BNA: Brand New Animal, the latest anime series from Yoh Yoshinari and Studio TRIGGER, is a story whose main character Michiru is of a different culture finding her way into Anima City and acclimating to the culture of beastmen. This meeting of different cultures and backgrounds is a recurring element of the story throughout, and it’s also something that occurred behind the scenes with the staff working on the show. Genice Chan is a Canadian artist who was recruited by the studio to provide concept art and contribute to the development of the world of BNA. We sat down with her shortly after the series debuted to discuss her background in animation, how she got involved with BNA, and what the development process was like from her perspective.
OTAQUEST: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in animation?
Genice Chan: Hi! I’m an artist based in Canada and right now I’m an illustrator at Giant Ant. As for how I got into animation, I feel like my road to it has been pretty straightforward. I’ve been obsessed with drawing since I was a kid, so by the time I entered high school I was already pretty set on doing something creative for my career. When I was looking into post-secondary school I decided to go for animation because it seemed useful to know, but also because it was something I struggled to learn on my own. My thought was, “Well, if I’m going to pay a lot of money to learn something, it might as well be something that I can’t do by myself.” So I did that, one thing led to another, and by the time I graduated I ended up in my current position at Giant Ant.
OTAQUEST: So at Giant Ant you do both illustration and animation as well, or is the animation more secondary?
Genice Chan: I mostly do design and illustration, but sometimes I’ll help out with animation things. Once or twice I’ve helped out with compositing. Animation is definitely more secondary.
— genice (@genicecream) December 31, 2019
OTAQUEST: The use of color in your artwork is very striking and stands out on the pieces I’ve seen of yours online. Who or what are some of the influences that inspired your style?
Genice Chan: Thank you! I’ve been a big fan of Steven Universe since I was younger, so Studio Chromosphere and the artists from there are a pretty big influence. Artists like Jasmin Lai, Kevin Dart, and similar artists like Charles Hilton and James Gilleard are all very influential to me, at least for my use of color on BNA. More recently, I’d say Promare has been a big influence too. There’s the time from before I watched Promare, and the time after, and I think after I watched it all of my colors became more saturated (laughs).
In general, whenever I work on a project, I tend to absorb something about it into my art by the time I finish it. At Giant Ant, I get to try a lot of different things, and as a result I’ve absorbed a lot of different things, so I think the experience of working there has been a big influence as well.
OTAQUEST: Prior to working on BNA were you familiar with any of Studio Trigger’s other work besides Promare? Are there any that stand out as favorites for you?
Genice Chan: I watched Kill la Kill and the original Little Witch Academia OVA as a high schooler, and I think even back then I could feel that TRIGGER has a super high quality of animation. I look up to their work a lot. When I started working on BNA I went back and started watching the Little Witch anime series for research, but by the time I got to the second episode I got so sucked in that it wasn’t research anymore (laughs). I’m a fan for sure.
OTAQUEST: Is there any particular work of theirs that you would call your favorite overall?
Genice Chan: Oh that’s hard… I guess Promare has a special place for me, because whenever I go to watch it as a fan it’s very fun. I love the way the crowd goes wild.
OTAQUEST: Studio Trigger is a very active studio internationally in terms of their relationships and the kinds of projects they work on, how did you end up getting introduced to them and landing the role as concept artist for BNA?
Genice Chan: From my perspective, I just got an email from Will Feng (producer at Ultra Super Pictures) out of the blue one day. I remember it pretty clearly- it was the weekend so I was sleeping in, and then I woke up, and like, you know how the first thing you do when you wake up is check your phone? Well I did that, and the first thing I saw is this email that’s like “TRIGGER, new project, Yoshinari. We want you to do some concept art.” My immediate reaction was “Wow this is unbelievable. Must be a scam.” And I went back to sleep for a while (laughs).
But I wrote back eventually, it turned out to be real, and I started working with them on a few assignments. I don’t think anyone had really anticipated that I would be involved to the extent that I have, but they kept giving me more stuff to do, and I kept doing them, and somehow, I’ve ended up here.
OTAQUEST: What was the experience working with Trigger like for you? Did they have any specific direction for you going into the project, or did you have a lot of freedom to try different things out during the development of everything?
Genice Chan: There was a general direction that they had in mind, like they had some mood boards and stuff, but otherwise I had a lot more freedom than I expected. Whenever I received assignments I would ask stuff like, “How would you like me to do this?” and their answer would be something like “Do what you like,” or “Do it the way that you would do it,” which was crazy to me. I remember inside I would think “What, really? Are you sure?” Because of that, it was a very fun experience and I’m very grateful for the trust that Yoshinari had in me.
OTAQUEST: Did you find the process for things working with a Japanese studio to be different from the work you’ve done with western studios in the past?
Genice Chan: The overall pipeline seemed a bit different. For example, image boards were a new concept to me. Despite the differences though, I think there were a lot of parallels as well, so I didn’t find it difficult to adjust to. I also think everyone was very accommodating to the way I’m used to doing things.
OTAQUEST: Did you do everything remotely? Or did you ever have a chance to go over to Japan and meet the team during the process?
Genice Chan: I wish I could meet the team! (laughs) I always worked remotely.
OTAQUEST: That didn’t prove challenging to you to be doing it that way?
Genice Chan: Not really. It was cool and fun to look forward to the meetings where we would show each other stuff.
OTAQUEST: What was your process like from start to delivery on the BNA project?
Genice Chan: I usually receive my assignments in a Skype call where they go over the materials they have and what they’re looking for. They’d be like, “We want you to do this,” and then I’d discuss the assignment with them and let them know when I could get it done.
