TENJIN HIDETAKA ART OF MACROSS 『VALKYRIES -Third Sortie- バルキリーズ サードソーティ 天神英貴 マクロス画集』


(Translated by Renato Rivera Rusca)
As a box art illustrator, there are many opportunities for Mr. Tenjin to draw Mr. Kazutaka Miyatake’s mecha designs. Mr. Miyatake is a creator who has been constantly involved in the franchise, from The Super Dimension Fortress Macross all the way to the latest series, Macross Delta. Though most famous for many mecha designs such as the SDF-1 Macross and the Destroid Monster, he would at times play the role of production designer, at times conceptual designer, making him a multi-skilled master. To have a talk session with such a great mentor in the industry as Mr. Miyatake was not only essential for this Macross illustration collection, but also a personal wish of Mr. Tenjin. So, finally, the “cross-talk” between the two Macross creators was realized in the naval port city of Yokosuka, Mr. Miyatake’s hometown.
TENJIN: Thank you for agreeing to do this talk with me today. It’s been a long time since we last met, and I’m quite nervous…. Yesterday before going to sleep I was so nervous, I kept wondering what I should talk about, but in fact I have so many things I want to ask you.
MIYATAKE: As you know, I ramble a lot. (Laughs) Actually, the first time we met was at the event, the “Super Dimension Launch Ceremony” in 2009, wasn’t it?
T: Quite some time has passed since then…
M: I remember perfectly the first thing you ever said to me. It was, “Mr. Miyatake, how do you have such a great voice?”! You wouldn’t normally say that to someone who draws for a living!
T: I have had a very strong attachment to voices from an early age.
M: I never thought that my voice was good, so I was very surprised.
T: One of my skills is being able to grasp a lot about a person’s appearance and personality by the characteristics of their voice. Mr. Miyatake, the resonance in your nasal cavity is different to that of others. It varies depending on length and width, but in general, people whose voice is good tend to have their eyes quite far apart, so there is a space in between. When I think someone has a good voice and I look, it turns out they have rather separated eyes. For Asian people, it tends to be due to the horizontal space, but for Westerners, since they tend to have longer noses, it’s vertical: the larger the nasal cavity, the more space there is for resonance, and thus the better the sound.
M: Boy, you are totally an engineering guy! You’re absolutely right. The truth is, I didn’t use to look very Japanese. The first time I went to the US for location scouting, I was asked “Are you really Japanese?!” by a second-generation Japanese-American lady. During the Tsukuba Science Expo in 1985 (Official name: The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan), a Native American guide who was just walking by greeted me with a “How!” in the most natural way (laughs). I guess we might look like the same race…
T: Yeah, when I went on a trip to Yellowstone with Mr. Kawamori, he saw a Native American and quipped, “Hey, it’s Mr. Miyatake!” (Laughs) Not only the face structure, but the appearance and presence, even the wavelengths that one senses from living things… They are all common elements.
M: But I don’t have any “New World” blood in me. Wow, this got weird quickly (laughs).
The starting point of being a professional illustrator – the common point of being a science major
T: I cannot recall the precise moment I can say I became a professional illustrator.
M: So you mean, you were always drawing, and before you knew it, you were a pro?
T: Mr. Miyatake, do you have a decisive moment where you thought to yourself, “This is it!”
M: Not really. I wasn’t bad at rushing towards the goal of doing what I wanted, nor did I have any obstacles in the way. However, I am a science guy.
T: Since you were a child?
M: My grandmother was an educator, so I was raised with a lean towards teachers. Because of that, I collected insects and gathered and grew plants, and I liked the natural sciences. My father liked motorcycles and vehicles, so I naturally saw a lot of machinery. I was drawing gearboxes and whatnot from childhood, so I just inevitably gravitated towards science. I entered an agricultural university to study botany, and continued on to postgraduate studies.
T: What kind of research did you do at university?
