Interview: Satoshi Tasaki

by Bamboo Dong,

This past February, we asked readers to submit their own questions for Princess and the Pilot chief animation director Satoshi Tasaki, for the chance to win a copy of NIS America's The Princess and the Pilot Premium Edition Blu-Ray. The premium edition will be released May 14, 2013, and will also include a full-color, 32-page hardcover art book that includes character info, rough sketches, artist interviews, and setting illustrations.

Have you ever demanded that a scene be reanimated because the quality wasn't good enough?

In my section, after the director checks the work and gives the OK, our main tasks are perspective and design corrections, and character design unification. So basically, there are no retakes. However, when the schedule is tight, we give the team a workflow that allows us to check the rough drafts before we make the key animations. When we need to change certain movements drastically, we let them know at that stage. Also, at times when I'm not convinced of something, I will have a discussion with the director again and, if I get approval, redraw the scene myself. In this work, I redrew Juana's singing scene, among others.

The design work in the film is split between a fealty to mechanical realism and service to the fantasy universe. Was it difficult to find the right balance between the two?

For this work, in order to portray the fantasy aspect of it, we didn't really need to use any techniques that we haven't used before, so there wasn't anything particularly tough. The people who had it rough were Hashimoto-san—who was in charge of the art direction—the mechanical designer and director, Yamada-kun, and the CG and film staff.

Most of the film takes place above the ocean, what did you do to help kept the visuals interesting?

We made sure to implement the passing of time, such as morning, evening, and night, as well as different weather conditions. We also took care to portray Charles's and Juana's hearts growing closer through a shift in their tones as well, even though the situation itself might seem the same as ever.

In animation that concerns vehicles, is it more important to focus on the animation of the machine or the human characters?

Of course, I feel that the characters are most important. The machines are simply items meant to enhance the characters or setting. However, when I work with machines, I really put my heart into it and pray that, like the many spaceships and unique vehicles that appear in movies, the viewers come to love these creations as well.

The rescue mission takes place under the pressures of war and the threat of enemy aircraft, but at times it seems to be a visual escape from the battlefield into a world of natural beauty. What are your thoughts about the role and representation of nature in this war film?

This is an impetus for Juana, who has closed her heart, to rediscover who she truly is. Also, the portrayal of nature was an extremely important symbol for “freedom,” which both Charles and Juana longed for. I came to think that the war scenes were there to draw out that feeling of freedom nature can offer.

How did the staff decide on the designs of the planes and other military hardware? Was there a particular historic period you used for inspiration or more of a "mix and match" approach?

We used Victoria Falls and the Great Barrier Reef as references. Our ideas took the fact that the time period parallels our Second World War era into consideration, so Levamme is modeled after the Allies while the Amatsukami resemble the old Imperial Japanese forces. The fighter plane, the Shinden (真電), was modeled after a completed experimental model called Shinden(震電)(the Chinese characters are different). It was from that time period, and so we used that design as it was. Also, the CG team apparently got to participate in an acrobatic flying demonstration.

In regards to Charles “dancing” with the Santa Cruz to give his goodbye at the conclusion of the film, what aerial techniques did you use to choreograph that seen? Were there any aerial techniques that you particularly wanted to use and if so, why?

For mechanical action scenes like that one, I left it up to the mechanical designer, Yamada-kun, and the CG team. Especially in regards to the dogfights, I told them not to be limited by the actual speed of propeller-driven planes, but to have the planes fly at a speed that works well for animation.

The vehicle animation in Princess and the Pilot appears to be CGI. Studio Madhouse has done other anime films such as Redline using most hand-drawn vehicle animation. In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of both formats?

The largest merit of successful CG implementation is that shapes remain consistent. CG can be used to great effect, notably when the camerawork slowly pans and changes angles. Furthermore, since things can be made to look incredibly realistic, it really lends credence to the draft drawings, I think. On the other hand, the merit of animating by hand is that it can depict exaggerations closer to the way our human senses do. The human brain perceives even distant objects as large if it is interested in them, and it can totally remove other objects that interfere with its focus. With hand-drawn animation, it is very easy to depict objects through a wide-angle lens in the foreground as large, creating a type of visual trick. Of course, the demerit is that it takes a very long time to draw things by hand. However, in recent years, CG has been implementing the positive aspects of hand-drawn animation more and more. I believe that in the future, it will end up being nothing but a matter of preference for both those who create and those who watch anime.

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