How do you incorporate the world view of Makoto Kobayashi’s design into art? That is our challenge.
An interview with Art Director Yoshio Tanioka. From the Yamato 2202 Chapter 6 program book, November 2018
Interviewer: Originally, you were the art director on Ark of the Stars, right?
Tanioka: Actually, I helped with the art on episodes 11 and 15 of Yamato 2199 before that. That’s what gave me the edge for Ark of the Stars, and it continues in that form for Yamato 2202.
Interviewer: How did you get involved in 2199?
Tanioka: Even among the higher-ups, I heard talk of how they got into the industry because they liked Yamato, and so I figured “Why not give it a try?” and sent word to them. We talked about helping out a few times, and by chance the schedule allowed me to work on episodes 11 and 15.
Interviewer: I’ll ask a basic question. What do you specifically do as an art director?
Tanioka: First of all, it’s the work you see on screen other than characters and mecha, the part that doesn’t move. In other words, it is the job of creating the backgrounds. In animation work you don’t just do animation, you’re also responsible for the parts that don’t move. At first the art director creates an image of that, entrusts it to the art staff, and then checks what comes out. You do revisions if necessary, then deliver it. It’s also the job of an art director to manage the schedule and the quality of the backgrounds. The work is divided up in our company, since there’s a section that is responsible only for the design that underlies the background. It’s also the job of an art director to perform checks on what comes up there.
Interviewer: How far have digital backgrounds come along?
Tanioka: It’s all digital now. For example, the first bridge of Yamato. There are lots of meters and it’s complex and some places appear frequently, so a 3D model has already been made at the design stage, and we use that data for the background and do what is needed to color and finish it. You can only do that digitally.
Interviewer: Does Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi have a big presence in the 2202 background art?
Tanioka: Mr. Kobayashi’s design presence on 2202 is huge. The general overview is that Kobayashi’s designs are the “worldview” depicted for the camera. He writes memos for how he wants us to use the design, so it’s like a manual is attached. How do we get all this into a background? That’s our challenge. In other words, how do we respond to the points we get from Mr. Kobayashi? That’s a major feature of the artwork in 2202.
Interviewer: How exactly is design different from art?
Tanioka: For example, Mr. Kobayashi gives us a drawing, a panoramic view of a whole city. However, what we actually see is the background scenery from a car, so it becomes something closer to the scale of a human being. So how do we express Mr. Kobayashi’s taste when the camera comes into town? How do we give it the same impression as the whole view? That’s always our challenge. While reading one of Mr. Kobayashi’s published books or looking at a model, it’s always a challenge to somehow reflect his taste in the background.
Interviewer: It’s sort of like taking a live-action approach to anime.
Tanioka: Mr. Kobayashi’s works are three-dimensional. I think that’s because he makes models and is involved in 3D work, so his designs let you feel what must be on the other side. So even if you change the angle, it holds together. That’s very helpful to our work. I first became aware of Mr. Kobayashi when I was in elementary school. I liked models and bought Hobby Japan magazine. Mr. Kobayashi had a serial in those days, and I was amazed to see it. I immediately imitated it. Something influences you a lot when it touches you at an impressionable age. Therefore, I never thought it would be possible for us to work together in this way now.
Interviewer: The city empire that finally appeared is a transcendent design.
Tanioka: Mr. Kobayashi drew many parts of the city empire. The art side is responsible for detail. While incorporating the taste of what was previously drawn by Mr. Kobayashi, we inflate our imaginations to finish it.
Interviewer: Does Mr. Kobayashi draw scenes, too?
Tanioka: He draws some key parts, like the city empire, and planets, and a shot of the Saturn area. We pick up those images and spread them around to other shots.
Interviewer: What kind of communication do you have with Mr. Kobayashi?
Tanioka: It’s rare for us to meet over everyday work. (Laughs) We first met at the time we were discussing art for the first two episodes, and after that we’ve interacted throughout the production. I chew over his detailed memos, such as written concepts and how to use them, then I do color images for Director Nobuyoshi Habara, then I finish the art boards. I decide on the direction for a background while talking with the director about color and lighting.
Interviewer: As an art director, please tell us about the highlights of this work.
Tanioka: From an artistic point of view, it’s not a play of words and characters. I think a scene that explains something with a visual (background) is cinematic and interesting. For example, in the scene where the 11th planet first appears in Chapter 2, there is ice in the sea, and some of it is melted, tracing the path of the artificial sun. Just by showing that in a visual, it explains what kind of environment the planet has. I think it’s cool not to over-explain it. In the scene where Teresa appears in Chapter 5, the background changes as the story situation advances. It’s fun when shots work like that.
Interviewer: Is science-fiction your favorite genre as a creator?
Tanioka: I’ve liked Studio Ghibli’s anime since I was a kid, and it’s fun to draw Japanese scenery. But science-fiction is great. Both have good things, and I think it would be good to go back and forth with them. (Laughs) I like the works of Ridley Scott, and I like to reflect that atmosphere in the art I make.
Interviewer: By the way, what was your first encounter like with Space Battleship Yamato?
Tanioka: When I was in kindergarten, at 3 or 4 years old, the first thing I saw was reruns of Yamato III on TV. Since I was born in 1980, I wasn’t part of the realtime generation. There were a lot of opportunities to touch upon it with reruns and on video, and it was amazing. It couldn’t help but look cool through the eyes of a child. A ship flew in space, and there were fascinating things in its design. I wanted to hold onto the majestic figure of Yamato in some other way than a video recording, so I started drawing pictures. My original experience with Yamato was to draw it. (Laughs)
Interviewer: It was amazing, wasn’t it?
Tanioka: After that, a new work called Yamato 2520 was made when I was in junior high. Because I touched on Yamato again at an impressionable age, I sank deep into the Yamato swamp. (Laughs) When I watched all the works again, I could always tell that it was making cutting edge visuals. Because the visuals progressed, you could see it at a glance. I was really inspired by Syd Mead’s visuals on 2520, and after that I also saw that he had participated in Aliens and Blade Runner. Those movies absorbed me.
Interviewer: When did you first see Farewell to Yamato?
Tanioka: I think it was around the time when I was in kindergarten, but I saw it again when I was in junior high. I’ve seen it many times since then. Farewell may be the one I’ve seen the most. I think it was also the first anime that made me cry. In that way, Yamato has become the point of my life.
Interviewer: When did you choose the work of fine arts over drawing?
Tanioka: The year I entered art college, the seniors in the fourth level decided to make an anime as their graduation project. I got to participate through an acquaintance, and I was asked if I wanted to do backgrounds, and it was a lot of fun to try. I’m not suited to draw the same picture over and over many times. (Laughs) With a background you can take more time on a single piece, and there’s a sense of accomplishment since it spends a long time on screen. It gave me the opportunity to get interested in art.
Interviewer: What is the significance of this work to you?
Tanioka: It’s a strange feeling, being involved in a work I’ve known since childhood. Honestly, the child is father to the man… [your childhood shapes the adult you become] or maybe not, but in making music or drawing pictures, the prototype for my current sense of aesthetics lies in Yamato. Being allowed to do this in this way, I feel I want to respect both past productions and the staff who brought me on board for this.