The next step for me would be to do thumbnails. I prefer to do my initial sketches in a sketchbook, and really take some time to think about how I want to approach a concept first. Once I work that out, I’ll throw it into Photoshop and go through things step by step until they’re at a presentable level. I ended up doing quite a few different things for them, and sometimes I would switch up my process too, so beyond this it really depends on the task.
OTAQUEST: Was there a lot of communication back & forth during the development of different things, or would you just get to a point where you send it to them and they ask for changes and that’s the end of it?
Genice Chan: At least for my early concepts, I would hand stuff in expecting some changes, but then they would just say “Cool, thanks!” and give me something else to do.
OTAQUEST: How was it working with Yoh Yoshinari on the project? Was there anything in particular you learned or took away from working with him as the director of the project?
Genice Chan: I think Yoshinari has a more reserved personality, so whenever he reacted positively to something I handed in I felt really accomplished- like a “Yes! I did it!” kind of feeling. In the beginning I had a lot of worries about the quality of my work, because I admire a lot of TRIGGER projects and I think Yoshinari is a really amazing draftsman. When I thought of my own skills in comparison it was like “Oh no, everyone will definitely be able to see this isn’t that great…” or “Aw man, I can’t draw as good as this…” But despite how I felt about my own work, Yoshinari was always very receptive of the things I contributed. After a while, I started to realize that although there are things I could do better, there are also things I’m decent at. Instead of getting hung up on my weak points, I found that when I focused more on expressing my strengths and what I like, the process was more enjoyable, and the results would come out more easily, and also at a better quality.
OTAQUEST: You also directed and animated the ending sequence for the series, which is a pretty different task all things considered, how did you approach this part of the production?
Genice Chan: Their request for me to do it was very unexpected! And at first, I said no because they asked me as an individual. Since I was already working at Giant Ant full-time, and I’m not a very fast animator, I wasn’t sure I could do it. But we managed to set things up so that I could make the ending with the help of my co-workers at Giant Ant. I think it was really cool to be able to do it that way, and I appreciated that arrangement a lot.
As for how I approached the ending- from the beginning I did it from a very practical perspective because there were a lot of limitations with the amount of time and manpower we had. The number one thing on my mind when I was working on it was “How could I design this in a way that could be done on time, but also without overworking my animators, or sacrificing any of the coolness that I’d like it to have?” I tried to think of a lot of ways to cut corners stylistically- for example the goal of having a slightly abstract approach was to sell the simpler art style and animation. But in the end, despite all of the corners I tried to cut, my team would add all these subtle touches back into it, so I would say we ended up spending the usual amount of effort on everything (laughs).
OTAQUEST: Did they send you the music in advance so you could build the basis for everything before you started?
Genice Chan: Absolutely, and I received a translation of the lyrics as well. The way I designed the shots was guided by that.
OTAQUEST: The use of color and overall look of the ending really reflects your personal style based on some of your other art I’ve seen, and has a very contrasting look from the opening sequence, was this planned from the beginning?
Genice Chan: I guess so. When I was approached to do the ending animation they told me that they liked the image boards and first key visual I had illustrated for them, so they wanted something in that general direction- but otherwise I had free reign. Around the time I was designing the ending I had recently watched Promare, and one version of the credits had a bright pink background with just black text on it. I remember seeing that and thinking “Oh, that looks so stylish!”
When I was thinking about the colors for BNA, I wanted it to inherit some of the coolness that Promare had, and it was a really great coincidence that the bright pink I liked was also already being used in the first key visual, so that was one of my starting points.
OTAQUEST: Have you seen any of BNA yet? What do you think about the final product for everything now that it’s all out, especially in relation to the concept art you made for the series?
Genice Chan: I’ve seen most of BNA already! I’m always looking forward to seeing more of what they’ve done. One of my favorite things about working on the show was handing something in and seeing what they do with the work I’ve contributed. I remember in the beginning when we were exploring the character designs, a lot of things weren’t very developed yet, so I would do a take, and then Yoshinari or another artist would do a take of my take, and we would kind of go back and forth like that. Watching things evolve in that way was super cool.
OTAQUEST: Do you have any advice for western animators & illustrators who are looking to work with a Japanese studio?
Genice Chan: I would say that learning Japanese is probably good, but I haven’t learned Japanese properly yet so I’m not sure I have the right to give that advice (laughs).
I don’t think there’s anything that’s too different from how I would say to approach western studios. In general, I would emphasize three things:
One, I think it’s really important to show that you can make the work you want to make. So for example, if you want to get into character design you need to show that you can do character design, and do it at the level and in the style of the things you want to work on.
Next, make yourself visible and accessible to audiences and people who are hiring. If people don’t know who you are and don’t see your work, or can’t reach you, then they can’t hire you and you can’t work on stuff.
And the third thing would be community. Whether it’s school, the internet, or your workplace I think the experience of helping each other out and cheering each other on is really important to growing not only as an artist, but also as a person. When you have that, I think you’ll reach whatever goals you have sooner.
OTAQUEST: Lastly, If any of our readers want to find more of your work, where would be the best place for them to follow you and your art be?
OTAQUEST: Do you have any parting words?
Genice Chan: I’m very thankful for the experience and opportunities I’ve had, and I’m really glad to be doing this! The support for BNA has been amazing so far and I hope you’ll keep looking forward to it.
You can catch the results of Genice’s concept art & Studio TRIGGER’s final production for yourself when BNA: Brand New Animal begins airing worldwide on Netflix starting June 30th, 2020.