Mecha Director Masanori Nishii Interview

Chief Mechanical Director Masanori Nishii talks

2199 Mecha scene summary

At last, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 has finished the long voyage to Earth. This time we present a comprehensive feature on the mecha action side. The person in charge of the mecha images appears again. As you know, it is Chief Mechanical Director Masanori Nishii. Because of his long absence from these pages and the first footprint of the mecha side of the voyage, we begin where we left off with his commentary on the first three chapters and then move on to an interview.

A: Episode 8

Digital animation is used to carry out a tracking shot and chase a torpedo.

B: Episode 10

The dimensional fault that later leads to UX-01 is depictd with the feeling of an ocean.

C: Episode 11

The Gatlantis fleet was not rendered in CG, but was instead hand-drawn for the only time by a guest. The appearance of Gatlantis allowed fans to inflate their delusions in various ways. (Laughs)

D: Episode 12

This time the artistic depiction of the Garmillas cityscape was enormous. Without the concepts and original art of Makoto Kobayashi, who was in charge of set design, I don’t think it would have come together. On this Planet Garmillas, people can live normally with no acid sea.

E: Episode 13

Although it is UX-01, the wake of the torpedo was completely drawn to get the feeling of the sea. This time the point was how to make Frakken cool.

F: Episode 15

This was the first match of Yamato vs. the Domel fleet, the direct confrontation of Yamato and Domelus III, This was a scene that didn’t come from the original work. The scene where the hulls collide was expressed with an intense, violent feeling. They slam together in a crash once and are separated again.

G: Episode 16

Analyzer is equipped with more parts and plays an active role as a large-scale robot. This was our proposal for how robots would be in the Yamato world.

H: Episode 17

Yukikaze appeared in a flashback scene. To be honest, from Episode 1 onward, we included a dirt effect, heightening the sense of a worn-out ship that’s been fighting on the front lines, but while I thought we’d used the dirt effect in Episode 1, when I look back at it…(Laughs)

I: Episode 18

Since the volume of data becomes huge when depicting such a large fleet directly, the more distant ships were devised with a low-polygon count. I don’t think the eye can discern the difference, but more than anything the best part is the overwhelming number of ships filling up space.

J: Episode 19

For the scene in the Rainbow Star Cluster we put in a ridiculous level of detail on each mecha, including the carriers and fighters. Detail-up was done on most scenes, other than the wide shots. Mr. Ishizu was in charge of Garmillas mecha design, and since we drew this directly his workload became enormous.

K: Episode 20

The workload for this episode was done over several episodes. We talked a lot about the area around the third bridge, and since it has the pivotal role of artificial gravity control and the Wave-Motion Barrier, it was impossible to rebuild it during the voyage. (Laughs) Therefore, Yamato‘s third bridge was very sturdy.

L: Episode 23

The Garmillas capital city 2nd Balerus was modeled based on designs by Makoto Kobayashi. The original art for Planet Garmillas was helped this time by the work of Kobayashi. The CG workmaship in the Wave-Motion Gun firing scene was very well done.

M: Episode 25

This was the last battle with Dessler relentlessly chasing Yamato, and although the Dessler Gun was repelled by magnetic space plating in the original work, director Izubuchi made the last battle of 2199 unique by winning through hand-to-hand combat and a shooting war. The new idea was adapted and developed in various ways while adhering to the original.

N: Episode 26

The Cosmo Reverse System that revives the polluted Earth was modeled in CG. The internal parts move and rotate, and many hand-drawn curves were used to express it solidly, so the CG was quite difficult. Designer Takeshi Takakura was asked to do set design for the Cosmo Reverse.

Space Battleship Yamato 2199
End-of-Voyage commemoration

Chief Mechanical Director
Masanori Nishii interview

It is three months since the TV series conclusion. We got Chief Mechanical Director Masanori Nishii to look back at the inside stories of picture-making again for Space Battleship Yamato 2199. For a feeling of continuation from the last magazine commentary, the story begins from Yamato leaving the solar system to head out into the galaxy.

If this wasn’t Yamato,
I wouldn’t have gone so far

How did the Rainbow Star Cluster
become a true “Naval Battle”?

