The fourth installment to the six days of Gundam with Key Animator & Mechanical Design Cooperator, Iso Mitsuo.
Day One – Producer, Uchida Kenji
Day Two – Character Designer, Mikimoto Haruhiko
Day Three – Mechanical Design Cooperator, Akitaka Mika
— Who was it that brought you on to work on 0080?
Iso: It was Takamori (Kouji) who manned the production desk. I’d known him since Zeta Gundam and Gundam ZZ production, but he first invited me to Char’s Counterattack. At the time, I belonged to Studio Zaendo and had worked as animation director under the name Odagawa Mikio. I was acquaintances with the producer Uchida (Kenji) and the unit director Takayama (Shinji) after having worked on Char’s Counterattack, so it seemed like the natural course to continue onto 0080.
— The Arctic scene battle in the first episode certainly started off things with a bang.
Iso: There was this unspoken rumor that robot anime was starting to reach a point where animators had drawn everything they could draw. But, if I approached it from a different angle — what would happen if there actually was a giant robot? — there was still a lot of room to challenge myself. Omori (Hidetoshi) made a decent attempt in Char’s Counterattack, but I would never feel comfortable leaving it as he did. I remember mulling over that month after month until I finally boiled over.
— About ‘what would happen if there actually was a giant robot?’
Iso: I wanted to draw the intensity of witnessing a giant robot just under 20 meters (65ft). When drawing a mobile suit, the point of view is often from a height above the average human, when it should be much lower. Another point I focused on was the sense of weight. Giant robots have some weight to them, and that should be very apparent when they use their thrusters. With that thrust put in battle, even the sturdiest of robots could fall out of balance and crumple like paper. When I tried to gather up and watch clips like that, I realized there wasn’t a single clip that didn’t somehow sidestep or change what I was looking for. I just wanted to make use of different mobile suit portrayal. I wanted to bust through the ceiling that Char’s Counterattack had failed to break and I released all that energy into the Arctic attack scene. The assistant mechanical director, Iwataki (Satoshi), didn’t have any revision. So while I continued to draw the way I believed best, I was awarded the position of animation director of all fight scenes.
— You found your style of drawing.
Iso: I believe it’s because Takamori and director Takayama (Fumihiko) created the right environment. Like, when the shuttle shoots into the sky and Misha’s Hygogg’s shadow flickers with it; that was an idea independent of the storyboard that they took. If you observe people watching fireworks, you’ll notice their shadows move along with the light. That’s how I arrived at my portrayal of animation.
My style was to find the gaps in the directing and add my own flair. I wanted to try portraying explosions and landings like no other Gundam series had done before. Side shooting, for example, would happen when the gun gets worn out, and instead of shooting straight ends up firing from the side propelling it around. I would try drawing the bullet holes for all those side shots. Day and night I’d be invariably thinking about how to bring realism to everything. The shape and movement of explosions, the brushstrokes and colors for tracing highlights, I thought of any way to creatively present realism in the animation.
— With that, you participated in episode four, five, and six as a key animator.
Iso: Kuboka (Toshiyuki) and Inano (Yoshinobu), both animators I admire, worked on making episode two amazing— kind of wish I got to work on that one too (laughs). I was actually the one to push for Inano to work on Char’s Counterattack. Takamori was working the production desk for that too, so I like to take credit for bringing Inano onto 0080 (laughs).
After episode one, I’d felt I’d drawn more than enough mechs; that it was time to focus on people. I think because of this, I dropped the ball on Alex’s entry scene in the fourth episode. Misha’s flask looks like it shakes in slow motion, but I forgot to add the in-between frames, making its movements choppy. I thought it would be cleaned up later in production, but it passed through. I failed to emphasize the weight of the Chobham Armor as it fell and crushed the car beneath it.
In episode 5, I worked on anything from the arcade scene to the nuclear explosion daydream. In the arcade, there’s a popular game called ‘Walking Zaku’ — that was a creation all my own outside of the original plan. Side 6 was a neutral colony, so there’s no doubt kids would romanticize war and think, “Zakus are so cool!” Ah, the nuclear explosion, I’m not sure if it’s because Macross’s explosion left an impression on me or if somewhere in his head Takayama thought, “hey, we need an animator that’s not so strong at drawing nuclear explosions.” Regardless, I ended up being the animator for that scene, and it’s not my best work (laughs).
— How about episode six? [mild episode 6 spoilers!]
Iso: For the Zaku vs. Alex fight I talked with Takayama about having the Heat Hawk cut through the Alex’s Gatling gun and drew up a rough draft. Takayama said that if a finger was split open vertically, it should hurt. The Heat Hawk cutting through at super high heats would destroy the parts and have them twisting, melting, distorting up in all kinds of ways and cooling in that form, or the paint would bubble as it melted off the mech. I was constantly thinking of that stuff. But honestly, the keyframes that were more engaging to draw weren’t the mechs; it was Al’s movements as he was blown away or Chris as she was getting rescued — the cuts where I had to portray the characters. As Chris was being taken out, I even added in details like dripping water for added effect.
— Did you work on things while consulting with Takayama?
Iso: When we had meetings, or I was called in to work on post-production rush cuts we would shoot ideas back and forth. I don’t know if he wasn’t one for talking about non-work related things or what, but one day he handed me a collection of testimonies from children affected by war. The translation was awful and incredibly difficult to read. I asked him if he’d read the whole book from cover to cover since I was highly doubtful, but then suddenly found myself not only finishing it but giving my thoughts and opinion. I surprised myself (laughs). I sometimes wonder if he only gave this to me to shut me up (laughs).
— Was there ever a time you disagreed with director Takayama? [mild episode 6 spoilers!]
Iso: In episode six, for the scene where the Zaku’s arm falls off, my opinion veered from his. Takayama wanted to have the arm hanging by a thread, similar to the Zaku barely hanging onto life, but I thought it was better for it to catch fire and be purged. Sure, the Zaku was hanging on for life, but if the mech’s system is operational, its “life” is ironic at best. Regardless, the anime is the director’s work, he had the final say, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
— You were also in charge of the weapon designs.
Iso: I have no recollection of how that came to be, but if something wasn’t established in the concept art I would take the personal liberty to design what I wanted, and the director and production desk were completely fine with giving me that opportunity. I was a fan of Izubuchi’s mechs and always left holes in the designs with notes for him to add in his flair.
Now, I’m not a gun guy, so I don’t know the ins and outs of guns. When Takayama would tell me stuff like I needed to shorten the barrel and stock to make it a shotgun that used 00 bucks, I looked at him and asked, “what’s a 00 buck?” But taking that job created a big misunderstanding, because afterward, when I was asked to be a weapon designer by Oishii Mamoru, I told him I don’t know much about guns, and he looked at me and said, “Uh huh, sure.” There was no escape (laughs).
— What about being in charge of Riah’s smaller mechs?
Iso: There aren’t a lot of small/medium sized mobile suits, so I had to let my mind wander. Regularly, with a large mech, it’ll enter battle and have it’s normal sized beam saber, or whatever, appear from its arms. It was a neutral zone as well, so I had to find a balance between Zeon and Federation designs.
— Looking back, how was it working on 0080?
Iso: Coming right out of Char’s Counterattack with director Tomino (Yoshiyuki), it was really fun to ease up a little with all the staff. It was a perfect time where most of the staff had watched the original Gundam week after week, that was a first for me. Everyone was a go-getter.