M: The professor would always tell me to draw specimen illustrations! (Laughs) For plant collection, of course we would have to go out into the mountains and when I gathered samples I had to observe them through a microscope and sketch them. It was just a constant repetition of that. That was when I learned to use the “maru-pen” [mapping pen].
T: Oh, a maru-pen.
M: Yes, you need a maru-pen to make a clean copy. But of course, the professors do not organize study groups for drawing techniques, so I had to learn in my own way. Because of that, I managed to work out how to arrange the appearance of the specimen figures and see naturally what aspects of the illustrations would please the academics. In doing so, I shifted my focus from pleasing people, to seeing what points have particular interest to people.
And when it came to using the maru-pen, again, I learned naturally that by exerting a little bit of pressure one could draw thick and thin lines. That is the foundation of drawing illustrations and manga. I don’t think there are too many people like that, but I believe Mr. Osamu Tezuka was that kind of person. At graduate school I did research on cedar trees, but by that point the precursor to Studio Nue, “Crystal Art Studio”, was already in motion. (Forced laugh) In between the manga club activities, SFCA (*1), and the research lab, I hardly had any time for anything, yet I ran around doing all that for one year. The agricultural university was very relaxed, so I was the only one acting so busy. And people would always see me in a rush, and tell me about it later. But you were like that, too, right, Tenjin-san?
T: Oh, wow, you’re suddenly throwing it over to me! (Laughs) I was very much science-oriented. My major was Robotics.
M: Wow, everyone (in this this industry) is out of their line! Being outside of one’s field is the best situation, though.
T: When I was a student, I would spend all my time performing calculations using transfer functions and the Fourier transform on my scientific calculator.
M: In my day, we didn’t have computers. It was the time when Casio brought out the first scientific calculator. But there was no memory, so every time you made a new calculation, you had to input everything from the beginning again.
T: Oh, it was that kind of time…?
M: In terms of computer games, in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, they’re playing chess, aren’t they? It was the first time in the world that people saw a computer game. Everything in those graphics is hand-drawn CG, so from that point CG developed with those visuals as a goal.
T: The following decades have been precisely the same as what that movie envisioned, haven’t they? M: “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a treasure-trove for me, it is the reason for why I do what I do, but the next generation are made up of people who grew up with “Star Wars”. T: Yes, but there are also some people within today’s young CG staff who haven’t seen “Star Wars”. As for “2001: A Space Odyssey”, it’s at the level that they have of course heard of it, but it’s almost like a legend at this point. If you actually show it to them, they respond with “yeah, it’s a movie with a lot of flying miniatures”! (Laughs) When I hear that, I feel that we are somehow guilty of doing a bad thing for having recommended those movies…
M: Yeah, I understand that. That’s the way generations work. Seeing the times pile up is a dreadful thing.
T: When I recommend “2001” to today’s generation, I have a lot of trouble getting them to come up with what the key arguments are, or what aspect of the movie to discuss. In terms of concept and design, because we can now observe the historical timeline with hindsight, they quickly say this is like Macross, or that is like Gundam, simply judging by the heredity of those derivative works. I can’t judge for certain whether there is a need to show the “origin” of those things to today’s generation.
M: Yes, that’s true, and it’s a really difficult problem. I wonder if we should talk about the time period in between, and even if we write about it, the only people who would be interested would be those over 50. To the young generation, it would just be a bunch of old people saying “back in my day..!”
T: I was born in 1973, so generationally-speaking I am about a decade apart from Mr. Kawamori, and about 30 years apart from you, Mr. Miyatake.
M: No, your calculations are off! We are only 24 years apart!!
