0080 War In The Pocket: Translating from Draft to Animation — Character Designer, Mikimoto Haruhiko

The second installment to the six days of Gundam with character designer Mikimoto Haruhiko.

Day One


— Can you tell us about hearing the plan for 0080?

Mikimoto: After working on Zeta Gundam I was itching to work on something, but I was taken by surprise when I found out it was a Gundam series not directed by Tomino. It’s not surprising by today’s standards, but 0080 was a first. I recall Uchida, the producer, discussing creating a chance for more Gundam series to be directed by people other than Tomino — we needed to start with 0080. While it was surprising, it caught my interest, but looking back now it was a pretty crazy decision. Having characters last in people’s hearts means having to open up your options, and for Gundam that meant having directors other than Tomino working on the series.

— As the character designer, what did you think about that?

Mikimoto: Well, I watched Gundam while I was still an amateur so I thank the stars every day that a fan like me could get into such a position.

— Because 0080 was set during the One Year War, I’m under the impression that you were requested for the position due to your understanding of Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s whimsical designs.

Mikimoto: That is something that I, myself, am not sure of even to this day. I was pretty aware that my name had gotten out a bit due to my work on Super Dimensional Macross. I thought my connection working with director Takayama on Macross might have something to do with it as well.

— Right before working on 0080 you worked on Gunbuster as the original character designer. What differences are there between the two jobs?

Mikimoto: As the original character designer you have to oversee the rough draft design go through clean-up without actually doing much of it yourself. When you are just a character designer, you clean up the model, so the animators have a solid base of what they’re drawing. Although, when I worked on Gunbuster I was cleaning up the designs just as much as a designer would. As far as how I was credited there was a difference, but the work for 0080 and Gunbuster weren’t all that different.

— Your work on the suspended Maimu – Wow My Dream directly after 0080 is often hidden amongst your other projects at the time.

Mikimoto: Yeah, when you say it out loud like that I guess it was hidden. It was difficult, work just kept piling on top of itself, but I wanted to try any project I could get my hands on. So, even though I tried to lighten my workload, jobs started overlapping in ways I hadn’t expected.

— Gunbuster, Maimu, and 0080 were all produced within the same year; is there anything you would deal with differently?

Mikimoto: I wouldn’t change a thing. However, one day I was talking with Takanashi (Minoru), and he mentioned the Macross: Do You Remember Love? were very realistic — personally, I don’t agree with that — and that he wanted Gunbuster designs to be more manga-esque. So I got to work only to be met by orders from Anno Hideaki himself, not to have the character be manga-esque. While Gunbuster was a little hectic, 0080 never felt like that, and I was able to relax a bit. The extent of the realism demanded of the Gundam world was already expressed in the series.

— What request was made from director Takayama about the characters?

Mikimoto: I drew Bernie first, and he looked like your stereotypical anime protagonist. Takayama pointed out that he wasn’t meant to be that kind of character.

— What about the Cyclops Team?

Mikimoto: Back then, I was out of my element drawing old guys, so they were quite a struggle. At first, I scribbled down some faces on a rough draft, but amongst the faces were some that looked right out of a manga. When Takayama and Izubuchi (Yutaka), my mentor, saw them they told me ‘no’ and gathered up a bunch of movie pamphlet — it was an age before the internet — for me to use as reference materials. Using what they gathered as hints, I drew the second draft. Takayama taught me how to represent the elderly.

— Is that so?

Mikimoto: Takayama is a talented artist. It’s not what you would call an ‘anime style,’ but he went to art school. My roots lie in anime and manga, but he has an astonishing grasp of the human body and how it functions. He explained that when you get older, your skin loses its elasticity and sags from the weight of itself, creating wrinkles all over. The rough drafts that he drew up and the notes on all of this were very informative. This was true for the bartender as well. He told me about how the fat will collect on the bone and droop causing wrinkles there too.

— Takayama drew up his own rough drafts, correct?

Mikimoto: It was a guide, and it was beneficial. Vague descriptions just end up costing time.

— He didn’t just draw the old guys, though. He went on to draw Al during his rough sketches of the children.

