Behind the Scenes: Creating Scanlations

As soon as I opened Miss Dream, it became quickly apparent that there was no way I could handle every technical aspect of my project. Nowhere was this lack of technical skill more obvious than when it came to creating print media releases. The amount of graphical design work that goes into a single page of content is considerable. Doing a twenty page project once a month is something I could pull off on my own; releasing 16 books worth of content totaling over 5,000 pages is quite another. Within a week of opening the site I decided I was going to have to actively recruit staff members in order to keep up with the requests I was getting.

Finding staff is a pretty difficult feat. The staff must not only have a pretty huge amount of free time available for them to use towards working on Miss Dream projects, but they’ve also got to have a pretty specific set of tools and knowledge to be able to do graphical design work on manga, which I’ve detailed briefly. Generally speaking, it takes anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to erase text, typeset translations, and rebuild images where necessary per page. To complete a full scale chapter of manga, it takes a graphical designer anywhere from 10 to 40 hours depending on the difficulty of an assignment. It amazes me that I’ve managed to find as many capable and willing people as I have to work on Miss Dream.

The first part of the process involves me microwaving a book, tearing apart its pages and scanning them. This process takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. After that, the scans are manipulated in Photoshop to boost contrast to make the pages cleaner and easier to read. They are packed in 600 DPI archives chapter by chapter and uploaded to my web server for general “raw” distribution to any fans who want them for graphical design or other purposes.

Next, I load a chapter’s scans into Photoshop, batch process the images to make them a more manageable size (generally speaking, the size I use is 768 x 1200 pixels), and then I type translations directly over the text. (you can watch an example here) I save the finished page as a .psd, and continue this until every page in a chapter is done. Depending on the number of translator’s notes I include, typing out all of the sentences in the chapter for translation takes anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours. (Stars was definitely the most difficult arc to get through translation-wise)

Once a chapter is finished being translated, I pack it into a separate archive with .psds, upload that to my server, and provide the link to Dan, our preliminary editor. He goes through and weeds out any typos he finds, repacks the archive, and sends that forward to the assigned graphical designer and our final editor, Wednesday. It takes Dan about 45 minutes to do a preliminary edit, and Wednesday several hours to do a finalized edit. Once the graphical design is complete, Wednesday’s edits are applied, the .psds are merged to jpgs, a finalized archive is created and uploaded, as well as a .pdf version of the release and a gallery page.

The finalization process for publication takes us about an hour to prepare on Mondays per chapter released. Since we release anywhere from 3-5 chapters of manga a week, several hours are spent the day of the release getting it ready for publication. Because so much of the finalization work is done on Monday, we have pretty strict due dates and guidelines that each staff member must adhere to in order to make updates as frequently as we do and as on schedule as possible.

Dan keeps a detailed Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of everyone’s assignments, due dates, anticipated dates of submission, and other information to coordinate the actions of the staff. First, I am given a schedule by which to complete acts of manga (usually I’m given a two week turn-around time) which I try to beat for fun. (At my peak, I was able to translate three chapters, or 150 pages of manga per day!) Once I’ve turned in my work, Dan passes it off to one of the graphical designers he’s queued up to take on projects (he has everyone on alternating weeks of submission so no one gets burn out). Generally speaking, the graphical design staff is given two weeks to complete a 50 page assignment, which provides them with plenty of time to finish and provides us with time to reschedule assignments and pass them off in case the originally assigned staff member for some reason can’t make the scheduled deadline. Dan does a great job of coordinating the staff and trying to make the work load as fair and balanced as humanly possible. (In fact, he’s written about what goes into making scanlations briefly before, and my editorial was inspired by his)

The lead times between me finishing an entire book and it being published online is generally about a two weeks from start to finish, though in recent times the lead time has been more like a month since I’ve managed to translate through a massive amount of material in a very short period of time. In the month of May 2011, I translated roughly 20 chapters of material, which I would estimate at about 1,000 pages. Even with several graphical designers to take on that load, it still takes a while to process. I’m extremely impressed with how much work the graphical designers manage to get done in a relatively short period of time. It is awe inspiring when you consider the number of hours that go into just translating a single chapter of manga; I wonder how much time it took Takeuchi Naoko and her staff to not only write all of that dialogue, but also draw all those pages!

So there you have it: A breakdown of all the crazy stuff that goes on behind the scenes to get the manga online in digital format. It is surprising to me that my unpaid, volunteer staff manages to get this volume of work done knowing full well that they will not be reimbursed or be able to use their work here in any professional artistic portfolio because it is illegal. A number of our graphical designers hold professional certifications in graphical design work and I think it’s unfair that they can’t claim the work they do here publicly, but that’s the breaks.

It does make me wonder, though. If a volunteer skeleton crew (I say this because my core staff is about 10 people; official companies have staffs in the thousands) can coordinate and release this much work in a short period of time, why are official companies unable to keep up with the pace at which we release? They are professionals with the right credentials, training, 40 hours a week of time dedicated to their jobs, wages, and staffing accommodations that we at Miss Dream cannot dream of ever having. Why then are we able to translate and release for consumption an entire book within the space of a week, when it can take official companies months, if not years, to do essentially the same work after a license is obtained? (In the case of Sailor Moon, we’ve managed to release 12 books in the space of 8 months — Kodansha will be doing the exact same work in the space of 28 months. What are those extra 20 months being used for?)

My thought is that official companies need to play catch up. They’re being beaten by amateurs and it’s embarrassing. This is not to say that my credentials are better than theirs or anything like that; I just wonder why I’m managing to product things quicker than they are) If they continue to ignore fan demands for quick, reliable translations in digital and print format, they are going to lose customers to fansub sites like ours. It’s simple supply and demand. And there’s no reason why these companies shouldn’t be able to meet this demand.

Anyway. Just my two cents ;)

3 Responses to “Behind the Scenes: Creating Scanlations”

  1. AnimangaFan

    this is very handy, now i know how the whole process actually goes. is it alright if i use you japanese and english fantranslations for a dutch fantranslation?

    • Elly

      Go for it! Show us a link to your site when you’re done, I’d be happy to redirect any Dutch speaking fans who find this site to you! :D

  2. Anitten

    You all fucking rule. You do. You really do. i love you, thank you thank you thank you for all your work. It’s amazing!! ♥


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