Today we’re here to present you an interview with Bahi JD: exceptional digital animator, up-and-coming director and most importantly the major creative mind behind the opening sequence of Shinichiro Watanabe and BONES’ latest anime – Carole & Tuesday! While the anime itself is yet to be released globally, the opening has been gaining attention on social networks for its blend of heartfelt vocals and vivid animation. Bahi JD was kind enough to answer our questions and talk in-depth about how the sequence came to be.
It’s always interesting to hear the story behind creators landing their job in the first place. Who contacted you this time?
I first heard about Carole & Tuesday from studio BONES production desk Tatsuya Saito. As a fan of [Shinichiro] Watanabe, I got very excited and told him that I’d be interested to work on it.
After some time had passed, Saito-san reached out to me with an offer to join the project as an animator. I asked him if they’d already assigned the opening to someone, and since he replied that the position was still open, I pitched the idea of allowing me to direct the sequence. I told Saito-san about some ideas I had, and he said he’d convey them to the main staff so they could think about it.
And then one day I received the news that Watanabe-san, director Motonobu Hori-san, and the people at the studio had given the OK to the idea of letting me direct the opening. Hori-san and Watanabe-san had seen my previous work on ATOM: The Beginning, so I think having directed that opening previously helped as a portfolio of sorts.
It’s not the first time you admit you’re a fan of Shinichiro Watanabe, and of course, there’s also the fact that you got into the anime industry through a project of his. So: how did it feel to direct an opening for his new show?
It’s always an honor to work under a director like Watanabe-san. When I got the job, I was overjoyed but also quite nervous at first. As you can imagine, it’s a huge responsibility to do directorial work on a project for the one and only Shinichiro Watanabe. Carole & Tuesday is BONES’ 20th anniversary project too, to add to that.
Watanabe’s anime are known for their iconic opening sequences as well, so you had big shoes to fill. How did you deal with that pressure you felt at first?
The pressure was strong since I could feel the responsibility was huge. But once we had the first meeting with Watanabe-san, Hori-san, and the main team, it all progressed smoothly and the ideas kept flowing naturally.
I think it’s always like this in life; before you tackle a big goal, you’re nervous, but once you are in the zone and start working, you just get on with it and enjoy the process. My trust in Watanabe-san and BONES helped dissuade that nervousness too. He’s really good at creating a balanced environment during work, and since he stays very calm in the most troublesome situations and solves issues fast, that encourages the team as a whole. It keeps us motivated and energized.
Of course, the huge pressure was always there, but I turned that into a source of positive energy when working as well.
Let’s move onto that sequence where you channeled all your energy then. What did you first visualize as the concept for this sequence?
During the first meeting, Watanabe-san gave me the rough outlines of what he’d envisioned. He wanted it to be simple, genuine and lighthearted, nothing too complicated. “They walk around the city and sing together, and they naturally gather an audience.” That was the core and I really liked it, so coming up with all the other ideas was up to me.
I was actually thinking about something similar so it worked very smoothly. When you listen to the song, those core ideas simply fit well.
Whose idea was it to contact Tadahiro Uesugi?
Watanabe-san had already contacted Tadahiro Uesugi-san, whom I’d been a big fan of since I saw his concept art for the movie Coraline, back when that was released. I wished I could work with him ever since I saw the film. So as soon as Watanabe-san mentioned his name during the meeting, I jumped out of my chair out of excitement. Being able to work with him was like a dream come true. During that meeting, I also introduced Jun Kumaori-san’s works to Watanabe-san because I felt that her artistic sensibilities and Uesugi-san’s would be in good harmony together. Watanabe-san agreed and was very impressed by her work.
At that point, I started to create a bunch of ultra rough drawings with my ideas. I edited them together as an opening storyboard and showed the result to Watanabe-san for approval. Basically, at its core, what I first visualized as the concept for the opening isn’t all that different from the final footage. The shots that compose it look a bit different, but it’s all based on my first plan.
Carole and Tuesday start their day walking through the city, from morning to afternoon. We show them separately and they meet, then continue through the night performing in the street.
