Exploring The Unique Production Process Of Netflix’s Stunning ‘Blue Eye Samurai’ (Exclusive Video)

Cartoon Brew and Netflix recently teamed up to host a special FYC screening of Blue Eye Samurai in Burbank, followed by a conversation with supervising director and producer Jane Wu and production designer Toby Wilson, during which they shared behind-the-scene details and explained how the show’s unique production process makes it stand apart from other animated series.

Set in Edo-period Japan, Blue Eye Samurai follows Mizu, a mixed-race master of the sword who lives a life in disguise seeking the deliverance of revenge. The critically-acclaimed series has won 6 Annie Awards and the Ace Eddie Award, while also receiving 2 MPSE Golden Reels Award Nominations and a Peabody Award Nomination.

Jane Wu, who has an extensive history storyboarding for live-action films and series, including multiple Marvel movies as well as Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, equated her vision for Blue Eye Samurai to that of a fusion restaurant. “It’s traditional,” she said, “but there’s something about it that feels a little bit new because I’ve introduced a new ingredient into it, which is live-action.”

The show’s unique approach involved staging and shooting action-heavy sequences in live action. Wu says that stunt-heavy sequences are often “stunt-viz’d” in vfx-driven live-action films and series, and she wanted to try applying this approach in animation, not only because it lends authenticity to the martial arts movements but also reduces the workload for the storyboard artists. For this project, Wu hired stunt choreographer Sunny Sun, who shot all the stunt sequences in China, which were then reinterpreted by the animation team for the final production.

Production designer Toby Wilson spoke at length about the Japanese visual influences in the series, particularly the work of woodblock printmaker and painter Hiroshi Yoshida, who was trained in both ukiyo-e and Western painting traditions. “His ukiyo-e prints are a hybrid,” explained Wilson. “If you look at those compositions, they follow what we see more today as a Hollywood style composition. They don’t have the stylized perspectives, but he utilizes all the principles of ukiyo-e – the negative space, the notan, concentrating the contrast. So that’s what we built off of.”

Wilson added, “We are creating shapes and designing those shapes using value, the notan principles of light and dark, clustering those high-contrast areas where we want you looking for the focal point, and then within those shapes, we are controlling the textures.”

Wu gives credit to show creators Amber Noizumi and Michael Green, as well as Netflix, for being supportive of the show’s unconventional production pipeline. “Just to have that much support for doing something that’s never been done before, it was an amazing feeling.”

To learn more about how the production came together, watch the entire conversation above with Wu and Wilson.

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