An Interview with Shigeto Koyama - Anime Character Designer
Date: 2015 November 6th Friday [18:31] | Posted By: Joe
The May and October MCM London Comic Cons are without doubt the biggest geek events in the UK. With over 130,000 people attending this October. It caters for all geeky tastes. Anime fans are also well looked after, each event regularly has an anime guest of honour. The October Comic con played host to Shigeto Koyama, renowned designer, he designed Baymax from Disney movie Big Hero 6. He was also involved in the character designs for fan favourite anime show Kill La Kill, as well as designing the weapons and lots of gear in the well loved game No More Heroes. We were lucky enough to catch up with him and ask some interesting questions.
Baymax is one of the most dynamic designs that we've seen in a Disney film. How did you come to work on Big Hero 6? Are you pleased with how the film was received around the world, especially in Japan? What were you most impressed about by the finished film?
The director of Big Hero 6 Don Hall I heard was coming to do some research in Japan through a friend of mine who was going to be looking after him while he was there. This was before he made Big Hero 6. And I liked Winnie The Pooh that he worked on, so I told my friend that I would like to meet him and my friend made an opportunity for me to have a meal with him. He's vegan so we chatted over a salad, and he said that he had been in Akihabara doing some research and he bought a lot of toys and one that was of particular interest to him was this Heroman toy. So I said I designed that, and he said oh! can you help me out? And I said "sure!" It was all very casual, but that's how I got involved. It started off very friendly and casual.
Was it challenging creating a character so minimal and so distinctive?
I guess it was difficult. I like the character Eve from Wall-E and I said to Disney that the design needed to be that simple or it would be too complex for people to grasp. So I wanted it to be a very simple design and a very simple face. I think Don Hall had the same idea.
Working on Gundam seems like an anime designer's dream. What did you hope to bring to Reconguista in G when you signed on to the project?
I think there are a lot of designers in Japan who would love to work on Gundam, but not so much me. I like Gundam and there have been various incarnations, but I really like the first one. I like Tomino-san. I always liked watching his work since I was little. So I figured if he was going to do something, whether it was Gundam or whatever he was going to do, then I would like to be involved. It took a very long time, it took 8 years to finish in the end. So it was tough!
You've worked on a few mecha shows in your career. What is your favourite mecha you worked on?
Baymax is one that stands out for me. Then Heroman that ultimately led to Baymax. He is a robot, although I think of him as a character. Those two stand out particularly.
Your career has taken you across a wide variety of shows and movies. What genre of anime have you not worked in yet that you would like to work in?
Which Bishojo show? Anything in particular?
Nothing particular. I just haven't had the opportunity. I started off on Gunbuster 2: Diebuster. So everything that's come along has been sci-fi. I'm interested in other types of projects as well. I'd like to do something different.
How did you approach the mecha design for Gunbuster 2? Was it tricky to incorporate the original designs, while making the show have its own feel?
Because it was the first thing I designed, it wasn't so much a case of getting my own ideas in there as getting the directors Tsurumaki-san's ideas in there. That's pretty much what I was focused on.
Tsurumaki-san worked on Furi Kuri, and if you've seen that, you'll know he's quite crazy. So the issue for everyone was how to get that craziness across.
Moving on to more funny material, how hard is it to design for shows like Panty and Stocking and Inferno Cop? Inferno Cop, especially, had more off the wall designs!
It was the same team that worked on Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking and all the way through to Kill La Kill. They were serious projects, but we always just had a right laugh and messed around in the meetings. It's hard to make anime. So as the project goes on, I find myself getting more and more serious, so we try to find a way of being able to enjoy what we were doing and as a result, we just had a real laugh.
When working on Moribito, what challenges did you face from a design point of view?
Moribito is fantasy and usually fantasy tends to be based in western cultures. Things like Lord of the Rings, The Never Ending Story, stuff like that, but Moribito is an Asian fantasy. So it's fantasy, but with an Asian flavour and it needed to be convincing to Asian audiences. The director Kamiyama-san was very strict about that and we put a lot into the thought about how to go about doing it, but it was fun at the same time. If you're making something based on western culture there's a lot of materials to work from, but not so much in Asia. So I remember doing a lot of historical research and looking into what kind of tools and things would have been used in Asia.
Looking at No More Heroes, it's such a stylistically diverse game. Was it fun to create the weapon designs for that game? Did you get much creative freedom?
It was fun! And I had quite a lot of freedom. As you probably know, the main character Travis is a Star Wars manic and fights with a lightsaber he bought off eBay. So my job was to respect Star Wars but also to incorporate lots of daft ideas to the background of the game. I like Star Wars and I love daft ideas. As I was saying about Panty & Stocking and Inferno Cop, I'm actually better at that kind of silly stuff than serious stuff. So it was quite easy for me.
Is there a difference in designing for games than designing for anime?
Completely different! With games you have the specs of the gaming machine and it needs to be quite highly detailed, but at the same time because the character is always moving you need to be able to recognise them instantly from the colour from the silhouette. So that's difficult. With animation you can't have too much detail because if people are drawing it by hand it just makes it impossible to animate, but if it's too simple it'll be boring for the audience. So it's harder to get that balance right in animation.
With the design work did for the Tachikoma Agent Ghost in the Shell SAC: Solid State Society, was it difficult to work with an established existing design?
Yes, because they were already there in Parts 1 and 2 of Stand Alone Complex and I came in on Part 3, but by then they were avatars in the internet world and they were no longer real. So that was actually the key to the design and it made it quite easy and enjoyable to design,
Last but no means least, can you tell us more about Obake-chan?
When I worked on Heroman and Star Driver and Eureka 7, I worked with a really good graphic designer called Tsuyoshi-san who did the logo designs and package designs for those. I think as far as Japanese anime fans are concerned we are people who do cool things, but we actually draw original art books together to sell at Comiket and we really like messing around, so we decided we were going to write a children's book, which was Obake-chan. We did it independently for Comiket, it's very unusual for that kind of thing to be made into an anime, usually it's more commercial novels / manga that get made into anime rather than something two guys have done independently. It was also quite daft in terms of the content. So I decided I'd like to turn it into anime.
Otaku News would like to thank Shigeto Koyama for supplying such awesome answers, Anime Limited and the MCM London Comic Con for making this interview possible.
Additional thanks goes to Eeeper for questions and research.