Benjamin Faure is an animator who has impressed audiences with his work on some of the trendiest anime series, such as My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Chainsaw Man. As he works remotely from France, one would assume Benjamin is part of the “Webgen” animators. His career is, in reality, very different. Benjamin worked as a 3D animator at Illumination Mac Guff studios in Paris for several years before going on to work on anime. He even participated in the recent The Super Mario Bros. Movie as a supervising animator.
We had the chance to spend a couple of hours talking to Benjamin about how he entered the anime industry and his approach towards it and discuss his works with Studio MAPPA, for which he has been working full-time since last year, and especially his scenes on the long-awaited adaptation of Shueisha’s hit manga, Chainsaw Man.
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Hello, Benjamin. You’re an animator; you work on anime at studio MAPPA, but to begin with, you first studied 3D animation. From what I understood, it is thanks to Eddie Mehong that you first worked on anime.
Benjamin Faure: Exactly.
Can you tell us how it happened? How you met Eddie, and how he led you this way?
Benjamin Faure: In 2018, I went to Japan as a tourist. It was my first trip there, and I had a free day during my trip. I thought to myself, “Hey, why not try to visit Japanese animation studios?” But without any pretenses. I remembered that back when I was working at Illumination Mac Guff, Mehdi Aouichaoui did an internship there when he still did a bit of 3D. Years had passed, and I knew he was working in Japan at Studio Yapiko. I contacted him to ask if it was possible to visit the studio. At that moment, it was purely out of curiosity and passion. It’s also where I met Ken Arto, Yann Le Gall, Eddie, and many others that belonged to the studio at the time. Eddie showed me the process of the projects he was currently working on and told me he was looking for animators. He asked me if I’d be interested, and, as an anime fan, my eyes started sparkling like stars. These days with Twitter, it’s much more accessible, but 4, 5 years ago, it was still complicated. And since I don’t speak Japanese, I hadn’t thought for a second I could work in this industry. The fact that Eddie made me that offer was totally unexpected for me
It had already started a bit, production assistants who would contact people through Twitter.
Benjamin Faure: Today, it’s very common! But back then, it was still rather rare. Eddie made me that offer, and I was motivated, but I warned him I do not do 2D animation. In fact, I had never done 2D animation, although I have always drawn. I showed him my Instagram and my 3D demo reel. In theory, animation principles are the same whether it’s 2D or 3D, but still, the technique differs. The basics of animation are the same. It’s as if you knew how to draw with a pencil, and tomorrow, you’re told you need to do graffiti. You’ll always have your basics and drawing skills, but you must adapt and relearn the technique. So, of course, I was straightforward with him and told him I never did 2D animation. He answered it was not a problem; it could work out. I was very happy, and honestly, back then, even if I only animated a cut of a flapping mouth, I wouldn’t ask for more; it’d already be amazing.
Having your name in a series’ credits, it’s quite a feeling.
Benjamin Faure: Totally! I was born in the 90s, back when anime and manga culture was booming in France, so it’s always been a huge passion of mine. That’s why getting involved in the field felt awesome, whatever the cut I was given. I didn’t feel the need to do action sakuga cuts where everything is blowing up. Even just a character that talks was enough for me. And I’d never done 2D animation. Even today, I’ve still got so much to learn. Eddie asked for my availability. I met him in September, and he told me I could come in November. I still needed to organize a bit; November didn’t seem the right time for me. He said he’d email me the following month so we could work things out. I was happy, but I was holding back my joy because when it comes to work, you never know if people will keep their promises or not! But despite that, I was still super hyped and wished it’d work out. Eddie followed his promise, and I am still grateful to this day. He contacted me by mail and asked if I was free in January. I had just finished working on The Grinch and was supposed to work on Sing 2, but there was a shift in the schedule. The stars were aligned, and I was free to go to Japan! (laughs) I left on January 4th and stayed for three months, during which I worked and learned.
So you worked at Studio Yapiko with the Frenchies?
Benjamin Faure: Exactly. For three months, I worked from 9:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. until midnight. I was aware it was going to be hard; I knew what to expect! On the side, I was still working for France on the weekends. Since I’d kept my apartment in France, I had to pay rent for my apartment in France and Japan! I was working at a steady pace during that time.
When you go those three months to join Eddie at Yapiko, did he start by giving you in-betweens? How did your training go?
Benjamin Faure: Back then, Studio Bones had reached out to Yapiko. Studios help each other out a lot in Japan. It’s not the case in France; you won’t see it here as companies compete with one another and don’t share resources during production. They were looking for support on episode 68 of My Hero Academia. Eddie offered me to work on it, and at that moment, I was a huge My Hero Academia fanboy. A dream come true! He suggested a scene, showed me the storyboard and the available cuts, and told me: “You can have this cut. It’s not too complicated, so you can learn on the job.” But I see another available scene and humbly ask Eddie if I can take it, knowing that he was supposed to handle that one, and he kindly gave it to me.
Which cut was it?
