Mechanical Design

Mika Akitaka

In this installment of our series of relay interviews, we have Mr. Mika Akitaka, who has taken on a wide range of designs for everything from warships to mobile suits in many Gundam works, such as "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM ZZ" and "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM 0083 STARDUST MEMORY." On this project, he was responsible mainly for designing the warships of both the Earth Federation Forces and the Principality of Zeon Forces, which fight fiercely in the Battle of Loum depicted in the opening. We talked to him about the toughest aspects of the designs, and highlights to watch out for.
- Can you please tell us how you came to be involved with "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN")?
Akitaka: Before actual work began, it was nearing the end of the year and I got an email from Director (Takashi) Imanishi asking if I wanted to come to a year-end party. That was the start of it. At the party we met face-to-face, and he said, "Why don't you draw the Magellan and Salamis for us?" Of course, given the timing, if I'm going to be drawing the Magellan and Salamis, I immediately realized it must be for "THE ORIGIN." When we first spoke, I wondered if it would just be the Magellan and Salamis, but in actuality I ended up drawing many more designs than just those.
- Had you read the comics before you were approached?
Akitaka: I read them thoroughly. The thing that impressed me was I felt it was quite different from the first "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM." It's basically the same, but when the story moves to the past chapters, which is what we're animating now, it felt vividly different. It delves into things that have never been touched before, and I was amazed that it went so deep. So I enjoyed it as a reader, and it really was very interesting. It showed us the legendary "Char's triple-speed movement" in pictures.
- When you began the actual work, what part did you start with?
Akitaka: Well, at first I was asked to do the Magellan and Salamis, so I pulled out the panels of the comics where those appeared. That said, I worked very hard to make the shape of the battleships that Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko drew well-balanced in terms of design. I gave some roughs to Director Imanishi, he checked those, and then I'd finalize them. That's how work proceeded, so it took a bit of time at first.
When I got the assignment, Director Imanishi told me, "Try drawing the warships that appear in 'THE ORIGIN' the way you see them yourself". At that point, I had the mecha designs that Mr. (Kimitoshi) Yamane drew to reference, so I adopted what I could from those in terms of design while I proceeded with the work.
- Were you told that they would be represented using 3D CG when you were assigned the job?
Akitaka: I'd heard that. And that's exactly why I was really troubled about how far I should go with the detailing. They didn't tell me at first what level I would have to go to with the camera in close-up. In the end, I was told that details will be hand-drawn where possible, so I was asked to create warship models which allowed for those requirements. And so I put in even more detail.
- The impression one gets from the final designs is that you respected the Magellan and Salamis that Mr. Kunio Okawara drew for "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM," and updated them with a modern feel. Was that something you were strongly conscious of?
Akitaka: In terms of design, the original designs that Mr. Okawara drew definitely do need to be respected. Mr. Okawara had created setting art of the Musai for "THE ORIGIN," but there was no such thing for the Magellan and Salamis. Although they were updated, I believe the setting art for the TV series was the basis for their depiction. So we carried out the process by picking up in detail what had been depicted within each panel of the comics, in order to realize what it would look like as a coherent whole. Mr. Yasuhiko also said he thought if those kinds of fine details got picked up, it would make the fans happy. So I don't think we're moving in the wrong direction.
Also, I was responsible for the Musai on this project too, as well as the Federation Forces warships. As for the Musai, I based my work on the design Mr. Okawara drew at the start of the "ORIGIN" comics, and in the same manner as with the Federation Forces, I tried to pick up as much detail as possible regarding the design from the story. In that way I was able to aggregate the design as a whole.
- Also on this project, you designed the new Lepanto-class missile frigate, which had never appeared before. What was the process that led to this being created?
Akitaka: Director Imanishi said, "Don't the Federation Forces have any warships other than the Salamis, Magellan, and Columbus?" and, "I'd like another warship in there with a different silhouette and function." So the suggestion came up, "How about a missile ship?" and that was our setting. When Minovsky particles are dispersed, radar doesn't work, so radar-guided missiles would be mostly ineffective. In other words, in this new battlefield, this is a warship that's behind the times. With the name too, the Salamis and Magellan were originally named after places on the map, so the Lepanto was also named after the site of a massive sea battle.
- What was particularly difficult about working on the designs?
Akitaka: Well, they're using CG on this project, and when it came to the sizes of things, I used models of people and thought, "If the window is this big, then how many meters high is the bridge?" and measured with a ruler to convert the scale. It's been a long time since I've worked that way.
With regards to the size, the Musai carries Zakus, and once we decided how many it would be carrying, we then had to rethink it. In "THE ORIGIN" the MS launching point is different too, so after verifying that I drew a simple diagram.
- Mr. Akitaka, you've been involved in many Gundam works before this one, but having joined "THE ORIGIN" what's your impression?
Akitaka: Emotionally, I feel it was very difficult. This is not a job you can do in your spare time. I did the work with the intention of meeting the wishes of Director Imanishi and Mr. Yasuhiko as much as possible, but the "ORIGIN" manga has such size and weight, and to turn that into film requires a corresponding determination. So it wasn't to be done lightly, and actually it was very tough in a lot of ways.
- Please tell us your thoughts upon actually seeing moving filmed footage.
Akitaka: I worked very hard on designing the Magellan and Salamis, but I was happy to see Char's Zaku do a spectacular job destroying them. (laughs) I heard that destruction scene was very difficult. In the storyboards that Mr. Ichiro Itano drew, there's a scene where a missile is fired into a nozzle and it's blown away from the inside. It’s breaking apart from inside had to be produced with CG, but there were bulkheads and other internal structures that weren't in the setting art, and I heard they worked hard to match them properly on the modeling side. The result of that effort is a real showcase opening scene.
- The way they've done the CG is really wonderful when you see that scene of destruction, isn't it.
Akitaka: Yes, it is. With the way they've done it, it looks like "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" has been updated and modernized. The recognizable Magellan and Salamis appear, and they are defeated by Char's Zaku, for which Mr. (Hajime) Katoki created an updated design. Mr. Katoki also put a lot of energy into updating every detail of the mobile suit designs.
Mr. (Kimitoshi) Yamane was in charge of vehicle designs, starting with the Guntank. Mr. Yamane thinks very deeply about, "How would things look if they moved in an anime way?" I think seeing what each designer focused on is something to look forward to.
- Finally, do you have a message for the fans that are waiting for the release?
Akitaka: I was the one who drew the main fighting vessels in the opening battle scene, but in those designs, I was careful to reproduce as much as possible the image created by Mr. Okawara in the first "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" and what Mr. Yasuhiko drew in the "ORIGIN" comics. I will be very pleased to have people check out that obsession in the filmed work.

At long last, event screenings of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" will begin, starting from February 28. Next up in our relay interview series will be manga author, character designer, and general director Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.