London Comic Con was held in London, UK with over 133,000 visitors between 27th and 29th May 2016. On 28th May, the third episode of Gundam The Origin, “Dawn of Rebellion”, had a special premiere screening and panel session with Osamu Taniguchi (Producer) and Mika Akitaka (mechanical designer), followed by a Q&A session. A lot of fans were there, some of them were in the costumes of Gundam characters, and the air of excitement filled the place. We are happy to report valuable stories of Taniguchi and Akitaka from the panel together with our special interview.
Mobile Suit Gundam is an animated TV series, produced by Sunrise and directed by Yoshuyuki Tomino, which premiered in Japan in 1979. It is a well thought through human drama, set in a time of war after the period when humanity successfully made it into space. It attempted to be based on real science. It is a science fiction depicting military amour called “Mobile suits”, which are gigantic humanoid robots that humans can ride and operate. In the early 1980s, it became a huge social phenomenon in Japan and set a gold standard in Japanese robot animations.
Since the airing of Mobile Suit Gundam, the franchise began. Titles with “Gundam” have appeared in the form of multiple television series and OVAs, and films which have a different universe and setting, but a giant robot named “Gundam” appears in all the series and all of these gain the popularity in wider generations from children to adults in Japan. All the animated series are called “Gundam series”, it is one of the top animation franchise in the Japanese animation industry. The franchise has also led to the creation of one of the biggest toy franchises of model kits and maintains its popularity for more than 30 years.
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) is recognized as a timeless masterpiece within and outside of Japan and is alternatively called “First Gundam”. The First Gundam sets in a fictional universe and depicts the independence war between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation, known as the “One Year War”. The story centers on Char Aznable, an ace-pilot of Zeon, and Amuro Ray, a pilot of the Gundam in the army of the Earth Federation.
Special report of a panel from London Comic Con
Following the premiere screening of Gundam The Origin III, the panel kicked off with brief introductions of Osamu Taniguchi and Mika Akitaka.
Taniguchi introduced the animated TV series, Future boy Conan (1978), directed by Hayao Miyazaki, as his reason to come to animation industry. He started his career in TMS entertainment and moved to Sunrise to become a producer of Gundam The Origin.
Akitaka said that his favourite animation was the Gundam series and this influenced him to work for animation industry. His hobby includes assembling model kits and collecting toys such as Star Wars, Transformers and Iron Man.
Project Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin
Gundam The Origin is the animated series based on the same-titled comic series written by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The comics by Yasuhiko include new episodes that depict backgrounds of Char Aznable and his young sister Sayla Mass that were not fully covered in the First Gundam. Yasuhiko made his own interpretation of the original First Gundam and reflected it into the comics. Kunio Okawara, one of the mechanical designers of the First Gundam, is taking part of this comic project.
Animation production of Gundam The Origin has begun after the completion of the comic series. The project welcomes the comic author Yasuhiko, who is a former animator, as a general director, over 25 years since his last animation project. Yoshuyuki Tomino, the director of the First Gundam, is not participating in this project. Yet, this project has participations from Yasuhiko and Okawara, who could be said as the birth parents of the First Gundam. In Japan, screening events of the Gundam The Origin series has started since last year.
Yasuhiko, who is the comic artist of the original series and the director of this project, was born on 9 December in 1947 from Hokaido in Japan. He started his animation career at Mushi Production. The well-known works, which he directed include Crusher Joe (1983) and Venus Wars (1989). He still actively works on two comic titles and Arion is one of his well-known titles. There are many creators who have influences from his works in the Japanese animation industry.
There are three mechanical designers who have taken part in Gundam The Origin.
- Hajime Katoki: In the series of Gundam The Origin, he has mainly designed mobile suits such as the Gundam and Zaku. Recently he designed mechanics for Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010).
- Kimitoshi Yamane: He mainly works on the Guntank, Mobile armor and Type 61 Tank in the Gundam The Origin Series. In the past, he worked as a mechanic designer for Cowboy Bebop (1998), which was also produced by Sunrise.
- Mika Akitaka: He mainly designed the mechanics of space battleships and battleplanes such as Musai and Salamis.
Process of mechanical design
Image 1 shows a rough design before the final design. If you look at carefully, there are differences in a detail between the left and the right illustrations. There are subtle differences in the design of the same battle-ship in each frame in the comics written by Yasuhiko, so Akitaka took all these differences into consideration to propose the design for the animated series.
