Otakon 2012 Hidetaka Tenjin Focus Panel
by Brian Hanson, Jul 27th 2012
The panel began as the host and translator introduced "famed mecha illustrator, painter, voice actor, and mechanical designer" Hidetaka Tenjin, who brought a DVD slideshow of his famed illustrations. The slides spanned many different styles and projects from series such as Area 88, Eureka 7, Aura Battler Dunbine, Mobile Suit Gundam, Gradius V, Biomega, various Osamu Tezuka titles such as Black Jack and Dororo, and even some personal artwork from his vacation at Yellowstone National Park.
Tenjin then gave a brief overview of his most famed association - that of the VF-1 Valkyrie from Macross. "I'm most famous for my work with Macross art," he said. "I started officially working on Macross with Macross Zero, when I first started working with director Shoji Kawamori. So far I've released two artbooks; at the charity auction on Sunday, I'll be auctioning off each of the artbooks with my autograph, as well as a framed Valkyrie painting. This is a very rare piece of art."
Once the video concluded, the microphone was handed to audience members for Q&A.
Question: I read that you got your start doing Valkyrie illustrations for a Macross fansite. How did you make the jump from being a fan to professionally doing mecha artwork?
Hidetaka Tenjin: I contributed to a fansite called the Valkyrie Maniacs Fansite. During one of the fan gatherings I met Mr. Shoji Kawamori for the first time, and that was an opportunity to show him some artwork I had been working on. The very next day i got a phone call from Kawamori-san asking me to do the package artwork for a video game. As you know, Kawamori is a big fan of Space Battleship Yamato, and he worked at Studio Nue (the animation studio responsible for Yamato) when he was a student. So you can see from the example of Kawamori-san, in the Japanese industry, there are many examples of fans becoming professionals in the industry. So that's pretty much the story of how I became a professional illustrator, but before then I had been working on CG artwork on my own, so I had skills on the level of a professional artist before that.
Tenjin: Sunrise owns Gundam, so there are *many* restrictions on what can and cannot be done. It is a series with a very long history, so there are restrictions because of it. Oddly, there's actually a lot more freedom doing artwork for Star Wars than for Gundam. I'm a big Star Wars fan.
Q: How do you go about the design process? Do you have a certain style in mind, or maybe a real-life counterpart?
Tenjin: When I'm designing, I start off by writing down all the key required points of the artwork. For example, if I'm designing a gun, is it a gun that's holstered at the waist? How important is the gun within the scene itself? How does the targeting system work? I try to think of all the important elements of the design and start off by listing them. For small items like a gun, that's what I do. For large items like a mecha, I start off by designing a silhouette. The general form of it needs to be revolutionary.
Q: Regarding the development of aircraft technology, specifically the F-14, how do you feel about science fiction bleeding into reality?
Tenjin: I think it makes a lot of sense. I know that Kawamori, the director, was very happy when this fighter came out, because the design was so similar. If you guys have seen Patlabor 2, the car designs in that film are very similar to modern car designs in Japan, specifically the Mitsubishi Eye.
Q: Since the F-14 has design cues taken from the Valkyrie, are there any favorite aircraft you like to use in your design? Or favorite airplanes in general?
Tenjin: I really love planes. I majored in aeronautics in college. My favorite classic plane designs are the Fokker Biplane, the Spitfire, the Messerschmitt, the Mosquito. With modern planes I like the Harrier designs. I used to play flight simulators a lot, specifically with the F-18 Hornet. That's another plane that I love.
Q: You're a very prolific artist, and you did all 50 covers of the Macross Chronicles, and you most recently worked on most of the covers for the Yamato Data File. From start to finish, how long does an average piece of artwork take to complete?
Tenjin: 5 days to two weeks. And I work about 5 to 6 hours per day, every day.
Q: Other than your own mecha, what are your favorite mecha designs from the past and now?
Q: Do you have any particular favorite mecha designers?
Tenjin: Of course Shoji Kawamori. (laughs) Also from Macross is Kazutaka Miyatake. I love his Zendtraedi Destroyer design, especially the Tomahawk. He's very famous for making functional designs, and he's also one of the designers for Yamato. A little bit of trivia about Yamato: It was designed by two separate designers, Miyatake-san and Kato-san. One of them started drawing at the front, the other started drawing at the rear. So nobody can draw the middle! From when I was drawing Yamato, I was trying to draw one of the ships from a different angle, and discovered there are no designs for this ship from the rear. You'll see many examples of this from works of that period. There's a famous designer named Shinomi that also did a design of Yamato, but that one doesn't mesh well in the middle either. But these days, when you design a mecha, you do it under the presumption it will become a toy, so that kind of thing is never seen these days.