Interviewer: This time I’d like it if you could give us a feeling of continuation from the previous magazine commentary that went about halfway. Let’s start in the area of leaving the solar system. The mystery of why the revolving asteroid defense was not adopted suddenly became a hot topic between fans. I thought it would come out somewhere.

Nishii: Personally, I thought that we might do it if a situation could be made to apply it in the flow of the story. But unfortunately, as we went along we had to admit that “There is no place to use this.”

There were many other such things. My hope was to put in as many possible elements of the original work that would make old fans say, “Oh!” but in the end it was impossible to put in 100%.

Interviewer: I think it was painstaking, the way you preserved the image and essence of the original work. In the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster in the second half, I was surprised that you produced it like Space Battleship Yamato‘s sea battle again.

Nishii: In fact, it didn’t have that expression in the script stage. While Director Izubuchi drew the storyboard, it lead to the decisive conclusion that, “It’s good like this, isn’t it?”

Indeed, because there are no armaments attached to the underside of Yamato, I would think, “why bother to expressly attack the top where they can counterattack?” But, “it wouldn’t be Yamato any more if I question that.” Therefore, the making of the images took on the expression of a battle at sea. The situation became that they could only attack from above because they couldn’t go under the clouds. It was something that had a “Yamato-like feeling.”

In other words, I think it’s something that could only be made in Yamato. I think it would obviously be excessive if the same situation was carried out in a more realistic work. That’s what I mean when I say that is the value of Yamato as a work. Though there are any number of things you can question, I do it because it is Yamato. When I get excited even if I’ve seen it already, if I can connect the desire to see it with a feeling of happiness, I think “That’s it!”

Director Izubuchi drew things in his storyboard like a wake behind the Domel fleet, and I thought, “We’re going there? If so, then let’s go all the way!” (Laughs)

Interviewer: It’s a fine expression, and also considerably intricate. I liked it when the fighters went sliding off the tilting carrier, and I would think depicting things like that was difficult.

Nishii: That’s right. It couldn’t be drawn by hand without using CG, such a thing would be impossible now. There is a certain pride in being able to show such images. For rotating Yamato itself, it would be impossible to do it by hand with that design, so perhaps in that way, CG is a benefit. You can show some things because they’re done in CG.

Interviewer: Or when a multi-deck carrier turns and changes direction. It had a good feeling of something large being turned. That and when you can see inside the four levels when it passes by, stuff like that is where it works best.

Nishii: We seemed to learn for the first time that “it’s open here.” (Laughs) If it was hand-drawn, “it’s hard to draw that angle,” but simply because it was done in CG, I think we were able to show its design and function well.

Because it was Yamato, I took it all the way

Interviewer: The impression was that the density of the picture got heavier and more troublesome every time.

Nishii: As the work advances, the story surges in various ways, and since it steadily escalates it gained power by all means. Also, as for parts with images that we were hesitant to create in the beginning, our knowledge and know-how accumulated as we gradually repeated them and thought, “if we do it this way, this is how it will come out.” With that in mind, as it grew steadily our avarice also came out, and I think there were some places where we got carried away.

Interviewer: This became a work in which “if they go this far, everyone will be convinced of its power.”

Nishii: Since animation is a composite art with various elements such as story, direction, music, and visuals, the enthusiasm for how to show something on film will always continue.

Interviewer: It was planned as a TV series at first, and eventually became pre-released in theaters and on Blu-ray, and paid distribution [on demand] was carried out at the same time, so it was a product that took on a novel form. Was it hard to maintain the high picture quality?

Nishii: If it wasn’t Yamato, I wouldn’t have taken it so far. With Yamato as the raw material, along the way I’d reach points where I’d ask, “What will we do if the quality starts to slip?” And so, as I resolved to keep up the quality to the very end, I thought I had to get even more severe in doing the job. If the quality clearly dropped halfway through, I’d be sorry to disappoint the audience, so in the sense of making a successful commercial work to the end, there was the feeling of “making something that will sell.”

