Animation Producer Interview, May 2018

Yamato 2202 Chapter 5 Purgatory Chapter opens soon!
On-site interview with Animation Producer Hiroki Komatsu

Interview by Ryozo Fuwa, published by Akiba Souken on May 23, 2018.

The audience was stunned by the masterpiece of the Telezart liberation operation four months ago in Chapter 4, Destiny Chapter. Now, Chapter 5 Purgatory Chapter opens in theaters on Friday, May 25. As Chapter 5 surges toward the climax of the story, Akiba Souken carries out an interview with Animation Producer Hiroki Komatsu.

This is a bit different than the behind-the-scenes talks we’ve had with Director Nobuyoshi Habara and Writer Harutoshi Fukui. Please pay attention to “a real voice from the production site.”

What is an “Animation Producer?”

Interviewer: Your job title on Yamato 2202 is Animation Producer. What kind of work is it?

Komatsu: Putting it briefly, my role is to manage the production site. I find human resources, such as designers and animators, and assign tasks to them over a certain time frame depending on what they’re in charge of. I do jobs like deciding the schedule as I coordinate with the production committee and the creators.

Of course, Mr. Habara is steering the overall work. Mr. Fukui handles the story line, and Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi oversees mecha and art in the center. Mr. Habara has the attitude of incorporating many ideas from the staff to make a good thing, so it’s a site where many ideas and suggestions fly around. It’s not a customary thing to listen to everyone’s opinions, but he’s a great person who doesn’t give up on that. It’s my job to keep this flowing as smoothly as possible.

Interviewer: What is your impression of participating in Yamato 2202?

Komatsu: I wasn’t there from the start of 2202, I began participating at the middle. It’s a big title, so I was anxious about whether or not I was up to it. However, it was interesting when I actually saw the work for the first time! Also, being on a big title means you hear the voice of the fans directly. I feel it is rewarding and challenging. When I see reactions on the net, it’s clear that there are many enthusiastic fans, and the content of their reaction is also strong. The feeling is that it’s “becoming a topic.” Of course, conversely there are also a lot of situations where I feel pressure.

I joined the anime production company Xebec seven years ago, and I’ve been in on the production side since then rather than drawing or directing. This is my first time being in charge as a producer. Compared to the other works I’ve experienced so far, the work process for 2202 is very complicated. It’s my first experience with such a high percentage of 3DCG. I have to place orders for the art and prepare material for 3D…there is a procedure unique to 2202. It was hard to grasp that at first.

Interviewer: When looking back at Chapter 4 Destiny Chapter, there is a lot of deep emotion. What do you think about it?

Komatsu: Honestly, my impression was that we finally got there. As for the content of the work, you’re really groping around at the beginning as the staff works and communicates, and there are definitely difficulties to smooth out. It’s a continuous struggle until you get past that and put it on track. The first two chapters were a hard slog until they were put on track. With Chapter 3, there were a lot of painful phases in the schedule, and I wanted to get it on track sooner. (Laughs) Conversely, we settled back into Chapter 4 and were able to make it well within the limits.

In particular, since a lot of 3DCG is used in 2202, modeling itself took a long time at the beginning. But there is the fact that as the work progresses you get more experience, and since we could make use of the models we’d built up to then, the flow smoothed out. When you build up stock of 3D motion and explosions and other expressions, it seems like the number of options increases.

We’ve repeatedly done experiments in each chapter. For the shot of Yamato launching in Chapter 2, we repeated a lot of trial and error in the process of piling up the splashing waves in 3D, and for the shot of firing the main guns in Chapter 4, we invented a new way of easily blending drawing and 3D.

Interviewer: What was your own original experience with Yamato?

Komatsu: When I was in elementary school, my first experience was seeing reruns of the first Space Battleship Yamato on NHK. It was an old work, but I didn’t mind, and watched it in fascination. My father explained various things. The meaning of this term or that term. (Laughs) It seems he went to see Farewell to Yamato (1978) in a theater and said, “It’s a very good work.” When it was decided that I would work on 2202, which is a remake of Farewell…well, first of all, I was proud of my father. (Laughs) I wouldn’t get much reaction from him over the previous works I’d been on. Even if I said the name, he’d say, “I’ve never heard of it.” It’s nice that he’s interested in my work.

What are the on-site troubles with Yamato?

Interviewer: Sometimes the staff will say, “Yamato is different from other anime,” and “Yamato is hard.” Specifically, what parts of it are “hard”?

Komatsu: First, it may be a characteristic of Yamato that the storyboard stage takes a long time. I place an order for a storyboard based on a script, but it doesn’t stop at the surface of the script. Since there are a lot of concepts behind it, it can be difficult at first for the storyboard artist to decipher and understand it. In addition, because they really put their passion into drawing a storyboard, it may not be finished by the time you need it. (Laughs) It’s hard to adjust for that.

