Character Design, Chief Animation Director

Hiroyuki Nishimura

Taking center stage for the fourth in our series of relay interviews is Chief Animation Director Hiroyuki Nishimura. Mr. Nishimura has been involved in numerous projects and has earned a high reputation as an animation director. We talked to him about how he felt about being a part of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN") and the expressiveness of General Director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's art.
- What was the course of events that led to your being involved with "THE ORIGIN"?
Nishimura: I hadn't done much work for Sunrise before this, but I was involved with a work called "KUROKAMI THE ANIMATION," and that led to my being asked onto "THE ORIGIN" afterwards. At first, it felt like it hadn't been decided exactly what I would be in charge of.
I started at the studio at a relatively early stage, but the production system wasn't really fixed yet. So it was just myself and Mr. Tsukasa Kotobuki, who arrived at the same time, and we were waiting for the work to start. But since we had time, there were some characters that we knew would definitely be appearing, so we worked on creating rough models for them while going through the collected comics. I worked on minor character designs, and the two of us spent that period devotedly drawing Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko's characters.
There was nothing else to do, so I re-read the collected editions of the comics, and spent whole days copying them. In that first period, it was like I was trying to get my hands accustomed to the feeling of Mr. Yasuhiko's art.
- Mr. Nishimura, what kind of experience had you yourself had with Gundam and Yasuhiko works before this?
Nishimura: I'm of the generation that watched First Gundam. I was in high school at the time. As for Mr. Yasuhiko's work, I was familiar with his illustrations for the "CRUSHER JOE" novels, and I also knew his characters in "ROBOKKO BEETON" and "KUM-KUM" from before that. Of course, it was from First Gundam that I became aware of his name, but I knew his art. I'd read "ARION," and he was the most popular artist at the time when I was being the most influenced, so naturally he was a huge influence on me. In terms of his art, nobody else in the world can draw like that. I think he's amazing.
- So you had read the comics of "THE ORIGIN" then. When you heard that there was going to be an anime based on them, what did you think?
Nishimura: I thought it was going to be a heck of a job. And now I know it actually is a heck of a job! (laughs)
For my generation, of all Mr. Yasuhiko's anime, the imagery in the theatrical release of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM III Encounters in Space" had a strong impact. When we ask, "Can that kind of visualization be done now?" technological problems get in the way of achieving it. So in that area we're still at a stage of trial and error.
- So it is difficult reproducing Mr. Yasuhiko's art in anime form after all?
Nishimura: Mr. Yasuhiko's abilities as an animator are very high, but he is not an animator. And what we are doing is not reproducing a "Yasuhiko anime," but making an anime version of the comic "THE ORIGIN." There is a subtle difference of nuance there in my opinion.
In current animation art, you see a lot of naturalistic artwork without much emphasis. But the expressiveness in Mr. Yasuhiko's art is very precise, with an incredible amount of emphasis. His art never has any ambiguity. The twisting and tension of the body is expressed entirely through the lines, so artistically it is highly dense and demands great concentration. The information density in the expression is actually more than what we can perceive. It's not filled in with detail, but very dense. It's like the inner minds of the characters are all there in the art, so I feel it can't be drawn lightly.
- Before you started on the actual work, were you worried about whether or not you'd be able to do a good job on it?
Nishimura: Yeah, I was. I never thought that I couldn't draw it, but I was worried about how it would look. In that sense, I'm glad we were able to create the commercial for the Auris Char's Custom from Toyota before this project. I was worried about how that would be accepted at first, too. The Char you see there didn't have any particular model sheets. I just scooped up some nuances from the manga and drew the key animation, but the response to the results was relatively favorable.
Also, for those parts where we're incorporating CG, it's not like we're forcing it into the animation out of nowhere. The work we did on that commercial served to create some standards, so that was really great.
- You've been involved in several anime adapted from manga. Does "THE ORIGIN" feel different from other manga source material?
Nishimura: With your usual source material, there's a lot of translation that needs to happen to make it an anime. It's not impossible to simply re-draw the art from a manga, but this would greatly increase the workload on site. So you adjust the lines and the artwork until they look close to the original. But with Mr. Yasuhiko's artwork, I feel if you don't draw them exactly the same way, then they don't look like Mr. Yasuhiko's characters. Since Mr. Yasuhiko was also drawing storyboards for this work, there are some scenes where those were used as the base for the layouts, so I think his designs are reproduced to a high degree.