T: Oh, right, my mistake..! (Laughs) But my SF sensibility is the same as that of my older brother by eight years. He was the one who took me to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Yamato at the theater. My brother was a geek who watched Star Wars 30 times back when it first came out. That was the kind of education I had, so I had a bit of an older sense of values than others in my generation. That is why I can have such conversations with Mr. Kawamori. As a regular viewer, I saw the role that you played in the production of Space Battleship Yamato and watched the moment Mr. Kawamori and his generation rose to fame with The Super Dimension Fortress Macross – that was a moment I will never forget. It was such a deep impression you made on me, Mr. Miyatake, when you suddenly appeared along with this new generation and visual media at the precise moment when things were proceeding in a certain direction, that now I am very excited and nervous to have you in the flesh right in front of me…
The appeal of Miyatake designs – The meaning of designs and “positivism”
T: I know I’ve said it before, but I am a huge fan of the unrivalled Destroid Monster. Last year, a photo of a young Steve Jobs was revealed where he had a toy of the Monster from back in the day in his office! Seeing foreign Macross fans select the Monster from a range of toys makes me think, “these guys aren’t playing around!” M: It’s one of the strangest of my designs, and probably the most unique.
T: You think so too?
M: What do you think is its design motif?
T: ..?
M: There are two. The original idea for it is comes from the M50 “Ontos” – an American anti-tank vehicle equipped with a recoilless 6-barrel cannon. The other is that of a chick. It has a beak, and it has eyes, see? The torso is a little cut off, so the legs are enormous! The overall form is completely made out of that of a chick. I thought if I made the smallest, weakest-looking thing into the most powerful thing, the incongruity of the whole would make an incredible mass of madness. After piling up all those logic gaps the design naturally ended up in this shape. This kind of methodology doesn’t work for everything, though. I think you can only pull this off once. (Laughs)
T: In “Macross Frontier”, I added a mouth to the König Monster design myself. At the time, I was wondering to myself why the Monster only had eyes and not a mouth, and there are moments when it looks sort of cute, so I didn’t know how to interpret that.
M: Oh, so you noticed that! Thank you.
T: So when it came to draw the box art for the “Hi-Metal R (*2) Destroid Monster” (p. 67), I ended up commenting a lot on how the eyes look when viewed from the front. They are completely facing the sides, so when looking from the front you can’t see them and it loses something of the character. I thought that was the strangeness of the Monster… But now since you say that it is a chick… I should have added some slightly less-motivated eyes. With the markings on the König a while back, for some reason they added nose-art covering them, so I was very shocked. I was like, “You’re putting it there?!”
M: As a design, I was aiming for a land battleship. A giant ground weapon that would be so big as to be totally preposterous. Nobody would ever think to make a land artillery vehicle that has four 20cm cannons! If they are going to make such a ridiculous thing into a product, then I thought it should have a strong sense of character. So I came upon the idea of giving the weakest character to the strongest thing. The beak would be made out of the cockpit ladder for the pilots. On top of that, I thought that the sense of character would be strongest in the eyes, so I gave it really clumsy-looking eyes.
T: But when the people of later generations draw the eyes of the Monster, they tend to draw powerful eyes, because that is what the name invokes.
M: That’s just the natural progression, and everyone has their own impression.
T: Oh, good. So I was correct.
M: Also, if you place the pupils right in the center of the eye, they face outwards laterally, so the expressiveness is lost, that’s why the eyes are looking a little closer to the front. Whether you are drawing a loli character [a cute little girl character] or a yuru-chara [the term for a cute mascot character], if the pupils are at the center, it looks weird. You should either make them close together, or make them look to one side. A girl’s expression is all in the gaze, so you have to be aware of that.
T: I finally understand. Thank you!
M: As a designer, basically what I do is give meaning to every single intricate detail. You cannot finalize a design unless you have thought about the significance of each one.
T: When you supervised the sculpt for the Regult and Glaug figures in the “Hi-Metal R” line, you changed the number of slits to four, right?
M: That wisdom comes not from me, but from the animator, Mr. Noboru Ishiguro (*3). The number of things such as slits and cannons should be odd for the heroes, and even for the enemies. Of course, this is not a rule, it’s something that people do subconsciously, but because of that I think it is correct. I only realized it when he said to me “Hey, Miyatake, you’re probably doing this naturally, but do you know why it’s natural?” That is why the Yamato has three-barrelled cannons on each end. It’s to clearly show that it’s the protagonist.
T: But in Space Battleship Yamato, the Gamilas space heavy tanks have three cannons.
