Masanori Nishii Interview, July 2015

Originally posted July 30. See the original post here.

Space Battleship Yamato 2199 Hyper Mechanical Detail Artworks launches! Interview with Chief Mechanical Director Masanori Nishii!

The editorial section of Dengeki Hobby Web interviewed Masanori Nishii, the Chief Mecha Director of Yamato 2199. Yamato 2199 Hyper Mechanical Detail Artworks is a book that fans will covet, containing newly-written commentary text fully supervised by Masanori Nishii. We talked with him about his passion and commitment.

Interviewer: First, please tell us about your role as Chief Mechanical Director on Yamato 2199.

Nishii: It’s separate from the traditional Chief Director of anime, specializing in things relevant to mecha and how to depict them in 3DCG. I’m the director that supervises that overall. It’s different from a designer, but detail-up drawing is also performed. It’s easier to call it Mecha Animation Director, but since it involves the production side, it became a post with the title of Chief Mechanical Director to differentiate it from Animation Director.

Interviewer: What was the publishing process for the art book?

Nishii: When I was working on Yamato 2199 at Xebec (animation studio) around the time of Chapter 3 or 4, I was checking the detail-up work of the mecha on a monitor screen. Producer [Mikio] Gunji came over. Since Gunji-san would usually only see completed footage, he’d usually tell us things like “The original material before it’s photographed is like this” and “I’d like to turn it into a proper book” and “Seeing as how we have these materials, we could do a book like this.” So that served as the impetus for doing it.

Click to enlarge

When I process images in various ways, the elements can be entirely different. Depending on the scene, the color can be dropped down, we can put in gradation for a three-dimensional feeling, or atmosphere to give it a sense of depth. As a result, they can end up being almost invisible on the screen. Rather than the screen image, I wanted you to see the original source material.

Interviewer: Something that can’t be seen in the film becomes a picture in a book.

Nishii: After all, there are shots where the characters are performing in front of the material (mecha), and you can’t see everything on the screen. You can take that material out and draw the whole thing, though. Of course, it’s not efficient to draw something that won’t be seen, since it will be partially blocked by a character in some cases, but here the properly-drawn material exists. Now that this material has been collected into a book, I’d like you to see it.

Interviewer: This is wonderful for Yamato fans, isn’t it?

Nishii: When you watch it on video or in a theater, you’re not seeing the original mecha “material.” For example, even if a line is drawn, it’s dark when you’re flying through space and you honestly don’t understand all the details. Yamato in particular has dark red and blue colors, and a lot of color is lost in the shadows. It still looks bright on an LCD monitor, but when it’s printed on paper these particular colors come out darker.

Click to enlarge

While working on this art book, I had to process the colors so they wouldn’t be too dark and you could still understand what you’re seeing. Of course, you could still see something even if nothing was done to it, but Yamato‘s shadow color is really dark, as close as possible to black. The color was processed and balanced so the elements wouldn’t be hard to see. I had to do this with a considerable number of images.

Interviewer: It sounds very elaborate.

Nishii: So, when you understand that, you see that it wasn’t just a matter of simply taking the materials from the original and putting it on a page. The total number is a little under 200, but with each one I went through the process and said, “What should I try to show?”

This image is from the flashback in Episode 17, the Yukikaze seen behind Mamoru Kodai and his first mate Ishizu. It’s hidden behind the characters and you don’t see much of it at all.

One of the highlights of this art book is to take away the character layer and show only the original mecha material. Since the characters are performing in the foreground, you get the impression that Yukikaze is just an ornament. So by removing the photographic processing and blurring, you see only the original Yukikaze element. After watching the anime, when you see only this material, you’ll think, “Where was that again?” I think that will be the impression. (Laughs)

The flashback scene from Episode 17
(click to enlarge)

Mecha material for the scene
(click to enlarge)

Color adjustments done for the art book
(click to enlarge)

Interviewer: It will have an entirely different impression.

Nishii: That’s right. Among the material that’s included in the art book, you may not know where many of them were. There are things that don’t change significantly from what you’ve seen on screen or in published material, such as the appearance of Yamato, but since a large part of this Yukikaze was covered up by characters, it might be hard to figure it out immediately. That’s why I want you to see everything that was drawn on the hull.