I explained my entire plan along those lines to Uesugi-san, and he started working on the imageboards.
Having seen some of those imageboards he drew, I’ve got to say that the opening captured the atmosphere of his concept art very faithfully. What was it about Uesugi’s style that you felt would fit the show’s mood and even the theme of man-made art?
The initial plan was to have Uesugi-san draw imageboards, and we would create the opening’s animation and backgrounds based on those. But in the end, his imageboards were so great and beautiful that we used all of them in the opening. I’d given him total freedom with the imageboards too — some shots look very different from my storyboard, but they turned out way better.
Since this is a TV show, we had a limited amount of time to work with. Because of that, some backgrounds were created by Jun Kumaori without Uesugi’s imageboards, while others are Uesugi’s actual imageboards with some little details added by Kumaori-san and art director Ryo Kono-san to balance their look with the other backgrounds.
As for the aesthetic, I really liked the genuine roughness in Uesugi-san’s imageboards; it felt very natural and I didn’t want to lose that, so I told Kumaori-san and Kono-san to adapt to it. I didn’t want the opening to have perfectly polished backgrounds — I think the imperfections of the human craft and art have its own unique beauty and feeling. For this opening, I felt that we had to take this approach for the visuals and keep things natural because it fit with the whole concept of Carole and Tuesday‘s personal approach at music-making.
Earlier you mentioned that you brought Jun Kumaori onboard again for the backgrounds and color script, like in your previous directional gig on the opening for ATOM: The Beginning. Was the workflow similar between the two productions?
Yes, the workflow was similar.
The difference this time was that we had imageboards provided by Uesugi-san, while in the previous project, it was only Kumaori-san who provided them. That means that this time the process was more of a collaboration between these two artists. Kumaori-san also did color-design for the characters we see in every single cut, to match them to the background’s atmosphere and color palette.
And when it comes to the animation, each artist used different tools as they pleased — whatever they were comfortable with. We had animators who worked digitally and animators who worked analog on paper.
Has your creative mindset changed over time now that you’ve got a couple of directorial tasks under your belt?
I’d say that I’ve learned a lot as a director, and how to work with and guide other artists. Especially on a project helmed by Shinichiro Watanabe; working with him every day, I was able to understand a bit more how to give the artists and animators creative freedom, and at the same time keep the entire project’s structure under control. It was definitely a great learning experience.
Until now I’d usually worked under Watanabe-san as an animator, but this time I could see the project through his eyes as a director. When I was working, his desk was very close, so I’d ask him for feedback when I came across something troublesome, and he’d give very good advice. It is really incredible when you work with a director that has so much experience; the questions I’d ask him were probably things he’d come across many times in the past, but I was going through them for the first time.
What about the process to assemble the team of animators — were there any prerequisites you considered this time?
I was looking for passionate animators, those willing to take on new challenges. Since the animators I’d worked with previously had done a good job, we planned to assemble a similar team again, with the addition of artists who’d caught my eye with their work on other projects. I also contacted some action specialists; I was curious about how they’d tackle non-action cuts, and I thought that’d be interesting for them as well.
Some animators I contacted myself, others were reached out by Saito-san after my request, and I also asked Hakuyu Go to help me contact some people. When we spoke with them, I asked directly if they’d like to choose their cuts freely or if they wanted me to pick instead. Some asked me to assign them whatever cut I wanted and others had specific scenes in mind.
That said, I told all the animators to not use any references for their cuts, because I thought it’d fit well with the mentality behind Uesugi and Kumaori’s artstyle. That roughness and inventiveness, a style that isn’t “realistic” per se but within its own world crafted via imagination alone, it evokes a sense of reality and life. By having the animators only use their imagination as well, just like the two of them create their artworks from their minds alone, the character animation and the artstyle could find harmony together.
Let’s talk about the result of that varied way to distribute the shots, then. Can you tell us about the work of each animator?
Here’s a quick breakdown of each cut and the animator in charge — a few animators wished to remain anonymous though, so I have to keep my promise.
Cuts 1-2: Tilfinning
I like how Till gave each passerby a personality just from the way they walk, even when the movement is so subtle.