Benjamin Faure: The scene right after Red Riot does his super transformation and is facing the enemy. In truth, there was nothing much complicated about it, there was a bit of action at the end, but it was mostly character acting. I knew it was something I could handle. It wasn’t out of my comfort zone, but still challenging. A sequence like this today, I’d do it three times faster, but back then, I had everything to learn. Beyond animation and drawing, there were the entire pipeline practices that I didn’t know at all. I also had to learn TVPaint, a software I was unfamiliar with. All this fell on me at once. For three weeks, I worked nonstop from Monday to Friday. I had twice the pressure, towards myself, because I wanted to succeed and towards Eddie, as I didn’t want to cause him trouble. He was the guarantor of the quality. There was no way I’d submit subpar work. I gave my best, at least the best I could back then while trying to learn the whole slang. It’s on those first jobs that I really learned the basics of working on anime, how to properly fill in a timesheet with the right terminology, and the importance of in-betweens and handling key poses.
And also understanding you’re not alone in the pipeline and that you should not put pressure on others. Did you speak any Japanese back then?
Benjamin Faure: Not at all, and unfortunately, neither today. That’s why beyond drawing or animation skills, the language barrier ruled out the possibility of working on anime in the first place.
You were lucky Eddie was over there.
Benjamin Faure: Totally. Today it’s become more accessible, but back then, it was truly thanks to Eddie. There were translators, Ken, who’s bilingual and helped me out a lot, and other people too. Exactly as you said, it’s the help of many people that helped me understand the system and how it works. It might have helped me down the line that I had never done 2D animation in France.
You started from square one.
Benjamin Faure: Exactly. Today, I am doing 2D animation the Japanese way. If I work for the West, I’ll have my work culture shaped by anime, and I’ll have to adapt and understand how things are done in Europe or the United States.
But I believe it’s a huge advantage for you that you learned 2D animation the Japanese way. There are many French or American students who have studied animation in the West and want to work on Japanese productions, and the pipeline is so different they need to start learning from scratch. Even if you graduated from Les Gobelins, you have to learn from scratch to work the Japanese way.
Benjamin Faure: And we’re talking about TV series with very short delays. There’s no time; it has to be broadcast on time. And that’s what makes the strength of anime; it’s been optimized over the years to be effective. You can’t allow yourself to do 50 drawings for a guy’s head turning. And thank god there are the in-betweeners; otherwise, you couldn’t do it. If you have to do it entirely by yourself, the second key animation included, it’s impossible to do the 500 drawings it takes. You might do it once and calm yourself on the next production. That’s why I feel I was lucky to learn how to do anime properly.
Has your experience in 3D animation helped with your work on anime? For example, by using CG layouts, get a better grasp of the compositing or consider the camera placement.
Benjamin Faure: To me, 3D is complementary to 2D. 2D They help each other. When I do 3D and have difficulty finding a pose, I’ll take a pencil and draw it just to get a feel. It’s the pose I drew instinctively. And I switch it back to 3D.
And on the other hand, I had preconceived ideas about how 2D was done in the West, and when I arrived at Yapiko, they told me: You have to draw the background, place the cameras… I thought I’d get my scene and that everything was ready, I just had to do my character animation, and it’s all good. And when they told me, no, you have to draw all the backgrounds, I thought, oh my God, I already have to learn the pipeline and a lot of other things, and on top of that, I’m bad at drawing backgrounds, I’m not going to have enough time for all that. And that’s when I made use of my old modeling skills. If you look at the layouts, very often, my backgrounds are in 3D.
I did notice that, indeed.
Benjamin Faure: When it’s a forest or something that doesn’t need to be modeled, I draw it, but I’m super bad at backgrounds. For me, it’s ten times easier to do a 3D model. I’ll take an afternoon, maybe a day, to build my set. In general, since you’re given a sequence, all the cuts usually happen in the same place. So for me, it’s optimized. I will create my background as a 3D set, and then I just have to place all my cameras, and I can modify them after that, but the set is built.
So your scenes, you do them in the same environment.
Benjamin Faure: Exactly. I do a lot of back-and-forth with 3D. I build my 3D set, place my camera according to the storyboard, move to TVPaint, make my animation, and then go back to the 3D software to adjust my 3D camera. Sometimes I go further than that. For example, in the last episode of Chainsaw Man, there are moments where I moved the walls away; I made the set larger because I thought that it needed more room, and there was a better composition by cheating a little. And in a way, it allowed me to not always be stuck in a 3D environment and not modify it.
Generally speaking, when I work, I am someone who tests a lot of things in 3D and 2D. In the beginning, I have more or less an idea of what I want to do, but then I will test many things until I find a rendering that suits me. I tried to offset my shortcomings in background art by making it an achievement to save time. That’s what I tell my friends, Ken, Eddie, Alex, Claire… the French people I communicate with who are working in Japan. If it were included in the training that animators would get a quick 3D training just to be able to make simple 3D models, it would save them a lot of time! In truth, 3D is not complicated. You start from a box, dig, and extrude; you don’t need more than that!
