Lupin III: The First A Film By Takashi Yamazaki
Lupin III: The First – In Theaters 10/18 & 21; on Digital 12/15; on Blu-ray & Steelbook 1/12!
The iconic “gentleman thief” Lupin III returns in an action-packed, continent-spanning adventure, as Lupin III and his colorful underworld companions race to uncover the secrets of the mysterious Bresson Diary, before it falls into the hands of a dark cabal that will stop at nothing to resurrect the Third Reich. The gang undertakes trap-filled tombs, aerial escapades and daring prison escapes with the trademark wit and visual finesse that have made LUPIN THE 3RD one of the most storied animation franchises in the world, in a thrilling new caper that is sure to delight fans old and new.
THE PROCESS OF DEVELOPING LUPIN III: THE FIRST
As a keen adopter of digital technology, Monkey Punch learned to draw his manga on computers early. He also led the Digital Manga Association as its first president. Understandably, he’d been longing to see his creation, Lupin III, come to life in 3DCG for quite some time. At a press interview for Lupin III vs. Detective Conan: The Movie (2013), he jokingly remarked, “I’d like to see it in 3D next time.”
To fulfill his long-time dream, the planning of this movie started in the summer of 2015. TMS Entertainment, the company that does planning, production, and sales for various animation projects including Lupin III, and Marza Animation Planet, the company that does planning, production, and sales of feature-length CG animation films came together and co-developed the plotlines. Their main goal was to create a story that entertains kids and adults alike as well as awe both domestic and international audiences.
Four plots were simultaneously developed and started seeing a promising story arc when Takashi Yamazaki, who has directed numerous major feature films and is a trusted veteran in the industry, was approached to direct. Being a big fan of Lupin III, Director Yamazaki jumped right in to direct and write a script for the project, despite being a resident director at Shirogumi, which makes VFX, animation and liveaction movies.
Director Yamazaki joined the project in Fall 2015. Starting the following year, the team spent about a year polishing the script, going through 12 drafts. Director Yamazaki drew rough storyboards based on the script. Then a team of storyboard artists streamlined frames and added more content to develop an animatics reel (footage made out of connecting storyboards) that was over 90 minutes. This way, they were able to show it to others, including staff and the general public, gathering feedback. A common practice in Hollywood 3DCG film-making, this was done for the first time for a Japanese full-length feature film.
The first animatics were completed sometime in June 2017. Voice acting has always been an essential element to build the characters in Lupin III. Deciding that having the voices in the animatics would help the viewers imagine the final film, the main characters’ voices were already recorded. Therefore, the first recording was held a month before the animatics were completed in May 2017. Usually, the voice actors say their lines to match completed animation, but they were free from those limits this time. The animation was developed to match the voices, which was a first for the Lupin III series. Some voice actors were a little hesitant for this reversed process at first. But Mr. Kanichi Kurita, who plays Lupin, enjoyed it so much he adlibbed many jokes into his lines. Some of them made the final cut.
This animatic was shown to about 100 people. As expected for the very first screening, a lot of the feedback was very critical. Collected comments compiled more than 100 pages. The director and staff sincerely considered the criticism and completed the edited version in a short period. The second animatic was shown in September 2017. Similar to the first time, it went from the screening to the feedback to the collection and selection of which comments to incorporate to create a new animatic.
In November of the same year, the third animatic was completed. After all these processes, the story finally started taking the current shape. Around this time, to set the standard color scheme and designing lighting for each scene in the film, the color script was established. The color transitions and balances were designed to make the story easy to understand and to keep the audience engaged. The French comics “Bande Dessinée” influenced the underlining color theme by Director Yamazaki’s request.
DEVELOPING 3DCG CHARACTERS
As soon as the project started in September 2015, the 3DCG Lupin character designs were also developed. Lupin has different characteristics between the TV series and the specials, and likewise, various options were considered for this movie.
First, several character designers and concept artists were hired to develop about 30 different designs of Lupin in 2D. Staff cast votes to choose the three most popular designs. Those were further improved until the final design was completed. Once Lupin was finalized, developing Daisuke Jigen, Goemon Ishikawa, and Inspector Zenigata was relatively easy by applying the same style. However, Fujiko Mine proved to be difficult. She was portrayed as a provocative lady in the TV specials with eyes slanting upwards, whereas she was cute and playful with eyes slanting down in the series. Her characteristics changed according to the staff. After many discussions about which direction to go and whether she should be slim or voluptuous, the production team decided on the current design.
