Gigazine is an entertainment website that stands out for its lengthy, in-depth interviews with anime production staff members. On May 23, 2018, they sat down with 2202 producer Hiroki Komatsu to hear inside stories no one else could tell.
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Interview with Xebec Producer Hiroki Komatsu: Yamato is “fun”
Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love, is the modern remake of Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2 in seven chapters, with Chapter 5 premiering on May 25. So far, Gigazine has interviewed various staff members and posted articles. This time we talk with Xebec Producer Hiroki Komatsu, who is in charge of production at the animation production company Xebec. How do Director Nobuyoshi Habara and Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi accomplish their work? We heard all about it.
Gigazine: We heard that you joined the project on Yamato 2202. What parts are you in charge of?
Komatsu: My position is Animation Producer. I took over from someone else, and now I’m mainly in charge.
Gigazine: What was the process for you to become a producer?
Komatsu: I’ve been working for Xebec for about seven years. This is my first work as a producer.
Gigazine: What was your Yamato experience? How did you encounter it as a child?
Komatsu: I think I first saw it in elementary school. I first saw it on NHK or BS, in an anime theater program. I saw it with my parents and it was an older work, but I remember watching it intently. My parents had watched Yamato for a long time, and explained some parts, like what a certain scene meant. It seems my father had gone to see Farewell in a theater and said, “This is a great work.”
Gigazine: It’s a wonderful turn that you could become involved on such a work yourself, isn’t it?
Komatsu: Now I can tell my parents, “I’m making Yamato now.” And they say, “Is that so? That’s great!” Up until now they would say, “I haven’t heard of that work.” (Laughs) It’s nice to finally get that reaction.
Gigazine: How does production on 2202 move forward, specifically?
Komatsu: Basically, Mr. Habara is the main director, and Makoto Kobayashi supports him as the assistant director. Mr. Kobayashi oversees the art for mecha and for Gatlantis, and Mr. Habara handles everything else. Mr. Habara adjusts storyboards and Mr. Kobayashi brings up various opinions like, “I’d like to do it this way” or “Let’s do it that way.”
Gigazine: Is your work also adjusted?
Komatsu: Well, Mr. Kobayashi comes in and talks to me, so it has the form of a place where two people can discuss it.
Gigazine: I wonder what it feels like, with two people in that career…
Komatsu: Mr. Habara believes it when he says, “When I hear everyone’s opinion, I can do something good.” He hears opinions from Mr. Kobayashi and the series writer, Harutoshi Fukui. I think it’s quite difficult to summarize everyone’s opinions, but Mr. Habara keeps at it without giving up, so I believe in him too.
Gigazine: Isn’t it hard to make it with unique individuals like Mr. Habara all gathered together?
Komatsu: Well, yeah. (Laughs) When I hear a lot of ideas I get uneasy and think, “Can this really be done?” but it feels like it comes into view when we all talk with each other directly.
Gigazine: What was your impression when you were first told, “You’re going to join Yamato 2202”?
Komatsu: It’s a big title, so I thought, “Can I really do it?” I was worried about taking over from my superior, but when I actually got into it, it was really interesting. Because it’s a big title, the voice of the fans is well-heard, so it’s very rewarding.
Gigazine: Even looking in from the outside, you can see it as a big project in motion. What’s your impression from the inside? Is it difficult? Or is it fun?
Komatsu: I’m happy to be doing it. Various opinions come out, and with each one I can say, “I certainly think so.” I wonder how it will be gathered up.
Gigazine: Do you get the feeling that you’re watching Mr. Habara bring it all together?
Komatsu: Well, basically I’m the kind of person who doesn’t say very much. Because Mr. Habara and Mr. Kobayashi are people who liked Yamato from the early days, I think it’s best for them to be creating this work.
Gigazine: What sort of work do you do as an Animation Producer?