If it’s a recurring scene, you can send that 3D model to each animator, and they can test out stuff and do their thing. That way, they have more time for themselves. It’s more pleasant. They can focus more on their animation, and even afterward, they have a coherent model for the other departments!
That’s what was funny, too. On My Hero Academia, I had gone a bit far with the 3D modeling because I wanted to have a beautiful background, and in the end, I think they just took my 3D model, applied a texture on top, and hoppity! It was finished (laughs). Everything I do in 3D, you can do in 2D, there’s always another way, but I use this one because I’m more comfortable with it, and it saves me time.
You’re absolutely right. You can use that as a strength. After that, you start working with Studio MAPPA, that’s right? The first time, it was on Jujutsu Kaisen, I think?
Benjamin Faure: With MAPPA, the very first time was on Jujutsu, that’s right.
Can you tell us how you were contacted to work with them and then how you kept working with them?
Benjamin Faure: I started in 2020 with Jujutsu Kaisen. It’s funny because I was contacted via Twitter. At the time, before working on anime, I was not on Twitter at all. I didn’t understand how it worked (laughs). Ken and Mehdi told me I have to post my work on Twitter; that’s how I’ll get noticed. At that time, I had worked on My Hero Academia and with Production I.G on Noblesse, so I had a few things to show. When I returned from Japan, I was working on 3D projects full-time, so I had no expectations or claims. I was contacted by a production assistant, as they were looking for people. They asked me to see some layouts because I had only posted the key animation online. After viewing them, it was good for them, and they asked me if I was interested.
At that time, I didn’t know about Jujutsu. By doing some research, I saw that it was one of the most popular manga in Japan. I liked the style and thought, “Yes, why not!” Even though I was already very busy with my other work. I thought it would allow me to continue the experience I had in Japan, to continue learning. Although I love 3D, my first passion has always been drawing, and what was done at the time with 2D animation in France wasn’t to my liking. Being an anime and manga fan, they were not to my taste.
I think you’re a bit harsh. There’s Ankama, La Cachette…
Benjamin Faure: The art direction has changed a lot, but at the time, about fifteen years ago, it wasn’t like that at all. And you have to work, pay your rent. I didn’t want to risk the hassle of finding a job. On top of that, I didn’t want to draw on works I didn’t like, so I said to myself: “Okay, I’ll keep drawing on my own, try to learn on my own but only on things I like.” I had this frustration of not having a mentor who would give me concrete goals I could aim for, which would help me greatly improve! And then, with anime, it was finally what I was always looking for! They are so great and skilled that they make you want to improve. So when MAPPA offered me this job, I said yes. To allow me to continue learning and to improve.
At first, I was offered an action sequence, not a complicated thing, but it was a bit of body mecha. I was super motivated. In the end, I was given another sequence instead. I have a look at it, and it’s a shot where a character gets his pants pulled down and ends up in his underwear. I thought, “I went from a cool fighting sequence to a guy in his underwear…” (laughs). But I loved working on that sequence. When you receive a sequence, you prepare yourself mentally. I had prepared myself for a fighting scene, and finally, I had to do something else entirely. Generally speaking, I start from the principle that when you enter a company, you have to prove yourself. You can’t just walk in, have a bad attitude and say, “I want to do this; I want things that way!” I’ll give my best, and then maybe I’ll have the weapons to negotiate afterward.
At that moment in time, I consider I don’t have that negotiating power. First, because I’m just starting to work on anime, and also because I don’t know the company yet. So they give me this sequence, discuss it, and then I start working on it. I made my cuts. I must have had about a month to do the layouts. What was complicated for me, but also an advantage, is that I was working full-time on 3D animation before signing my contract with MAPPA. All the anime work I did before was done in the evenings and on weekends. That’s where I want to insist that I kept learning the Japanese way: I never had time to take a break. Obviously, if I took a month to make 5 cuts, I would go crazy on my poses, push the limits of my animation, and so on. But during the day, I was working, and in the evenings, by the time I got home and had dinner, it was already late, and I had to get started quickly because the deadlines are tight. I think it allowed me, because of time constraints, to stay faithful to the Japanese model.
I had one month to make about ten or fifteen cuts. It went well. For now, I never had any issues with any studio. Even today, on each sequence, I always learn something new. Be it how to animate certain things or how to approach certain problems. In Japan, I was lucky to have Ken, Mehdi, and Eddie at my side. And I also searched and bought a lot of books on my own. There is this book called Basic Encyclopedia of Animation [アニメーションの基礎知識大百科], which teaches you all the basics of anime. Everything you have to do with the timesheet, the camera works, etc. But as it’s a book in Japanese, I use my phone and use machine translation through the phone’s camera. It’s a bit tedious, but it works! It’s a silly reminder, but you find everything you need to know in books!
Even though I don’t speak Japanese, when you see how an explosion is done, how they do walk cycles… all this stuff, it’s in the books. It helped me a lot. When I started and drew my first line for anime, I had everything to learn. I didn’t know how to draw an explosion or a walk, so I had to arm myself with as many weapons as possible. For me, the best way to arm myself was with books. There are a lot of books that show you how to draw explosions, hands, and all that stuff. Even today, I still order tons of books… And I ruin myself with the shipping costs and taxes! (laughs)
Oh god, the customs right now! They will tax every packet.
