The art of Yamato is “love” and “well-founded logic”
Interview with Yamato 2202 Art Director Yoshio Tanioka
Published by Gigazine, March 12, 2019. See the original article here.
The final chapter of Yamato 2202, New Star Chapter, premiered Friday March 1, 2019. All seven chapters have now come to their magnificent conclusion. Directed by original Yamato generation member Nobuyoshi Habara, a staff that connected deeply with Yamato completed the work together, and Yoshio Tanioka supported it as the art director who accepted the challenge of Yamato with love. However, though “love” is necessary, he also made the images on the basis of logic to clearly explain the premise.
We had the opportunity to interview Mr. Tanioka about his work as an art director and heard many stories about Yamato.
Interviewer: What range of work were you responsible for on Yamato 2202?
Tanioka: The task of an art director is to manage the backgrounds. First, I think it’s easy to understand when I say the job is to create the “things that don’t move” on the animation screen. For example, buildings or mountains behind the characters, and in the case of Yamato it includes outer space. It’s the job of the art director to bring the background together and manage the quality at or above a certain level.
Interviewer: There are also cases where Yamato itself is the background, such as inside the first bridge.
Tanioka: That’s right. The ship itself is also a background when it’s behind the characters. Since it includes the ship’s corridors and Wave Engine area, machinery may also be depicted as a background.
Interviewer: Are the backgrounds mainly hand-drawn?
Tanioka: They’re basically digital, with hand-drawing in Photoshop. In the case of an area that appears many times, like the first bridge, a 3D model is made beforehand. We cut it down to the necessary angle for a certain shot, then we retouch it and finish it in 2D.
Interviewer: In the program book, your work was described as “creating art boards and distributing them to the background staff,” but is there something that you draw yourself?
Tanioka: The key part is to maintain the standard of quality, so I draw it when it’s necessary to preserve that. Also, things come up that have to be modified to match the delivery level, so there are quite a few areas where I actually put a hand in.
Interviewer: How do you choose the key parts?
Tanioka: Of course, there are places where I think, “I want to do this.” (Laughs) And I’ll make choices based that premise. In the case of Yamato, we sometimes draw fictional planets, so I’ll make drawings for the staff that say, “It’s something like this.” If you don’t understand the logic behind it, you can’t explain it to the staff.
Interviewer: Do you have an artistic awareness of refining a masterpiece?
Tanioka: There is certainly a part where we inherit past designs. Like in 2199, there are also parts that are radically different from the original concepts, so we “rebuild” rather than “refine.” The form is that we reconstruct elements of Yamato into a modern shape. In the case of 2202, the time fault was added as a new concept, so we think about the visuals and the ideas of Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi. There are also people who have an image of the original work, so we try not to deviate from that too much when we rework it.
Interviewer: What’s a specific difference between your work and the original?
Tanioka: One example is Zordar. In Farewell to Yamato, I think the concept was that Zordar was evil in contrast with the goodness of Earth, but since 2202 is told from the perspective of “a difference in mindset” or “a difference in consciousness,” there is a difference in thought rather than right or wrong. In Farewell, the interior of the city empire had a feeling of royalty, but I tried to portray it as something from a completely different culture.
Interviewer: What do you think of as a “Yamato part” that should not be changed?
Tanioka: I think that is the “image.” For example, “the Wave Engine and the bolt of the Wave-Motion Gun are colored orange,” that sort of thing…
Interviewer: Ah, I understand.
Tanioka: It would be different if it became red or white, wouldn’t it? There are colors that were strongly established in the original, so we try not to play around with that.
Interviewer: Is there a particular color, or a group of colors, that look like “Yamato“?
Tanioka: As you may expect, there are a lot of greys. (Everyone laughs) A lot of variations of grey. Andromeda is grey, and other ships are grey, too. I try to make some differences there. For example, along the panel lines on the walls and floors, I try to change the color of each panel. The rest is texture.
New and old ships like Yamato and Andromeda appear, and there are also requests from Director Habara. Yamato‘s bridge has a relatively matte texture, and we reduce the gloss of the metal. On the other hand, because Andromeda is a newly-built ship, there are a lot of shiny highlights and reflections on the bridge. We put in that nuance to show the difference between old and new.
Tanioka: In the first episode of 2202, Kodai is on board Yuunagi, and we cut back and forth between its command area and Andromeda. Yuunagi has a matte texture with fewer highlights, and Andromeda is newly-built so the bridge is shiny.
By the way, the latest ship Ginga is also like this.
Interviewer: Do you use the same colors as in the original?
Tanioka: The metallic feeling was strengthened on Yamato Resurrection, but I think the first series had a matte texture overall.
Interviewer: Where there circumstances in the old days where it was difficult to use metallic colors?
Tanioka: I don’t think so, but in terms of time and moving from analog to digital, it may be possible to save time on various tasks. In the old days you had to physically paint it, so you’d mix the paints to make colors, and it took time for them to dry. When it came to adding highlights, the previous paint would have to dry first and then the new paint would have to dry again, so the process would expand and take more time. On the other hand, with digital work you don’t have to wait for paint to dry, so I think you reach the point where you can step in and do more.
Interviewer: There are three forces in 2202, Earth, Garmillas, and Gatlantis. There are differences in color, like Garmillas skin being blue and Gatlantis skin being green, but what kind of artistic difference is there?
Tanioka: First, I made the image of Earth “a little ahead” of what we’re used to. When it came to Garmillas and Gatlantis, we grasped the standards as we drew. With Garmillas it was “Garmillas marble.” On a Garmillas ship there are patterns of yellow panels on the bridge. It’s unified by the fact that the materials they use are produced within the range of Garmillas influence. When we thought about what kind of material is used for Gatlantis, I thought of the shell-like texture of crustaceans and expanded the image based on that. For example, there’s a suggestion of grain on the floor of Goland’s ship, and the image feels like the surface of a crab shell.
Interviewer: It’s not just the color, there’s also a difference in the texture.
Tanioka: That’s right. It roughly shows a difference between culture and thought.
Interviewer: Do you also consider parts of a so-called “setting”?
Tanioka: For the main settings, I have detailed meetings with Director Habara and Assistant Director Kobayashi. There were a lot of designs, and they gave me instructions on how to use them, so I do the actual work based on that. If I need more details in the design, I assign it to Designer Kaoru Aoki, and it is reflected in the backgrounds.
Interviewer: When the power of various people is added up, the art is completed.
Tanioka: That’s right. It’s not just born suddenly from me at the end. (Laughs) Mr. Kobayashi visualizes the director’s image and I add a feeling of air to it, and something close to it is finished for the screen.
Interviewer: Are Mr. Kobayashi’s designs fairly detailed?
Tanioka: Depending on the location. For example, he made detailed designs and a 3D model for the city empire and the Ark of Destruction so we could understand them in a three-dimensional state. In the case of hand-drawn designs, the manual included illustrations and suggestions like, “I want to use this,” or “It would be cool to do it this way.”
Interviewer: Are the designs in color?
Tanioka: There’s no color at that point. Some of them have memos with color images.
Interviewer: Then you complete something that starts as an image with no color.
Tanioka: I create an art board in color and check with the director about it, and if it comes up OK it goes into background work.
Interviewer: Speaking of Yamato as a grey subject, there are some amazing colors on the Gatlantis side.
Tanioka: For Gatlantis, the first art board was Zordar’s area, and Mr. Kobayashi made it easy for me when he put in the color, which became the standard for Gatlantis. In that case, he provided the rough colors that became the key.
Interviewer: It was developed based on that.
Tanioka: When it was dropped into a background, I asked “why this color?” and gave it some logic. Even if it’s a push to rationalize it, it’s a better fit with the visual, because you can’t put it in if you don’t have a reason for it. “Why is that thing glowing orange?” I come up with reasons one by one and put it in myself. Unless you do that, it won’t get passed on to the staff. I do it to to answer questions like, “Why is it this color?” and “Why did you use materials like this?” as best I can.
Interviewer: I already thought an art director had to be good at drawing, but you also need reading comprehension for this work, don’t you?
Tanioka: That may be more important; the ability to read scripts, storyboards, and layouts. I think it’s necessary to read and reflect on “what do you want to show in this shot, what do you want to convey?” Animation visuals aren’t just one piece, they’re connected continuously, which means the flow is important. If you’re meant to pay more attention to a character in a certain visual, the background can recede, but if there’s a subsequent movement where you have to see the background, it’s necessary to show that intention. I try to read such things from the layouts.
Interviewer: How fast do you finish the art boards that you create?
Tanioka: It depends on the subject, but with Chapter 7 a key visual took almost a day. In the case of ordinary background art, we do three or five pieces a day from the start. My teachers taught me that I couldn’t survive if I didn’t draw that much. (Laughs), and it’s important to draw in volume like an animator. In the case of Yamato there are a lot of intricate visuals. A retouch of the first bridge can take three or four hours. For a visual like that it takes time because the art is large in size. The basic approach is, “it can’t take more than one day.”
Interviewer: I didn’t think you could possibly finish a visual like that in one day…
Tanioka: The time you take to think, “What should we do here?” might take longer. I get the image from the director, and while I put in the temporary coloring I wonder what to do for a couple of hours. Then I look at the old Farewell book and suddenly realize, “That’s how to do it!” (Laughs)
Interviewer: It’s a task where you work with your hands, but you also spend a lot of time using your head?
Tanioka: In the case of an art board, the time you think about it may be longer than the actual work. If the color is simple, the actual work could take under an hour. I spend 2-3 hours thinking about what to do. I read the material, read the storyboard and script and read the flow and think about the best method…I spend my time on that.
Interviewer: How many art boards were drawn for all seven chapters?
Tanioka: The number is…it goes up and down with each episode. I think there are about 300 to 400 when I include roughs.
Interviewer: How is that compared with other works?
Tanioka: I think it’s a lot. Especially on the fourth episode when Yamato takes off from the ocean. That was carefully worked out to depict the passage of time and the change in characters’ emotions. I made a simple color board for almost every scene. We aimed for a convincing series of visuals up to the point where Yamato goes out to sea, and we carefully examined all the color in detail.
Interviewer: What’s your favorite scene, or a scene that’s impressive to you from the standpoint of art?
Tanioka: I thought the Eleventh Planet was interesting. When I got the rough color from Mr. Kobayashi, it was a green planet. Why green? Because the artificial sun shines in a color that doesn’t occur on Earth. The stadium where Saito and the others are is in a normal color, because its light source is from Earth, but otherwise it’s green because it’s lit by the artificial sun. In other words, it indicates the existence of a different culture. I think it’s interesting to match the intention of the directing with the intention of the story on that kind of thing.
Interviewer: When you hear about the art and watch that episode again, you can see more details in the visuals.
Tanioka: I personally think it’s good that 2202 doesn’t speak in too much detail. When I look back, I notice the tricks that were woven in by Mr. Fukui, Director Habara, and Mr. Kobayashi. It’s fun for us to pick up on that in the work.
Interviewer: Where there parts where you felt the unique difficulty of Yamato?
Tanioka: Well, I think it’s the place where a “fictional thing” appears. It’s fictional, but it’s a place with characters where you can live. How do you give it a presence that doesn’t seem like a lie? In terms of the Eleventh Planet, there’s a logic that responds to, “Why does it look like that?” It shows off fictional things that are unique to SF.
I think the difficulty of Yamato is, “I tell a good lie so a viewer can get into it.” It’s also a major premise to “make it look like Yamato” for the viewers so that to them it seems like, “I’m watching Yamato.” That isn’t theoretical. Since I personally love Yamato, part of the sensation and passion ultimately comes from my wanting to bring out as much of my own experience with it as I can. (Laughs)
Interviewer: So really, it’s not about color or logic. (Laughs)
Tanioka: Logic is needed to inform the staff, but when I talk about it now, I think again about how “it has this feeling.” (Laughs) You make Yamato with “love” that’s appropriate to Yamato. When you watch Yamato, whether it’s good or not, I think the judgment factor is, “is there love in it?” and I think that’s something that should never be removed.
The first thing I worked on for 2202 was the Farewell to Yamato homage poster (given away with advance tickets for Chapter 1). In a meeting with Director Habara, he said, “I want you do this.” I told him honestly, “Do this just as it is? I’m scared.” (Laughs) then he said “I’m scared, too.” And with that I felt prepared to face it head on. I thought of this mission as either having resigned myself to my fate, or else showing my love for Yamato.
Interviewer: You began participating in the series by lending help with the art for episodes 11 and 15 of Yamato 2199, you were the art director on Ark of the Stars, and you’re still the art director on this work. What was your first impression when 2202 was decided?
Tanioka: “Is it true? Is it really happening?” And then, “I wonder if I’m good enough.” 2199 and Ark of the Stars were helped because the original elements of Yamato played a strong part, and since 2202 was the first remake of those past images [from Farewell], I was nervous. “Can I lay my hands on that masterpiece?” It was half joy, half fear. So when we had the meeting about my first job, the homage poster, when Director Habara told me that he was afraid too, I found my determination.
Interviewer: You liked the original Yamato series, but I was told that Farewell in particular was the work you might have seen the most times.
Tanioka: Partly because it’s easy to see it in about two hours, but I think it’s the work I watched the most. The first thing I saw was Yamato III, then Be Forever and Final Yamato. Then I got around to seeing the first one. Of them all, I liked the story in Farewell the most.
Interviewer: You were born in 1980 and saw a rerun of Yamato III when you were in kindergarten, and started to draw pictures of it. What was it about Yamato III that attracted a kindergartener?
Tanioka: The coolness, the beauty of the picture, the music…I didn’t understand some of the story elements because I was too young, but I was fascinated by the so-called main elements of Yamato. The visuals and the music.
Interviewer: Were you able to grasp the visual elements by drawing Yamato?
Tanioka: When I was watching it on TV in reruns, video decks weren’t widespread yet, so it wasn’t possible to record it and watch it “on demand.” If I wanted to see an image of Yamato again, I had no choice but to draw it myself and make my own visuals. An analog story from the Showa era. (Laughs) If I drew Yamato myself, I could enjoy “this scene and that scene” before the next broadcast.
Tanioka: I asked my parents to buy me a Final Yamato record, and while I listened to it I imagined the visuals by looking at pictures in the liner notes. Anyway, my original experience of enjoying Yamato was through pictures and music.
Interviewer: It was already imprinted in your mind. It feels like “special Yamato education.”
Tanioka: It was completely imprinted. (Laughs)
Interviewer: The story is that you submerged yourself into the swamp of Yamato all at once in middle school. Was this a reaction to having drifted away from it in elementary school?
Tanioka: I drifted away from Yamato in elementary school and I came to like Godzilla and Toho tokusatsu [live-action special effects] movies.
Interviewer: A tokusatsu lover! (Laughs)
Tanioka: I was definitely on something like the Royal Road of Otaku. (Laughs) But it felt like I returned to Yamato in junior high. The Yamato 2520 OVAs were released when I was a junior high student, and before that a video came out called Yamato, the Mirror of my Eternal Memory [The Quickening]. I love making-of videos like that, and I watched it repeatedly. “Is animation made like this?” It was shown specifically.
Interviewer: That was the time when it overlapped with works like Macross Plus, wasn’t it?
Tanioka: It was like an OVA heyday, wasn’t it? [OVA = Original Video Animation] But among them…there was Yamato. Maybe there was something to appeal to the soul after all. (Laughs) It’s been said that Yamato is a turning point. After Yamato is planted as a seminal experience, even if you have various hobbies in between, it blooms anew when you see Yamato again. You can feel that influence once more.
Interviewer: If a new Yamato comes out when you’re an impressionable junior high student, you have no choice but to sink into that swamp. (Laughs)
Tanioka: I think both the music and the visuals were at the cutting edge. I was great to come across Syd Mead in Yamato 2520. I also love the masterpiece Blade Runner, and that was my trigger to watch it. The music of David Matthews was also very good, and I started listing to the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, which he led. Then I got into big band and jazz. “The seed was planted.” (Laughs)
(Read the full story of Yamato 2520 here.)
Interviewer: Yamato was present at a turning point, and it also expanded your road. That’s great…
Tanioka: It had a big influence. I think it is packed with energy. No matter where you take it, it has an influence on someone or something. I think that might be the power of Yamato.
Interviewer: Did you keep drawing pictures as you advanced?
Tanioka: I tried to imitate the influence of Syd Mead, and I tried to draw something like manga. Yamato 2520 overlapped with the time when Evangelion was broadcast, so I also watched Eva and copied that.
Interviewer: It was said in the Chapter 6 program book that you came to this job because of art school. Your seniors made an anime as their graduation work, and you helped with the backgrounds. Was there anything else you went through at the time?
Tanioka: Before I came here to Miho Studio, I tried working for another company, but I failed. At that time I didn’t think I would be able to understand what was required of me as an artist, so I went back to an animation technical school to learn the skills required for animation. Even though I was drawing at an art college, the first thing they said was “Draw your own picture.” In animation, it’s important to visualize the director’s request, so it becomes necessary to match a picture with a person. After that I found my way here to Miho.
Interviewer: As I mentioned earlier, an art director is supposed to be good at drawing, but of course they also need the ability to decipher layouts and storyboards. How can such skills be developed?
Tanioka: I think one way is to “watch the visuals.” Do you know the structure of a visual? I shot live-action film during my college days, and the textbooks and class materials we used at the time were packed with the basics of film. When I study visuals while doing the work of anime, I remember that as a very useful experience. I often learn things from one visual or another.
Interviewer: You mentioned the movie Blade Runner earlier. Do you see a lot of movies?
Tanioka: Not very many. When I was in junior high I borrowed about one a week from the video rental shop and watched it. Of course, at that time I wasn’t looking for study material, but simply to enjoy it. However, I often watched my favorite works repeatedly. At that time I start noticing, “How was this done?” I think that became fertilizer for making visuals later on. For example, the opening of 2202 has some of the characteristics of Toho tokusatsu films that I watched in elementary school.
Interviewer: A few decades later you say, “Let’s try that thing from back then.”
Tanioka: Showing mecha with cool lighting, stuff like that. “Maybe we could use that here.”
Interviewer: In terms of the knowledge that came out earlier, like “Garmillas marble” or how to show the color of light, do you mobilize that based on what you’ve previously created and bring it to this, or do you read documents and devise it according to the work?
Tanioka: The attitude is always, “Find out what you’re curious about.” I think that can be applied to any work. I also tell the staff things like, “this is the height of this traffic light” or “this is the size of one block in that block wall,” and when it appears on the screen the lie disappears. In that case, you can use yourself as a ruler. If you know how big the block is compared to the length of your arm, you’ll be able to draw things into a background that are not a lie.
Interviewer: Ah…I see.
Tanioka: How big is a mug when you hold it? Knowing that means you can grasp how it will fit into your hands.
Interviewer: Everything in everyday life is an object of observation, and is used in background art…
Tanioka: And it means investigating things you wonder about, like “why does a cloud look white?” or “why is the sky blue?”
Interviewer: I see. There were various materials and documents in the waiting room before this interview, and I felt the accumulation of past materials that was utilized in the work done here at Miho. And when you mentioned that various “fictional planets” appear in Yamato, I was surprised to hear, “there’s logic behind that!?”
Tanioka: Most of the logic comes from the physical point of view. For example, if the atmosphere of a planet comes out looking whitish, it’s because light diffuses when it’s reflected by water vapor. So there must be moisture in the planet’s atmosphere. If there is water, maybe there’s a river. If there’s an atmosphere, it would have these components. But the color of the sky might not look like this. In such cases, the physical side can become a guideline.
Interviewer: Even if it’s a “fictional planet” it can theoretically be depicted if we pursue the logic.
Tanioka: And this isn’t limited to Yamato. For example, I think in the same way when do a work set in the Edo period or the early Showa era, where no character photos were left behind. At the time, since they used candles and gas lamps, the range affected by light was narrower than today. So it’s going to be darker, isn’t it?
Interviewer: So you can’t draw the image of light as it is today.
Tanioka: That’s right. The picture is completed after doing some reasoning.
Interviewer: That’s the kind of knowledge that is packed into a visual that you show in a specific way. Thank you for everything you talked about in addition to Yamato.
Mr. Tanioka holds a figure of Juuzo Okita that looks like a bronze statue, but it was painted after being created in a 3D printer.