Yasuhiro Irie, Director and Animator
During my time at Otakuthon I was fortunate enough to interview Yasuhiro Irie, director, animator, and storyboard artist for many shows like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater and Cowboy Bebop. During the interview we had an in-depth discussion about what it was like for him working in the industry.
Getting to Where He Is Now
Yasuhiro wore a lot of hats on the many shows he’s worked on. When working on Soul Eater, he was an episode director, key animator and storyboard artist. From the very beginning he knew that he wanted to be an animation director. The best way for him to achieve that was working many different jobs. Directors need experience in all these roles in order to do their job.
He’s currently working on two separate shows. One is a musically themed, 12-episode show releasing in 2021 that he’s the sole storyboard artist for. The other show is a 4-episode mini-series for Netflix, called Eden, which is in its final stages releasing in 2020.
Working on two shows at the same time has been most work he’s ever had in his life. But since Eden is more 3D and the musical one is more 2D he doesn’t feel bored or tired switching between the two. And the shows are releasing a year apart so he doesn’t really feel swamped by the amount of work.
As the director of Eden, Yasuhiro Irie receives the CGs, reviews them, adds to them if necessary, and sends them back. He’s also working with Kevin Penkin, the composer for Rising of the Shield Hero and Made in Abyss. Yasuhiro listens to the tracks from Kevin and ensures that it fits well with the show.
Stress and Motivations
I asked him how he coped with the all the stress of the industry, which is still a problem. Yasuhiro said that when he’s working on a project sometimes he’d think about the another. When that happens, he’d switch his focus onto that project. He often goes with his gut about what he thinks he should be working on. Since he’s constantly working on what he feels motivated to do, he’s found he can get more accomplished.
The times when he’s most motivated are when he receives music and art that he really likes from composers and animators. Knowing that he’s working with all of these talented people always encourages him. Working with others who are passionate really drives him, it’s one of the main reasons he loves anime teams.
Working Many Jobs as an Animator
It seemed bizarre to me that he could just chose which show he wanted to work on whenever he wanted. For many, if you worked multiple jobs you didn’t get to pick and choose when you do them. Yasuhiro Irie, on the other hand, could flow from one job to another. He assured me that this was actually a very common practice. Many other directors do the same thing when working on projects with overlapping schedules. Some of which might even have busier schedules than him but are more efficient.
With the anime industry booming, it may be surprising that so many work on multiple projects at the same time. However this is mostly the result of producers seeking higher quality. They tend to hire the big names in the industry frequently, but this leads to them working on many jobs at once. So while shows may have great talent behind them, it can also cause overwork. Because of this, Yasuhiro feels that having people spread out so thin results in shows not getting the time they deserved.
Improving the Quality of Work
Yasuhiro has believed for a very long time that it would be in the best interest of most projects if people only worked on one at a time. He also clarified that since Eden is only a 4-episode show he didn’t feel like he would be too spread out working on that at the same time as the other 12-episode musical project. However, if it were two 12-episode shows instead, he would have probably turned down the offer.
He felt that, because there were so many people working on multiple projects at the same time, the shows tended to feel more thinned out as well. They might not have as much depth than if the team was solely focused on it. Directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Shinkai Makoto strengthen Yasuhiro’s belief of this. They dedicate themselves wholly to a single project and always produce great works as a result.
Another reason why shows feel thinned out is because the time it takes for shows to get produced is getting shorter. Many companies want full-time employees producing constant high quality shows but they aren’t willing to compromise on this.
Yasuhiro believes when anime teams have more time to work on a show, they end up with a better product they can be proud of and consumers are more appreciative of the work. Around ten years ago, when DVD and Blu-Ray sales were huge, he felt animators were much more concerned with bringing quality to the screen so that people remember the series. He really wants to believe that people in the industry are of the same mindset.
Working on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
While working on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Yasuhiro was given ample time to work on it and he found that resulted in a great product. He told me that for some of the shows that he had worked on he would only come in once and the show would be complete soon after. But part of what he really enjoyed about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was that, since it ran for 64 episodes, every time he came back he could see how the younger animators were able to encourage and build off of one another.
The longer series also let him see all the animators progress and grow. He noticed that the energy brought by the younger animators really affected everyone positively. One aspect of note is that the different teams would challenge themselves to do better. One team might say “look at how muscular Armstrong is here” or “look how pretty Winry is here” and then they would try to emulate that.
Yasuhiro Irie is well-versed and has a clear vision for what he thinks to be best for the industry. He’s also president of the Japanese Animation Creators Association (JAniCA), a non-profit looking to improve working conditions for animators. I have no doubts that he will have a profound impact on the industry. I wish him the best of luck and hope you do too.