In the next step, a clean-up process began after the design has been checked and approved by General Director Yasuhiko and Director Takashi Imanishi (image 2). After this, there could be additional work required to hand the 2D drawings to a 3D modeler due to the fact that most of the mechanics in Gundam The Origin are drawn in 3DCG.
Design procedure of Gundam
Akitaka continued to explain the design procedure of Gundam.
The left hand side of image 3 is the design of Gundam drawn for the comic by Okawara, and the right hand side is the design of Gundam for the animation by Katoki after various trials.
The design at the far left in the image 4 is the line art of a new Gundam drawn by Katoki. Second to the left shows a coloring test. There are certain rules for the colour of Gundam, but there are delicate differences in colour reflecting the time when each Gundam was designed. For example, the colour of the V antenna (on Gundam’s forehead) used to be either white or yellow, and in the First Gundam, joints such as the elbow, knees and wrists are originally white. The perception has changed and now a metal colour is more preferred for Gundam’s joints over a period of the Gundam franchise. The third image from the left shows the colour scheme for the animation, decided by Nagisa Abe who is responsible for the colour scheme. Far right image is the 3D model that the 3D team created. The final look does not differ so much from the hand-drawn Gundam.
Development of the Plastic Models
Taniguchi introduced that the Gundum franchise mainly consists of animation (films and TV series) and plastic models series known as “Gunpla”. The first Gunpla was released for sale in July 1980. Since then, over 450 millions of them has been sold to date. Their line up has more than 1,000 types. Akitaka introduced a part of the Gunpla series from the Gundam The Origin series (image 5).
The top left: RX-78-02 Gundam. It is developed as the main merchandise of Gundam The Origin. It is in a line up called the “Master Grade model” plastic model series and its scale is at 1/100th of the actual size.
The top middle: MS-05 Zaku I (production team calls it “old Zaku”). It will appear in the Battle of Loum in episode 3.
The top right: YMS-07B-0 Prototype Gouf. It is the prototype of Gouf, which appears in the animation Gundam The Origin.
Lower left: YMS-08B Dom test type. This will not appear in the animated series of Gundam The Origin. It is designed based on the side story project called MSD (Mobile Suit Discovery), which follows the development history of mobile suits in the story of Gundam The Origin.
Lower right: MS-06R high mobility Zaku II. Zaku appears as the main mobile suit of the enemy in the First Gundam. Black Tri-Stars, a team comprised of three rival characters to Char whose names are Gaia, Ortega and Mash, would get on board in this gray coloring Zaku.
Gunpla culture in Japan
According to Taniguchi’s explanation, the First Gundam started to air 37 years ago in Japan. The growth of its popularity gave a synergy effect to the Gunpla business, and new Gunplas have been merchandised next to one another. Characteristics of Gunpla are the possibility of playing with them by taking it in hand and freely changing the pose, designed for children to assemble easily, and the ability to paint your own colors to design your own model in a straightforward fashion. Taniguchi analyzed that these are the possible reasons that Gunpla culture flourished in Japan. Gunpla are now sold in 13 different countries worldwide, and is very popular in Asia and its distribution has started in France.
Highlights of episode 3 and 4
Next, Taniguchi introduced the key points of the episode 3 and 4 of Gundam The Origin.
Taniguchi listed highlights of episode 3. Those are the first appearance of Garma Zabi, the popular character from the First Gundam, and his encounter with Char, and can have a sneak-preview of the mobile suits under development. During the production process of episode 3, they reflected the importance of a character who hands over an iconic mask to Char, which he has worn in the First Gundam. They asked Katsuyuki Sumisawa, a script writer, to create the character. And then a new character named Lino Fernandez, who does not appear in the comics, was born and he passes the mask to Char. Taniguchi said that this is another highlight of this episode. In due course, the Principality of Zeon gains independence from the Earth Federation. A catalyst to this independence war is the “Dawn Rebellion”, which is told in episode 3. Taniguchi urged the audience to see the battle among the younger generations such as Char and Garma.
Taniguchi listed the first battle of Mobile Suits in the series Gundam The Origin as a highlight of episode 4 “Eve of Destiny”. It is the first mobile suit battle in the universe of Gundam. In the battle, 5 pilots, who are Char, Ramba Ral and three ace pilots, later called Black Tri-Stars, fight together against the Earth Federation’s mobile weapon named the Guncanon. In episode 4, you can expect to see the familiar faces from the First Gundam such as Lalah Sune, Fraw Bow, Hayato Kobayashi, and Kai Shiden. Taniguchi wants viewers to look for these characters as well. They are also trying to re-create the scene of the destructive colony drop to Earth, which cannot be depicted fully in the First Gundam.