Also, because it’s a work depicting “a battleship or fleet conquering the universe” we’re careful about expressing the scale, to give it an especially huge feeling. I only understand that when it’s on film and I can see it on a screen. It’s very hard in that sense. There are other problems, and I always feel uneasy.

When you put a 3D model on the screen with the dimensions intact, it doesn’t usually feel very big, and depending on the shot you may show the model at several times normal size. If it moves too fast it may look too small and light…so we might want it to move slower at three times the size. Of course, Director Habara and Assistant Director Kobayashi are very sensitive about that. With regard to such 3D representation, you get retakes. The ones in charge of the 3D can’t really deal with the retakes.

After that, the character expressions can be a difficult part in 2202. The Character Designer Nobuteru Yuuki draws very delicate lines, and they can be very hard to mimic depending on the animator. Even if you’re an animation director, you might say, “I’m good at this character, but that one isn’t a good resemblance…” It is said that the “resemblance” of Kodai, Yuki, and Dessler is very difficult. (Laughs)

Unlike a TV series, the format is to divide it into seven chapters and show them in theaters. The schedule has a sense of being unique to 2202. You can take a lot more time to work than you have on a TV series, but if you’re not careful you can end up wasting a lot of time. Some things are OK in the case of a TV series, but in the case of Yamato, I hear “I’d like to add this” or “I’d like to add that” many times. Honestly, sometimes it pushes the schedule too far.

Interviewer: What’s an example of “pushing it too far”?

Komatsu: Showing the detail of mecha is one of the biggest attractions in the work called Yamato. It’s a place of great hardship, and it’s a point that really “pushes.” We definitely want to show the detail in the mecha in a shot, it’s difficult to draw that detail from scratch. So we do things like get a basic image in 3D and draw the detail by hand from there. Assistant Director Kobayashi is directly in charge of that work.

In Chapter 2, there’s a shot where the camera moves slowly over Yamato when it’s moored in the seabed dock. We were at a state where the image was almost completed, and the director said, “I want to add more detail up here.” Additional work can suddenly fall on us. (Laughs) But when we overcome this and a good image is created, everyone is really happy. We have an excellent staff that comes together when we get such orders, and this can be done only thanks to the staff. It’s my job to set up an environment that helps everyone on the staff to work comfortably.

The passion of the “direct-hit generation” as seen by the younger staff members

Interviewer: On the 2202 production team, it seems that the passion of the direct-hit Yamato generation, such as Habara, Fukui, and Kobayashi, is the driving force. But how do you view that passion through the eyes of the next generation down?

Komatsu: I think it’s genuinely cool. The sensibilities of those who continued to watch Yamato from the original series is exciting. It can be trusted. I think this will be finished as a good work thanks to that passion, and it would be like losing a rudder if we forgot it. The work, myself, and the entire staff are supported by it, and we follow firmly behind it.

Interviewer: We’ve become familiar with Habara and Fukui through their stage greetings and the web series, Promotional Meeting of Love. I’d like to ask about the roles and struggles of the rest of the staff.

Komatsu: First of all, there is Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi. He consults on everything from concepts to mecha art. He also finishes mecha that we have no concept for at the script stage. It seems like any time we’re in trouble, he picks it up and solves it. He’s a central figure we can truly rely on.

Our animation director is Akitoshi Maeda. He’s a vital link in the key animation and he might also be asked to play general key animation director, depending on what number episode it is. As I said earlier, if we have trouble with the character drawings, there are many occasions when I rely on Mr. Maeda to gather it up. Our Character Designer Nobuteru Yuuki is participating in art direction from Episode 18, too. I think you can expect more from the drawing side after Chapter 5.

Then there is one we can’t forget, our former Animation Director Hiroki Takagi. Unfortunately, he suddenly passed away in February. Like Mr. Maeda, he consulted on everything on the drawing side, and he was very reliable. I was somehow able to manage through Chapter 4, which was the turning point of 2202. I think Takagi’s power was great. At first I was really nervous about the work after we lost him, but now everyone on the staff has renewed their determination and is committed to finishing 2202 to the last chapter in a form that he would be proud of.

Interviewer: Finally, I want to appeal to you by all means to tell us what are the highlights of Chapter 5.

Komatsu: I think many people have been imagining it since the end of Chapter 4. The story of Dessler becomes the main thing in the first half of Chapter 5. I’d like you to pay attention to that, since it will depict the past of Dessler, which has never been shown before. Furthermore, the second half will be a fleet battle of great power. It will be a series of combat action scenes that give you no time to catch your breath. I hope you’ll look forward to that and see it in a theater by all means.

Interviewer: Thank you for taking time out of your busy day.

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