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Cross Talk with Animators

April 23,2010

Staff Variety

          This crosstalk interview will take place between Itagaki-san and the animators. Hello.
Everyone Hello.
          Please introduce yourselves.
Shimada I'm the leader of the animation team, Shimada. I've been working for Itagaki-san for about 5 years now.
Takayuki Shimada - Lead Animator
Representative Titles:
- NINJA GAIDEN 2 (Xbox360 / 2008) Lead Cinematic Animator
- DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme 2 (Xbox360 / 2006) Animator
- DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (Xbox360 / 2005)Animator
- Monster Farm4 (PS2 / 2003) Animator
- Rygar (PS2 / 2002) Animator
- Monster Rancher 3 (PS2 / 2001) Animator
(The above were developed and published by Tecmo)
Hasegawa I'm Hasegawa of the animation team. Although I mainly work on animation, I also occasionally work on characters and visual effects.
Yuichi Hasegawa - Animator
Representative Titles:
- NINJA GAIDEN 2 (Xbox360 / 2008) Character Artist
- DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme 2 (Xbox360 / 2006) Character Artist
- DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (Xbox360 / 2005)Animator
- NINJA GAIDEN Black (Xbox / 2005) Effect Artist
- DEAD OR ALIVE Ultimate (Xbox / 2004) Animator
- NINJA GAIDEN (Xbox / 2004) Effect Artist
(The above were developed and published by Tecmo Inc)
- Hoshi no Kirby (TV Animation / 2001~) 3DCGAnimator
Itagaki He's a member of the Self Defense Force.
          Really?! What are you doing here of all places?
Itagaki He's been training for disaster operations as a part of his social contribution. Even if it's a small company, you would still want to contribute a little something, even indirectly. With this mindset, he's been training as a Reserve Self-Defense Official, even while he's working with us.
          The company allows that?
Itagaki Yup.
Hasegawa I've been training the entire time.
Itagaki I think a total of 50 days?
Hasegawa Something like that, it ends next year.
Itagaki Well, if anything happens, he'll protect us. Because he's a pro at it. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
          That's great. Next person please.
Fujita I'm Fujita, an animator. I work on animations and the rigs (*1) that everyone works with, as well as organizing the work environment. I also create animation-related tools.
Ayumu Fujita - Animator
Representative Titles:
- NINJA GAIDEN 2 (Xbox360 / 2008) Animator
- DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme 2 (Xbox360 / 2006) Animator
- DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (Xbox360 / 2005) Animator
(The above were developed and published by Tecmo)
*1   A rig is a setting to place skeletons for a 3D character model, and is essential to moving the model. This is a critical step in the animation workflow.
          You make tools as well?
Fujita Yeah, I do mostly with scripts.
          So with the knowledge of those scripts, you become more efficient...
Fujita Something like that. That's my main job.
          It seems like everybody has their own field of expertise.
Itagaki That's right. Everyone's different. It's the same with TV animation - you have key animation and you have in-betweens animation to work on. You could also have a lot of other people for that work, like a person in charge of developing film, and that's how things come into being.
          I see. And the last person please.
Motosa I'm Motosa, animator and game designer.
Kazuki Motosa - Animator/Game Designer
Representative Titles:
- NINJA GAIDEN 2 (Xbox360 / 2008) Animation Lead
- DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme 2 (Xbox360 / 2006) Animation Lead
- DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (Xbox360 / 2005) Animator
(The above were developed and published by Tecmo)
          Animator and game designer?
Motosa Yes. I was originally a game designer, but I thought that, in order to become a designer, I would have to be able to do some programming and art, and lots of other stuff. So I moved onto animation for awhile, and just got addicted to it. Recently I've also been appreciated on my skill as a game designer, so I do a bit of that as well.
          What made you decide to do animation while doing game design?
Motosa I want to do everything. Especially anything fun in front of me.
Itagaki Put simply, he's quick on the uptake.
          Is that so?
Itagaki He's adaptive, and has done quite a lot.
Motosa Something like that. Not just animation and game design, but I also originally worked for a CG company.
          I seems like you have a wide spectrum of knowledge. Is this why you can do so much?
Motosa When you widen it, it makes it easier to design games. You can look at many sections and think, "if I do this it causes this to happen", which is quite important. You're not a game designer if all you do is throw out ideas.
Itagaki I've known him for a long time. I was invited to his school as a mock interviewer. I had to interview a lot of people, I eventually lost count.
Motosa About 50...
Itagaki A lot more than that.
Motosa Maybe 100?
Itagaki Maybe. During that time, several developers came forward from various game companies. The school teacher asked us to do different types of mock interviews, so I took the role of the pressuring interviewer. A hundred came and ninety-nine of them were sunk, but one remained. Him.
Motosa I thought I was sunk as well. (laughs) I was completely wrecked inside.
Everyone (laughs)
Itagaki I didn't just raise the pressure to be evil. It exists as an interview technique. There are game companies who use such interviewers to test young people, so it's not a bad thing to teach them how to handle these situations.
          I see.
Itagaki So, I thought he was really great, and turned it from a mock interview to a real one and invited him to come over as an intern. (laughs) We've been together since then.