M: On a tank, when you think about the load, structurally speaking, four cannons will not fit. With multi-barrelled tanks, when you consider the people inside, four barrels just does not work. That is why there are only three barrels even though they are enemies. So it is case-by-case: in the case of the Monster, I wanted to show something completely unprecedented so I gave it four, even though it is a good-guy mecha. As a result, the Monster looks neat, with two cannons on either side, forming an arch.
T: This is the first time I have had the opportunity to draw the Regult (p. 64) in such detail. I have never had an experience drawing anything that made my hands feel so much joy before. Can you tell me about the design process of the Regult?
M: Your “joyful hands” expression is wonderful. Such a great phrase to use. That’s the Regult. It’s a Kawamori design, but he arrived at that shape very easily. When he was designing it, the thing that took precedent was the shock that the viewers of the show would have during the scene where the Zentraedi is revealed coming out of the pod, so his starting point for the design was something whose size you would not believe could fit that pilot inside. So he would sit on his chair, arch his back, and experiment with various positions to see how a person could pilot a mecha while making themselves as compact as possible. As a result, fans thought, “There is no way he can fit in there.” So Kawamori had also appropriated Studio Nue’s real-world education, and had a design sensibility based on real physical testing.
T: With the Valkyrie’s transformation system, Mr. Kawamori’s style of thinking, such as, “the cockpit must not ever disappear”, also came from the Nue-style ideology of “positivism” [science-based proof-testing], didn’t it?
M: “Positivism” is the basis of Nue. For the Macross, too, the main goal is how big the real object would look, so if it was right in front of you, what would it look like? You have to start from understanding that. It might have been my bad influence. I always start from details. The whole form takes shape from the piling of details. It becomes quite a problem, but I can’t afford to cut any corners. I looked at ships from an early age so when designing the Yamato or the Macross, I have to consider how people interact with each part, how do they pass through this space, how do they control this thing, I am always looking at things from that perspective. I cannot stop thinking about things in terms of how people use them, and that is a difficult habit to shake, so I just have to keep looking at things in that way. As a result, a lot of stupid things come out! (Laughs) It’s like if you have something which is quite obviously impossible, and you have to make it seem plausible somehow, when you force it into some sort of logic, this is how it would end up. The SDF-1 Macross was restored only superficially so that it could meet the date of the “Launch Ceremony” (within the story and settings of the first episode) so the inside of the ship, though it was not hollow, was still big enough so that people could get lost in it.
T: You have designed an absolutely incredible ship for Macross Delta.
M: Yes, the ancient battleship of the Protoculture, the Sigur Berrentzs. When Kawamori saw the second rough design, he said it was interesting because it reminded him of an ancient temple, so he said he wouldn’t mind if I gave it the look of Angkor Wat, the Cambodian temple. Originally the Protoculture designs are all reminiscent of religious architecture like shrines and International Exposition pavilions. Regardless of actual historical origins. Based on that, one of the concepts of the Protoculture is the air of it being half-religious, half-ominous.
Kawamori must have thought that if it needed a religious flavour, then he ought to leave it to me. Some people, once they feel something is religious, it doesn’t feel ominous to them, but to me it feels very ominous.
T: It definitely feels ominous!
M: That sort of fine adjustment is the most important part of representation. Because even a ship is a character. Emphasizing simple surfaces is fine for the protagonist side, but for me, when you have something which is mysterious by nature like the Protoculture, then I think it is good to give it an air of ominousness that will get that sense of mystery across. I think Kawamori understands it well, whether to play the ominousness up or down I would leave to the direction of the episode.
T: In episode 19 of Macross Delta, I drew the scene where you see the ASS-1 having crash-landed on South Ataria Island. For reference, I used the only sketch you did at the time.
M: Wow, this is huge! I’m very glad.
T: I left your ASS-1 design as it was, and added the burnt remains of the forestland around it.
M: It fell in a horrible place, didn’t it? If such a thing fell from the sky, the Earth would have no choice but to form a unified armed forces.
