CG Producer & Director × CG Producer

Kiichirou Inoue × Taisuke Iwakiri (Part 1)

In "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), depictions of mecha and special effects scenes using 3DCG and digital image processing play a major role. Nowadays, 3DCG and digital image processing have become indispensable in the production of animation, so how were they employed in “THE ORIGIN”? We speak to CG Producers Kiichirou Inoue and Taisuke Iwakiri of Sunrise’s D.I.D. Studio, which was responsible for CG production, about the CG in “THE ORIGIN.”
- The CG production in “THE ORIGIN” was handled by Sunrise’s D.I.D. Studio, but what kind of department is D.I.D. Studio, actually?
Inoue: It’s a department that was established about 20 years ago as the “Digital Image Development Office” back when anime still didn’t use CG. At the time, it was started to see whether PCs could be used in the shooting process, and afterwards it became involved with video production that incorporated CG.
Iwakiri: D.I.D. is short for “Digital Image Development,” its name from that period. At the time, they apparently used PCs to process footage one frame at a time. That’s why it’s not called “CG Studio.”
Inoue: Sunrise has 14 or 15 studios internally, but at present D.I.D. is the only one that mainly does CG. The kind of work we mainly do is design and production of 3DCG, shooting and pasting 2DCG, and editing work. The department also takes on new challenges in CG and video production, such as VR (virtual reality).
- Mr. Inoue and Mr. Iwakiri, you are CG producers, and Mr. Inoue is also a CG director, but in concrete terms, what do those jobs entail?
Inoue: The job of a CG producer is to think about where CG should be used in a project, and also about budgets and schedule management. As the word implies, the production. We speak with the project producer, Mr. (Osamu) Taniguchi, about things like, “Would this be interesting in this series?” or “Would it be effective to depict this like so?” The places where we'll be using CG are broadly decided at the outset, but judging whether we can or can’t in greater detail also involves the budget and so forth, and the makeup of the CG staff from both internal and external studios is also an important process.
With regards to CG direction, we discuss things with the episode director and animation director, and when we get to the fine details of the art, we talk about things like, “How should we compose this shot or scene?” and “How do we go about creating the technical aspects of the CG using data along with the CG staff?” and “When we consider modeling, which functions of which software should we use?” We go back and forth with the staff, and come up with concrete directions for creating the visuals.
- Does a CG director occupy a similar position to an animation director in the artwork creation process?
Inoue: On other projects, sometimes the CG director does do a job equivalent to the animation director, but for CG work on “THE ORIGIN,” we had a chief animation director, Mr. Hiroyuki Nishimura, and a chief mechanical animation director, Mr. Takuya Suzuki, so we left the artwork creation with them. With the CG, we tried to closely reproduce the animation director’s aims, and also provide direction on how to add in the CG where it was to be included.
Iwakiri: The CG director’s position depends on the project. Sometimes on a project, there is no mechanical animation director, so the CG director creates the artwork. Because the way you show things is important on those projects. With “THE ORIGIN,” there was Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko’s original manga, and we used the storyboards Mr. Yasuhiko drew for layouts, so those materials gave us our work orientation.
Inoue: Incidentally, on other Sunrise projects like the “BATTLE SPIRITS” series and “AIKATSU STARS!” series, we created the CG directly from the storyboards. In that sense, this was more involved compared to other projects, but I think “THE ORIGIN” is a project that should require a lot of attention, so I can see why it’s this way.
- What flow does CG production follow?
Inoue: First, we attend the scenario meetings, and at that stage we listen to any requests Mr. Yasuhiko might have, like, “I’d like to use CG here.” After that, once the storyboards are ready, we get instructions from Mr. Yasuhiko about things in the storyboards, like, “Couldn’t we use CG here?” and then we discuss that with Mr. Taniguchi, the producer.
Iwakiri: Even before we get to the scenario, we already know what things are going to be appearing, with a high level of importance, for which we’ll have to do CG modeling. So we start on the design and modeling work for those ahead of time.
Inoue: Yes, because if you start after the storyboards are ready, often the modeling won’t be done in time. For example, for the main mobile suits that are going to appear, we consult with the mecha designers and the plastic model makers at Bandai. We talk about what we should design and model first based on the manga, and we order it from the mecha designers. The merchandising is important too, and, particularly for “THE ORIGIN,” it’s often the case that it’s best to have the CG complete first if they’re going to make plastic model kits of them.
- For backgrounds which have to be done in CG, and dramatic elements you’d like to use CG on, do you do that after the storyboards are done?
Inoue: Backgrounds of course happen after storyboards are complete. After we've made decisions like, “The camera is going to circle around and cut in, so we have to model the buildings and streets.”
Iwakiri: Camerawork like that is hard to draw by hand.