Animator Communication

          Can you tell me how the animation team feels as a whole?
Shimada We're really close as a team. Everyone's within arm's reach, but our personalities are all different and can raise each other to greater heights. You can feel the closeness all the time.
          That really fits the company's "individualistic but together as one" reasoning.
Itagaki You can't work without being friends with each other. And you can't be friends if you shy away.
Motosa Yup.
          Where do you usually go to hang out?
Fujita Shimada-san and I used to go to the sea very often.
Shimada Such as body boarding.
Hasegawa We also play Airsoft.
          Even Airsoft?
Itagaki Even I get called upon. (laughs)
Fujita Let's go. (laughs)
          So what you're saying is that you want to shoot your source of stress?
Everyone (laughs)
Motosa Shooting him officially, yeah. (laughs)
          Itagaki-san is also close to the animation team as well?
Itagaki I love anime. Everyone knows that.
Motosa We feel that the entire time when working.
          So every single movement...
Itagaki I don't interject to that level, just whether it looks good or not when it's acted out. I did say "there's no answer to games" in the game designer crosstalk, but there aren't any concrete answers for movement either. It's all about whether it looks cool and feels good.
Motosa So instead of having a particular fixation upon design, it seems like Itagaki-san loves the animation itself, which makes it easy for us to work.
          I see, I can feel your love for animation.

Matchmaker Revival

Motosa On the continuation of self introduction, Shimada-san and I both recently married.
Itagaki They were good wedding ceremonies.
Itagaki That reminds me, another youngster among us got married. I was the matchmaker. (*2)
*2   For details, refer to Effect Artist Hiragami-san's crosstalk
          You were the matchmaker?
Itagaki I think it's better to have someone do this stuff. I'm currently on a revival of traditional Japanese matchmaking. (laughs)
          It really is rare to find a matchmaker lately.
Itagaki That's right. And Motosa made a bridal video of the wedding. It was awesome. (laughs)
Motosa I also dabbled in film in the past.
          So even filming? You really are multi-talented. It's wonderful to see the entire company filled with a celebrating atmosphere.
Itagaki Yeah, it's a good thing.

Speed of Creating

          What impressive episodes of Itagaki-san do you have?
Motosa Itagaki-san's head spins really fast. During meetings, he just replies "this and this is so, so let's do this", and there's a case people can't catch up with him. So we go "hmm" and after the meeting, we go back to our seats and think it through, and then realize, "hey, Itagaki-san is wrong!" This happens once in a while.
          What do you do then?
Motosa I go straight to Itagaki-san and say, "we can't do it because of this, so if we do that, it will work" to get the problem and solution across. He'll instantly reply "alright, do that then", and it's quite easy.
          So communication takes place back and forth as you go along.
Itagaki If there was a strategist who makes plans that requires everything to be working at 100% in order to work, he would be an idiot. There will always be human error, injuries or accidents, so it's important to never believe you are always correct.
          I see. Does that have anything in common with your background as a gambler?
Itagaki Probably, it does.
          What about the others?
Fujita I thought this in the past, but he was amazingly particular about a camera feature in a game. It was a scene in DOAX2, where Hitomi shoots Leifang with a Single-lens Reflex camera. Itagaki-san directed in detail how to hold it.
          Itagaki-san, are you very familiar with cameras?
Itagaki I'm a photographer as well.
          A professional?
Itagaki Yes. As a photographer, I can't have a character hold a camera in an odd way. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
          How about Hasegawa-san?
Hasegawa I've gotten much closer to Itagaki-san since I started working in this company, and seen a lot more parts to him than before. When we're playing Mahjong and drinking or going on staff holidays, he's like a naughty kid. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
Hasegawa I feel he's really close to me now, and I really like him enjoying himself in such a fun atmosphere.
          Perhaps something more specific?
Hasegawa Ah, there's... well, that. (laughs)
Everyone (giant laughter)
          What about Shimada-san?
Shimada It was when I began to work with Itagaki-san and I didn't know what kind of person he was at all. When I was on the floor, the entire atmosphere suddenly changed. I had no idea what was happening, but then Itagaki-san entered. I was surprised at his incredible aura.
Itagaki (laughs)
Shimada So I became interested in how he created things. When he gave me my first instructions, there was a huge amount of content, and there were directions down to the last detail for everything. A lot of the things on there made me think "If we did it this way it would definitely be fun", and I thought he really knew what he was talking about.
          I see. Does that "huge amount" mean how many items actually?
Shimada In case of DOA4, 50 to 100 items per day, probably few thousand items all in all. All of that information was instantly shared by all of the staff on the floor. So, everyone could start working on them right away. And following the directions, the game would change drastically. There was a real feeling of speed, and it was fun to see how everything just changed. I couldn't help but feel that he was truly incredible. Developing such a great game for the launch of the Xbox 360 seemed incredible, even though I was actually there, taking part in the work.
          Does that happen a lot even now?
Shimada Of course, there are many. Even though he lets me make my own decisions now, I can always feel secure, because I know that if I do my best and try hard to make something cool, he will always pick that up and make sure that the good things come out and shine.

