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CARTOON 2023 Cartoon Next

A Cartoon Next, Bartosz Sztybor parla della serie anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunners e della collaborazione con sceneggiatori statunitensi e studi giapponesi


- Il rappresentante di CD Projekt Red ha condiviso le gioie e i dolori dello sviluppo del franchise, nonché le lezioni apprese lavorando con il giapponese Studio Trigger

A Cartoon Next, Bartosz Sztybor parla della serie anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunners e della collaborazione con sceneggiatori statunitensi e studi giapponesi
John Lomas-Bullivant (sinistra) e Bartosz Sztybor durante il panel (© Cartoon)

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On day 1 of this year’s Cartoon Next (18-20 April), Marseille’s World Trade Center hosted a 40-minute talk titled “Cartoon Next Brings You the Next Big Thing in the Crossover Between Anime, Narrative and Gaming”. The discussion, moderated by John Lomas-Bullivant, saw the participation of Bartosz Sztybor, Comic Book and Animation Narrative director at Poland’s CD Projekt Red. The Warsaw-based video game studio is the biggest in Eastern Europe, and it is best known for its work on two gaming franchises – namely, Cyberpunk 2077 (more than 20 million copies sold) and The Witcher trilogy (over 50 million copies sold). In his talk, Sztybor spoke about his work on developing the Cyberpunk universe and zoomed in on the creation of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the franchise-based anime series released last September on Netflix, produced in co-operation with Japan’s Studio Trigger.

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Sztybor touched upon his background and said he started working for CD Projekt Red four years ago. He described the company as being made up of “1,000 rebels and dreamers”. Back in 2019, CD Projekt Red needed his expertise “to expand the brand and the Cyberpunk IP, [in order] to create comics and animation”. He also confirmed the company would be releasing an expansion pack to the base game later this year.

After showing the first trailer for Cyberpunk, Sztybor admitted that during his first few days at CD Projekt Red, he didn’t know much about the game. But uncertainty seems to have remained throughout the process. “It was hard to learn the essence of the IP. Of course, the story was written, but you should know that gaming development is very different from that of film and animation. It’s a process full of iterations, because of technical stuff and some people’s decisions. [...] You have the whole story written, and after two or three months, you have to rewrite it [from scratch] because something happens. It was hard to create something in a world that was constantly changing.”

Unsurprisingly, the head of Story’s voice was hardly considered a point of reference. When asking for clarifications, they could easily answer that they knew the story “how it was two days ago”, but it was difficult to explain, since the team was “trying to experiment with something else”.

Cyberpunk 2077 was developed over seven years, and its release was repeatedly postponed. “The people from CD Projekt Red are rebels but also perfectionists, and that's why everyone in the company wanted to nail this IP to make it perfect; that’s why there were constant iterations,” the Polish artist pointed out.

Next, Lomas-Bullivant asked him why the team decided to kick off the development of an animated project before the game was even finalised, well ahead of being able to know its actual impact on the market.

“Everyone knew we would make an anime some day because it’s Cyberpunk; everyone knows Ghost in the Shell and Akira, and the people from CD Projekt Red wanted to create another [new] anime that would have a cult following. [...] The idea was to be 100% ‘cyberpunk’ with the whole IP,” answered Sztybor.

He then revealed that the main reason was that when it comes to working with Japanese studios, you may need to wait from six to eight years to complete the production of an anime, and that pushed CD Projekt Red to start the anime development well in advance.

The conversation then moved on to focus on the co-operation with US showrunners and Studio Trigger. “The process has been crazy,” said Sztybor, without mincing his words. “The stakeholders inside the company were often unhappy about what Cyberpunk was going to be. Then there was Studio Trigger, reading all the scripts and telling us, ‘This is not anime; it looks cool, but it’s not an anime.’ So what is an anime? You have to feel it. That was our main discussion. So we thought: ‘Maybe we should use more professionals.’ [...] Spoiler alert: the US talents didn’t help at all.

“The problem is that this IP is hard [to work with], and no one knew what it was supposed to be about. [...] At one point, Studio Trigger came back with their own pitch saying, ‘This is an anime,’ but we answered that that wasn’t Cyberpunk 2077! It was very high-concept, and about a child who is able to save the world, and we knew it couldn’t be like that. It had to be very grounded, not a fantasy world.”

In the last part of the talk, Sztybor told the audience that an important lesson he had learnt from co-operating with the Japanese studio was to “throw your ego out and follow their flow”, adding how different it has been to work with them in comparison with Los Angeles-based writers, “who are all about screenwriting rules and the hero’s journey”.

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