Inoue: We’re doing more and more modeling on buildings and backgrounds. Episode 4 has a lot of camera movement.
- Mr. Yasuhiko says he isn’t too familiar with CG himself, but does it seem like you're getting a lot of requests for CG?
Iwakiri: As Mr. Yasuhiko does more projects, he has come to understand CG more, and I think he has become more confident in us. At first it was more like, “Is this really okay?” But as we went along, I think he judged that it was actually fine. That makes me feel both happy and more responsible at the same time.
- Did you read the original “THE ORIGIN” manga before you started work on the project?
Inoue: We got “Gundam Ace” in the studio, so I read it from its serialization. I was surprised to see Mr. Yasuhiko drawing Gundam as a manga.
Iwakiri: It was the same for me. Of course, at the time, it never occurred to me that I would end up working on the anime adaptation. I just irresponsibly enjoyed it and continued to be surprised by it, thinking, “Mr. Yasuhiko sure is drawing an incredible volume every month.”
Inoue: Around that time, I was working on processing CG shots for “MS IGLOO,” so I was even more impressed by the depictions of the mecha than the characters. The posing of mobile suits is important, and the poses and the softness of the forms impressed me. I remember thinking, “This would be hard to render in CG,” while I was reading it. Now it’s become a requirement. (laughs) I think we’ve become well practiced, so I hope people look forward to seeing our work in Episode 4.
At the time, the mobile suits Mr. Yasuhiko drew seemed to have individual characters, and we paid attention to that. Afterwards, right after we started working together, he said, “The mobile suits are characters,” so it turned out to be exactly true. Even now, when I look at the rough key animation of the Guncannon, for example, he’s drawn anger lines on its forehead. He wants you to imagine that it’s angry, so I think that’s how he's drawn it. Beside it, he’s written an instruction, “Don’t draw these lines!” (laughs)
In that respect, this is an incredibly important experience, looking at his instructions every time.
- When you heard that the mecha in “THE ORIGIN” would be done with CG, what did you think?
Inoue: When I heard from Mr. (Takashi) Imanishi that they’d be doing an anime of “THE ORIGIN,” he also said the mecha would all be CG. He said if we were going to create "THE ORIGIN," then we should do it with CG, and it was an absolutely essential component when considering the merchandising as well. When I heard that, I thought the hurdles were very high. At first, I thought they might use shading to try to make it look like watercolors, like the color pages Mr. Yasuhiko did during serialization, but they wanted to use a cel shader to match normal animation art. In any case, it seemed like it would be quite difficult, and it felt like a heavy responsibility. It became a major undertaking, and the culmination of all our work at D.I.D.
Iwakiri: I’m often asked in interviews, “Why did you use CG?” But for us, we were told using CG was a basic premise of the project, so deciding how to present it was incredibly nerve-wracking.
- In that sense, was the use of CG to depict the mobile suits in “THE ORIGIN” a rather difficult challenge?
Inoue: I thought we could do it. But trying to reach the heights of the original manga is like climbing a mountain you can’t see the peak of. I said, “It’s quite unforgiving.” On the other hand, we had experience points from creating a full 3D Gundam project with “MS IGLOO,” and it was after we’d worked on “SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 2199.” So with those two combined, we had hopes that we’d be able to somehow pull this off.
- When producing the CG, what were the steps in doing tests and so forth?
Inoue: First we did tests of effects like dust clouds and explosions. We created one model for cel shading, and we tried different versions out with it to see which flavor to go with. After that, we got the background artists to draw us some textures which we pasted onto 3D backgrounds, and we did some tests to see how to shoot it with the 3D camera. You could call the footage for Char’s Auris from Zeonic Toyota a pilot version.
Iwakiri: The footage in the commercial for Char’s Auris used the same animation staff as “THE ORIGIN,” including Mr. Nishimura and Mr. Suzuki, so it was a good test piece for the give-and-take with the animation.
Inoue: We had some margin with the time, too, so we worked on the production for about a month. We did the Auris commercial, and after that we did some test effects like explosions in space.
Iwakiri: Mobile suit modeling is important on this project, but depending on the effects, the impression of what you see can vary greatly. In the end, we created artwork and did a great number of effect tests.
- How did you go about working out how to express the textures of the mobile suits?
Inoue: We spoke with Mr. Imanishi, and we asked, “There aren’t many highlights, are there?” And he said, “You’re right,” and we went back and forth like that, and that was about it. If military vehicles are too shiny, they get shot. And in terms of style too, that was our image right from the start, so we simply decided to give them a matte texture. Actually, we worked hard on how to make them look dirty. If you put in a lot of dirt, I makes the 3D stronger, and the director’s opinion was that “THE ORIGIN” should have no luster with few special effects and simple textures. Afterwards, in Episodes 2 and 3, we added more special effects, little by little, and the textures evolved and became more enhanced.

(To be continued in Part 2.)