Combining Anime with Live Action

Iké Boys director Eric McEver discusses tips and tricks for blending anime-style animation sequences with a live action narrative.

As usual, the films from Fantastic Fest continue to amaze and blow away any expectations as to what films could or should do. From this year’s fest in Austin, Texas, we chatted with writer and director Eric McEver about his genre-bending film Iké Boys—a film notable for its creative combination of anime-style animated sequences within an overarching coming-of-age narrative.

Set against the Y2K backdrop of suburban Oklahoma, Iké Boys tells the story of two friends (Quinn Lord as Shawn Gunderson and Ronak Gandhi as Vikram ‘Vik’ Kapoor) and their bubbling fascination with anime. Their friendship is put to the test, however, when a Japanese exchange student (Christina Higa as Miki Shimizu) comes to stay with them.

Oh yeah, also, they watch a rare anime DVD which zaps all three of them with superpowers as they become anime characters in real life. You know, normal high school coming-of-age drama stuff.

But, how did McEver come up with this fantastical story? And, what tips does he have to share from his hybrid animation/live action first feature?

Let’s explore some of McEver’s insights and advice for aspiring filmmakers.

Start by Writing What You Know

Iké Boys Set
Eric McEver on the set of Iké Boys. Image courtesy of Eric McEver.

I wanted my first feature to be something unique, and to paraphrase the Duplass Brothers, a film that I was uniquely qualified to make. Once I hit upon the idea of combining my own life with the Japanese films that inspired me as a child, I realized that I could make something with passion and flare in a way that was distinctly my own.

– Eric McEver

So, before one even decides on the genre of a film and whether or not it might be live action or animation, you have to first find your own story and voice. For Eric McEver, his inspiration for Iké Boys came from within and from his “own life.”

“Shawn [the main character] is a fictionalized version of me,” McEver recounts as he explains how different elements of the story and characters are all based on real people he grew up with in Oklahoma.

Especially when working on a first feature film, it helps to draw your characters and settings from people and places you know thoroughly. While imagination is awesome, it’s always going to be stronger when based in reality. A handy tip for those starting out with a first draft of their film idea.

Planning and Coordinating Animation

Iké Boys Movie
Part of executing your vision is in the planning. Image courtesy of Eric McEver.

Planning, planning, planning! The script broke down which segments were going to be done in which mediums, and we made a point of designing transitions into animation during our live action shoot.

– Eric McEver

As far as deciding on whether or not a film or project should be live action, animated, or anything in-between, McEver’s decision was simply the right one for him and his story. However, the real challenge wasn’t the decision—it was the execution.

And, as McEver puts it, planning and coordinating animation requires a huge amount of time and work. “My pandemic was a year of almost daily Zoom calls with the animators to figure out the minutiae of character movement, color, and motion.”

However, despite “lots of work,” if you’re passionate about your craft and the story you’re trying to tell, it’ll always be “tremendously fulfilling.”

Create Your Shared Style and Look

I wanted the live action portions to have a warm, magical feel that hinted at nostalgia and fairy tales. The lenses had a very distinct feel to them that gives everything a slightly heightened look. Also, my cinematographer Ed Wu is, to use an industry term, da man.

– Eric McEver

Shot on an ARRI ALEXA with Panavision lenses, Iké Boys truly blends looks and styles as its live action feels warm and lived-in, whereas its anime-sequences feel similarly nostalgic and fun.

Set on the eve of the year 2000, the film is also a lesson in period-setting as the entire production recreates a world which isn’t that long ago, yet still feels like the past.

Let the Live Action Heighten the Animation

Iké Boys Set
For Iké Boys, animation was a stylistic guide for the live action sequences. Image courtesy of Eric McEver.

Animation itself is a heightened version of the live action production process. Every detail has to be planned and designed from scratch.

– Eric McEver

When speaking about how the film eventually combines its live action and animated elements, the challenge is really more about the stakes and the story than the production. The majority of the film takes place in a live action narrative. However, the few animated sequences referenced are indeed a guiding light stylistically.

From there, once our characters become their anime hero-selves, elements of animated flashes, bolts, and shots are included, but in a way that reflects the overarching feeling and story.

If you’re interested in trying to combine live action and animation in your own projects, McEver’s advice about animation being a heightened version of the story is a smart way to segment your own vision.

If you’d like some cool tutorials and resources to guide you, we’ve got you covered:

Plan to Enjoy the Journey

Iké Boys Cast
The cast of Iké Boys. Image courtesy of Eric McEver.

Plan, plan, plan . . . if you don’t prepare for the sheer scale of what you’re getting into, you’ll get into trouble very quick. And, the more you plan, the more you have room for improvisation and play.

Most importantly, though, HAVE FUN. I can honestly say that every step of this journey was a reward in and of itself. Enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy all of the very hard work that it entails, you shouldn’t be doing it.

– Eric McEver

When watching Iké Boys, you really feel like you’re viewing a big vision and story that took years to come together. It’s presented in an authentic and indie way, but it feels like it could have been a several million dollar budget and concept.

For anyone looking to start out on their own filmmaking journey, this advice from McEver is some of the best I’ve heard. The first being that the more you plan the better because you’re just freeing up time and mental space to improvise later. 

However, the second point is even more important—enjoy the process and art of filmmaking! Whether you’re bringing your favorite childhood anime to life, or telling personal stories based on the people and events of your life. Enjoy the journey just as much as you enjoy the hard work along the way.

For more filmmaking interviews, insights, and resources, check out these articles:

Cover image courtesy of Eric McEver.

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