Benjamin Faure: the book you’re holding in your hands, you think you got it for 30 euros, and in the end, it costs you 60! (laughs)
Anyway, the first contact with MAPPA on Jujutsu Kaisen went well. Just like any other job, if it goes well, you have a probability that they will contact you again, which they did. It was for another episode of Jujutsu. This time it was an action scene. The one where the panda beats down Mechamaru.
That’s when you get a lot of attention on Twitter, right?
Benjamin Faure: Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know.
I seem to recall that that’s when I saw people react and acknowledge, “There’s this guy called Benjamin Faure, and he’s an absolute beast.”
Benjamin Faure: (laughs) Honestly, not to waffle, but even though it obviously feels great to get likes and positive comments, I’m so busy trying to do a job as well as I can that I don’t pay too much attention to it.
For you, Twitter is mostly a place to connect with people.
Benjamin Faure: I really see it as a communication tool, as if it were ArtStation. About the sequence, I’m not a big fan of the abusive use of impact frames, of using them all over the place. But for this shot, I felt that we had to feel the power, the strength of the panda. It was well received by the staff, and the scenes were kept!
As I went along with productions, I could see what I could and could not do. I think it depends on each studio, but typically it’s from that moment on that I tried and allowed myself to add more detail to certain shots, for example, on the panda’s face. I like to work like that, and I tried to see if they would be okay with it or tell me to calm down, that I was pushing it too far… And they left it like that, with all the details.
After that, I worked on the last episode of Jujutsu. About this notion of detail, I allowed myself to make a lot of blood drops, play with the facial wrinkles for expressions, to be a little more detailed on some things.
Let me make a quick side comment about the importance of layouts. I couldn’t do all the key animation for the last episode of Chainsaw Man myself. But I was trying to go into as much detail as possible in my layouts because I would feel too bad to send stick figures or faceless figures… The animation director that gets that submitted will think, “Do you want ME to do your job?” As you rightly pointed out, we do a team job. You don’t ask others to do things for you. We all try to put quality in our work and get the best possible result. And there’s a little satisfaction in knowing that, even if you still get corrections, it’s pretty close to what you did and wasn’t thrown away. That you did a job that they liked. When you see the final product, you see it’s still your work. I think it’s a shame to do a job, and what comes out in the final product has little or nothing to do with what was done in the layout, either in terms of animation or drawing. I think you lose credibility. The public doesn’t care, they see the guy posting his cut, but they don’t know what the layout looks like. But I need to be able to tell myself my work was appreciated and kept. I’ve always been into drawing, and funny side note, if I have never watched One Piece when it started, it’s because I didn’t like the drawings at the time. I regret it now because it’s become very cool visually, but there are too many episodes to catch up! (laughs)
I agree with you. Before Wano, it’s… Well…
Benjamin Faure: It’s a shame because the style has evolved today. It’s very pretty, both in the animation and the drawings. But yes, drawing has always been very important to me. Even if I do 3D, what comes out, in the end, is a 2D image; it’s a drawing. And for me, it’s always about balance. What do you prefer? Do you prefer good animation and an average drawing, or an exceptional drawing but mediocre animation? For me, and this is what I was always told in Japan, the drawings are very important. Today we are in an era where it’s divided, at least among those called the Webgen, the new animators. There’s a lot of movement; it moves all the time… And there’s less emphasis on the quality of the drawing. There are two schools of thought. I think it depends on what studio you work with and your relationships. But I’m really on the drawing team. Drawing comes first.
After that, you worked on Fate, is that right?
Benjamin Faure: Yes, because, in parallel, I had the chance to work with Production I.G. It was my first real experience with a Japanese company because My Hero Academia was done through Yapiko. I worked a lot with them thanks to Claire Barbou des Courières.
I met her when I was working in Japan, and for a long time before I joined MAPPA, I worked with her a lot! She is a very nice and kind person to work with! Thanks to her, I was able to do some projects with I.G!
And then, after that, MAPPA called me back to work on the movie JUJUTSU KAISEN 0. I was very happy to work on it. Also, because we were not many foreigners working on it, there is this part of ego where you tell yourself that there was potentially a selection. I am sorry if that sounds a bit cocky or egotistical. Maybe it’s some misplaced pride.
I don’t think that you have a misplaced pride. I think your ego is very compatible with the Japanese mindset when you say, “For me, the important thing is that I don’t cause trouble for others” It’s a very Japanese way of thinking.
Benjamin Faure: Not that I want to worship the Japanese, but they are in another league when it comes to animation. That’s why, to me, it’s inconceivable to complain on socials after having worked on a production. To say, “My animation was not respected or was neglected by the animation director.”, that kind of thing. To do this without knowing the conditions in Japan, it’s too easy, and it doesn’t help the production because it throws a bad image on foreign animators.
It seems to me you have signed a contract with MAPPA. You work from France. How do you organize yourself? Would you like to move to Japan and work there?