When you see the three points of comparison for the material above, I think you can tell the difference, but you might not know what it means if there’s no description. For this book, if I can convey something the reader can grasp by simply doing a side-by-side comparison of a scene with the original material, then I’ll be happy. In fact, in some places there is a photo from a scene, so you’ll know which shot an image was in.

Interviewer: What ships in particular do you want us to see?

Nishii: The Guipellon-class multi-deck carriers…Balgray, Lambea, and Schderg. These ships have a hierarchy of four stages, and the interior design can be seen. The basic exterior design has to be reflected when modeling it in 3DCG, but there is no detail on the interior parts, such as the ceilings above the decks or the back wall. It was modeled in a state where there was almost no design (and no established scale), but a camera had to go inside for Episodes 19 and 20. It was a space without detail, and it was clearly a situation where we would need some close-ups.

From the live panel at Wonder Festival 2015 Summer: before and after images of the interior carrier deck,
comparing the raw CG output with the hand-drawn detail-up background seen on the screen.

I consulted with the designer Mr. Ishizu and said, “Honestly, if all we show on the screen is just a flat plate, it’s going to be harsh,” and I came to the conclusion that we had no choice but to draw it. So the ceiling plane and the walls of the inner decks were all hand-drawn. But in the scenes where aircraft are lined up on the deck, since the aircraft block most of what was drawn, there are shots where it’s almost invisible on the screen.

Therefore, in the book the 3DCG aircraft were removed from the foreground, and you can see all the material that was drawn for the ceiling and walls. I don’t think you’ll know what it is when you look at it. In that way, the hand-drawn detail you couldn’t see on the screen is some amazing content. This is the sort of “What is this? Where was this?” material from the production, and I definitely want you to see it.

Interviewer: Is there a place where you definitely want us to read the commentary?

Nishii: When you simply look at a picture, you may not know specifically how it was drawn, so to keep that from happening we added descriptions in the hope that it could be understood to some extent. Also, explanations are written about the work of Mr. Ishizu and Mr. Tamamori, such as “this is the intention of the design here.” Not everywhere, but I wanted to explain as much as possible in the text.

Domelaze bridge
(Click to enlarge)

Domelaze bridge
(Click to enlarge)

Interviewer: Are there comments for every shot…?

Nishii: I added text to every shot. However, since not everything can be described in text, I couldn’t necessarily explain it all carefully. For example, in the image above, why is some of it purple, and some not? This will be backlit in the film later, so I can make it shine. This is material that will go to the photographer with instructions for a color mask: “Please make the purple-colored area glow with backlighting, using XX color.” That’s why it stands out as something other than the original color.

Interviewer: Are there other such things?

Nishii: Things like the navigation lights. The position of the navigation lights was set up in the 3DCG modeling. We can’t make them shine on paper, so there’s just something round there, but the actual scene is also shown. There might be signal lights that line up on the deck. So when there is that kind of thing, I explain it in the commentary as much as possible.

Interviewer: Are there any shots that you really sweated over (where the sentences get long)?

Nishii: I thought there might be trouble with the editing if there was too much text, so I aimed for 200 characters. Of course, some are a lot more and some are shorter. For the sections where I thought it might be hard to understand, I developed a scheme where I’d watch my copy of the video, go “Okay, here!” and then add an actual screen shot. Some of the text has more sentences, but I tried to be as plain as possible in my annotations.

Click to enlarge

Interviewer: So you’re saying you sweated over ALL the text!?

Nishii: I won’t say I did it with all the text (laughs), I just tried my best in my own way to write it.

In addition to the text for each shot and talking about how the detail-up progressed, there is also a page with a making-of article. That’s considerably worth reading, and I definitely want you to read it. I didn’t think there would be much interest in a book that was just a compilation, so this part summarizes everything including why the detail-up work was necessary in the first place. Those who were involved in the detail-up of Yamato 2199, the specific ways their work progressed, and what happened when they were confronted with various problems, are all explained there.

