Interview: Fire Force Photography Director Is All About Perfecting Series’ Flames 🔥

It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Thanks to our partners at Kodansha, we’ve got another special interview for you, this time with Fire Force Photography Director, Yosuke Motoki!

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With Fire Force Season 2 well underway, we’re taking a deep dive into the direction of the series, from the flames of Infernals to the powers of Shinra, Maki and the other pyrokinetics we’ve come to know and love.

Take a look below for the full interview with Motoki-san, and let us know what anime interviews you’d like to see next!

I’d like to start by identifying what your job actually entails. What sort of work does a director of photography do, specifically?

Motoki: Simply put, my job is to compose the background art and character materials in the software, then add all sorts of photographic effects. Everything up until it is converted to video data is the photography director’s section.

The word “photography” is a holdover from before everything moved to digital, like it is now. We used to layer cels over the paper with the background art on it, then shoot it with a camera.  

Fire Force

Indeed. The changing times have allowed all of the work to be dealt with digitally now. You mentioned photographic effects. For this series, that would include the roaring flames that the many action scenes unfold within, and which have drawn in the fans.

As the photography director, what effects have you thought up and put to use to create flames?

Motoki: I went to a lot of effort to handle the flame effects. By which I mean, in Fire Force‘s battle scenes, the abilities of both friendly and hostile characters largely depend on some burning type of flame.

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That means that in one frame, you could have flames created by a character’s ability, along with explosions that are caused by them, as well as flames that are just burning as part of the background, all blending together into the same scene at once.

Yes, when you put it that way, “flames” can take on many interpretations.

Motoki: That’s right. We receive great material from the animation team, so I want to make sure that it gets shown off correctly, but a shot where you try to emphasize everything just becomes overly busy. It was difficult to come up with the right balance. 

Fire Force Season 2 Shinra

So what sort of measures did you take to ensure that balance? 

Motoki: We had the issue that when flames were being produced, nearly every character’s flames ended up being depicted with the same colors.

So we handled that by keeping the flames’ colors the same, but using an effect that brought out their outlines, or sometimes processing the animation or VFX materials to alter their shapes, adding color gradations or deepening the saturation, adding textures to the cel elements, and so forth. We took the same materials and tweaked them to make them look different. 

You used effects to increase the variations in which the flames were presented.

Motoki: Other times, we swapped out animated materials for VFX, layered different materials to give them more body, and chose different materials depending on the feel and composition of a scene. In any case, we paid extra attention to make sure the flames didn’t overwhelm the shot.  

Yes, there were a lot of fires being produced throughout the series, but it’s impressive how they were all just a little bit different.

Motoki: The battle scenes in this series are especially important. When a move lands during one of them, we alter the contrast of the video, and arrange elements of impact dust and spatter, called castoff, airflow effects, and any material given to us by the CG people.

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This is the spice that elevates the intensity of the video and tweaks the battle to make it look more spectacular. 

You say the many shots involving fire made your job harder. But your efforts and attention to detail have made the battle scenes from the original manga even more forceful in the anime.

Motoki: In my position as photography director, getting the series highlights just right and carrying out the instructions from the episode director are all part of the job. 

However, that being said, I also make an effort to try out things that I personally think might be interesting. I often get told to please take them out, though (laughs). But ultimately, there are also times when adding those touches makes the video that much more enjoyable, so I always set about working with a playful attitude.  

Fire Force Season 2

You have worked on many other famous anime series before, as well. Many of those also featured some impressive and intense battle scenes.

Do you feel that your experience from those previous works were useful on this series?

Motoki: I have in my head what I call the expectation of shounen manga. It’s what I have gleaned through trial and error over the time in which I have overseen a number of series that were based on shounen manga, as far as the notion of “will doing things this way look cool?” It’s an intuitive thing, so putting it into words is difficult.  

Of course, the feel and world setting of a show is different depending on the series, so while drawing on past experience, I adhere to the tone of that production and apply myself to the work for that show. 

You mentioned that following the instructions of the director and episode director was part of the job for a photography director.

For this series, what sort of orders and rules did they give you?

Motoki: Fire Force did not come with that many orders. There were some rules, such as “leave the flame cels as unaltered as possible” and “don’t blur the backgrounds,” though. 

However, the scale of the storytelling is so broad, and there were so many scenes that had varying feels about them that I conducted video tests to match the scenes in each case. 

Fire Force Shinra

How did you feel when the first season actually went to air?

Motoki: First, I received a ton of positive feedback, which made me glad, as someone who was involved in the series. That also made me straighten myself up and think, now I really have to make something good. From the position of photography director, the first episode left a very strong impression. 

That being said, the way we were handling battles with Infernals had not been firmly established yet at the time of Episode 1, so it was a matter of trial and error as I talked it through with the director. Upon actually seeing the completed episode, with its VFX flames and its animated flames, and the glow of the blue stripes of the turnout coats against a dark background, I felt that the amount of information in the frame was plenty, and that the animation turned out well.  

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The music and character motion fit incredibly well, and I remember it was such a great start to the series that it gave me goose bumps. 

fire force tamaki nether

Even with its treatment not being firmly established yet, Episode 1 was very impressive.

As photography director, were there any challenges you had to tackle with the upcoming second season? 

Motoki: Season 2 introduces more characters, and the wide range of flame abilities also becomes even wider, so I have to think about new ways to represent those abilities and differentiate the flames.

I’m still being mindful to keep the flame scenes from becoming monotonous, so that part hasn’t changed, but there are a number of different rules between Season 1 and Season 2. With that in mind, I’m hoping to keep trying new ways of composing the imagery than I’ve ever done before. 

There are even more intense and spectacular battles on the way, so by all means, be looking forward to them!