DIRECTOR & CHARACTER DESIGN: PROGRAM
did you get started in anime work?
MINOWA-SAN: When I finished
high school I went to a design school for two years, and from there started
at a very small animation company doing work
as an animator. Since then, for about 10 years, I’ve been on
loan to Madhouse [Production and Design Studio for WORLD RECORD and PROGRAM].
worked with Kawajiri-san as character designer and animation supervisor
working on the new Ninja Scroll film Kawajiri-san is doing.
MATRIX: Wasn’t there
a Vampire Hunter D film made years ago?
MINOWA-SAN: Vampire Hunter
D comes from a very popular series of novels — there are around 20
or 30 books. About 15 years ago, a feature film was made based on one of
the books, and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is Kawajiri-san’s adaptation
of yet another story from that series of 20 books.
MATRIX: Can you talk about
your work on the new Ninja Scroll; and is it a remake or a sequel?
MINOWA-SAN: It’s a sequel.
I can’t really talk about the movie itself, but I’ve been involved
since the beginning of the project, so I’m doing the key artwork,
the concept art and I’ll be supervising the animation as well.
MATRIX: What was your initial
reaction to seeing THE MATRIX?
MINOWA-SAN: To be completely
honest, when I saw THE MATRIX the first thing I thought was, how is animation
going to surpass this level of visuals
and action? From a purely professional point of view, I’m a little
worried about how animation is going to continue to attract audiences,
that level of filmmaking. I’ve never wanted to make movies just for
anime fans, they should be accessible to all audiences. How the animation
industry meets the challenge of making movies in a climate after THE MATRIX
is a real concern.
MATRIX: How did your working relationship with Kawajiri-san evolve?
MINOWA-SAN: I’ve got
a pretty relaxed working relationship with Kawajiri-san now, but when I
first started working with him, he was already
a pretty famous director, so I was a little concerned that I’d actually
be able to make a contribution to Kawajiri-san’s films. But Kawajiri-san
has always been very honest and very frank with me, so that’s made
having a good working relationship very easy.
MATRIX: Describe your working
process on THE ANIMATRIX.
MINOWA-SAN: Originally I wasn’t
going to be involved in THE ANIMATRIX, but as Kawajiri-san was headed to
the United States with the script, he asked
me to do a few character drawings to include in the presentation materials
for PROGRAM. So I started out doing basic concept work based on Kawajiri-san’s
designs. Kawajiri-san and I had talked about doing some imagery and costumes
based on Kabuki images and I ran with that, doing some of the
first images of the soldiers on horseback riding against a red sky. There’s
a funny story attached to that because when I was doing those particular
drawings, I kept running out of paint
— there was a lot of red! So I got into working on THE ANIMATRIX
MATRIX: Once you started, how much more involved did you become?
MINOWA-SAN: Again, I was never
actually invited to be a part of doing PROGRAM, but I ended up being the
guy everyone turned to. Eventually I wound up being
the Animation Director. At first they weren’t sure that
the high contrast style would work, but in doing those very first
of concept art, they realized it might work after all, and provide a way
of meeting the challenge of living up to THE MATRIX. They realized that
rather than going
full out with very detailed renderings, they could go with something very
simple, something that you could only really do in animation. After that
I did a lot of the animation supervision, making sure that scenes worked,
but I really feel my main contribution were those first images with the
red sky and black grass, and the soldiers on horseback with their staffs.
MATRIX: Are there different
challenges with short pieces, compared to full-length productions?
MINOWA-SAN: Format or length
is irrelevant to me; what I’m
always concerned about, be it on THE ANIMATRIX, or Vampire Hunter D, or
any of the films I’ve worked on, is getting the most impact from
each image. I’m very conscious of the audience’s reaction;
in the case of Vampire Hunter D, there was a novel and a few illustrations
already defined the style of the piece to a great extent, so my work
was narrowed to finding the best way to work out the action within those
constraints. In the case of PROGRAM, as I said, a lot of the challenge
was getting the most return on each picture, living up to the standard
had set for animators, and working with the characters of our story within
the world set up by the first movie.
I’m really happy that the initial images from PROGRAM are being
so well received; the marketing people at Warner Bros. actually chose
one image from each episode for promotion, and the one they chose from
PROGRAM was my first drawing of the rider against the red sky.
MATRIX: Is it difficult to get so many people with different styles to work
together to achieve a singe vision?
MINOWA-SAN: This time
I’m working with a team of ten key artists.
Since I did the actual layout on PROGRAM and I know all the artists involved,
I was able to explain exactly what kind of pictures I wanted. Of course,
when all the keyframe art started coming in, I ended up doing a lot of
the corrections on the art to make sure it looked like my original designs.
It’s tough work, but in the Japanese animation system, that’s
basically the way it’s done. From the layout stage the work is divided
among several artists, sometimes very many, and in the end you have
to look at all the pictures and make sure they all appear to have been
drawn by one person. I typically have a lot more contact with the artists
the actual director of the film, which is a big challenge in my work.
I have a lot of interest in historical drama, so I’m totally comfortable
drawing horses and people in suits of armor, but one problem was finding
artists who were accustomed to drawing that kind of subject matter, or
locating those willing to take on something new. Most artists will
from work they think is going to be difficult to draw. For a lot of these
guys, drawing horses and medieval Japanese armor wasn’t their first
choice. Maybe it’s a generational thing: people my age and Kawajiri-san’s
age all grew up watching historical epics, much the way Americans of
same age would be familiar with Westerns. Now people just want to draw
Ghost in the Shell and sci-fi Matrix-type stuff. I think it was a conscious
on Kawajiri-san’s part — he said as much when he was telling
us about the project — to pick this kind of medieval drama; he knew
no one else would take the story of the Matrix and try something set
MATRIX: With great results. Are you satisfied with the final picture?
MINOWA-SAN: There are always
technical problems that your eye is drawn to when you’re making
these films; you never get over that. It’s more a matter of finding
better ways to show animaton. I’m satisfied; I think I totally met
the challenge of the project, but if given another chance I think I would
do some things
MATRIX: Thank you, Minowa-san.
Interview by REDPILL
Translated by Mike Arias