"THE ORIGIN" was a manga to begin with, so there is a broad range of artistic expression involved. Even in the studio, we are not that strict about the drawing style, and in places where there is some leeway it's okay if the feeling changes here and there. What I want most is to prioritize the expressiveness as much as possible.
- Did you get any instructions from Mr. Yasuhiko about the artwork?
Nishimura: Not much. In terms of minor details, with Hamon, no matter how much we tried she tended to look older than she was supposed to be, so he asked me to watch out for that. We would try to draw her sexy, and she came out old. Mr. Yasuhiko's female characters are difficult to draw. On the other hand, older men such as Dozle were thankfully easy to draw.
- In terms of the work process, does there tend to be a lot of notes and corrections to the staff about the art?
Nishimura: Yeah, there certainly are a lot. In terms of work in the studio, the key animation is certainly a heavy load, and so is the in-betweening. The acting by the characters is important, and it's often not enough to simply correct the drawing. There are different kinds of key animators, and some draw the character acting in detail, while others draw it more lightly. We needed to find a balance, and somehow come up with an effective way of correcting key animation.
Also, Mr. Yasuhiko himself is checking the layouts, so at that stage we get various instructions from him, and I think that experience is a good opportunity for our younger staff. To have someone like that comment directly on your art is a rare chance, and I hope they continue to make use of this experience in the future. Of course, it's a great opportunity for me too.
- What are your feelings about working alongside Mr. Yasuhiko?
Nishimura: I think he's really amazing. He works fast, and he creates storyboards and setting art at an incredible pace. And he was serializing the manga while he was checking the rough art. It was truly incredible - that's all I can say. He himself told me the work was fun for him.
When I was first asked about working on "THE ORIGIN," I thought I'd try to find some meaning in doing this job. I always thought I'd like to improve my drawing, so I thought copying Mr. Yasuhiko's artwork exactly would improve my own skill, or at least maintain my skill so it didn't decline. So that's what it would mean to me. That said, it being a Yasuhiko work, I certainly found it to be a high hurdle.
- The mobile suits and other mecha in this work are being depicted with CG, so when creating the character animation, are you conscious of how it will interact with the mecha CG?
Nishimura: Ordinarily, if you're making a film which is going to exploit Mr. Yasuhiko's touch, hand-drawn art is best. But to hand-draw that volume of artwork is very difficult in terms of scheduling. CG technology has improved, and compared with how it used to be, you can get close to the flavor of traditional art. If the CG animators work at it, I think it's possible for them to realize the potential of animation, in a different sense than with hand-drawn art.
It's hard to throw away the hand-drawn flavor, but I think it's okay to be more accepting of new forms of expression.
When it comes to the drawing, the present situation is that we ignore the volume of CG information and focus on how we show the characters, and it's the CG team that has been thinking everything through and matching the CG with the drawings.
- So when it comes to matching with the CG, did you have any discussions with Director (Takashi) Imanishi?
Nishimura: He had lots of instructions regarding things that were military-related. If there was one thing in particular, it was how we applied shadows. I myself am the type who never uses many shadows, but Director Imanishi wanted us to get the shadows exactly right.
- Please tell us your feelings about the actually completed video.
Nishimura: I myself wanted to get a little bit closer to Mr. Yasuhiko's nuances, but I guess that's to be expected since we're just starting out. As we do more episodes, I think they'll get even better.
For the CG battle scenes, Mr. Ichiro Itano was in charge of the opening scene. It's different from the old image of Gundam, but if you use CG then I suppose that's the feeling you get. The good thing about CG is I think it just keeps getting better, and we can expect the quality to get even better in the future.
- And finally, do you have a word for the fans who are looking forward to the completed film?
Nishimura: Of all the projects I've worked on, I think without a doubt this is the one that's at the highest level. That's partly thanks to the staff involved, and the producer who allowed a somewhat unique production style, but the characters' expressions are deeper than ever, and their acting is very specific. At present, we are doing our best to get episode 1 perfectly complete, so thank you for waiting, and please look forward to it.

In the next installment of our relay interviews, we will talk to episode director Mr. Kiyoshi Egami.