Mikimoto: Kids were another age range I hadn’t experienced drawing too often. I frequently found myself struggling with proportions and balance of bodies in general, not just kids, even regular female characters. Like, I had a bad habit of drawing heads too large and legs too short. But, with each fix, I improved how I draw proportions, and goodness there was an ocean’s worth of improvements. Yet, comparatively, during my time working on 0080, I was able to get comfortable with the process.

— Now, there were special precautions written for the main animators when drawing things like Al’s eyebrows.

Mikimoto: I felt the need to be involved in how his eyebrows were drawn because they were intentionally messy. Drawing them as I’d originally planned proved impossible for anime, so we went with the usual borderlines. I had insisted on sticking to my design, but I’m not an animator and lacked the knowledge of working with such a design. I regret how irresponsible I was as a designer and was blessed to have such forgiving animators.

— Animators like Kuboka Toshiyuki, whom you had worked with previously for Gunbuster, participated in episodes two, four and five. Saito Itaru helped with episode one, and Kawamoto Toshihiro assisted in episodes three, five, and six.

Mikimoto: I felt reassured working with Kuboka again. While I didn’t know about Kawamoto previously when I looked at his drawings I was awestruck.

— After working on the Macross movie version, your career shifted focus to working as an original character designer or character designer. 0080 was the first step towards that change.

Mikimoto: After I finished my work on the Macross movie I felt like I’d distanced myself from the world of key animation. I wasn’t heading down the path of becoming an animator. Original character designers are often given a proposal akin to, “let’s make something based on this draft.” To have that draft design become part of the setting, the original character designers need someone who understands working with animators to function as a translator. I can’t imagine not having that translator. In that vein, even though I didn’t work on key animation for 0080 and had no hand in the original planning I was able to entrust Kuboka with my worries.

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— What about Chris’s design?

Mikimoto: I remember sailing smoothly through Chris’s design. Takayama found his weakness in female designs and rather got embarrassed. If he had his way, he wouldn’t have had any females present, but Uchida and Izubuchi talked with him and expressed their opinions on the idea. It was pretty fun listening in to that conversation (laughs).

—Did you need any pamphlets of actors to help you with Chris’s design?

Mikimoto: Izubuchi and I had talked about how energetic the actress Asano Atsuko was, and how we wouldn’t mind if Chris acted similarly. That was her starting point. Chris’s hairstyle is similar despite being quite difficult to draw. That hairstyle is still difficult to draw.

— What exactly is complicated about it?

Mikimoto: The appeal of this kind of hairstyle is when it moves its silhouette changed in a big way. Like when it’s pullback over the top of the head. With anime, it’s difficult to express that appeal, even with today’s technology. As a picture, some of that appeal still disappears. On the other hand, if the hair hangs in front of the face, the design forms to be stiff and stilted. I had to make her hair a bit more anime like, but I think I got it down pretty well.

— There are a lot of non-anime style drawings of Chris, why is that?

Mikimoto: At that time having anime styled art as product illustrations was not accepted unless you wanted to be outed and teased by others. You would get stares that pierce you with questions like, “What are you doing with that?”, “Isn’t that manga?”, or “Isn’t that anime?” That’s why the copyrighted material veered away from an anime style and adopted a style more widely considered ‘art’ by the average person. But you know, we have been inching closer to moe acceptance (laughs).

— What do you think about 0080?

Mikimoto: Well, at my initial meeting I was told there wasn’t going to be many girls showing up, so that was an unusual first impression (laughs). Chris wasn’t much of a girly girl, though. My interested peaked when I heard we would be exploring the Zeon side in more depth. It was quite compelling. I did worry we wouldn’t make it in the animation industry when I heard the gundam wasn’t going to appear immediately (laughs). However, in the first episode, we got a peek at the gundam’s head, and we got a fantastic fight scene in the Arctic with amazing camera work. Seeing that scene now, it’s clear that making 0080 at that time was valuable to the Gundam series.

4 thoughts on “0080 War In The Pocket: Translating from Draft to Animation — Character Designer, Mikimoto Haruhiko

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