Controlling Animation

          Itagaki-san, what do you like about animation?
Itagaki I was born into the animation generation after all. Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999, Gundam, you know, and then there was Mr. Miyazaki's work. My aesthetic sense and philosophy were built in me while watching them.
          I see.
Itagaki There were "Cho-gokin" robot toys in the past, right? I never bought them. I've never seen Kamen Rider either, although I recently learned that those of Kamen Rider are actually interesting stories. But, I really only watched anime and stayed there.
          So you watched a lot of anime but never the live-action stuff?
Itagaki Yup. I've always stayed away from giant robot live-action films as well. As for anime or live-action... even for games, you have world settings, so called "fiction". And those situations are always different from our reality.
          That's true.
Itagaki But, as for anime, I could get straight into it. Its unreality didn't bother me that much. I guess I could suspend my disbelief unconsciously, like "that's how the world is, in there". But I think I felt that live-action and robot toy stuff were like "Hey, isn't this all just a big lie?" even as a kid. That's why I couldn't immerse myself enough to enjoy it. So, I've just stuck with anime.
          And the animators also like anime of course?
Motosa I'm of the Evangelion generation.
Itagaki I bought all the LDs of Eva... but I'll just comment here that in the end, it just wasn't really my cup of tea. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
Itagaki I thought it was interesting how all the names were taken from warships.
          That was all?!
Itagaki If that was all, I wouldn't have bought all of the LDs. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)

Tsukishima Gourmet Map

          So how do the new company's surroundings and atmosphere feel like?
Shimada This overlaps with the previous topic, but everyone's really close. Other sections are really close as well, so we don't even have to go over to know what's happening. And with the friendship, words are exchanged frequently and work is really smooth. Communication is fast, and that's a great thing.
          Does that apply to animation work as well?
Shimada Yes. An environment where you know exactly what is asked of you, and the ability to create something cool is superb.
Hasegawa This is just adding to what was just said, but the recreation room is also available, which allows us to socialize with each other. It's good.
          How is the home of your company, Tsukishima, itself?
Hasegawa First off, I was very surprised to see almost 70 "Monja" restaurants lined up along the street. Then, there's a great place for Hanami (flower viewing) nearby, and we go as a company. It's also fun to see small buildings with a long history stand so close to modern high-rises.
Motosa I thought it would be nice to know where the good restaurants are, so I made the Gourmet Map (*3). We write down stuff like, recently, I found a great ramen shop, or that I found a delicious and reasonable meat shop.
*3   The Gourmet Map is a map that details the restaurants around the company in Tsukishima. The information is updated daily by the staff. The image character was created by Motosa.
Itagaki The Gourmet Map is really a masterpiece. I've contributed quite a bit to it as well?
Motosa Itagaki-san, you post more than anybody else. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
Itagaki We still have to find a delicious soba restaurant. I've asked Okamoto and he's now looking for them.
Everyone Ahhh.
Itagaki Remember? There was a really great soba restaurant near our old office. The one Tamori-san (*4) visits sometimes.
*4   Tamori-san is a popular comedian in Japan and also known as an excellent MC, actor and radio personality. He is also famous as a gourmet who loves Jaoanese dishes and has a professional skill in cooking as well. His real name is "Kazuyoshi Morita".
Motosa Yeah, there was.
Itagaki Soba is very important to developers. Our company is trying to become one without all-nighters. Basically time is spent freely, but there has to be a rule. So, we get together early in the morning and start off with our work. We are doing that way. Of course, whenever deadlines approach, it becomes necessary to stay overnight in the company. With this in mind, it becomes harder to eat heavy stuff.
          I see.
Itagaki When you think about it, ramen and soba shops become highly important.
          I see. That's why you asked Producer Okamoto to find a soba shop.
Itagaki Yeah, but he hasn't returned with any kind of good news.
Everyone (giant laughter)

