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4K short Sol Levante combines art and technology to deliver best in class anime

4K short Sol Levante combines art and technology to deliver best in class anime

Haruka Miyagawa, Kylee Peña - Creative Technologies & Infrastructure team


On April 2, Netflix is proud to premiere a first-of-its-kind original anime short titled Sol Levante.

Designed in experimental 4K and HDR, and lifted by immersive audio, Sol Levante has been a project two years in the making by a wide range of dedicated craftspeople both inside and outside Netflix. To celebrate its release, we wanted to look back at this groundbreaking title’s journey from idea to reality. 

Using technology to expand the art of anime

At Netflix, we've always loved anime and we work hard to provide the top artists with the best technology to help them tell their stories in new and innovative ways.

High definition range (HDR) TVs and smartphones are increasingly popular with consumers. So we've been exploring ways to create anime in 4K - giving artists a much wider color palette to create even more compelling visual experiences for audiences all around the world.

However, we quickly learned that increasing the resolution of anime would involve creators either drawing on bigger pieces of paper than the standard B5, or scanning their art at much higher resolutions. Given that neither option was workable, we switched to drawing digitally on a tablet. Unfortunately, most anime artists in Japan lacked the training or equipment to go digital. 

(From left: Katsushi Eda, Miho Tanaka, Akira Saitoh, Hisashi Ezura, Masakazu Morinaka)

Thankfully, we found a capable and enthusiastic partner in Production I.G., a Japanese production company known for projects like Ghost in the Shell and the anime scenes in Kill Bill. Production I.G. has a small but incredibly talented crew led by director Akira Saitoh, all of whom were excited to bring 4K and HDR anime to life and were unafraid to start from scratch.

Two years of challenges

In the two years we've been working on Sol Levante, we had to work with numerous stakeholders and subcontractors, all with varying ages of technology, much of which could not handle the brightness and color range that's possible on HDR. During pre-production, director Saitoh had to carefully balance shots with simple lines as well as finer detail. And while drawing characters, animator Hisashi Ezura had to adjust the pen pressure to create the exact thickness needed for their outlines. Even small adjustments to skin tone could easily change the character’s overall appearance. 

The greatest challenge was rendering final shots to allow for panning with compositions that contained images much bigger than 4K. It was so hard that we had to delay the entire project for months. But given our determination to bring 4K anime to life, the team powered on. 

Knowing how technologically advanced the visuals for Sol Levante would be, we decided to add immersive audio to enhance the viewing experience of these state-of-the-art visuals. We tapped a well-respected US-based sound team to complete this job with sound mixer Will Files and sound designer Matt Yocum using Dolby Atmos to bring director Saitoh’s artistic vision to fruition. Will brought contrast to the sound mix and wove in composer Emily Rice’s original orchestral score, which had been recorded on a 3D microphone.

A home for anyone who loves the craft of anime

In order to help everyone in the  anime industry better understand the challenges involved with 4K HDR and immersive audio, we’ve "open-sourced" the materials we used in Sol Levante. This will enable animators and creatives to understand these new technologies better, partner more effectively with manufacturers and to work with anime studios to incorporate this technology into their productions.

As we finished, director Saitoh observed that having “access to 4K and HDR is like getting wings and an engine to see a new horizon where a new era rises. We keep challenging ourselves and innovate for the future”.

Art and science have always been inextricably linked - from the printing press to the moving picture, radio and DVDs. We named the project Sol Levante - which means the sun rising from the east in Italian - as a metaphor for Japan because we hope this will be the beginning of a new dawn for anime craftspeople, enabling them to expand their craft in original new ways. 

We also hope this short will delight audiences with its unique combination of art and science. 

Sol Levante is now streaming on Netflix and is best enjoyed with any HDR configured device with your Premium subscription.

Nao Azuma