About Valkyries: Third Sortie – Tenjin Hidetaka Art Works of Macross
T: I wanted you to take a look at the illustrations in this collection.
M: When I see it together with the earlier book (Second Sortie), it reminds me of a photo collection book called “Cutting Edge”. An F-14 pilot would act as cameraman, and while controlling the plane, he would take a photo of the launch from the carrier. He was top-class single-lens reflex cameraman, and a formation leader. And it was incredible camerawork. I lent the book to Kawamori and he lost it. Whenever I ask for it back he says, “Don’t worry, I know where it is!”, but that just means it’s gone forever!
T: Yeah, I lost three books to him. (Laughs)
M: In this picture of the crashed YF-29 (p. 81), you’ve drawn two vapor trails.
T: I was showing them as if they were wings, infusing various meanings from the last scene of the movie.
M: This is a very important part of the image, isn’t it?
T: There are some fans who cry when they see those two lines. It was deeply moving for me to see that there were people who were so emotionally sensitive to that.
M: There are not many people who can draw something like that.
T: Thank you very much. As I thought, there are some parts that only an artist notices. Of course, it has probably been conveyed to many people subliminally.
M: If people realize that subliminally, then you’ve cleared at least the minimum level. There are some things that simply don’t get across unless it is between other artists, but there are also many things that do not even convey to other artists. But these two vapor trails do convey well, and the scattering flower petals is also a nice touch.
T: I also drew a newly-formed bird’s nest inside the intake.
M: If you went that far, then I have nothing more to say. The one with Alto and the YF-29 from the scene at the end of the Macross Frontier movie, where the plane glides away from the pilot (p. 97) is also amazing.
T: When I saw that scene, I felt that the Macross franchise has really grown up. One of the challenges for this image was to express both the pilot and the mecha, from different angles, one on each side. There is a part of me that admires Macross, but there is also a part that admires Gundam. Letting go of your machine is like saying goodbye to a part of yourself and growing up, and I wanted to depict a scene where one would not look back at the mecha, instead, look at what lies ahead…
M: I, too, saw that scene and thought, wow, Kawamori really pulled it off. During the ending, there are hints that Sheryl may have awoken... As I watched that, I was thinking Kawamori has also grown up by leaving that open.
T: Oh, you thought so, too.
M: So this is Captain Global (p. 91). He looks more Italian than in the actual animation.
T: I like “old men” characters. But when I tried to draw Max (p. 92), the hurdle was just so high, I was very nervous. (Laughs)
M: This picture from inside the hangar (p. 104), it looks as if I walked into a museum. It would be better if there was a sandbox underneath.
T: A sandbox?
M: So that the oil can drip into it. Putting a sandbox under it would show that the fighter is undergoing maintenance, in other words, it is proof that it is alive. It’s the same at an automobile museum. At an aircraft museum, when you see a sandbox it means that that plane flies. If it drips oil, it lives. In these kinds of pictures, you should put one sandbox. Well, that’s just my nitpicky side talking.
T: I also designed the hangar in Macross Delta, and at first I was placing planes on the walls, too, but Mr. Kawamori said that planes should be on the floor. I thought it would be OK to put them standing up while they are in storage.
M: If you stand them up, he would just say, “Stop that, it looks like Gundam!” (Laughs) Oh yeah, speaking of which, Kawamori once asked me to draw this VF-1 cockpit (p. 108-109).
T: For the exhibition, I had to measure the actual space and make many suggestions. I agonized over how the rear display in Fighter mode is supposed to move around to its Battroid mode position when there is no space. The desperate solution was that it would rotate as it swung down. (Laughs)
M: The cockpit is rather crammed, isn’t it?