From the detail-up design to the filmmaking to the completion, the production process of special effects requires a lot of labor, and various unusual problems come up. This article is about how they were conquered one by one. It’s the same with the filmmaking itself, whether it’s for theaters or video, and I think once you know the effort that goes into making these things, you’ll be satisfied with the price that gets put on them. For this book, too, I made it with the thought that, unless you can look at it and read it and be satisfied with its value, there’s no point in doing it.

Interviewer: The text is certainly satisfying, and after reading it I’ll enjoy watching the anime even more.

Nishii: As far as I know, I don’t think there were many anime works before Yamato 2199, in which hand-drawn detail was added to 3DCG modeling. To put it the other way around, such a thing is not normal in the anime production process. Because of Yamato 2199, the process has been increased, but the know-how wasn’t actually there from the beginning. In spite of being a spearhead, we had a hard time at first with a lot of, “How should this one be done?”

Click to enlarge

Yukikaze comes out in the first episode, but it appears in Episode 17 in a scene that falls before the first episode, so we kept the damage detail light. That’s because we had a stockpile of scenes from the work. When you start off with an episode, with no basis for how to do anything, we’d just start with a vague “I want to add in this and that in such and such a way,” with no established standard. Then, as we’d take care of each episode, we’d do it and end up saying, “Ah, we should do it this way” and “If we do it more this way, it’ll be okay.”

Compared with the Yukikaze in Episode 17, the one that shows up in Episode 1 has a ton of deficiences. Of course, it should have been done that way from the first episode, and after the know-how had accumulated during the production process I realized how restrained we were at the time of Episode 1.

Interviewer: The system evolved over the course of the production.

Nishii: During the first episode I hesitated and wondered, “Are we going too far? If we take it this far, will it look too different from a 3DCG shot?” But halfway in we shook off the limiters and “will this be good?” became “Let’s take it all the way to here!” (Laughs) The process was the same for the first half and the second half, but our resources and the volume of work was different. From Mr. Ishizu and Mr. Tamamori there was a sense of “How far can I keep drawing?” or “Is this too much?” but by the midpoint I was saying, “It’s OK, please go all the way.” We didn’t have to restrain ourselves as much any more, so we drew as much as we pleased. (Laughs) Rather than end up with something I couldn’t capitalize on 100%, I said not to hold back, and go as far as they could with a design. (Laughs)

Of course, the prerequisite was to follow the schedule, but I thought it was better to suffer than to lose time. In fact, there’s more to the work than just drawing the pictures. Pictures are drawn by hand, but you have to work them out in your head before you can draw them (people who can think something up and draw it at the same time are very rare). If there was a chance that you might overthink it and end up taking time to draw it by hand, the standard procedure given was to to please just draw it and not hold back.

Click to enlarge

Interviewer: Does that mean that those who drew Yamato gave 100% of their power…?

Nishii: The schedule was tight and there were post-production issues, so in my view there were parts we couldn’t fix and there was no choice. So when you say 100% it may not be my 100%. However, I think it came in somewhere between 90 and 98%. (Laughs) At the beginning, I thinned out the shots to about 70%. I wondered, “If I overdo it here, will it stand apart from the other shots?” and held back, but by the third chapter it felt like we were shaking that off. So when I go back and review the first two episodes, I’m not satisfied with them. Episode 1 and Episode 2. (Laughs) I should have done it more this way. (Laughs)

Interviewer: You mean, you published the book to say, “I want you to see how to make a military vessel of this kind?”

Nishii: Well, nothing that specific, but after consulting the new reference in this book, you should be able to reproduce the detail. This book could be used as a basis for modeling, but not quite 100%. I think it’s good to come up with your own arrangement. I mean, after all, these materials are just things that have been drawn.

A plamodel is a unique representation of a three-dimensional object, so it’s something that can bring more life to it. I don’t think it has to be done in absolute terms. When I see the work of someone who makes a great plamodel, I say, “Oh, wow!” The method of making it dependent on the person, the way they craft it, how amazing its appearance is when I see it, the quality that comes out. I think what I want to see is something that makes me go “Oh!” rather than simply making an impression.

Click to enlarge

Interviewer: So rather than just reproducing the detail seen in the art book, it’s how you to choose to express it based on that?

