Director of Photography × Assistant Director of Photography

Takeshi Katsurayama × Ryo Iijima (Part 2)

This is the second part of our interview with Director of Photography Takeshi Katsurayama and Assistant Director of Photography Ryo Iijima of “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN” (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"). This time around, we discuss the points that needed particular attention and hard work due to the CG and high-quality artwork used for "THE ORIGIN", and the actual process of putting together the footage before and after.
- Did the director Takashi Imanishi or the episode directors give you any kinds of instructions about, “This is how we want 'THE ORIGIN' to be”?
Katsurayama: Unlike recent Gundam series, in "THE ORIGIN", I think the depiction of the era has an older feeling to it. So we were told they wanted to preserve the subtle aspects from the production of the original “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM” when working on this one. Thus, when it came to things like flares and explosions and other “light” effects, we stayed conscious of “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM” and tried to create them in exactly that way. The way such things are depicted changes depending on the style of the work, and Mr. Imanishi wanted to create an older flavor, so I feel "THE ORIGIN" has a distinctive analog quality.
- Certainly, you do get the sense that the effects and such are close to how they were in the era of “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM,” don’t you?
Katsurayama: In particular, Mr. Imanishi said strongly, “I don’t want the lights to shine prettily, I want them to be symbolic." In “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM,” with things like explosions, frequently there’s an unclear cross-shaped light that appears. We didn’t do a clean, digital version of that. We wanted it to retain a degree of cheapness. But if we overdid it, it would be hard to match it with the CG. So we had to be aware of that too, and it made this job very difficult.
- Regarding the shooting, with things like beams and mono-eyes, were there any movements which tried to follow how they were depicted in the original “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM”?
Katsurayama: The coloring and setting were established, so there were things we had to conform to. But in the old days everything was made in analog and the technology was not so advanced, so when you re-watch those old TV series now, there are definitely some rough patches. However much you look at those parts with eyes that are used to the modern era, you also have to work hard to ensure you can feel the old era in it, as well as making it look clean. Before "THE ORIGIN" began, we did some explosion tests, but at that time we didn’t simply make them shine nicely. We discussed whether we could depict them in a way similar to “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM,” where they had an airbrushed appearance. So there was a progressive back-and-forth, and that’s kind of how the work gained its distinctive feel.
- I think there must have been some scenes that were particularly difficult. Could you give us some examples?
Katsurayama: In the latter half of Episode 1, in the scene where Artesia doubles her mother Astraia in space, we were told they wanted us to express the emotion by simultaneously using a heavy filter and a light filter. We had our own ideas about the good and bad in that, so we’d show the director and episode director and say, “How about this?” And then we’d get further opinions and that’s how we refined it. Through that struggle, you find compromises, and after multiple takes, you arrive at the right outcome. But as you’d expect, it often takes time to arrive at such decisions.
- Were there any effects and such that existed purely out of respect for Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko’s original manga?
Katsurayama: There were. This was also in the last scene of Episode 1, but when the shuttle departs from the colony, there’s a scene with a round flow of light. It was like Mr. Yasuhiko said, “We can see a round light.” But the directors and episode directors did not know what that light was. It was like something being reflected back from the colony, and I feel like it was a projection through a window, but to make an abstract representation like that into something concrete was very difficult. For things like that too, we had to talk it over with the episode directors as we shot it.
- Was there anything about "THE ORIGIN" as a Gundam work that was harder than other projects?
Katsurayama: With Gundam works, each has its own demands. For example, there are works where they want to enhance the contrast of space, and there are others like “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UC” where they said, “Please don’t use following in outer space (where the camera moves along with the subject and keeps it in its field of vision).” In "THE ORIGIN," the mecha are all CG and the characters are all hand-drawn, so we have to blend them together in such a way that they don’t feel off when you see them combined. So fine-tuning the colors, and doing the matching when we swap between shots of mobile suits, tanks, and other giant things and torso-up shots of characters, was quite difficult. Normally, if you don’t change the lens of the camera, you don’t get a good fit, so you have to consider every detail and there’s no end to it. So, in that respect, Gundam works are much harder than ordinary ones. And once you’ve shot the depictions of humans, you then have to shoot the scenes where the mobile suits use beam rifles and beam sabers, so you have to change your headspace and think about how to connect them deftly.
- Certainly, when you change scenes, you have to make sure the audience watching doesn’t feel like anything is off.
Katsurayama: The mobile suits are gigantic, so how gigantic to depict them becomes a point. During filming, when we shoot the materials, we have to think about what kinds of effects to put in to produce that sense of size and give the footage power. For example, whether to keep the upper part out of focus and make it blurry. We have to include those kinds of processes, so it’s quite difficult.
- In previous Gundam works, often the mecha and the characters are all hand drawn. Were there any problems specifically to do with the mecha being CG?
Katsurayama: Up until now, when both people and mecha appeared in a shot, a person who could draw both would draw it. But with CG, those tasks become completely separate. So when you put them together, if the layout is even slightly messed up, the perspective ends up going awry. In that respect, and also when matching the textures, we had to adjust the positioning of things so that the perspective wasn’t off.
- In the mobile worker scenes in Episode 2 specifically, that’s a fusion of CG and hand-drawing, right?
Katsurayama: Even those scenes are not simply a matter of cutting and pasting together. It requires cooperation. The CG team makes guides which have actual motion added, they pass that to the cel artists, and it is then output onto paper. Those are then matched up, the animators draw in the characters, and then it’s returned to the CG team to confirm that it’s matched. If there’s no problem, then finally the background and CG and guides are output and the artwork is put together during shooting. Through this painstaking process we make sure that nothing is off.
- With CG, the lighting affects light on surfaces. I think there must sometimes be differences between that and the character coloring. But does shooting deal with that too?
Katsurayama: I think so. If the lighting’s even a little bit off, we consult with the episode directors and the color designers and make the flare a bit stronger or adjust the lens aperture to blend them. That kind of fine-tuning is our job.
- When doing that kind of work, do you get Mr. Iijima’s opinion?
Katsurayama: Yes. We both offer our opinions, and that’s how we make breakthroughs in the adjustments. If you’re working alone, you can’t see things objectively, and sometimes you become uneasy about whether you’re shooting right or if it’s working. In that sense, it helps a director of photography to have an assistant.
- Are there any scenes that you became attached to in shooting "THE ORIGIN"?
Iijima: I really love the scenes of the armored assassin pursuing Casval and Artesia in Episode 2.
Katsurayama: Mr. Iijima worked hard pasting on the texture of that well-used armor. By putting in those tiny details, it helps make the footage more realistic. When representing the armor, by adopting a quite particular style of expression, we were able to create the impression of rust and age.
On the left is the artwork created by the studio, prior to shooting. On the right is the same artwork but with further processing for filming. As you can see, with the addition of the shooting processes, the impression of the armor being ancient is strengthened.
- What scene stuck with you, Mr. Katsurayama?
Katsurayama: The Battle of Loum in Episode 1. We added a bit of flare and a few adjustments to make the explosions and the things created by the CG team a little more spectacular. In the scenes with exploding warships, we adjusted the blur and the light exposure when we shot it. After all the work we put into it, I think it came out well. There will be more scenes like that coming up, and that’s one of the great things about Gundam works. I expect a lot of people are looking forward to those sorts of scenes, so I don’t mind the effort at all.
- Were there scenes that were a lot of work?
Katsurayama: Other than that one, the scene of Casval's and Artesia’s parting in Episode 2. It was made up of an incredible number of layers. We created the movement of the leaves and trees in CG, and when shooting it, we needed material to create multiple depths. It was very hard. The artwork for the background was large too, and to create the atmosphere, we strengthened the filters on Casval and Artesia. In addition to the efforts of the CG team, the art moved with an amazing number of animation cels, so shooting that to match them up was hard work. In that sense, I think the footage is great.
Iijima:There were multiple materials so it simply took a lot of work.
Katsurayama: Shooting took about five or six times longer than usual.
- In relation to shooting, I believe there are some people who put in special effects (SFX) like airbrushing. Were there SFX people on "THE ORIGIN"?
Katsurayama: Asahi Production has an SFX section. The directors, episode directors, and we directors of photography ask for SFX to be inserted where necessary or where the art otherwise wouldn’t hold up. On "THE ORIGIN" there was a lot of SFX, and there were almost 100 shots per episode. We used it for some small bits as well.
Iijima: On the other hand, the mecha were done with CG, so we didn’t need any SFX for that.
Katsurayama: The shooting process varies depending on the shot. We'd filmed the armored assassin, but to express the texture of things in the rooms like guns and chairs, we used SFX. An example that’s easy to understand is the Guntank in Episode 1. We didn’t have modeling data for the damage, so we made drawings just for that and had some dirty brushwork added, and put in smoke and things during the shooting process to represent it. It’s like we collaborated within the company to create that.
- In rendering the mecha through photography, was there anything special about "THE ORIGIN"?
Katsurayama: In “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED” and “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM 00,” the weapons were all new so they were all sparkly. In terms of style, there was no difference in how we showed them, but in "THE ORIGIN" we shot them with an awareness of their substance as real mecha. So if we put in too many clever lighting tricks and sheen, we’d lose that feeling of solidity. In that sense, there’s going to be more and more depiction of mecha to come, so I think we’ll need to do more research and do multiple tests on how to represent them. For example, the opening section of Episode 1 was made in 3D, but it’s possible we could have a 2D-3D hybrid coming up. So the question is how do we shoot that so nothing feels off. We’ll need to do multiple tests of that as well.
- From your perspective as a director of photography, what kind of work is "THE ORIGIN"?
Katsurayama: As far as the artwork and CG, it’s an incredibly sumptuous one. In terms of shooting, when the materials come in and we assemble them together, with the number of animation cels and the volume of CG, the composition is divided into so many layers, and that’s really lavish too. Being such a major title, it really feels like everyone in every section is gathering all their skills together. And we have to do a proper job of shooting it. We directors of photography feel that pressure too. Each section was created painstakingly, so we need to take the time to shoot it. In terms of volume and quality, you could say this project involves even more than a theatrical release.
- Could you tell us what to watch out for in terms of photography starting with Episode 3?
Katsurayama: There will be more battle scenes, so you can look forward to the work by the CG artists there, and we directors of photography want to add some spectacular effects too. Also, you should watch out for the characters’ emotional expressiveness. The elements of human drama were strong in “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM,” so in "THE ORIGIN" we’d like to consider scenes of those sorts of human events and the atmosphere, and work hard to shoot them so they communicate those emotions.
Iijima: In Episode 3, there are a lot of battle scenes in the second half, and I think that will be worth watching. We’re working on it right now, but the materials are coming in and they’re really interesting, so people should look forward to seeing the finished product.
Katsurayama: The combat uniforms have camouflage this time, and doing those paste-ins took a lot of work. You see people wearing camouflage in other works, but often those are done through artwork or CG. In our case we did it during shooting. We're putting a lot of work into the military depictions, so don’t miss that.

On the left is prior to shooting. The colors act as a guide for the camouflage on Char in the foreground, and also on the soldiers in the background. On the right is the image after shooting. The combat uniforms now have camouflage, and thanks to further processing, the rear figures are out of focus to strengthen the sense of distance.

In the next of our Relay Interview series, we speak to military uniform and equipment designer Mr. Takuhito Kusanagi.