Sakura-Con 2017 – Chikashi Kubota Q&A

Chikashi Kubota is perhaps most recently known for his character design and animation work on One-Punch Man, though I am personally more invested in his work on Shinsekai Yori. This was a straight Q&A, where audience members came up to the mic.

I believe Kubota-san may have been one of the younger Japanese guests in attendance, and it was endearing seeing his exuberance in chatting with his American fans and describing his experiences in Seattle. As he works in animation, I would love to see him visit again and do some live drawing. I became a bit spoiled from the other panels that did this!

*Any transcription below is provided first through a translator’s words, then paraphrased as needed by me.*

Hi, Sakura-Con, my name is Chikashi Kubota, and I hope you all have a wonderful time.

Prepared Questions to Open

Chikashi Kubota: From a very young age I loved drawing, in elementary school, junior high. Do you know flip books, where you can flip the pages in the corner of a notebook? I was doing animation, changing the drawing just slightly, to use those flip books, and skipped class in order to draw those. That’s how I was naturally drawn to the path of anime.

Q: What was your entrance into the industry?
A: I wanted to become an animator after high school. I applied to Xebec and failed the entrance exam for the company, but they said, “You have potential; show us your portfolio.” Then I worked as an intern at Xebec while studying at an art school for a year. After a year, they bought me on as a professional, and I quit school. The first time my name appeared in the credits of a work was in Nadesico, the movie version (Kidou Senkan Nadesico: The Prince of Darkness). Have any of you seen that?

[No response]

[Laughter]

That was my first major contribution as an in-between animator.
Does anyone know the difference between key and in between animations? The key frame animator is the person who creates the key frame at the beginning and end of a motion. The in-between-er fills in the cells to create the illusion of movement. In the movie version of Nadesico, there’s a character called Ruri. There’s a scene where she is running. The key frames look like this. You can see she’s wearing a skirt. I was in charge of the in-between motions of her running. My superiors got angry looking at my in-between art saying the skirt was too short. It was in this chaotic state that my career as an animator began.

Q: There are some very different styles and approaches in your career, like The Girl Who Leapt through Time, One Piece, .hack… How do you adjust, and do you have a personal style consistent across all works?
A: There are many different types of animators who do have their own strong styles and have their own unique movements that show up in the animations. They have characters you can tell are by them. But, personally, when I’m working on a 30-minute episode or a 90-minute movie, if my animation has too strong of a personality, I think it’ll stick out too strongly, maybe badly, and won’t be consistent. I don’t think of myself as that type of animator. I try to match whatever the style is of that particular work.

[Requested some favorite works from fans for directing questions]

[Received Diebuster as a suggestion, and said the person was very knowledgeable. It was his first work as an animator when he still sucked]

Q: Have you been to Seattle before, or visited the U.S.?
A: This is my first time in Seattle, and I visited the ocean where there are lots of slopes and hills with people living there. I thought if I was living on a hill that steep, it would be tough every day. Yesterday, I visited the Space Needle with the Olympics in the distance, and I thought this is an amazing place.

Q: What was your impression of working on Naruto, where you did key frames three times?
A: The first time I did the key frames was right after the The Girl Who Leapt through Time, and I was the assistant of a famous animator. Does anyone know Norio Matsumoto, an animator of Naruto? I assisted Matsumoto-san with sketching and drafting. Matsumoto-san is a very cool guy, and very demanding. I felt like I wanted to meet his demands, and worked very hard on Naruto. As a result of that, I was able to work on Gurren Lagann, and work as an animation director on that work. Matsumoto-san is an amazing animator, and I was happy that he joined and helped with Gurren Lagann. And Matsumoto-san said, “No no, I haven’t paid my debt and need to help out.” Even though he’s not in the credits, he helped with One-Punch Man as well, and I’m really happy with that. I don’t think any of my Japanese fans know this, so this is a secret! We’ll keep it in this room. If you find Matsumoto-san, you can find his amazing work on YouTube. He’s a great animator.

(Examples: https://youtu.be/UYkV1WVSzmU and https://youtu.be/k34Nw9QJrig)

Audience Q&A

Q: How do you develop the patience for hand drawn work? How long should it take to make a 5-minute sequence?
A: For professional animators, when they’re really focusing, it is very tiring and takes a lot of energy. One thing that helps is that you’re always working to a deadline, a broadcast date. You feel a responsibility to those you work with. If I was by myself, I’m not sure I could sustain the work. One thing I realized in school and drawing for fun, an important thing, is that even it it’s not perfect, you have to complete it, even in a limited amount of time. Finishing that work, even if it’s not perfect, is important to build confidence and lead to the next step. I know it’s hard, but seeing it to completion is important.
In terms of how long it should take for a 5-minute film, it depends on the number of staff. If you’re designing everything from scratch, it might take 6 months. If you already have the staff, the work, maybe 2 months? For One-Punch Man, we had almost no time before the announcement of the anime had to be in place. The opening, only 90 seconds long, took about a week, working night and day.  Some of you may have heard, but episode one of One-Punch Man, took about eight months. The last episode we had no time so it took only 6 weeks.

Q: This is about Shinsekai Yori. You were in charge of character design. The original work is a novel. What was your inspiration on the character design process?
A: The actual original characters were not designed by me, but I designed the environment. But in that work, the director found an animator on pixiv (link), and that work was used–Yori-san is the person. Her work was used to create the design. Yori-san is an illustrator who really likes drawing. There were many animators and not enough information. I worked hard to coordinate the content for this project.