T: “Rather” is an understatement. I tried sitting in it…
M: And Roy Focker, who is over 2m tall, is supposed to fit in there! (Laughs)
T: When Mr. Yoshiki Fukuyama, the vocalist for Basara, sat inside with his guitar, everybody laughed because he proved that no matter what you do, the neck of the guitar sticks outside of the canopy of even the VF-1! (Laughs)
M: When we were making The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?, we made a conscious effort to draw the canopy as small as possible, and depict the cockpit as crammed as possible. But in the later works, there was just no way to keep that up. (Laughs)
T: But at the moment I am the only one at the studio resisting! (Laughs)
M: Well, then keep resisting! (Laughs) I don’t know if I am allowed to say that.
T: By the way, what do you think of Mr. Kawamori’s recent Valkyrie designs?
M: When compared to the limitations at the time of the VF-1, he seems to be designing them quite freely. They look cooler than back in the day. But the transformations have become more unnatural. With regards to the Valkyrie concept, Kawamori has set himself some restraints. One being, never doing the same transformation pattern twice. You might think, “Is that really necessary?”, but actually it is extremely important to arrive at that concept. If you have that kind of restraint, it means you do not allow yourself to fall below a certain level, and you are consciously raising the bar for yourself. It’s an incredibly stressful thing, but every artist should decide on their own what to impose upon his or herself. You should make that decision, too, Mr. Tenjin. I also stick to certain rules so that I do not fall below a certain level. There are lots of processes. Especially in your case, since you have a lot of sensibilities.
T: In my case, once I decide how to finish up, I set myself a deadline of five days before the real deadline. So I tell myself I’m done.
M: You mean, physically?
T: Yes. When I am done and I have completely cleared my head of it, I go back and examine it again and try to fiddle around to find my completion point again.
M: I’m exactly the same. In other words, you just give up, right?
T: Yes, that’s it.
M: Color images are never finished. Whether you are drawing on a tablet or on paper, there is no end. It goes on and on. Physically, the only way to end it is to set yourself a time limit. Which is truly heartbreaking.
The Approach of an Illustrator – Formulating time and space
T: I once asked Mr. Kawamori whether, within mecha design, one should start from the silhouette or the details. Looking at your design sketches, Mr. Miyatake, they tend to be on sheets that are taped together. That is not the case with Mr. Kawamori.
M: Well, basically, it’s about how I see the object when I face the paper that I am about to draw on. In my case, it’s always about how I perceive size.
T: Do you mean, in reality, or visually?
M: To me, they are both the same. In other words, if this thing was in front of my eyes, how big would it look. The first ship I ever touched was a live Self-Defense Force ship. In my second year of elementary school, I had the opportunity to go on the Asakaze-class Destroyer, the “Hatakaze” – when I got off at the bus stop, it was right there in front of me. When I touched it, it felt hard, and bumpy because of the rivets, and the smell of diesel was hanging in the air. Both the smell and the hardness felt different depending on whether it was summer or winter. You can tell by looking at it. In other words, it was because I started off with that real-experience-based learning, that I was able to have the concept of “presence” of objects ingrained in me from early on. So I have spent half of my life trying to paint this “presence”.
T: A while back, when I was doing the art for the “Yamato Fact File” by DeAgostini Japan, I had a tough time drawing all the mecha and ships from issue #1 to the final one, and in the end I never found the answer to my query, but that answer might be in the Yamato (*4) that you drew, Mr. Miyatake. When I saw that, I was astonished. If you don’t have a certain mentality to predict what the viewer will see, then it simply cannot manifest as a picture, or as a piece of art. And yet, it does not appear distorted in the middle, so it leaves a deep impression. And even then, it manifests itself as scenery. It was a very shocking image.
M: Thank you very much. In the Yamato picture, back and the bow, are in fact drawn in a twisted perspective on purpose. It is supposed to invoke “time” for the viewer.
T: Mr. Yoshiyuki Takani (*5) also depicted something similar to this picture. It was around that time that I met him, so I was very surprised.