Director Izubuchi drew such things in his storyboard as a wake behind the Domel fleet,
and I thought, “We’re going there? If so, then let’s go all the way!” (Laughs)

If the film itself was not good as a visual work, I thought the hard work up until then would be wasted. Therefore, in the direction of each part, I said, “I’m aware that I’m being unreasonable and I’m sorry, but I’ll be like this to the end.” That was the situation. (Laughs)

Interviewer: A really large number of mecha appeared, too.

Nishii: I think Director Izubuchi had various thoughts regarding mecha, along the lines of, “I’d like to bring out this mecha,” or “it’s no good if we don’t do it like this,” or “We can use such-and-such in this part, but its semantic meaning and essential utility are wrong. Don’t you think it’d be wrong not to do a new design?”

Interviewer: Among those, what sort of things did you have control over in your own work?

Nishii: No, I didn’t actually control any of it. (Laughs) Of course, that was my job. He was usually very strict with the understanding of, “No matter what I want, you make it happen.”

Still, it isn’t like we didn’t have discussions where I could say, “Why don’t we try it this way?” It’s just that, essentially, you accept what he asks for. You may ask, “is that reasonable?”, but you accept it. And then you think about how to deal with it. If we’d said “this is impossible” from the beginning and limited what we wanted to do, I think it would have been less interesting in the end.

A variety of ideas were incorporated

Interviewer: By the way, in terms of presentation technique, it must have been hard to come up with surprising ways of presenting the use of warships. You used all sorts of tricks in 2199.

Nishii: That’s right. There are qualities of Yamato that exist only in Yamato. This too, if you ask different people “Well, what is Yamato-ness?”, it’d be difficult for them to put into words, but I think “If you show them something that has Yamato-ness in it, they’ll know it when they see it.”

Interviewer: As for something like anti-ship combat, I’d have to think that to the untrained eye the variations would be limited when compared with robots.

Nishii: And yet, depending on the situation or location, we used a number of tricks for anti-ship combat. Director Izubuchi thought about various things, too. It was done so as not to repeat the same thing.

Interviewer: What kind of feeling did the meetings have in that area?

Nishii: Director Izubuchi set the basics of most of the battle scenes. For instance, in Episode 13 where they go up against the Dimensional Submarine, he said, “it’s hard to do this in open space, so let’s set it in a primitive solar system, with lots of asteroids,” and then tell us what sort of visuals we should go for, or “if we have a situation like this in a story, isn’t it better to show that situation this way?”

In the case of Yamato it’s always out in open space. Unless it goes to some planet or a fixed star or some other kind of place, there is only open space. The Rainbow Star Cluster was made into a place with a nebula and surging space currents, since if it was just rainbow-colored space that would be the only difference from ordinary space. Because the story became “we should attack it from underneath,” we wanted to attach a reason that gave our depiction an appropriate feeling. It’s not backed by 100% scientific investigation, but it has the whiff of it, and I guess that’s how you can make an appealing scene.

If we were to say, “This is impossible” from the beginning and limited
what we wanted to do, I don’t think it would be very interesting in the end.

Interviewer: How did you decide on the details?

Nishii: In various ways. A lot of times, Director Izubuchi might look at something in a script and say, “If we’re going to do it this way, it has to be done like this.” Or sometimes a storyboard artist might draw something in a storyboard and we’d say, “that’s good, we should incorporate it.” Although Director Izubuchi put the story together with the basic understanding that it be realistic, we’d have exchanges like, “We could lie a little here,” and “wouldn’t it be better to bluff a bit here?”

Seeing it from an animation viewpoint, there were interesting shots that expressed reality and others that expressed an interesting bluff with animation. So there were a lot of cases where the advice was, “wouldn’t it be good to use anime to pull off the bluff here?”

“Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster”
Warship scenes of carrier-based planes

Interviewer: Did such a thing happen in the area of the Rainbow Star Cluster battle?

Nishii: When the fighter bodies dip down after taking off from the deck. At first, Director Izubuchi said it wasn’t necessary to give a reason for them to drop, but the feeling was, “Are we really going to do it?” Then it was, “Let’s handle the first fighters and bombers normally.” Since the appearance of the torpedo bomber gives a heavier impression, would it have the same kind of movement? After exchanges like, “It would be good to do it there,” it was decided.

