Interview: Youichi Nishikawa

by Callum May,

Youichi Nishikawa is a veteran background artist with experience working for some of the most prestigious anime studios in the industry. He began his career working on Howl's Moving Castle at Studio Ghibli, and after working for Mamoru Hosoda's Studio Chizu on The Boy and The Beast and Deho Gallery on Mary and The Witch's Flower, he has decided to go freelance. While he's primarily known as a background artist, he's now working as a concept artist on the 3DCG series, Land of the Lustrous, airing this season. We reached out to Nishikawa to ask about his illustrious career and his work on this new series.

© 2017 Haruko Ichikawa , KODANSHA / "Land of the Lustrous"Committee

How did you originally join Studio Ghibli?

While I was attending art school, I saw Ghibli in the job recruitment board. I passed their test and joined the company.

How would you compare the different art directors you worked under at the time?

Even if the art director is different, there are no differences in their instructions and the quality they ask of you. However, the art changes between animated projects. Dealing with that was more difficult.

Do you think you've been inspired by anyone in particular at Ghibli?

Yoji Takeshige. Since Howl's Moving Castle, he had been an art director of many Ghibli films, so I have learned a lot of things from him. Painting was one of those things, obviously, but I was also influenced by his attitude towards work, among other things.

After that, you were a part of Mamoru Hosoda's Studio Chizu. What brought you there?

Ghibli's production division would be dissolved as soon as the When Marnie Was There project finished. Mr. Saito, a producer at Studio Chizu, asked me to become an art director for The Boy and The Beast, so I signed a contract with them.

What were your responsibilities as art director on Boy and the Beast?

There were three art directors, including me. In the beginning, we delegated the areas accordingly: Mr. Takamatsu would be in charge of Shibuya, Mr. Omori would do the area around Kumatetsu's house, and I would be in charge of the city. Specifically, I would use the blueprints made by the art designer Mr. Anri Jojo to create art boards and color scripts, and then I would use them to draw the key backgrounds. The three of us would use those as references for the backgrounds throughout the film.

What are your thoughts on Mamoru Hosoda as a director?

I think that he is a great director who takes on bold challenges with his scripts, characters, designs, and new technology. Moreover, I think it is wonderful how he oversees everything at the site without losing communication with the staff.

How would you say working on Hosoda's films differs from working with Hayao Miyazaki at Ghibli?

In my personal opinion, I think it's the way he does layouts. Because Mr. Miyazaki gives priority to how the human eye would take in a particular part of scenery, some parts are shown from a strange perspective, but it will look very good. Mr. Hosoda often refers to photographs, so his layouts are drawn with one perspective, and they look really convincing.

Deho Gallery was an interesting project. What did you think of it when it was first established?

I was very interested in it. I agreed with the idea behind the project, which was to pass on the skills of traditional hand painting to the younger generation.

How did you come to join Deho Gallery?

During the production of The Boy and The Beast, Mr. Nishimura, a producer at Studio Ponoc approached me. He said that if something is not done, the traditional hand painting skills would be lost. He was gathering staff to make a background art company specializing in painting by hand and asked me if I wanted to join. I agreed to his proposal and joined the company.

You've spent more than 10 years working at studios, why did you choose to go freelance after all that time?

After The Boy and The Beast finished, I had opportunities to participate in various events, and I was also able to interact more with overseas animators. I've always had an interest in working overseas, and as I talked and listened to other people, my desire to try it out for myself increased. I'm hoping that I can do some kind of work while keeping traditional Japanese hand painting alive, so I left my company and came to the United States to study English.

How did you get involved with Land of the Lustrous?

When I was enrolled at Deho Gallery, Mr. Waki, a producer at Orange, nominated me for the job. I did not know the original manga, but I was drawn to the characters. I like beautiful line drawings like the ones by Mamoru Nagano and Ai Yazawa. Since the manga didn't have many backgrounds, I thought I could express my own character through the backgrounds. Also, my wife was a fan of the manga. (laughs)

© 2017 Haruko Ichikawa , KODANSHA / "Land of the Lustrous"Committee

Source: @YohIchi_N

Do you prefer to create concept art or draw background art?

Right now, I prefer concept art. I am enjoying the work of making a world by myself. I also want to study under various art directors, so I would like to do backgrounds if I can get work out of it.

Do you still create everything traditionally hand-drawn? Why is this?

Almost everything I do is hand-drawn. The main reason is because I've always done things by hand, so it's quicker for me to just do things that way. Also, you could say that hand-drawn images feel more alive. They're difficult to draw, but they also have a kind of warmth to them. My ideal is to do things digitally to increase the efficiency while maintaining the unique atmosphere of hand-drawn illustrations.

Was there anything you needed to keep in mind when creating art for a 3DCG show?

I had to think carefully about how to make it look 2D.

What are your thoughts on 3D anime? How did it feel to have your drawings transformed into 3D environments?

I think that with 3D, it is possible to show things that could not be expressed in 2D, and it is very fun to watch, so I think that it will become mainstream in Japan as well. It's fun to see my drawings take on a solid shape and move. It's very refreshing.

What sort of instructions did you get from the staff at Studio Orange?

I've been that told that even if it works as a picture, you can't always reproduce the colors when you render it in 3D, so it was hard to get everything to work together.

© 2017 Haruko Ichikawa , KODANSHA / "Land of the Lustrous"Committee

Source: @YohIchi_N

Did you get the chance to meet Eiji Inomoto? What do you think of his approach to anime?

Yes, I did get the chance to meet him. He issues very precise and detailed instructions. He also has a lot of professionalism. I have a lot to learn from his commitment to improve the anime.

What about the original Land of the Lustrous manga by Haruko Ichikawa stands out to you?

The pictures are beautiful and have a sensual touch. It also made me think twice about life and death.

Do you expect to be doing more concept art in the future?

Yes, I will continue to paint if I have a job. However, I want to try various things I am interested in, so I do not know even what I am doing in the future.

You've recently started a Twitter account. Can we expect to see more of your artwork on it?

Yes, of course. I've only been posting pictures from my work, but I think I will post more of my own pictures little by little. I also recently created an Instagram account. Thank you for your continued support!

Thanks to Kim Morrissy for the translation assistance on this interview and thanks to Thomas Romain for helping make this interview happen.

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