Komatsu: It’s “overseeing the general production of animation.” Of course, I have to monitor the site as well, and it’s my job to hire people. My current position is to be the main on-site supervisor. That means I consult with each level to decide, “Let’s adjust the schedule a little more this way.”
Gigazine: The story goes that Mr. Habara and Mr. Kobayashi mainly perform the meetings and Mr. Habara compiles everything with Mr. Kobayashi’s support. Mr. Fukui makes up the story first, but…
Komatsu: A storyboard is created based on Mr. Fukui’s script, and then the director checks it over and adjusts small parts based on, “I’d prefer it a little more like this.”
Gigazine: Does the script specifically describe battle scenes, or are the intricate parts developed at that point?
Komatsu: We do that, but Mr. Fukui puts them in the script whenever possible, because some parts that don’t fit into the overall scale can appear, too. There are such adjustments.
Gigazine: For example, could the part written by Mr. Fukui be sharpened if an interesting idea is developed?
Komatsu: There’s also the part where “We have to depict this properly to make this mountain of a story,” so we will put some weight on that.
Gigazine: You mentioned that this is a big title and it’s rewarding to hear the voice of the fans. How is it different from other works you’ve handled?
Komatsu: When I see reactions on the net, Yamato is treated well in blogs, and I’ve seen people write comments by putting in stills from each shot. It’s rewarding to know that there are such enthusiastic fans. There’s a little pressure, too. (Laughs)
Gigazine: On the other hand, while there are good voices on the net I think some could also say, “Hey, this hurts my ears.” How much can you take?
Komatsu: Naturally, I’m happy when good things are written, but sometimes I’ll get depressed when I read something nasty. However, when you see it properly every person has their opinion. Whether they’re happy or having fun, it’s good just to get a reaction, and it’s worth it to find the details. I’m happy to see it where I thought it wouldn’t get noticed.
Gigazine: Is it something like, “Good, someone noticed”?
Komatsu: That’s also true.
Gigazine: How is Yamato different from other works on the production side?
Komatsu: Until now, I was in charge of works where there wasn’t much 3D, but a lot of things in Yamato are depicted in 3D and it makes the work process complicated. Until now, the flow was to draw layouts and characters first, then pass it on to the art director. In Yamato, every shot has something difficult. Depending on the shot, sometimes you have to order the art after preparing 3D material. There are many interlocking places.
Gigazine: Is there something particularly difficult for you in your position as a producer that takes you away from the site?
Komatsu: The job is to keep people moving, so that point is always a problem. Did someone get proper instructions, and did that person understand their instructions properly? When the thing gets done, you may get different results than you wanted, so what do I say to them when that happens? I would hate to be told that I’m nagging to much…
Gigazine: In your work as a producer, is there someone about whom you would say, “This person is helpful,” or “This person has a good influence”?
Komatsu: My superiors…as you would expect. Mr. Habara also has experience as a producer. He seems to put special emphasis on how to motivate people, and we study it together. Sometimes we’re motivated by his remarks. That’s why I always feel like, “I have to respond.”
Gigazine: In terms of managing the schedule, I would think seven theatrical chapters is necessarily quite different from a TV series.
Komatsu: It is different from a TV series, but I think this work is blessed by the time it takes when compared with TV. For TV, it’s necessary to deliver one a week once the broadcast starts.
Gigazine: Are there some tricks or techniques to managing the schedule?
Komatsu: It’s important to be able to make sensible moves in advance. There are people who work fast and others who work slow, and the work itself is slow. If there’s someone who doesn’t put in the time and effort, I have to take in the balance of everything around that.
Gigazine: You understand each individual personality and adjust their work to it. For example, if something worked well in Chapter 1, could it be done the same way in Chapter 2?
Komatsu: As we accumulate it little by little, we can make predictions about the work and it gets easier. But there are changes in the timing or condition of people, and the quantity of work, so in the end it can be hard to move forward as predicted.