Interviewer: I thought you might do something like that.

Nishii: I was absolutely in the anti-group. I thought all the fighters had to do it. (Laughs)

In theory, artificial gravity is in use on the deck of the carrier, and because it would have a range of influence over departing ships, aircraft would be dragged down by it and the body would drop.

During development, Mr. Imanishi asked, “would they accelerate like World War II-style planes when they fly, or launch from a catapult?” Although the concept itself was called a catapult, it didn’t have a specific catapult hook. And then Director Izubuchi would go, “Hmm, how do we handle this? Since we can’t handle it in the usual way, I want it to look like a catapult launch, so let’s try it where it does an initial zoom and then sinks a little.” That’s how we decided on that.

Interviewer: There is catapult on the deck of the carrier.

Nishii: There is one on the side of the carrier, but there’s no landing gear for a fighter to hook onto. It wasn’t conceived. But Hiroshi Ishizu, who did the design, had us divide the forward landing gear so that the hook could be attached in the center.

Interviewer: Indeed.

Nishii: However, while there is a specific hook design, there’s no situation where the planes get dragged by it. The sole time that happens is with the heavy bomber. The heavy bomber and the carrier are designed as a set.

Interviewer: That’s Mr. Kimitoshi Yamane’s design.

Nishii: “This is truly impossible, since acceleration along the length of that deck can’t be done,” but it was ultimately decided by saying, “It still looks good doesn’t it?”

Interviewer: That’s Yamato-style cool. Conversely, is landing on the deck also done with a hook?

Nishii: The question was asked, “Do they have a hook at the back that catches onto a cable on the deck?” But that leads to you asking, “At their level of scientific ability?” (Laughs) But when we get into this area, is it even necessary to talk about scientific capability? We might talk ourselves out of needing a deck at all.

Some might argue that, “In space, logically a sphere is the best shape to use.” The thing is, I don’t think it would be very exciting if we used something like that. It might be totally correct from a logic standpoint, but I doubt it would be very interesting, which leads to an entirely different problem. Since we have this design, there are things you just need to do with it.

The battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster was usually packed with four times the work

Interviewer: For the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster, was there a large number of difficult mecha scenes?

Nishii: It was originally thought that the limit of CG shots was about 30-40 per episode. But Episode 20 had more than 200 shots, already an insane number. In addition to these 200 shots, some had to be detailed-up with hand drawing. This was usually only 20-30 shots, but in Episode 20 it was close to 100. Compared to the normal workload, I felt like this episode was packed with about four times as much.

Interviewer: It looked like it was in the class of a feature film, and though that’s not impossible to do in a TV series, it must have been a major burden.

Nishii: You don’t naturally think, “we only have to go so far for a TV series,” but since it was not changed from the original TV series we naturally had to think about how far we should take it.

But since it was so hard, and while we slipped in a few jokes at some points, it was mainly a case of “seeking a way out of a desperate situation.” In that situation, you see what presents itself and then go for it. I have a feeling that starting off by saying, “This is no good” means that it really will end up no good.

Interviewer: This work became an example to follow for future remakes.

Nishii: I think there are various ways of thinking when doing a remake. Truly, there is just a setup and there are probably methods of using only names and situations and making it all new, but that’s not how this work was done. In the end, I get the feeling that for the base who wonder how we can remake this while staying true to the original, we include the views of the people we want to watch it, and they’ve ended up saying, “We’re glad it went in the direction it did this time.”

Even for us, while it was natural to say, “We have to do this,” amidst that you’d have individual opinions. “Wouldn’t it work better if we do it this way?” From the beginning, Director Izubuchi said, “If you were to ask 100 people how to make it, they would give 100 different answers.” It is understood that it’s impossible to satisfy them all, but I personally believe that we exceeded the greatest common denominator.

Interviewer: Finally, when we look back at this work, do you have something like satisfaction after making it?

Nishii: Rather than being partial, it’s about the entire work. The fact that we were able to rebuild the original TV series this time is in itself the best satisfaction of all.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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