M: The road wheels in Mr. Takani’s pictures of tanks are drawn going in some crazy directions, aren’t they? That represents “a living tank”, and it’s a Takani-style expression. In your pictures, Tenjin-san, you have scenery. Of course, that is a living picture. It’s alive. Whether it is a living ship, or a living airplane… A picture without scenery is incomplete as a picture, mine included. Calling it a “background” is wrong, actually. The object is placed inside a space, and moving within it. That’s why, when I looked at the “Valkyries: Second Sortie” book that you autographed for me, I thought, “Oh, it’s inside the clouds! He gets it!” I don’t know if you actually realize that’s what you are doing or not, though.
T: You’re absolutely right, though it’s embarrassing to be told that. If I may be so bold as to put it this way and possibly invite misunderstanding, a picture is scenery in and of itself. Because within it, time and space exist. It’s especially true in the work I do, because “box art” is supposed to sell a product, so you cannot just manipulate the object any way you wish. Within the confines of a product illustration, the only thing that can show the auteurism of the artist is the background. To put it another way, if there is no background, it becomes difficult to tell who the artist is. In that sense, in my case the scenery is the one thing that I truly have to draw in order to establish the entire sense of space and time, and prove that it is my work.
M: That is a perfectly correct way of putting it.
T: This is something that I wanted to talk to you about. Mr. Miyatake, in your pictures, you are always very much aware of space and depict it well, but when an amateur looks at the design settings sheets, they cannot reproduce that. Basically, they can acknowledge the sense of size and volume but as a settings sheet, it is extremely difficult to grasp.
M: What do you mean by that?
T: The Yamato and the Macross are enormous, and that comes across in the settings, but when amateurs try to draw that, it simply cannot be reproduced. The details and explanations are too complex, so it cannot be understood. It is extremely difficult to capture the sense of space.
M: Back then, I drew an image of the Macross explaining the details for model kits. From that point on, I focused on the sheer enormity of it. In Macross 7, the Battle 7 is 1.5km long, so when it holds up a gun that is hundreds of meters long, and you have to fit everything down to the tips of its fingers into the shot, I had to think about how to convey the sheer size. I was very afraid that it would be impossible to fit all in one frame. And it doesn’t even have an open stance, it’s more reminiscent of a daimyo [a Japanese feudal lord] wearing hakama [traditional Japanese formal wear], isn’t it? So, at my wit’s end, I decided to draw a series of pictures where I tried to see what happens if I used forced perspective to show it like a hakama. All that, just to show the enormous size of the thing. That was all I could do.
T: An animator who saw that for the first time would not understand your anguish. Upon first viewing, it would be misleading. One would have to have seen your design work leading up to that to understand it.
M: You mean I’m not skilled enough to convey that?
T: No, that’s not what I mean. The more one looks at your designs, the more one tries to decipher them, the more one mistakenly thinks that they can draw them to look even bigger, so it is rather frightening… But we cannot reach the large scale that you are idealizing. So no matter what, I still have a nagging thought that in our minds, we still cannot arrive at your sense of enormity.
M: I totally understand what you are saying, but your rendition of the Macross is also huge, isn’t it? (Laughs)
T: Actually, I tried very hard in this illustration (p. 027). Firstly, if you don’t show the “face” [of the robot] in an image for a model kit box, it’s a no-go. In reality, it should be impossible to see from this angle.
M: In terms of the placement, yeah, you’re bending the rules, there. But that kind of “lie” is OK. It’s a representation.
T: I like to depict things as they would look from a pilot’s or civilian’s eye-level. I always guide the line of sight from bottom to top, so I try to convey catharsis towards the top. So that was an extra challenge in this case.
M: For me, giant robots are the foundation of my work. When I searched around town for something of comparable size, I found it was buildings. I used to try to memorize what the building in front of me looked like from the ground perspective as it reached towards the sky and measure the distance from where I was standing, then I would draw the proportions based on that, and that was the way I started doing it. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be able to draw giant robots. I am someone who cannot draw something unless I compare it to something in real life.
T: Someone built a 1:1 scale Scopedog from Armored Trooper Votoms, didn’t they? Even though it is only 4m tall, if you stand next to it, you can no longer see the head. In your mind, you think you should be able to see it, though.
