The Little Witch Academia OVA was produced in tandem with a feature-length documentary that highlighted the trials and tribulations of creating non-digital animation. How the Magic Was Created: Little Witch Academia Work Log takes viewers behind the scenes of Yoh Yoshinari’s fantasy world in an effort to educate the public about one of Japan’s most popular crafts.
The difficulties of strict deadlines, delays, and the rigorous quality control procedures that animators must endure are all put on painful display over the course of the documentary. Here's how it put into perspective just what it takes to make the anime that fans of the medium love.
Little Witch Academia would be approximately 23-minutes in length and while most productions of this size are composed of 2000-3000 images, this animation would use over 17,000. Of the eight animation staff that were contracted to design the film, five were both young in age and experience. Over the course of half a year, they would work together at Trigger’s animation studio in Tokyo to complete the project.
The documentary outlined the production’s journey while focusing on the hardships and training of these five young talents. Yuunto Kaneko, Shouta Sannomya, Masaru Sakamoto, Hisao Dendou and Shuuhei Handa were all originally working with GAINAX (which has a close relationship with Trigger studios) before taking part with the Young Animator Training Project (YATP). Throughout the course of the film, they are shown completing their chosen cuts, which would include Diana’s group descending into the dungeon to Akko’s battle with the dragon. In Japanese animation, a cut refers to a single camera angle where key animators draw major changes in the positions of characters and objects. Each animator had to complete roughly 50 cuts for the film to be produced, with many spending as much as 2-weeks to complete their first cut.
In an effort to support these young animators, studios that had won the YATP competition were given a grant of ¥38 million (approximately $320,000). Since studios typically prioritize efficiency over personal development, they would have to make sure that funds were used for nurturing their students and abide by a series of rules to make sure that their funding was not withdrawn. This would include making sure that all staff worked in the same location, that young animators attended a series of lectures and activities sponsored by Anime Mirai (YATP's project title) and that corrections could not be made by the lead animator.
The documentary highlighted the many processes that are required to take place in order for an animation to be completed. These range from Yoshinari’s initial creation of the film’s storyboards, to Yuuji Kaneko’s design of backgrounds. These are particularly impressive, especially for fans of Studio Ghibli, as they were created without the use of digital tools. Unlike 80% of today’s Japan’s animated films, Kaneko painstakingly painted each of the backgrounds, in which a single panel would take him over nine hours to complete and would be used for just 4-5 seconds within the finished product.
However, it is not just the amount of time that it takes for these tasks to be completed that can cause issues for the animation team, but the standards that they must uphold. Even after two months of the animation-drawing process, each trainee animator had only one cut cleared by the director. At this point in the schedule, the production team expected to be halfway through the development of the film. But their animators would, unfortunately, have difficulties drawing the correct perspective or making the movement of characters flow.
The Little Witch Academia Work Log managed to make viewers feel both the physical strain and mental frustration of those working in this industry. The animators worked tirelessly at all hours of the day, with hardly any breaks, to get the animation up to scratch and out on time. At one point in the documentary, the young animators are given the opportunity to see their work come to life in the editing studio. However, they are so determined not to fall behind with their work that even the film’s producer, Naoko Tsutsumi, can hardly get them away from their desks.
Today, with sites like Netflix and Crunchyroll, it’s possible to consume shows within a short space of time with a click of a button. This makes it all too easy for anime fans to overlook how difficult it can be to produce high-quality shows on a regular basis. The Little Witch Academia Work Log is a must-see for anyone who wants to gain an insight into what happens behind the scenes. The documentary manages to open a window into the lives of animators and truly reflects how hard they work for their art.