a paper and pencil, you get the line you draw. With paints, what you put down before, even if you tried to erase it, might influence what you draw next. But I love that. That textural quality is important. It’s like I’m playing with sand.