Toward the end of episode 4, Zeon declares war against the Earth Federation and the story continues to the Battle of Loum. Animation production of this episode on the Battle of Loum is already greenlit and it is expected to be released in 2017. In the beginning of episode 1, they give you a sneak peek of the Battle of Loum directed and storyboarded by Ichiro Itano. Currently they are involved in the production of the whole battle scene. After the Battle of Loum, the story moves on to the First Gundam. The special panel ended with a word from Taniguchi that he wants to get enough support from fans to get a chance to re-make the One Year War that was depicted in the First Gundam.
Animationweek (AW): Mr. Akitaka, you have participated in many animation works. Do you have any memorable works, for example, any works that you are very satisfied with the finished design, or had much difficulty during the production process?
Mika Akitaka (MA): If I chose from works that are related to Gundam, I personally think that I was able to do my best with Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 among the many works that I got involved. At that time, we got together with Mr. Hajime Katoki and Mr. Seiji Kawamori to create a rough design by saying “We want this kind of mobile suit.” Then, they say “Ok, good. Let’s use it.” I was very happy that one of my designs was picked up as it is without much corrections because this would mean that it would be part of the main pillar of the universe, and what’s great about this is that I could achieve this with Gundam. It was fun to think about the different designs of mobile suits while thinking about the universe of the work at the same time as the plastic model production.
AW: You mentioned that you think about the plastic model when you design mechanics, does a mechanical designer get involved in product development of a plastic model?
Osamu Taniguchi (OT): Yes, we do.
MA: Especially, Mr. Hajime Katoki, whom I just mentioned, actively gets involved in designs of plastic models. I do not do that much compared to him.
AW: How did you get involved in the development of plastic model in the past?
MA: It depends. I think this is not limited to Bandai but let’s say, there are only three sprues that can be used in a project of a plastic model from Gundam. If that is the case, the design staff from the development team in Bandai would think how they can place all the parts in three sprues. If they cannot fit every part into three sprues, to make a product, they would ask me a question like “We could place these parts in the sprues, if the design of the mobile suite will be like this. Would it be possible to change the design?” I would advise them by saying “If parts can fit with your re-design, how about with my new one? This design also enables us to layout all the parts into three sprues.” We talk and communicate these things.
AW: In Japanese animation works, there are many Science Fictions stories. I think that mechanical designers like you have contributed a lot to make these animation works more attractive. Do you feel any difference between the mechanical designs in Japanese animation and in Western mechanical designs, which we see in live-action films as well as animation? What is Japanese design for you? Have you learned something from Western mechanical designs?
MA: In my opinion, Japanese mechanical designs have to be drawn so this influenced the design and succeeded quite well in having a strong personality of mechanics, yet with a design as simple as possible. That kind of design has made drawing them less difficult. By omitting a part of mechanical design and simplifying lines, mechanics could have a strong personality and contain characteristics of “Anime (animation from Japan)”. I personally think that Gundam is this kind of design. Gundam’s design is a very straightforward design that puts a horn on a white helmet and has masks covering the eyes and mouth. Recently, 3D CG techniques is very advanced, they can deal with more complicated designs than before.
On the other hand, Western designs tends to have much more details, traditionally. They try to show the audience that it is real. I suppose it’s their culture. For example, if we draw a rough illustration of the Saturn Rocket in Apollo 13 (1995), it would be a shape of a sharp pencil. But, if you look at it closer, you can see very detailed ducts. That’s what makes it real for Western audience and they actually saw that thing flying with their own eyes. Otherwise, it can’t look real. You can see that sort of culture explicitly in STAR WARS (1977). It looks crowded but a shape is identifiable by its silhouette. I think this is the epoch-making point.
Lately, Japanese designs are also introducing those kind of designs gradually. But you know, if we design in too many details, it is hard to tell whether it’s animation or live action. So I think if that’s the case, it may be better to create live-action from the beginning. Having said that, it is not easy to realize a production of live-action films in Japan.
AW: Gundam in Turn A Gundam was designed by Syd Mead, not by a Japanese designer. Syd Mead’s design followed the iconic design of Gundam, but it gave me a different feeling. Do you think this kind of thing can come from the Western design philosophy that would design details without any omissions or different type of Western philosophy?
MA: I can’t say this well but what I can say is that I think this kind of idea would not come from the Japanese. I never met Syd Mead in person but he is like a master for mechanical designers like me. My honest opinion is: “It’s amazing to have Gundam designed by Syd Mead!”
AW: In which stage of the animation production process does a mechanical designer start to take part in a project in Japan?