Benjamin Faure: Unfortunately, as I don’t speak the language, I don’t see myself living there – but I would like to spend some time there! My biggest regret is that I don’t speak Japanese. I would have loved it just to be able to exchange with other animators…
There’s one story that comes to mind. On my last evening in Japan, before returning to France, I went to eat at the sushi bar of the hotel where I was staying, and the cook was so nice. We tried communicating with signs and everything, but it was too difficult. I was very frustrated! I just wanted to tell him that his cooking was excellent! (laughs)
What changed for me regarding my job at MAPPA is that I only have one job at a time now! (laughs) Before that, there were times when it was really hard to manage 3D jobs and other projects. Psychologically it’s hard to be working on many things simultaneously. That’s the trap of this industry, generally speaking, as we are passionate people. You want to do everything, work on everything, and agree to everything… You tell yourself that you’ll find a way to take these 10 extra cuts, you’ll sleep a little less, etc. And in the end, you get stuck between a rock and a hard place. (laughs) Now I can really focus on anime, one project at a time.
That’s when MAPPA contacted me about Chainsaw Man, which I didn’t know about.
So that’s when you first hear about it.
Benjamin Faure: I looked a little bit on the internet to see what it looked like and saw that it’s the style MAPPA likes. It has a similar vibe to Jujutsu. I started by doing layouts on episode 4 of Chainsaw Man. Then when the contract started, I was working on the key animation. The teaser was coming out, and they wanted to put some shots from episode 4 in it, so I had to do that quickly to stay on schedule.
The shots of Power running?
Benjamin Faure: Exactly. It was hard to do these shots because there was a lot of detail, all the scratches, the dirt spots, and so on. This sequence was not easy to do. There too, not knowing Japanese was detrimental to me: on the character, you had a layer of dirty scratches, a layer of bloody scratches, a layer of dirt spots. When I saw the layer of dirt spots, I thought it looked like a texture. A set texture, if it’s a circle, has to be the same size everywhere. On all the shots, I always ensured the volumes were as close as possible between the poses. Later, I saw the rendering that it was just used as a mask to apply the textures. I could have made a rough area, and as long as the volume was kept, it would have been fine. It would have saved me a lot of time!
Yes, the language barrier can cause little moments like that where you find yourself doing extra work or not being optimized because of a misunderstanding.
Benjamin Faure: Oh, that there were a lot of things where I thought, “Ah, if I had known that it was a dark scene, that the compositing would be like this…” I wouldn’t have bothered as much. But it helps me improve. I learn things anyway. This sequence was very complicated in the sense that it took a long time to set up. And I think to myself, fortunately, I work digitally because, on paper, it would have been hell!
Yes, in digital, you can edit it quite easily.
Benjamin Faure: Yes! And it allowed me to separate the layers. I had my body line, and for each type of scratch, I made layers for that purpose. As soon as I finished one of them, I would uncheck the layer and move on to the next one. When you compile them all together, all of a sudden, it’s a mess. Preserving volumes was hell. If it was already such a mess with layers, I don’t want to think about how it would have been on paper…
On episode 5, you only did layouts?
Benjamin Faure: That’s right. There were obviously some tweaks in the end result, but I was happy to find a similarity with my layout. Even if I didn’t do the key animation, I didn’t feel left out of the final product! Then I worked on episode 10, a big challenge. It was not obvious!
The scene at the hospital?
Benjamin Faure: Yes, that’s it. The scene at the hospital.
It’s very cinematic.
Benjamin Faure: There is no action, it’s not spectacular, but I found this sequence very interesting. Mr. Yoshihara’s directing is incredible!
And the other scene of episode 10 is the fight scene. What kind of martial art did you practice?
Benjamin Faure: I’ve practiced several fighting sports, but mainly taekwondo.
[ FUN FACT ]— Benjamin Faure (@Bfaureart) December 14, 2022
I recorded myself using my old martial art’s skills to see how the coat will be reacting with a spinning kick, and I was surprised how much it stuck to the body, so I wanted to make something more spectacular, like an air’s blast ! #chainsawman #チェンソーマン pic.twitter.com/kzXc6kPqQe
I want you to tell us a little bit about the process. As you said in a tweet of yours, you realized that when you do the kick with the coat, the coat stays stuck to the body. It’s not very impressive.
Benjamin Faure: At the very beginning, I had done my layout, but regarding the drawings, I was not satisfied with the folds of the clothing. They were not realistic, coherent folds, let’s say. So I filmed myself to have a reference on which to base myself. And I realized by looking at the reference that the coat was sticking to the body due to the rotation. In the end, what was happening in real life didn’t correspond to the vision I wanted to have in the anime, so I tried before doing the kick to give movement to the coat to try to make it look like the outcome I wanted.
To try to replicate the same effect?
Benjamin Faure: Yes. But the outcome felt off, so I abandoned the idea of using a reference. I wanted to have this breathing effect that suggests the power of the shot.