Building 3D models based on 2D concepts turned out to be challenging since small details make or break Lupin’s likeness. Two dedicated 3D modelers were building digital maquettes in ZBrush (a digital sculpting software) for the main characters. What resulted were completely different models, and it was hard to believe that they came from the same concept art. In the end, the one chosen was the model that was most expressive in CG animation. Attention to small details such as the sideburns and jawline were considered to finalize the 3D models.
The new characters Laetitia, Lambert, and Gerard were developed based on Director Yamazaki’s rough sketches. Lambert’s 3D model was almost entirely developed from Director Yamazaki’s sketch. Gerard’s design was less straightforward. Ultimately, the character drawn in the animatics turned out to be well-received, so the model was developed from that design.
What is great about 3DCG is its rich texture. The slick texture of Lupin’s leather jacket was made possible because of the medium. There were more than 10 different outfits designed for Fujiko and Director Yamazaki mentioned that it was like an upscale costume fitting. However, because of the budget, only a couple of outfits were developed. Fans can enjoy the carefully selected outfits in the film.
PRODUCTION OF BACKGROUND AND PROPS
While the animatics were developed, art production was also moving forward. The art director collected photos as reference for each setting and discussed the general direction with Director Yamazaki before starting the designs.
This movie is set in the 1960’s, mostly in France. To be historically accurate, staff gathered as many books with photographs of France back then to research. For example, at the beginning of the movie, there is an action-packed car chase scene on the freeway. It is accurate by not having a centerline, which was possible to recreate by searching through an enormous collection of reference photos. Also, there were several French staff in the animation team who gave advice whether the portrayal of France was correct.
The art team was also responsible for designing the props. Jigen’s gun and Goemon’s samurai sword are some of the most iconic props in the Lupin III franchise. TMS Entertainment’s enormous amount of references from the past Lupin III anime were used to maintain accuracy and consistency. The Bresson Diary was imagined as a “luxurious Swiss mechanical watch” based on Director Yamazaki’s idea. The complex puzzle in the medallion was at first hand-sculpted in clay. The ancient language of Accado that Laetitia deciphers was overseen by a specialist. All these things have contributed to making the story more convincing.
Like the process with the characters, once the designs were almost finalized for the background and props, they were created in 3D. The layout team planned the camera movements and staging transitions in the digital environment. When the characters, backgrounds, and props were made into digital assets, it was ready to start making animation.
KEYFRAME ANIMATION TO COMPLETION
In November 2017, the animators started their work to breathe life into the characters. Currently, the most efficient and common CG animation method is motion capturing human movements and manipulating them digitally. But the staff decided that it would be difficult to express Lupin’s cartoonish movements that way, so they took the time using the method of keyframe animation to depict the gestures and expressions. But this method could lead to slight changes in facial expressions depending on the animator. To maintain quality, rather than mobilizing a large number of animators to finish in a short amount of time, the team decided to move forward steadily with just a few elite staff.
When the team looked to hire designers and artists, since the Lupin III franchise has a worldwide fanbase and because acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki led this project, it attracted over 20 production staffers from 17 different countries. Japanese animators worked together with staff from overseas, communicating in various languages. The atmosphere was very global. With both languages and cultures mixing, it promoted lively conversations, and that raised the quality of work.
During the animation phase, elaborate care was taken in how the hair and clothes were depicted. Lighting was meticulously planned, and the accumulation of the labor resulted in portraying Lupin as he was meant to be. The facial expressions and scenes with many characters (such as when Zenigata and the cops surround Lupin) were constructed thoroughly by referencing the materials from TMS Entertainment. This way, even in 3D, the essence of Lupin was maintained. A few legendary animators who worked on Lupin from the beginning also lent their talent. They drew where Lupin escapes to the roof at the museum, the smoke bomb scene, and the special effects of the Eclipse.
The soundtrack was composed by none other than Yuji Ohno, who has been writing the scores for almost all the Lupin III series. In the past, Lupin III music was strongly influenced by jazz. However, this time he used a full orchestra to create a new Lupin III sound.
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Release Date: 13 March 2020 (India)
Art Director: Toshiya Umeda
CG Supervisor: Takahiro Arakawa