Gigazine: This interview will be published when Chapter 5 opens. Is there anything you can look back on in the “voyage” of this production so far?
Komatsu: Well…Chapter 5 will be shown, and even though there are still two chapters to go I have the feeling of, “We’re finally here.” At the first stage, I was groping around with interactions with the staff, and I was thinking about how to move the work forward. Now we’re on track with that area, so I worry less about the interaction part.
Gigazine: Looking back at the chapters released so far, which one would you say was most difficult?
Komatsu: It was Chapter 3. I didn’t understand it at first and it made me feel desperate, so Chapter 3 had various challenges.
Gigazine: Did you have a smoother feeling with Chapter 4 after you overcame them?
Komatsu: We made good use of our time while making Chapter 4. There’s also the fact that we became more accustomed to the 3D and it picked up speed. The part that took the most time advanced smoothly from the start, and our troubles with the 3D work decreased. There were a lot of 3D shots, and it’s very helpful when I can ask, “can this piggyback on the 3D?” as we get closer to the shooting process.
Gigazine: When you have a 3D model in stock and you don’t have to create a new model, are there circumstances where hands start to free up?
Komatsu: I think modeling is the most time-consuming. Once it’s all completed, what’s left over is a little remodeling of the original, but once we have the shape down it can go pretty smoothly. This time the fleet battle is almost an explosion of 3D, but we can also make it with various patterns.
Gigazine: “The withdrawal will increase.”
Komatsu: We face new trials with each chapter.
Gigazine: Right. And new mecha appears, one after the other.
Komatsu: For example, in Episode 12 we add effects by combining painting with 3D. The main gun batteries shoot in 3D…things like that. Film is entirely different since the shape changes to match the surrounding drawings, but we did it so there would be no mismatch.
Gigazine: That’s also true with splashing waves.
Komatsu: Like the shot of Yamato’s launch in Chapter 4. We added processing to what was originally drawn…we put a lot of effort into improving the visuals in various ways.
Gigazine: I’d think there is a lot of hard work that we can’t see in the finished images. Is there something uniquely difficult about Yamato?
Komatsu: Do you get sufficient sense of Yamato’s “hugeness”? That’s something we worry about. However, with Mr. Habara and Mr. Kobayashi overseeing it, it’s very solid when you see the final image. Director Habara also says, “We have to be careful about making it feel huge,” so he does retakes in 3D and makes slight adjustments.
Gigazine: The “huge feeling” is a big factor in making a powerful image.
Komatsu: Actually, when you compare things in 3D they may not look that big, so we dare to make them look larger by expanding them up to three times bigger. (Laughs)
Gigazine: When you want something to look “bigger,” is there some form of correcting it?
Komatsu: “Triple it!” (All laugh) Sometimes things move too fast, so we make it about three times larger. If it’s too quick, it looks small and light. We have to carefully adjust the timing because we have to determine the number of shots in an episode.
Gigazine: Everything in the film has weight.
Komatsu: Also, the character drawings. There are weaknesses in the characters depending on the artist, even the art director. Sometimes they drift from Nobuteru Yuuki’s designs. When that happens, there are things to worry about.
Gigazine: There’s an image of the characters that has accumulated for the viewers…
Komatsu: Kodai, Yuki Mori, and Dessler seem to be the difficult ones.
Gigazine: People with a lot of moments. (Laughs) Is there a similar point to be careful of with all of them?
Komatsu: I can’t say, but it’s probably different for each artist. So in each case I work with the general director and respond accordingly each time.
Gigazine: When you compare Yamato with other works, is there are part that takes a lot of time?
Komatsu: I feel that the storyboard is very time-consuming. First, there are a lot of concepts, so there’s a lot that needs to be understood, and when revisions are made to a storyboard that comes in and we might incorporate various opinions, we definitely need time. Also, people who can draw the character likenesses are limited, so it takes time on the drawing side. There is more linework compared to other productions, so the animation takes longer.