MA: It depends on the project. In the case of the Gundam series by Sunrise, designing Gundam is the starting point of production. It’s the case for Gundam The Origin as well.
OT: In principal, we create a specification from a script, and we ask a mechanical designer “As there is going to be this kind of scene, character and mobile suites, could you please design this?” Or, we may discuss something like “We want this kind of Gundam. Let’s make this kind of character” at the proposal stage. Then we ask a mechanical designer to design something to be the base of a design as a rough image illustration. After that, we go through a number of meetings to complete a design. We have a case where we adjust designs like “Let’s make this part like this” to the very last minute of the storyboard stage, or we decide at the quite early stage and do not change it further.
In case of Gundam The Origin, we are using 3D CGI. We actually ask 2D animators to draw a rough animation by hand and then we create the CG motion to match it. So it is technically possible to change a design to the very last minute before starting the CG animation process. However, we need to create a CG model beforehand so that in general we kind of create the CG model in parallel with drawing a key layout. Hence in any case we try to decide a design by then.
MA: Mobile suits are CGI in the animation. So does it mean that the 2D animators visualize the final animation before adding action to the CG models?
OT: We ask 2D animators to draw the rough key-layout for the CG staff. So to make CG animation, CG animators only need to look and follow the rough key layout and then, they add the animated actions, which corresponds to in-betweens. We use not only CGI but also pencil-drawn keyframes to animate the mobile suits. For example, hand-drawn keyframes can be used for scenes like bust-up compositions, scenes with details, or a posing image. Effects also could be in CG or in hand-drawing. We try hard to provide the best 2D animation to our audience by utilizing the good points of CGI and hand-drawn.
AW: Could you please share with us if you have any tips for being a successful mechanical designer or any useful experiences that has helped your work?
MA: In my opinion, it is probably to take on any works that you are offered. I kind of think it is a little bit of a shame when I see some people who decline projects that are offered in these days. There are some cases that you cannot accept any works under the certain circumstances but any work you did would help you in later days. I personally think that every project which comes to me is good for me. Every part of your work, including the design process and the finished design, remain as your work, and people who are involved in the same work remember you.
Jobs would never come to you whilst keeping in silence. The best is to accept works as much as possible and produce a reliable result. Clients who ask you for a job probably do not worry whether the designed work are being sold well or not. The more important thing is to be known with your work as “what kind of work does this person design?” For that, it is obviously important to accumulate experience based on your daily practice, but the most important thing is to accumulate your work going out into the world. The bottom line is not to miss any chance that you could get your work out there.
Episode 1: Blue-Eyed Casval
Universal Century 0068, Side 3 – The Autonomous Republic of Munzo. Zeon Zum Deikun, preaching the reformation of humanity through advancement into outer space, has been attempting to declare Munzo’s complete independence from the Earth Federation government. Suddenly, he collapses and dies in the middle of a speech to the Diet. Upon Deikun’s death, his aide Jimba Ral begins spreading conspiracy theories about the Zabi family. But despite his efforts, the Zabi family, led by Degwin Sodo Zabi, intensifies its secret manoeuvring to seize control of Side 3. As we witness for the first time the untold chaotic history of the Universal Century, Casval and Artesia, Deikun’s orphaned children, must face destinies just as tumultuous as the era itself.
Episode 2: Artesia’s Sorrow
Universal Century 0071. Three years have passed since the escape from Side 3’s Autonomous Republic of Munzo. Casval and Artesia, the orphaned children of Zeon Zum Deikun, have fled to Earth along with Jimba Ral and taken refuge in the household of Teabolo Mass. They now live quiet lives under the names Édouard and Sayla. However, they are once again being targeted by the evil schemes of the pursuing Zabi family. Meanwhile, Side 3 has been renamed to the Autonomous Republic of Zeon. The Zabi family have seized power, and as they consolidate their system of control, they embark on the development of a new weapon called the mobile worker in order to resist the Earth Federation Forces.
Episode 3: Dawn of Rebellion
Universal Century 0074. Since leaving the Texas Colony, Édouard Mass has camouflaged his identity and enrolled in the Autonomous Republic of Zeon’s Space Defense Military Academy under the name of Char Aznable. He develops a friendship with his classmate Garma, a scion of the Zabi family. Gradually the two become admired by the other students. Then, in Universal Century 0077, the young at last rise up in arms and begin the fight for independence against the Earth Federation’s security forces. This rebellion, however, also marks the beginning of Char’s spectacular scenario of revenge… Now, the gears of history are turning!