I’d like to discuss more about the hospital sequence and the 3D I used. After modeling, I was able to add lights and manage my lighting. I had taken a 3D cartoon character which has nothing to do with the Japanese style, but it was to have an idea of the lighting intentions as a reference. I positioned it like this, like that, to see what is better according to the framing.
Thanks to anime, I realized that we in the West often tend to lock ourselves into a mindset. If the light is like this, it must always be like this, whatever the framing. The Japanese will start the same, but if they need to change it in a shot because it makes it more stylish or the outcome is cooler, they will do it. And typically, I had my base light, and on certain shots, I would move the light a little bit so that the shadow would be visible in a certain part or at that part of the image could not be seen. That’s what I used 3D for, to position the camera. And even the monster that appears behind the character, I had been sent the 3D file, and it was already established that it would be 3D, but I animated it. There was no rig, nothing at all, but I animated it as I could in 3D based on its appearance and drew the main poses over it.
It was the same for the glasses that fly and fall to the ground during the fighting scene, they are in 3D, and I modeled and animated them.
Was it your initiative to do this? It wasn’t an indication that you were given by the director?
Benjamin Faure: Not at all. I said to myself: it will be complicated to make glasses that bounce with the right volumes; it will take me too much time. It’s a prop, a hard object, so I will model it in 3D and animate it! You get tricked because it’s animated on twos or threes; it’s not smooth. The in-betweener drew over them, and, thanks to them, if you look at the final render, you can see that the line shakes a bit. It breaks the rigidity of 3D. I want to leave freedom for such imperfections of the in-betweens; I want the in-betweener to have their own interpretation too, and not have an ultra-perfect movement. For me, what is wrong with 3D in anime, is that it is too flawless. And what’s cool about anything that’s hand-drawn is the imperfections. They make the animation more alive!
I don’t like 3D a lot, I much prefer 2D, and the few times I find 3D interesting or impressive is when there’s framerate modulation or cel-shading. Because, as you say, it breaks the perfection of 3D. It gives it a charm that brings it closer to 2D.
You animated a lot of cuts of Power, whose power is the manipulation of blood.
Benjamin Faure: Yes, I think they liked how I handled the special effects of liquids at the studio, for example, on the FX I did on Jujutsu Kaisen or the water fight in the movie.
I was very happy for episode 12 when I saw that I had a sequence with Power! I like her!
I also had fun with the zombies by adding details. When we see them in close-up, I added some blood and scratches… On the one hand, I know that it will take me more time to animate, but on the other hand, I find it satisfying to do! Generally speaking, it’s fun for me to make monsters because they’re not as smooth as what you usually have in anime. Here you can really work on volumes, dimples, broken noses, brow bones, and all. You can create deformations. I have more trouble keeping proportions on a classic character than on a monster.
Since I didn’t get any corrections on the shots I submitted, I was very happy they trusted me with the key animation, even if I would have liked to do them all because it was my last sequence on the series!
But on the other hand, it’s also really cool to have corrections because it’s a way to show you your mistakes. But you also notice the skill gap between you and the animation director. (laughs)
It really helps to improve.
Benjamin Faure: It’s instantaneous! You see your drawing, and you see the corrections. You see the chasm, the interstellar wormhole that separates the two. You learn because someone points out your mistakes directly. Or rather indirectly, in my case, since I’m all alone in my office (laughs). I regret not being at the studio because I would have liked the animation director or animators to show me things. Now I’m by myself. It’s just me and my interpretations, with my own thoughts on the corrections. But it’s very rewarding. When you don’t get a correction, on the one hand, you’re happy, and on the other hand, you say to yourself I wish I had gotten one… If you don’t get a correction, you limit yourself to your own skills. I can’t step up higher than that. For me, the corrections of the animation director are what allow one to go beyond their current level. You say to yourself, I can get to that level of quality. It forces you to try to push your limits, to give your best.
So I must have done the key animation for about ten cuts on episode 12. There were a lot of characters; it was hard.
When I got the storyboard, I saw the shots I had to do, and I saw tons of zombies, but I remember that in episode 1, the zombies were in 3D, and it worked very well! So during the meeting, I asked if they’ll be done in 3D, and they told me that, no, everything is 2D. I started having cold sweats. (laughs)
If I’m not mistaken, that episode is storyboarded by Ryu Nakayama. Was he the one to ask you to do everything in 2D?
Benjamin Faure: Yes, because there’s a lot of criticism about the use of 3D in anime. I think he wanted to limit it as much as possible.
Yeah, but in this case, it would have been a use of 3D where the average anime fan doesn’t even realize that it’s 3D.
Benjamin Faure: For close-ups of the zombies, I agree 3D shouldn’t have been used, sure…
But when it’s for a wide shot…
Benjamin Faure: Exactly, the shot from the top where you have all the little zombies and everything, it was very long, and I think in 3D, it would have been just as good, if not better. (laughs)
There’s a shot where Power cuts out people behind a lot of zombies. You just see heads jumping. There are a lot of zombies walking around, and there’s an important follow-pan right after. I animated Power a lot, I drew all the movements, the supporting poses, and everything, but I knew there would be many zombies in front hiding her. In the end, the zombies hide everything, and the camera movement I added makes Power even less visible. But I always assume that if you want some things to work out well, you must do them thoroughly. Power’s choreography in the background that uses all these support poses and stuff like that, if I want it to work out in its entirety, I need to do it for real. It takes a lot more time, but I find it gives the scene more coherence. I really like to work the cameras in my shots. To add follow or stagger, I think it adds a lot of life and credibility to the sequence, and that’s linked to my 3D background.
