Date: 2022 June 29 19:48
Posted by Joe
The amazing anime film Belle is out on home video this week (from Monday 27th June 2022). To celebrate it's release we got in touch with Eric Wong, the designer of Belle's virtual world of "U". Wong, a full time architect, was asked by Oscar-nominated, visionary director Mamoru Hosada to create the virtual world "U" that provides the backdrop for the film BELLE. Wong sketched out his dazzling "U" world during his daily commute, creating a labyrinthine wonder for this timely re-imagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, the story of Suzu, a country girl who becomes a music sensation in the virtual world of "U" with the mesmerising avatar Belle.
Thanks to the good folks at Anime Limited we were able to ask Eric some questions behind what it takes to create a virtual world while existing in the real one.
How did director Mamoru Hosoda approach you?
The first communication I received from Director Mamoru Hosoda was back in November 2019. The director personally found my work online and asked Digital Frontier to get in contact with me via email, in fact, the request at the time came through to my junk mail! After submitting a concept art pack for what could be the world of 'U', Digital Frontier put me in to direct contact with Director Hosoda whom I had the pleasure to work with, sharing design packs on a weekly basis throughout 2020.
What was your brief?
I initially received a brief synopsis from Studio Chizu with 'U' only described as "a massive virtual world... with over 5 billion users". This was later accompanied by the full script of which I extracted some key spatial words such as "a floating mysterious metropolis... [with] geometrical illumination and sparkling lights from skyscrapers" to envision the World of 'U'.
Have you seen any of his works before working on Belle?
I grew up watching director Hosoda's works, from the virtual worlds of Digimon: The Movie and Summer Wars through to the beautiful and heartwarming Wolf Children and Mirai. Never would I have thought that studying architecture would open opportunities of working on the very animations I watched growing up.
You worked on the sketches during your daily commute, did anything on the journey inspire you for the world of U?
The world of 'U' went through many iterations, with the very first version of the world conceived as a U-shaped city, this later developed into an architectural totem reminiscent of the virtual world of Summer Wars (2009). The version of 'U' that we know now is a modulated system made up of skyscrapers and parks to form a linear city that continuously expands as the user base grows. This single line also metaphorically represents the river that Suzu always passes through in the real world. There is also a subtle hint and homage to the opening scene of the Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006).
Did you put anything distinctly from London in there?
The world of 'U' is a diverse and global platform with geometric forms and modulated tectonics used to express a universal and ever-expanding digital world. Although there is nothing distinctly London in there, my architectural background living, studying and working in such a melting pot and multi-cultural city has its influences.
How does the world of U compare to your previous works such as Cohesion?
I recall asking the Director during one of our weekly design catchups, "which film did you enjoy making the most and which one did you find most challenging?". His answer was "it is always the next one, in this case, it is this one (Belle)". I would like to equally echo his sentiment and say that Belle to me felt like a natural progression, a new challenge and an exciting endeavour I never thought I would have the opportunity to be a part of.
Was it different working remotely?
Working remotely is surprisingly fitting to the key themes of Belle, from online communication and connections, breaking down international barriers through to global solidarity during challenging and difficult times. Undoubtedly, remote working is an opportunity to work with people from across the world and the pandemic accelerated this online remote-working culture and the opportunities this may provide.
What was it like seeing your work rendered in Belle?
It was undoubtedly a surreal moment. Seeing the first teaser trailer for Belle made all the lead up work to designing the World of U feel so real, but it was upon watching the second trailer that I so vividly remember. It was the start of Spring, London was still in lockdown and I was browsing my phone one late evening before bed when I stumbled upon the 70 second clip. The trailer opened with the beautiful voice of Kaho Nakamura alongside Ludvig Forsell's suspenseful musical score. As several cut scenes move between the real world and digital world came to a pause, the grand reveal and slow panning scene of Suzu confronting the vast world of U brought me to tears. It was at that very moment, that I truly comprehended what we have been working towards.
Would you like to do more work in anime?
It is always exciting to embark on a new architectural and creative endeavour, so if the opportunity arises, I will welcome it.
What projects are you working on next?
I am currently teaching architecture at university level and doing a PhD with key themes around architectural representation and speculation.
This e-mail was conducted over e-mail with Eric Wong.
Thanks to Eric Wong for giving such great answers to our questions. Thanks goes to Anime Limited for helping us arrange the interview.
Belle is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now (from Monday 27th June 2022).
You can order it directly from Anime Limited or alternatively you can order the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon.co.uk
If you're curious and want to know more about Belle, why not read our Belle review?