Q: Is Saitama’s outfit from One-Punch Man based on Anpanman?
A: I’m in charge of the animation. The actual creator is One-sensei, but yes, it’s a parody of Anpanman.

Q: As an animation director, what kind of relationship do you have with the original mangaka, or creator of those works? Do you consult with them often?
A: Yes, of course I do talk to them. I was discussing weekly with the creator of One-Punch Man. One-sensei, and Murata-san, the creator of the manga, were up to join weekly discussions of the anime on Skype. There are some things about the work that only the original creator knows and can answer. Keeping in continuous communication helped move things smoothly. Murata-sensei is a top class manga creator in Japan, so he had some strong opinions about when One-Punch Man was becoming an anime. He was also opinionated about which anime company would create the anime, and what animators would work on the character design. He was “hot” about it. But even so, Murata-sensei was kind enough to look at my work, without a lot of feedback, and almost in all cases he accepted them as is, and Shueisha was happy with that.

Q: Because you have worked on so many works and there are several different works, there are bound to be many different original works, like novels and a movie in the case of The Girl Who Leapt through Time. How much time do you have to research these works?
A: It depends. It’s case by case. That’s a good question. For One-Punch Man, there was the manga, the works and story, and it does take time to get used to drawing the characters. I’m working and researching at the same time, and that’s a continuous project. From that aspect, I’m already researching on the job. I feel that looking at episode one, looking at some of the drawings, there are some areas where I’m not yet used to drawing it. Maybe you noticed that in episode one. As I just mentioned, for the last episode, we only had 6 weeks and there was no time for research. Keep on drawing, keep on drawing. I feel that my habits, good and bad, kind of showed through in the last episode. I had no time at all and just kept drawing.
What about The Girl Who Leapt through Time?
I actually didn’t read the novel, because the anime is a different story from the novel and thought maybe I don’t need to read the novel.
[Laughter]
There is actually a movie created from that novel, and I saw that movie. My only impression was, wow, this a really old movie.

Q: When you work on longer action sequences, they tend to get elaborate. When do you decide to rein it in?
A: I actually have a lot of problems saying let’s leave it here, so that does cause me a lot of suffering. I don’t know when to quit. I actually have so many ideas while creating and have fun doing that, so it’s a constant battle with the schedule.

Q: Do you feel that there’s room in your career to satisfy the creative desires that motivated you to join the industry when you were young?
A: I think within the Japanese anime industry, that’s pretty difficult. If there’s one person who only wants to create their characters when they want to, those people would have a difficult time in the Japanese industry, to demand total freedom. In the industry, adaptations of manga into anime are very common, so it’s rare for the animators themselves to insert their own characters into those adaptations.
So what do you do in your spare time to express yourself creatively?
I’m kind of a weird animator in Japan, where I just love to create movement, to take pictures and create from those pictures. I’m happy creating that movement even if it’s not my own character. I get satisfaction from that.

Q: As animation director for Diebuster, what specifically is an animation director? What do you do?
A: I was the mechanical animation director for Diebuster through episode 2.  Then I had to join The Girl Who Leapt through Time so I wasn’t able to stay with Diebuster to the end. For episode 1, I worked out the characters where they run and defeat other characters…

(I had a hard time catching the tail end of the above answer. Any further elaboration would be appreciated.)

Q: What kind of programs do you use in the industry to take your works from the paper to the screen?
A: I basically work on paper, but sometimes I use digital software like Adobe Flash. But this is actually irregular, because Adobe Flash is not a good fit for the Japanese anime industry. There aren’t a lot of people who use it. But Flash is really easy to use, so I feel like a lot of animators probably use it. It’s hard to complete a work using Adobe Flash, so the trend recently seems to be TVPaint. It’s not yet clear where it’ll settle down and what people will end up using. Software is really expensive, like a thousand dollars! It’s difficult because it’s so expensive to get a license for personal use. If you look at Wit, who worked on Attack on Titan, or at Trigger with Kill la Kill, they’ll buy TVPaint for the whole company. If you work there, you get it free. That is one benefit. I personally work independently and have to buy them myself.

Q: In Space Dandy, at the end of the second season, there are some cool animation style changes and it gets really interesting. What was the inspiration for that? Why was that decided upon?
A: (Kubota-san can’t seem to recall any changes, wondering if she meant episode 14 with the multiple Dandys, which she didn’t)
The last episode I worked on was 22 or 23. I wasn’t thinking about it; I was just having fun. The one characteristic about the series is that each episode has a slightly different style. All the animators get to do what they want and exercise their styles and there is a lot of variety in that series. That’s actually really rare. Space Dandy was such a fun project to work on, and was quite unique.

Q: Some of the earliest generations of animators came from manga, whereas some staff from Gainax come from tokusatsu (live action). [I missed the end of this question]
A: This would be a really long answer if I fully answered this. I think the normal assumption is that if someone is coming from the manga world or tokusatsu world is that maybe their interpretations are different. The history of anime began about 60 years ago, where these were the first generation of animators. Later you had Ghibli and Tezuka Osamu. But Tezuka was also supported by staff from Toei Animation. While he started in manga, he was already supported by people in the anime world. I don’t think there are fundamental differences between the two worlds. Gainax was not just limited to tokusatsu. Gainax was maybe the first generation otaku company who loved all those different worlds. If I have a chance to come again to Sakura-Con, I’d like to prepare a much better answer to that question in advance. It’s an interesting question and I’d like to do better research to present this.

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