On many 3D projects, I used to place my own cameras. That’s where I learned a lot about using cameras, focal lengths, and everything around that. And I find that just by making little movements, you give life and credibility to your scene as if a guy with his camera on his shoulder was trying to follow someone. It helps not to feel static. It’s all about timing and little gaps with the characters. You have to feel it’s not 100% connected. I always try to project myself, asking myself, “Imagine if it was happening in real life and you were the cameraman. How would you have shot it? How would you have framed it?” And so on.
I also always send the video editing with the camera work. That’s the advantage of working digitally! That way, they can immediately see what my intention is and if it suits them.
The meetings, were they done via Zoom with a translator?
Benjamin Faure: Yes, there’s always a translator there.
So they take advantage of this to have several foreign animators at the same time?
Benjamin Faure: Not at all. You are alone with the director, the production assistant, and the translator. Sometimes we do it on Zoom, Skype, or Google. What’s great about Google is that you can activate the automated subtitles!
Oh yeah, that must help! Especially in English, Google’s capture of words has become incredible.
Benjamin Faure: Sometimes, when I see that we’re on Google, I tell myself it’s cool, I won’t have any problem understanding. Even though, honestly, even without Google, the storyboard is usually already super clear.
I’m quite pessimistic about the future of anime in terms of animation style because I have the impression that there is more and more 3D, and, sure, it’s a time saver because your model is done. But the reason it’s used is because of this idea of a society where everything has to be done quickly. Everything needs to be optimized. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily bad or that every timesaver must be thrown away. But we lose some appeal. For me, the best process that should be used is to use 3D animation as a basis and redraw over it in 2D to improve on it, but it costs a lot of money to do so.
Kind of like the layouts on Ranking of Kings? Where they did that scene on Blender.
Benjamin Faure: Typically! Or like on Demon Slayer. I didn’t think 3D was used at all. It works so well, they were able to do a crazy fight sequence with great camera movements, but you don’t have the rigidity of 3D. And I hope that the use of 3D will go towards that, and not something cold and soulless where if you take a screenshot, it looks fine, but as soon as it moves, you feel the rigidity.
People like to take screenshots and make fun, but an anime is meant to be seen in motion.
Benjamin Faure: For sure.
Since you worked on Nakayama’s episodes, in general, what feedback did you get from him? Were there any particular things that he asked you to pay attention to in his storyboards compared to others? Since he wanted to have a very cinematic outcome.
Benjamin Faure: No. His only request for the sequence was that at the end, it had to explode, blood galore! That was the only indication besides the storyboard. Still, in his storyboard, for the end scene of Power smashing the monster, basically, there were three squares: Power arriving, Power cutting the head, and Power leaving. And often, you have shots with super long timings when in fact, the action is very short, it lasts only 15 frames, but your shot lasts 3 seconds. Since you have 3 seconds, how will you make it last? And that’s what’s also interesting because it forces you to look for specific timings.
You’re given three seconds, you have to use all of those three seconds.
Benjamin Faure: That’s right. And that’s what makes the strength of anime. It pushes you to be creative, to look for ideas. The initial intention is Power arrives, she cuts the head off, and it’s over. I thought, “How will I make this scene last longer?” I decided to do it this way: when she comes in on him, it makes the monster back up, which adds a little bit of physical movement; then I’m going to add some resistance: she tries to shear it off, but it gets stuck, that allows me to use up more time. Only after that, she’s able to cut it off. There is always a reflection on how to make things last the right amount of time.
And on the other hand, it’s what leads to super interesting timings, accelerations, slow motions. Making slow motion, then going back to a normal speed. It makes your shot more dynamic, and it allows you to fill in the time you’re given. That’s what’s fascinating about anime, problematics become strengths.
In one of the zombie shots, I had fun making lots of little animations: in the top shot, you can see one scratching on the wall and one raising its head while chewing on something… A lot of stuff like that, all the animators do that, having fun doing little things!
It’s fun that you have that kind of freedom. One wouldn’t think you get that kind of freedom to do it a little bit, whenever you want.
Benjamin Faure: That’s what I like about it. I don’t know how it is with other animators, internally or externally, but they’ve always given me some freedom – while staying within the basic intent. And, of course, I’ve never allowed myself to change the storyboard because they always work well for me.
This obviously is linked to the nature of your contract with them since you have to do a certain amount of cuts a month for them, but I still feel you are becoming a cornerstone artist of studio MAPPA’s big projects.
Benjamin Faure: I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t tell. MAPPA is so big…
I assume that, at some point, the work speaks for itself. You can’t just post animation without showing your layout, which in the end, is the true representation of the quality of your work. Or spend your time bragging on socials. At some point, the truth will come out, at least among the professionals in the field, if not with the audiences.