Nishii: I think that’s it. I think every artisan has their own viewpoint. Mr. Tamamori puts it well when he says the ship doesn’t always have a fixed form. They’re always repairing it, so you could actually say that the shape changes. Before the main part of the work began in earnest, Mr. Tamamori said, “I’d like to refurbish Yamato during the voyage.” We couldn’t afford to keep changing the model, so we didn’t do that, but I understood his meaning. In short, after it’s attacked, it gets repaired, doesn’t it? It could be refurbished at that time.

If you thicken the armor, you change its shape. For example, even before Musashi was found, we knew there were points where it differed from Yamato even though they were the same type of ship. You can think of such things with a plamodel. In fact, I’ll admit that we talked about increasing the anti-aircraft guns with the thought that, “If it’s interesting, we can do it.” But altering a model in the middle of a production gets complicated, so we couldn’t cope with that. But I really wanted to do it! (Laughs) If you compare the Battleship Yamato to the time it was first commissioned, the machine guns and anti-aircraft guns were increased, so I wanted to do that sort of thing. To put more turrets in spots where they didn’t exist in the original design. I think you could do something like that with a plamodel.

Mr. Tamamori increased the thickness of the armor for reinforcement, which is something I really wanted to do. I wanted to fatten it up a little more. But we weren’t able to create a new model each time. Every time you increase the modeling, it gets really complicated, and it could cause trouble by raising confusion about which one you should actually use in production. You might be able to manage it in a single feature film, but since we were doing 26 TV episodes, it’s difficult to manage which models to use in any number of shots in an episode. Mistakes definitely happen.

Click to enlarge

In addition, when the number of models increases, the on-site 3DCG production work also gets harder. But I still wanted to do it if we could. (Laughs) When I heard that from Mr. Tamamori, I said, “Sounds good!” (Laughs) So, doing that with a plamodel is a Yamato-ish thing I’d enjoy.

Think of what you could do with Lambea. It would be good to set some guidelines for it that we haven’t yet seen in a book. Maybe there could be more anti-aircraft turrets on the sides of the Guipellon-class aircraft carrier, right? That would be more creative, and I’d like to see something cool like that. Since I don’t build plamodels myself, I’d definitely like to see some that make me say, “Oh, this is good.”

Interviewer: Finally, what’s your message for Dengeki Hobby Web readers?

Nishii: People who build plamodels as a hobby should think of it as manufacturing something for themselves. Whether you make something that thoroughly conforms to specs or do your own arrangement, it’s about creativity and flexibility, and I think you can enjoy yourself either way.

Conversely, because of my viewpoint as a staff member of Yamato 2199, it’s hard for me to think freely. Therefore, when we on the 2199 staff see something that is created freely, we say, “Whoah! This is amazing!” and we want to see things like that. I’ll be happy if the publication of this book leads to more presentations like that.

(Production IG conference room, June 19)

As a bonus, we received this comment from Nobuyuki Sakurai, a modeler who should be familiar to readers of Dengeki Hobby magazine:

Click to enlarge

An amazing book will be published. From the spring of 2012, I was entrusted with sample images for about two years, but to be honest, if this book was released earlier and I laid eyes on all this detail, I don’t think I could have completed the images for Dengeki Hobby magazine. (Laughs) [Translator’s note: Mr. Sakurai was Dengeki‘s go-to modeler for all things Yamato during the tenure of the series; you can see his works in most of the Dengeki articles featured in our 2199 reports.] The images published in this book show details that were impossible to confirm on the screen because of special effects, focus, or characters walking in front of them. In this book, those factors are removed to show only the mechanical details, which makes it a “treasure” for a modeler, as well as all Yamato fans.

Over the two and a half years that passed on the magazine, many modelers produced sample images with a variety of approaches: adding original detail, processing the lighting, and painting them like props in SF movies. All the ships were made three-dimensional, but for all the modelers who buy this book it will be time for a “second round.” I want to build Yamato and the Garmillas ships all over again. Furthermore, the cover illustration of Yamato is done with an attractive painted touch I didn’t think you could do with CG, and it’s wonderful art that shakes the heart of a modeler. Hyper Mechanical Detail Artworks overflows with such magic and allure. When you all get it in your hands, you’ll rediscover the appeal of Space Battleship Yamato 2199.

– Nobuyuki Sakurai

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

Return to Yamato 2199 Report 48

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *