Age of Yamato staff interviews, 2021

The 10th issue of the Star Blazers/Yamato Fan Club Magazine was published in February 2021, and its lead story was called The “Green Power” That Supports Yamato. This was a collection of interviews with artists who worked on various aspects of Age of Yamato. First up was veteran animator and designer Kia Asamiya, whose interview is presented here.

Following below is a set of four interviews with some of the unsung heroes of the Yamato animation team, talking about aspects of the process that rarely (if ever) get the spotlight but always sweeten our viewing experience.

INTERVIEW 1

Takashi Aoki recounts the work of a cinematographer

The joy of bringing all the materials together to complete a work

Of all the tasks involved in anime production, “filming” is probably the most difficult to grasp in terms of what kind of specific work is done. It is said that “filming” plays an especially important role in completing an anime work. What goes on with it? We asked Takashi Aoki, the director of photography for Age of Yamato, for more details.

What is the job of “filming” in modern animation?

Interviewer: In the field of anime production, what kind of work does a director of photography do?

Aoki: In the days when anime production was done in an analog environment, “filming” literally meant layering cel and backgrounds and shooting them on film. In contrast, “filming” in modern production refers to the process of combining separate materials into a single image: characters, backgrounds, 3DCG for mecha such as battleships, and effects for explosions. The cinematographer [director of photography] is the person who directs the final product.

Interviewer: I heard that in some cases, lighting and perspective effects are judged by the cinematographer.

Aoki: If you just layer the separate materials together, you end up with a very bland and plain picture. That’s why I have to consider the balance of the image, such as overall brightness, contrast, and where to focus, which are also important in the filming process. In modern anime, the materials are so diverse that it is difficult to include all the instructions in the storyboard, so I have to take nuances from meetings with the director and ask, “What is the final picture that is required?”

Material secretly shot at home is utilized in a famous scene!

Interviewer: You worked as a staff member on Yamato 2199. What are your memories of your work back then?

Aoki: There are many, but for example, there was Episode 23 where Yamato impales Baleras on the main planet of Garmillas and fires the Wave-Motion Gun. In the scene, Baleras is lit by the gun. The lighting effect could have been created digitally, but I wanted it to have the textural effect you would get in a film shoot.

In my room at home, using my personal camera, I tried to recreate the techniques of analog photography to shoot lighting effects. Every time I see that scene, I feel like, “I took the light I shot in my room to Planet Garmillas!” (Laughs)

Interviewer: Is there a scene in the new work Age of Yamato that you would like us to pay attention to?

Aoki: It’s only a few shots, but I’d like people to pay attention to the [1969] rocket launch scene, which symbolizes mankind’s desire for space. Also, the fleet battle between the Earth fleet and the Garmillas fleet in Martian space. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it even more than in 2199. I think the Earth fleet is the coolest in the remake series. By adding that scene, I feel like we finally connected to the beginning of 2199.

Interviewer: I hope everyone will pay attention to these shots when the movie is shown in theaters.

Aoki: There’s also a small detail. I’d like to draw your attention to the tablet device that appears in Sanada’s interview scene. It was originally in Keyman’s possession, so it’s a prop from Yamato 2202. I had to mix it with the material from 2199. I had a hard time processing and adjusting it. (Laughs)

I hope you enjoy the evolution of Yamato, including changes in the participating staff

Interviewer: What do you think is the best part of being a cinematographer? Also, please tell us about your enthusiasm for the job.

Aoki: If I had to put it simply, I’d say that the best part is being able to see the finished work as early as possible. As I mentioned earlier, my job is to put together materials created in multiple departments and complete them as a scene, so I actually get to see the OK take before the director does. This is an enviable job for an Anime fan, isn’t it? (Laughs)

I’m in the position of taking material created by others, so I’m not involved in the visible part of the work. That’s why when I’m filming, I try to capture my own thoughts and feelings in the finished image in some way.

Interviewer: Please tell us about your thoughts on Yamato and your expectations for the future of the series.

Aoki: For 2205, the staff will be completely renewed and the story will continue, just like in 2202. I think Yamato‘s story is a “big drama” that includes all of that. From an audience point of view, I would like to enjoy the evolution of the series as the staff changes.

Takashi Aoki is in charge of cinematography, which is the process of compositing materials from the drawing, background, and 3DCG departments using animation production software to create a finished movie.

The scene shown here is from Yamato 2199 Episode 23, where Vice President Hiss and his team witness the Wave-Motion Gun fired from Yamato, which rammed into Baleran, the main base of Garmillas. This scene uses the “lighting material shot at home” that Aoki mentioned during the interview.

This light effect is Aoki’s own reproduction of a technique developed by the late Director Osamu Dezaki’s team in the 1980s, which does not rely only on soft filters. In some cases, by incorporating the technology of the analog era, a powerful image is born.

Takashi Aoki profile

Born in Tokyo in 1979. Joined XEBEC Corporation as a photography staff member. He has worked on XEBEC’s original Soukyou no Fafner series (2005~) and Heroic Age (2007~).

In addition to filming, he is also involved in motion graphic design and system development. In 2012, he participated in Yamato 2199 and Ark of the Stars as a cinematographer. He has been working as an independent freelance designer since 2015.

His major works are Gundam Thunderbolt (2015), Legend of the Galactic Heroes, The New Thesis (2018), Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 (2020), Gundam Hathaway’s Flash (2021), and Shin Evangelion: The Movie (2021).

Mr. Aoki’s production environment

Software: Adobe After Effects 2020, Adobe Photoshop 2021, Adobe Illustrator 2021, Maxon Cinema4D R23, Mac OS X (Main), Windows 10 (Sub)

INTERVIEW 2

The work of a CG director explained by Tadasuke Ueji

What should be handed down is not the technology, but the passion of the pioneers

Since the start of Yamato 2199, the realistic expression of mecha such as battleships and fighter planes has evolved dramatically. The CG technology used by Tadasuke Ueji and his team made this possible. We asked him about the “passion” underlying the expression methods that support the new Yamato.

Yamato‘s unique methods have been inherited in the world of CG

Interviewer: First of all, could you tell us what kind of work a CG director does?

Ueji: CG is one term that is often used to describe my work. However, our work is divided into several departments, such as modeling, animation, and effects. The CG director oversees the work of these multiple departments.

Interviewer: Compared to 2199, which was mainly produced for TV, Ark of the Stars was produced for theatrical screenings from the start. Are there any differences that you were aware of when making the film?

Ueji: In the case of the remake series after 2199, there is no difference in the basic workflow between the TV version and the theatrical version. If anything, it’s the length of the preparation period. Simply put, the longer the preparation time, the higher the quality of the CG.

Interviewer: The depiction of a battleship, which is the core of the CG part, seems to take a lot of time, doesn’t it?

Ueji: If the battleship is large, it is necessary to express the “weight” of the movement, including the effects. If it’s a small battleship, you don’t need to pay as much attention to the effects.

Interviewer: What was particularly difficult in the CG direction of the Yamato series?

Ueji: Compared to other anime works, I think there were more retakes. I think the reason is that the designers and directors are so enthusiastic. I was also happy that we were able to finish the work with a quality we were satisfied with. I was very happy.

Interviewer: It is important to show the shape of the battleship or fighter as an object.

Ueji: That’s right. When I was working on 2199, what made me think “I see what you mean” was the action of the Yamato turning. Normally, you would tilt the top of the ship inward, toward the direction of travel. But since Yamato is a ship, the superstructure should be tilted outward, like a real ship. I remember being impressed by that.

During the time I was in charge of CG from 2199 to Ark, I felt that I was taught the unique Yamato way of doing things. That’s why I handed down the methods to the staff who joined the project with Age of Yamato, remembering those days.

What are the struggles of the CG staff behind Shock cannon?

Interviewer: When did you first encounter “Yamato“?

Ueji: Of course, I knew about Yamato, but I didn’t really get into it until 2199 when I was in charge of CG. I was assigned to this project by the company I was working for at the time. I was completely fascinated by the enthusiasm of Yutaka Izubuchi and the other staff members I met there. It was normal for production meetings to last more than half a day. (Laughs) I felt a lot of pressure to respond to their enthusiasm, but I think that accepting their thoughts and feelings helped me grow.

Interviewer: Is there any scene in Age of Yamato that you would like us to pay attention to, since you participated in the production as a CG director?

Ueji: First of all, there is the rocket launch scene in the beginning. Initially, we were going to show the smoke plume as a drawing. But since this is a theater production, we decided to use CG.

Other than that, I would like to draw your attention to the scene where the Earth battleship fires a shock cannon. In 2199, there was no depiction of Earth ships other than Yamato firing shock cannons. I gave my team a difficult order: “I don’t want it to be flashier than Yamato‘s shock cannon, but I want the scene to be as flashy as possible.” To do this, they added flares in the middle of the scene and other elaborate touches. The color tone is based on blue, which is less colorful than Yamato‘s shock cannon.

Interviewer: I’d like to see your hard work on this in the theater!

I want people to find hope in Yamato because times are tough!

Interviewer: What are your expectations for the future of the series?

Ueji: I believe that many new staff members will join the series in the future. I’d like them to inherit the enthusiasm that was nurtured in 2199 and 2202. I don’t have any plans, but if I can help, I’d love to participate again! It’s not an easy work, though. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Finally, please give a message to all the fans who are patiently waiting for Age of Yamato!

Ueji: We don’t work under the same harsh conditions as medical professionals, but as makers of entertainment, we are doing our best to give people a little more energy for the future by providing them with enjoyable images. I hope that you will all keep the faith and wait for the day when you can go back to the theater.

For this new shot of the Second Battle of Mars in Age of Yamato, the storyboard and layout were created by Kia Asamiya, and the 3DCG materials were created by Ueji and his CG team.

The storyboard gives the general composition, content of movement, and the number of seconds. The storyboard provided the layout for the Earth and the Garmillas fleet on the screen. The upper part is the Garmillas fleet and the lower part is the Earth fleet. It is interesting to note that the layout was reversed after the original drawing.

The special effects, such as the shock cannons fired from Kirishima and the accompanying flares, are drawn in 3DCG. Together with the 2D screen effects, they create a Yamato-like battle scene. This scene is the first time in the series that an Earth ship other than Yamato is depicted firing a shock cannon, making it a shot that represents Age of Yamato.

Tadasuke Ueji profile

Born in 1983. After graduating from a vocational school, he joined Sunrise Digital’s production department. In 2012, he joined Yamato 2199 as the CG technical chief from the initial planning stage through Ark of the Stars in 2014. His main works include Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory (2018) and Samurai Egg: The Little Hero (2018).

Mr. Ueji’s production environment

Software: 3DsMAX 2020, AfterEffects 2020, FumeFX, Rayfire, Pencil, Frost

INTERVIEW 3

Naoki Fukuya talks about his work in color design

Selecting the colors of the world of Yamato from infinite combinations

The digitalization of anime production has greatly expanded the possibilities of color expression. On the other hand, the task of selecting colors that match the scene from among nearly infinite combinations has come to require a more delicate sense than in the analog era. We asked Naoki Fukuya, who is in charge of color design, about the key points of using colors to express the world of Yamato.

The importance of color design that can change the texture of anime

Interviewer: What is the role of “color design” in anime production?

Fukuya: To put it simply, it is the process of adding colors to the line drawings submitted by character designers and mecha designers. The base colors are determined through repeated discussions with the director about the image of the world. So it can be said that through color design, we can create the world view of the entire work.

For example, the color of the Hero’s Hill in 2202 is different in the evening and at night, isn’t it? But it’s not just the time of day. On 2202, which I was in charge of, I changed the color according to the ambient light of each planet we visited. The 11th planet, Stravase, and Telezart all have different ambient light.

Interviewer: In the days of analog, they used to choose from a limited number of colors such as stock, solar paints, and Toei’s cel-specific colors. But in the case of digital coloring, you can create an infinite number of colors by specifying them in RGB, right? What do you use as a standard when you create colors?

Fukuya: Basically, I think of colors based on the background. For example, even if we say “red” in one word, there are actually many different reds. From among them, I try to choose a red that matches the world view of Yamato. I have to keep in mind that there are some reds that should not be used. It is quite a difficult task.

Interviewer: What is a red that should not be used?

Fukuya: Specifically, a red with high saturation. The color should not stand out in the image. It’s like a supporting role. In that sense, highly-saturated reds would be out of place in the world of Yamato.

In the Cel era, we could only use a very limited number of colors. In the digital age, however, the color combinations have become infinite, so it is difficult for color designers to decide how much color to use.

Delicately expressing the feelings of a young Dessler through color changes

Interviewer: Please tell us what you struggled with in the color design of Yamato and what scene you would like fans to pay attention to.

Fukuya: The most difficult part in 2202 was in chapter 5, the scene from Dessler’s childhood, depicted in Episode 15.

Dessler’s memory of his childhood has a very special color change. The background existed as a realistic scene, but the characters were dropped to look like silhouettes, and the solid lines (trace lines) were requested to be gold. It was a lot of work to recreate the pattern over and over again. When Director Nobuyoshi Habara finally said, “Good! OK!” I was so happy to receive such a compliment.

That memory is a scene of conflict between Dessler and his brother Matheus. I think the director wanted to change the color of the scene to include the emotional aspect of the conflict.

Interviewer: Please tell us about the most difficult scene that you devised for Age of Yamato.

Fukuya: In the Apollo launch scene at the beginning, I had a hard time creating natural colors because it is a historical fact. I tried to keep it in line with the reality that exists.

Interviewer: I was surprised at the use of colors that looked like they were from the 60s.

Fukuya: As well as the color design, we also recreated the atmosphere of the time in the photography. I felt that people who will watch this movie would be familiar with this footage. I used footage from that time as a reference.

There are also some hand-drawn battleships in Age of Yamato. It was a lot of work to create the colors to match the images of Junichiro Tamamori, who was in charge of mecha design.

Interviewer: What do you focus on in the color design of Yamato?

Fukuya: First of all, I try to keep the “Yamato character” of the colors intact.

For example, the black area on the upper surface of Yamato‘s hull and the red area below the waterline. I made colors that increase the shadows and brightness to match the unevenness. It’s not simply painted in one color. I tried to create a sense of weight with just the colors, and then had them rendered in 3DCG.

Also, the colors of the characters from 2199 were slightly changed in 2202. The director asked me to add a reddish color to their shadows and to increase the saturation, so I adjusted it. Also, Yamato is a little more purple in 2202 than in 2199.

Overall, I hope that both fans of the original and fans of the remake will feel comfortable. I hope you can feel the Yamato style in the colors as well.

The color design for the Dessler memory scene in Yamato 2202 Episode 15 is based on a character design drawing by Nobuteru Yuki. Fukuya started with normal colors (1), then applied conversions with negative/positive color tones (2) and (3). The color palette on the left side of the screen is for specifying colors.

He then put the colored cel against the background art and checked how it looked on the screen (4). The line drawing of the character (trace line) is specified as light yellow.

In addition, special effects were added. In this way, the special atmosphere of this scene is enhanced.

Naoki Fukuya profile

Naoki Fukuya first participated in the TV anime SHUFFLE! (2005) and later worked on Minamike ~ Okawari ~ (2008) and Future Diary (2011). His color sense, which renders a world with soft colors, has attracted the attention of anime fans. Major works in which he has participated are Kourei: Zero (2008), Yamato 2202 (2017), and The World’s Strongest in a Mundane Profession (2019).

Mr. Fukuya’s production environment

Software: Paint Man, Trace Man, Adobe Photoshop. Hardware: The PC is a mouse computer creator PC (Windows 10). The monitor is EIZO.

INTERVIEW 4

The Work of Special Effects as explained by Miyako Hoshi

Special effects that “make you stand out” while “keeping you invisible” are the power behind the scenes!

With the shift to digital in the anime production process, one of the tasks that has changed in scope and content is “special effects.” Recently, it is said that in many cases, the cinematographer is responsible for the processing of special effects, but there are still many effects that can only be produced by specialists. We asked Miyako Hoshi about the appeal of special effects, which are indispensable for mecha anime like Yamato.

The main task of special effects is to “blend” cel materials with the background

Interviewer: What kind of work is “special effects”?

Hoshi: One example would be adding light from a rocket’s jet to a cel image. However, the role of special effects specialists changed after the shift to digital. Light effects are increasingly being processed in the “filming” part. Therefore, what we specialists do now is to increase the density of information on the screen, such as texture, damage, and staining on mecha. Recently, I’ve been working more and more on “sizzle” expressions to make food look tasty.

The number of Mecha anime titles is decreasing, so I was very happy to be in charge of the mecha special effects for Yamato.

Interviewer: I guess you could say that the work is similar to the “detail-up” process?

Hoshi: That’s partly true, but the role of special effects is to “blend” cel materials with the background. For example, in scene from an old anime, just before a rock falls, it sudden appears with a different tone. And you think, “That rock is definitely going to fall.” The process of “blending” the cel material and the background is a way to eliminate such a mismatch. In other words, special effects are needed to “blend in” the cel with the background.

Interviewer: In industry terms, this is called “book” or “harmony processing.”

Hoshi: That might be the closest. It’s a process of creating cel materials that are closer to the appearance of the background. The main thing is to process the object rather than the character. In terms of “blending in,” I try to make it inconspicuous. It’s a simple task to make the effect less noticeable, but still clearly visible, so it’s not as well-known as the other departments. (Laughs) It’s a simple job, but it’s essential to make the visuals look good.

Expressing a realistic texture by focusing on a single scene

Interviewer: Among the special effects you were in charge of in Age of Yamato, which scene would you like us to pay special attention to?

Hoshi: That’s a tough one. (Laughs) As I said before, the key to special effects is to work in a way that the audience doesn’t notice.

For example, in the case of a crashed spaceship, I was often asked to work on a mecha that only appeared in one shot. I was asked to add brushstrokes to a plain painting with only cel paint to express a sense of decay. But if you use solid cel paint without any special effects, it will look like it is floating against the background. How do you make that floating feeling fit in with the background? I did a lot of work like that.

Interviewer: If a reader goes to see Age of Yamato in a theater after reading this article, they might be wondering, “Is this special effects work?” I’m sure they’ll pay attention.

Hoshi: I’m glad to hear that. As a specific example of special effects work, there is a very simple type of work called “3D special effects”. For example, in a shot of Yamato looking up at the bridge from the deck, I was in charge of processing the image so that the light was shining from below. If it’s below the turret, it’s a footlight, so the shadows are different from the original. So I had to think about the lighting effect. Not only highlights, but also shadows.

The instructions from the director were vague; “Make it cool.” It took me a long time to reconcile the director’s “coolness” with my “coolness.” (Laughs)

Special effects are like cooking: “Once in a lifetime” is the best part of the job

Interviewer: What do you think is the best part of working in special effects?

Hoshi: I think it’s the ability to create a different special effect every time. It may look like the same work, but just like cooking, it’s a slightly different process. The result will never be the same twice. Each job you take on is a “once in a lifetime” experience.

I think the beauty of special effects is that you can spend a lot of time working on one picture. In the video world, the longest shot is 30 seconds, and the shortest is 2 seconds. We can only work on a two-second shot once, so we put a lot of effort into that picture.

Interviewer: It’s about depicting a moment that leaves a strong impression.

Hoshi: It makes me happy when people think, “Cool!” I hope my work leaves a lasting impression. It would be even cooler if our special effects work could be used in the illustrations for posters and video packages. (Laughs)

In the analog era, special effects were created using an airbrush to achieve smooth gradations that could not be expressed with normal cel paint. Nowadays, this work is done using image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.

In Age of Yamato, special effects were added by Miyako Hoshi to enhance new shots. In the opening scene of Apollo’s takeoff, brush processing was used to add dust from the ice crystals stuck to the Saturn V Rocket. The effect is similar to the actual film.

The upshot of Yamato bridge is a retouch of image material used in 2202 to create a new image of the light on the deck. It has a more solemn atmosphere than the original picture.

Miyako Hoshi profile

She did her first special effects work on Alcatraz Connection, the first digital production in the Lupin III series. Since then, she has worked on many BONES films including the 2003 version of Fullmetal Alchemist and the entire Eureka 7 series. Her major works include Skull Man (2007), I Want to Deliver Your Voice (2017), and Haikyu! To the Top (2020).

Ms. Hoshi’s production environment

Software: Photoshop CS5.1. Hardware: intuou4 PTK-640 (pen tablet), KP-501 E-01 X (grip pen), iMac 27inch OSX

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