When you start any anime, the very first thing that you encounter is the opening. It is, quite literally, the first impression you have of whatever show you are watching. If an opening isn’t a banger, you are automatically not invested in the anime itself. And, hell, some of my favorite songs happen to be iconic anime openings. But what goes into making an anime opening?
Making an entire animated sequence that both shows off how good the product is without giving the entire plot away are no joke. There is an entire system set up to choose the perfect song, employing animations, storyboards, and directors for a single 1-minute video. A lot is riding on the opening, it’s what sells the anime to the viewer. So, getting it right is crucial.
I mean, personally, I think a good opening can make or break an anime. Like, if Naruto Shippuden hadn’t opened up with Heroes Come Back!! as its theme song, I don’t think it would’ve been as successful. To this day I go back to it because it was perfect for the time it came out in. Openings are so important for setting the tone, and they did that here. Naruto Uzumaki was a teenager at the time, so it made sense his opening catered to that demographic. Rap was huge, that urban flair was hard to miss, and it was just plain cool.
But what is the process that goes into creating something as iconic and memorable as an anime opening? Surely, it isn’t as easy just choosing a song and splicing some scenes from the actual anime. There’s a lot of consideration that goes into this, starting from creating a rough storyboard, all the way to final edits before the anime gets to air on your tv screens. So, here is the ultimate guide on how to make an anime opening!
1. Producer Hires The Talent
The most important thing to consider, even before you start working on an anime opening, is the responsibility of hiring people to work on said project. This means accounting for broadcasting time, budgeting, etc.
Gathering the right people to create the opening is no joke. There are animators to be considered, mixing artists, and directors to work on the opening, including cinematic, sound and animation, and so many more. All of these elements combined are your base to start working off of.
2. Planning Through Storyboards By The Director
So, the main director starts by creating the rough storyboard to be followed for any animation project. An opening is no exception. You’d think they’d start by choosing the music, but that’s something that happens almost simultaneously when the director is brainstorming the direction they’ll take.
The director has a vision that they translate into a draft for everyone else to reference when starting. This includes character placements, scenes that are highlighted specifically to be in the opening, etc.
They create a rough guideline that is then looked upon by the animation director and taken from its preliminary form into actual drawings.
3. Animation Director Starts Bringing Paper To Life
Once the main director has given an inkling of what they want, it’s now up to the animation director to start aligning everything and adding the visual aspect to it all. This includes paneling, character design through various situations, and then the overall layout and how it’s going to present itself.
For just 6 seconds of footage, a direct and animation director go through multiple rough sketches and redraws until they can land on a set of white sheets (or beginning scenes) they can agree on. This means multiple changes, landing scenes through timing sheets so nothing looks out of place, and adding flairs. It’s a long, arduous process but it’s the very skeleton of what the anime opening will look like.
4. White Sheets Expanded On By Key Animators
Now it’s up to the key animators to draw the sequence in which the animation will take place. This includes those highlight scenes that will be created to supplement the opening. The white sheets are crucial here as they follow the art direction laid by the lead animator.
This is still just a rough draft of what the animation will look like in the final product, but it is here that it starts getting shaped. It is the key visuals that will take precedence.
5. Blue Sheets That Both The Director And Art Director Collaborate On
The art director now considers what the main director had envisioned from the storyboard and starts building off of it more substantially. This leads to the production of a keyframe that will be followed by all animators from here on out.
It also helps finalize the layout in which the opening will take place, with key dynamic scenes being worked on through either hand-drawn or digital mediums.
6. In-Between Frames Courtesy Of The Animation Team
When you involve frames, they are but single cells that take up barely a second of the animation. This means they need to be followed by lesser frames that aren’t important in the same way but help elongate the animation and make sure everything transitions smoothly.
These are called ‘in-between frames, which are worked on by numerous animators so they can make the scenes look seamless in their sequence. This way, everything runs properly, and you have even animation throughout.
7. Edits And Flair Added Through 3D Artists
Now the animation itself needs to transition into digital fully, and that is done through the process of cell work. This means each scene will now be stringed together and be worked upon by finishers and editors so that it can look neater.
This might also include adding on 3D artists, such as CGI animators. to add more finesse and shine that you normally see with a more dynamic opening.
8. Final Work Done On Key Visuals
After this, it’s a matter of just following all the visual keys that are laid upon by the key animators at work. This means finalizing the animation opening, making sure nothing is wonky before music can be added, etc.
This way, everything is ready for the final layering and edits, which includes bringing the music in and then adjusting everything so it works on every beat. The music has to be in sync with the animation, so these edits can keep going even after the music has been added to the opening.
9. Licensing Music
Technically, this step is happening simultaneously with the animation itself, but it depends from company to company. Some production houses have their own in-house musicians that create the music for a specific project, or they outsource their talent.
It depends upon the budget, but this could mean anything from popular artists creating an original song for the anime or licensing a pre-existing one from a collection available to them. You can either bring in popular artists that are known in the anime circle for their star quality, or you can go for a more indie artist to breathe some fresh air into your new opening.
This has to be considered very thoroughly because, again, a catchy song can make or break the anime itself. So if the song isn’t good, well, it’s a waste of resources.
10. Layering the Music Through A Sound Director
And this is the final bit! The animation is tweaked and perfected, with the sound director adjusting everything so that the opening can be as seamless and dynamic as possible. This means shortening the length of the song to fit broadcasting limits, mixing the music, so it fits the animation itself, and more.
The scenes are spliced and added according to the cues given by both the animation director and the sound director. This way, everything flows properly without it feeling out of place or wonky.
After all of that is done, you finally have what can be considered a good anime opening. Just for a minute of animation, it takes that much effort. So next time you see an iconic anime opening, thank everyone that has worked so hard to make it! It certainly is a feat of animation.