We all have shortcomings when it comes to drawing. We are not gods or superhumans. But there is a difference between having shortcomings and being a jerk, being dishonest about your work on socials.
Sometimes I think about people like Sanda, who went to do his internship in Japan, got a job at OLM where he started as an in-betweener, and was trained the Japanese way. If he had waited a year, he could have stayed in France and still get the opportunities he gets now. Well, maybe not exactly the same ones, but you get the idea.
Benjamin Faure: Obviously, there isn’t just one way to do it. I’ve never been an in-betweener. I started with 3D and was in Japan for only three months. Mehdi Aouichaoui did not train as an in-betweener either. Everyone has their own way. What bothers me is the attitude. You have to respect this industry and the people you work with. We are not here to have fun. We’re in a professional environment; we don’t do fan animation. Often, that’s what people forget. A lot of times on Twitter, I get messages like, “I love Attack on Titan so much, I’d love to work on the show, but just a cut or two, give me some contacts.” At first, I used to answer. I would try to explain how it happens and the investment it requires to make it last, and they would tell me, “Ah, but no, it’s just to be in the credits.”
I’d get annoyed quite quickly if I was in your shoes. You’re not a production assistant; it’s not your job to do that in the first place.
Benjamin Faure: I don’t answer this kind of message anymore. When I can, I always try to answer people. Fortunately, with some of them, you can see they are passionate. They have grit! But it’s true that the best way, if you want to learn, is to go to Japan. But it’s complicated when you don’t speak the language.
When you’re still young, you can still learn it. Lucas Cisterne, who was doing compositing at Ufotable, what he did was that in the conditions of his contract at Ufotable, he was working part-time there, and half the time he was at language school. As long as you’re young, 18, 20 years old, I think it’s still manageable.
Benjamin Faure: All paths are possible, but at a certain point, you must respect the field you’re getting into. You enter an industry that you don’t know, and you are surrounded by people who have been doing this for years, decades even… who have been trained, who have worked like hell. You can’t come in all pompous, thinking you know everything and feeling superior. It’s annoying! (laughs)
I wanted to talk about the schedule of Chainsaw Man. You were working on your layouts at the start of 2022, and then you were asked to do the key animation in the middle of the year. Was everything finished before the broadcast? Were the episodes done in broadcasting order?
Benjamin Faure: Well, as far as I know, what I got was in the same order as the broadcast. From the moment the series started broadcasting, the schedule became tight.
Did you have a similar experience on Jujutsu Kaisen, or was the rush just on Chainsaw Man?
Benjamin Faure: It’s always the same when the end of a production approaches. On the first few episodes, it was okay; I had some time. But towards the end, it got tough. The hardest one was Attack on Titan.
Since I started working on anime, I have always told myself I don’t want to pull all-nighters. Beyond the moral aspect, for me, it’s counter-productive. Sure, you’ve submitted your cut on time for the deadline, but you’re all messed up and struggling to work for the next two days. But actually, for Attack on Titan, I had no choice. The episode was about to be broadcast. But if you want to submit something qualitative, it takes time. I don’t want to boast, but I think my layouts are neat.
I think your layouts are amazing. Among the foreigners who work on anime, objectively, as an animation fan, I honestly think that you are among the best.
Benjamin Faure: Thank you very much. It’s very kind of you to say that. I think the fact that I also provide 3D, it saves them a little time. If the framing fits them, it relieves them a little. I also work on After Effects to do all the editing for them. All in all, it takes me a long time, and I do have quite a number of cuts to submit. (laughs)
Well, you’ve become quite present in their productions, which means they trust you. I wouldn’t go as far as saying you’re a main animator on Chainsaw Man, but it’s close to it. Maybe in a few years.
Benjamin Faure: At the end of Chainsaw Man, I wanted to thank everyone, I wrote to all the production assistants, and I asked them to thank all the other departments, even those I don’t know. And I took the liberty to write personally to the directors I worked with. To Ryû Nakayama, Kazutaka Sugiyama and also to Tatsuya Yoshihara. They all thanked me kindly too. Having direct feedback from them is cool. It motivates and gives strength!
People always wonder, and that was already the case at the time when Thomas Romain and all joined the industry, even though the pay isn’t great and the work is so hard, why do people keep working on anime? And it’s for this kind of thing. It’s being able to tell yourself that once you see the result, you are really happy with the outcome of your work and can be proud of it.
Benjamin Faure: It’s a job for passionate people. We have the chance to do a job that we really love. Having done small student jobs for a while, when you finally find yourself working in an environment you deeply love, you appreciate its value all the more.
And beyond that, there is the environment. You are working with many talented people with whom you are always learning something. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, when you see the final result, which is also appreciated by the public, it always makes you want to do more, to do better!
We wish heartfully to thank Benjamin for granting us some of his time for this interview.
Interview by Dimitri Seraki.
Transcript by Emilia Hoarfrost.
Translation by Emilia Hoarfrost & Dimitri Seraki.
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