Gigazine: And not all of the mecha is CG, so I think some of it must be drawn. What about that area? I think there are some people who are good at mecha while others are good at character.
Komatsu: We occasionally draw mecha from scratch, but not very much of it. It’s usually done with CG. The detail-up (hand drawn detail over CG models) is also reduced compared with 2199. Mr. Kobayashi and about three other people are in charge of the mecha, so we don’t have any trouble there.
Gigazine: I’m sure there are a lot of difficult parts, but the images we actually see are wonderful, and I can tell that an excellent staff has gathered to make them.
Komatsu: The staff is excellent. I’m thankful to have them even when they’re crazy-making. Because of this, I put a lot of emphasis on how they can work comfortably. I’m always thinking about that.
Gigazine: “Crazy-making”? Is that something you say, or is it from Mr. Habara?
Komatsu: It’s from Mr. Habara. He comes up with a lot of things off the cuff while he’s working. (Laughs) He says things like, “I’ll go with that” or “Could be a tough one.”
Gigazine: Do you think about fine movement in battle scenes or detailing-up an explosion?
Komatsu: As an example of how that is realized, there’s a shot in Episode 3 where we pan over Yamato in the dock. When we checked that he said, “I want to detail that up!” (Laughs) But my response was, “We can’t do that right away, you know.” However, by actually doing the detail-up, we made a very cool Yamato.
Gigazine: We only see it when it’s finished, so we don’t know what was planned at the beginning, but it’s all there.
Komatsu: In accomplishing that, there are lots of behind the scenes stories like, “We should detail that up.” (Laughs) But we definitely get a good visual, so I think we have to put up with the crazy-making to make the work better.
Gigazine: Is there a point where the criteria for “we can” or “we can’t” becomes non-negotiable?
Komatsu: Whether it’s effective or not. If you do it there you might have to do it everywhere else, so there are times when I have to suppress something that’s impossible from the start. But my tendency is to basically do what I’m told.
Gigazine: That’s the “crazy-making” part you mentioned. Are there other severe things?
Komatsu: The timing of a late opinion can do it. “If you’d told me that from the beginning…” (Laughs)
Gigazine: That might have been possible if it had come in at the beginning…?
Komatsu: If it comes after we’ve checked the rushes, I have to say, “…there’s not enough time for that.” That happens sometimes.
Gigazine: You said earlier that you like to “make things comfortable,” and Director Habara and everyone else is affected by the crazy-making…
Komatsu: It seems to be so. In places where a picture can be improved, the creator’s motivation is quite large, and motivation will drop if “It wasn’t so good,” so that’s a place I have to be concerned about.
Gigazine: At a point where detailing-up arises, is the response from Director Habara different from Assistant Director Kobayashi?
Komatsu: Mr. Kobayashi will detail it up himself, so Mr. Habara will immediately say, “Looks great!” (Laughs) When it comes to Mr. Habara, people around him can get a good feeling from a positive reaction. I think I have to imitate him in areas like that. Although I might just say it either way. (Laughs)
Gigazine: I’m speaking to you here in an interview, but it feels like we’re on-site.
Komatsu: I’m really just a service-minded person.
Gigazine: Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi works behind the scenes in support of Director Habara. What kind of person would you say he is?
Komatsu: He’s playful and easy to get along with.
Gigazine: Mr. Habara says he’s the on-the-spot idea man.
Komatsu: More and more stories come out. He contributes more ideas than Mr. Habara, but sometimes it’s too much and I worry about which ones will be picked up. (Laughs)
Gigazine: Finally, what are the highlights of Chapter 5? If there are things you want viewers to notice, please let us know.
Komatsu: Dessler, who appeared at the end of Chapter 4, is front and center in Chapter 5. I think he’s really well depicted, including the pain of his past. The second half is a fleet battle, and we’re doing a lot of fiddling with it. You’re going to see some powerful images.
Gigazine: Thank you very much.
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