M: That just means that humans don’t perceive everything just by their eyesight, or through cameras. The essence of an image is to know that what the images one composes in one’s mind is different to what one sees with the eye. We are rearranging it in our heads. We take the necessary elements and put it all together in the mind’s eye to make it into one whole image. In order to merge that into one picture, you essentially have to lie, as far as logic is concerned. But it is still logical to arrive at that image and depict it in that way. You know because you are a man of science, after all.
T: In a way, that is also an obstacle.
M: You mean in terms of engineering?
T: For example, when I draw a robot, if you consider the effort forces, I often think there is no logical way those joints would work! (Laughs) On the other hand, I am happy that there are many young people who tell me things like, “I like it because it looks like it could really move!” I want to convey a sense that they could almost touch it and feel the heat, or feel that their hand might get dirty.
M: That’s because you are out there in the field.
Studio Nue and the Skills of Creators
T: As a high school student, I wanted to join Studio Nue, but recently, it seems they don’t let newcomers in anymore?
M: We used to have some designers come in for a while, but they don’t last long. I guess it has a kind of unique atmosphere. So I’m probably the last of the designers. Right now, we’re doing scientific and SF proofing, and writing scenarios (story outlines), with Shigeru Morita (*6) taking charge. But there is little work for designers in this day and age.
T: I feel that Studio Nue is “unique”, or “particular”… “special” doesn’t really get the nuance across. When I met you and Mr. Kawamori, as a fan what was most shocking was that I realized it wasn’t the close-knit group of friends I thought it was!
M: Really? But it’s more unbelievable that creators could be close, isn’t it? You acknowledge each other’s virtues, but you can see even more of their shortcomings. Our group is basically clump of self-respect, anyway. It isn’t our personalities that bind us together.
T: I think it’s not enough to describe each Nue member as having their own “idiosyncrasies”, they are all steadfast in their own way, with their own directionality. It’s a miracle that these people can form a group under the same name.
M: It’s not about friendship or being close, what’s important is respecting each other as creators. Creators critique skills but they do not critique personalities. Who can criticize Mr. Osamu Tezuka’s personality?
T: I’ve had the privilege to live this life because of the works that everyone at Studio Nue created, and this is why I am able to continue drawing. I am truly indebted to you all. I want to take this opportunity to thank you!
M: No, thank you for having produced so much wonderful artwork. I hope we can continue to work together in the future.
T: I have had many chances to draw things that you have designed, so if there are some things I need help with in the future, I hope I can ask you. Thank you so much today.
Kazutaka Miyatake
Member of Studio Nue. Lives in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Mechanical designer, illustrator, concept designer. Since The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, he has worked on the various Macross series as mechanical designer and production designer. He has created many of the iconic designs such the SDF-1 Macross and the Destroid Monster. He is also notably famous as the leading master of internal mechanics cutaway illustrations, in particular for those of Mazinger Z.
*1) An SF art research group headed by Mr. Kenichi Matsuzaki. The members were all affiliated with Studio Nue at the time. Mr. Matsuzaki is also famous for handling the scripts and settings for Mobile Suit Gundam.
*2) A high-end toy line developed by the Bandai Collectors’ Division. Mr. Miyatake was supervisor for the sculpts of the Regult, Glaug, etc. He also added some extra details specially for the product.
*3) Noboru Ishiguro – Born 1938. Founder of Artland. Collaborated with Studio Nue on The Super Dimension Fortress Macross as Chief Director. Also known for many famed works such as Space Battleship Yamato and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Died 2012, aged 73.
*4) A watercolor piece, recreating the scene in Space Battleship Yamato 2 in which the Yamato and the Cosmo Tiger II pierce through the clouds into space.
*5) Yoshiyuki Takani – Born 1935. Illustrator. Participated in a “Cross Talk” with Mr. Tenjin in the earlier volume, Valkyries: Second Sortie. A master of the “box art” world.
*6) Shigeru Morita – Born 1959. Member of Studio Nue. Involved with many entries in the Gundam franchise. Among his recent work is Arpeggio of Blue Steel – Ars Nova.