Q: How does your experience designing for Gundam compare to Macross? Do you like or dislike it comparatively?
Tenjin:With Macross, when I make a design, it has to be a design within the world of the director, Shoji Kawamori. With Gundam, when you do the designs, it doesn't have the same "type" restriction, but of course I haven't designed Gundams for any of the animation.
Q: They recently released a big Macross Blu-Ray boxed set with all the various pieces of artwork and extras and flashbacks; I'm curious what pieces of artwork you contributed to that boxed set.
Tenjin: Yes, I worked on the limited edition box, i did the box art. I watched it originally in elementary school, but there's one original scene that's my favorite. It was a scene where the Zentraedi and Macross were working hand in hand together. When you get down to it, the very core message from Macross is that wars start from cultural misunderstandings, differences in cultures. The biggest differences between people are not racial, but rather cultural. Something that rather touched me in Macross was when they overcame their cultural differences and worked together. So I chose the scene from Macross that I thought ws the very key of Macross, the most improtant message, and drew illustrations based on that scene.
Q: When you design a model, how closely do you collaborate with the manufacturer on how to put it all together?
Tenjin: Most of the time with the plastic models, my work is in the packaging illustrations, on the box. The actual design of the mecha and the toy is usually done by somebody else. But from my experiences talking to Kawamori-san, when he designs his mecha, he does think about how the toy is going to turn out, but only "will it stand up on its own?" Believe it or not whether the toy can stand on its own or not is a very critical part of plastic model toy design. Fortunately when you're doing the design, if you have in your mind, "how are they going to make the toy" it puts restrictions on you, and makes it harder for you to challenge the boundaries of art. So Kawamori-san is very demanding of toy manufacturers.
Q: When you get artists block, how do you overcome it?
Tenjin: I wait until its gone. (laughs) the best thing to do is probably to do something else and not worry about it. Here's a metaphor: if you see a big long hill, running up the hill only makes you tired. "Let it be."
Q: What's the hardest thing about drawing robots in general? And what robot would you ride if you could ride one?
Tenjin: Very difficult question. I studied robotics in college. I've been wanting to make robots all my life. But it was kinda hard. So instead I'm drawing robots. The hardest part of a robot design is the waist. When you think about it, it's very difficult to design the hip joint of a robot, and how that joint works. And the reason for it is because it's the joint that has the greatest range of movement, the joint that moves the most. You need to think of the movement of the joint when you begin designing. As for the robot I'd like to ride, I'd like to ride the Valkyrie. definitely not Dangaioh. I also don't want to be sitting on top of the fist of a robot that has a rocket punch. I can't think of anything much worse than that. But I imagine if I were to actually ride a robot, I'd get robot sick. (laughs)
Q: Did you have any involvement with the manga Macross The First?
Tenjin: [Manga creator] Haruhiko Mikimoto-san is about 52 years old, so he's very much my senior and somebody I look up to. I haven't had the honor of working with him yet. Mikimoto-san and his team, they did their designs when they were still students, so you can really feel the youthful energy in their designs, and you can still feel that energy in their work today. I go drinking with Mikimoto-san and that bunch every now and then. He's a lot of fun to drink with. He's still full of energy and still working hard, so whenever I drink with Kawamori-san and Mikimoto-san they keep bragging about how they were working on the designs of an anime series in college, and they still turned in their homework on time.
Q: Since you have an education in robotics and aeronautics, is there a particular mecha you feel comes closest to being able to operate in the real world?
Tenjin: I think Patlabor - that was a rather realistic design. Do you know the ASIMO? The thing is, in the designs, the smaller the feet, the easier it is for them to walk. But with anime designs, they're made for toys, and the toys need to be able to stand. So the design of the feet necessarily becomes larger. And with the Valkyrie, I don't think the waist is solid enough for it to walk on its own. Most of the designs are going to have trouble walking.
Q: Aquarian EVOL is significantly different than Gundam or Macross. Did you have a good time working on that?
Tenjin: Yes. Kawamori-san did the designs for Aquarion Evol, I was just drawing artwork based on the design; I didn't do the design itself. But it was a lot of fun working on the art for it though; the motif for the design is based on classical Japanese armors.
And with that question, the time had run out, and Tenjin thanked the audience for their time, and reminded them of the charity auction on Sunday.
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