Cut 3: Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Jonathan did a great job giving all these people a personality as well. The small dog’s walking animation is also very cute and well realized. I’m always impressed by how fast Jonathan delivers his work. This time around, he worked digitally using TVPaint.
Cut 4: Chengxi Huang
A very short cut but a nice one nonetheless. We had a very in-depth meeting about it too; Chengxi was very curious about the whole story behind this scene even if it was so short — he’s a great character animator, as Naruto fans are likely aware.
Cut 5: Masami Mori
Mori-san is exceptional when it comes to walking and running animation. During the meeting, I gave him Tuesday’s actual guitar case to get a feel of its weight when walking.
Cut 6: Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Jonathan again, fast as ever. I like how he even animated the characters reflecting in the mirror here.
Cut 7: Spencer Wan
I think characters walking upstairs is always hard to animate, so this was a really well done cut, with lots of personality in the motion. I like the weight he conveyed with the guitar case too.
Cut 12: Takafumi Hori
A very difficult cut, but Hori-san’s a very experienced animator and he nailed it. The dancing choreography was free, interpreted by Carole herself, so I told Hori-san to do the same. She’s moving to the tune, and the dancing is a form of subtle interpretation of the lyrics. Great form and choreography.
Cut 13: Spencer Wan
I told Spencer that the floor was a bit wet from having rained a few hours ago, so he added those tiny water splashes. Nice detail!
Cuts 9 and 14: Secret animator
Both Carole and Tuesday’s expressions in these cuts are nice and fun — though they’re separated, the two shots are connected and were done by the same animator who wished to stay quiet about their participation.
Cut 15: Layout and key-animation by Ryosuke Nishii, 2nd key-animation (side characters only) by Iori Hisatake
One of the trickiest cuts in the entire opening sequence. Nishii-san drew that shot on a very long piece of paper since he works analog. Hisatake-san helped us with the clean-up and final key animation stages when it comes to the other characters; since this is a TV show our schedule was tighter than when it comes to movies, hence why we had to split the workload between the two around the final phase.
Cut 16: Takashi Mitani
I liked Mitani-san’s work in My Hero Academia and wanted to work with him. The guitar playing is very energetic. The passersby are out of focus but Mitani-san added many details and personality to them, which made it look nice even if they’re barely visible.
Cuts 17-18: Yuki Yonemori
Yonemori-san draws the characters in a very unique way — I liked that and wanted to preserve it since his drawing style is so cool. Despite my very rough storyboard when it comes to cut 18, he was able to give the scene tremendous life and character.
Cuts 10-11, 19: A certain excellent, secret animator who helped a lot on this opening
Regarding cut 19, I like the part where Carole and Tuesday look at each other and smile — it’s actually an ad-lib I didn’t plan, the animator added it and turned it into a nice, emotional cut. The layout and side characters were based on Tadahiro Uesugi’s imageboard.
Since the anime mainly revolves around music, we can’t end this without asking how did you feel about the opening song itself? I noticed that you matched the screen time of both characters with their respective vocalists.
In the first version of the song, Carole and Tuesday started singing together much earlier. Since my plan was to show them going through their day separately first before they meet each other, I thought it’d fit that whenever we show Tuesday, she’s the one singing, and when we show Carole, she’s the one handling the vocals — and of course, when they meet each other, they start to sing together.
With that in mind, I asked Watanabe-san to talk with the music composer and arrange the song again in this way if that was possible.
Now that we’re at the end, be sincere: since your job forced you to loop it countless times, did you eventually get tired of the song?
I never got tired of the song; the more I listened the more it grew on me, and I could discover more about it. I guess the best way to answer the question of how I feel about the song is to watch the opening. I tried to view the world through Carole and Tuesday’s eyes.
I think if a song is really good, you’ll always find enjoyment in it. It’s the same when your favorite song suddenly starts playing on the radio and you start singing even if you’ve heard it a thousand times before. A good song is connected to good memories, and those always evoke nice emotions.
Indeed! Thank you very much for this opportunity to share your insight into the creation of such a lovely sequence.