The best environment for creating animation

          Could you tell me more about the environment, such as the place where you develop?
Motosa I can't really give your specifics, but the animation team got a huge budget this time. Thank you very much.
Itagaki Seems like you grasped business as well. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
Motosa All thanks to you. We are now able to aim for creating the best animation possible in a world top class environment.
          You can't give me anything more?
Itagaki It's a corporate secret after all. That's the most important part.
          I can tell the quality of the animation from your titles. You really can't tell me anything?
Motosa We'll make the game playable with amazing animations. So, please look forward to it, although we can't show you anything yet.
          You're currently recruiting, so can you tell me what kind of animator you're hoping to recruit?
Hasegawa It's important to like games, but someone with a strong hobby would be fun.
          A strong hobby?
Hasegawa For example, you enjoy Rakugo (traditional comic storytelling), or Airsoft, even a gourmet. Someone who has a strong personality.
          And the reasoning?
Hasegawa Our animation team consists of people who have strong personalities. And for him to be dependable is important to blending in.
Itagaki Does Rakugo have anything to do with animation?
Hasegawa Well, I mean ...
Itagaki I know, just joking. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
          What about Fujita-san?
Fujita Well, it's important to be skilled, but I think someone who can work in a team is important. No matter how great you are, you're no good if you can't move with the team.
          So when you say someone who has team work, what does that mean, specifically?
Fujita Um...
Itagaki It's becoming kind of a Zen-Question. (laughs)
Everyone (laughs)
Fujita Someone who can communicate.
          Motosa-san, please.
Motosa I think... something like... kindhearted...
          Um, I'm not asking for your favorite type of girl or anything like that...
Everyone (giant laughter)
Motosa My favorite type is a kindhearted and fun person. (laughs) Seriously, when you work with someone in a company, you spend more time with him than your own family. So I think it's pretty important for him to be someone you can enjoy being with.
          So you end up spending more time with your team than your family.
Motosa And I want someone who has sort of a uncompromising spirit, with a "how good do these guys think they are" and "I'm better" when he reads one of these interviews. Someone with guts like that.
          I see. And finally, Shimada-san to sum up the team.
Shimada Like everyone said, someone who can communicate and make friends, and frankly share everything on his mind. Also, fun to work together with. Our company's distinguishing feature is that everyone's active and positive, but ready to tighten up when needed.
          Someone who can control himself.
Shimada Someone who is sensitive, but balanced and ready to control himself is a very attractive person. One I would gladly welcome. Also, if what you're trying to achieve is purely realism, that's boring. I want someone who makes cool and refreshing stuff.
          And finally Itagaki-san please.
Itagaki Animation is the essence of the game. We're making a game based on human movements. In the past, I was told by someone who took great care of me, to "choose cars or fighting". Even if you became no.1 with a car game, that can't be used elsewhere.
          How's that so?
Itagaki You might be able to create a motorcycle game with it. But when you know everything about human movement, since games are naturally built for humans, it's impossible for humans to not appear. I myself also like animation, so I chose fighting.
          And out came the famous DEAD OR ALIVE.
Itagaki Thanks. On the subject of what people we want, it's not limited just to animation, but I think of someone who feels that he is too big to fit in the gaming industry as it is now - someone with so much personality to fit into a stereotype.
Also, someone who is furious about the fact that animation is not getting the respect it deserves in his current occupation. Someone with the confidence and skill and guts to shout "The combined heart of the world will be forever moved by my animations!", with the presence as a human being to back it up, that's the kind of people that we want.
          I've come to realize the value and importance of animation through this talk.
Itagaki This is something I absolutely will not relent on - when it comes to this genre, our animation is the top of the world.
          In other words, members who newly join would also stand at the top of the world.
Itagaki Indeed.
          Thank you very much for your time today.
Everyone Thank you very much.

Photo: Ryuga Shinno (C)Itagaki Productions.