Nov 06, 2007 - 01:39 PM
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Yoshitaka Amano, Fine Artist

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On the weekend of January 23, 1999, New York City's Japan Society held a symposium on Japanese animation. Among the guests was Yoshitaka Amano, the extremely popular illustrator who got his start creating characters for Tatsunoko, like the heroes of Gatchaman and Hurricane Polymar. Amano branched out into illustration for video games, designs for motion pictures, like Angel's Egg, and his latest "big" project, a multimedia tour de force featuring live orchestral accompaniment called 1001 Nights. At the symposium, he had a discussion with art critic Alex Wald, followed by a brief Q/A with his fans.

Amano & Fan

Wald: What was your personal genesis as an artist? Do you remember a time when you didn't draw?

Amano: Not really. Even as a child, I was almost always drawing.

W: Your brother used to get reams of paper from his printing job to bring home for you to draw on. What kind of subjects were you doing at that time?

A: I don't remember, exactly. But in 1996, I spread a huge canvas and got on top.. it reminded me of when I was drawing on that paper as a child. It was a very mysterious feeling.

W: When did you become aware of anime? Did you actively want to participate?

A: It goes back to when I was fifteen. Believe it or not, my involvement was entirely accidental. I was going to a friend's house, and I passed an animation studio on the way. I went in, convinced them that I loved to draw, and was hired.

W: So your work in animation wasn't necessarily motived by Disney?

A: As a child, I watched Disney, and Mighty Atom. Only later, when I started working in animation, did I become aware of anime as something that was created. I bought the "Art of Disney" artbook, and enjoyed reading about the creation of those works. That's when I began to think of coming up with my own creations.

W: Working for Tatsunoko, direction came from others. When did you begin creating original works?

A: Doing that kind of work in the animation field, it's hard to describe... Tatsunoko was a job. Hard work! I was constantly thinking, How could I get out of this? Anime became less fun, became work for me, when I was twenty.

W: You're known for doing character design and illustration for video games. Was this a natural progression from animation?

A: Yes, it was. It was a simple matter of whether my work would be used in animation or in video games.

Yoshitaka Amano
Yoshitaka Amano, Fredrik L. Schodt, and Alex Wald (l-r)

W: In 1984, you created Angel's Egg with Mamoru Oshii. This seems to be a departure from your fantasy and superheroic work prior to it. It's unique; it feels like a personal work. Was this deliberate?

A: Mmm... well, Angel's Egg was important. It's one of my favorites. But if you want details of its creation, you should ask the director. I was the character designer, and that was hard work.

W: Angel's Egg is very dream-like. It's not like normal anime. Does this reflect your personal interests, or your views on technology?

A: Working on Angel's Egg was different from dealing with my own work, my own self. In Angel's Egg, I was deliberately trying to visualize Oshii's world. When I started drawing these pictures, there was a surprising similarity to my own ideas. It made me want to explore my own ideas further.

W: You then progressed to science fiction illustration. These show great awareness of European/"traditional" painters. Was this essential in developing personal images?

A: I did a lot of character design... But this was just a process to create my own style, though it's important not to be too formal. I was trying to create something different, a way to develop my own style.

W: You've done a lot of work with gold. It's an unusual color, difficult to work with. Your interest in it seems pronounced.

A: I like gold, but I should also mention that in traditional Japanese art, gold is important. Also, I like using blacks and reds. In my own development, these colors just feel natural. I think gold and black are both very spatial.

W: These colors are prominent in religious artworks. Is that related to your own work?

A: Not necessarily. My use of color is often seasonal. In my case, and I'm not sure if it's conscious or unconscious, but there's often a cyclical element involved in my work.

W: Your flair for experimentation has led you to painting and stage design. Tell us what it's like to work with such a diverse array of forms.

A: There isn't much to tell. I always start with paper. That may change as the work progresses, but whether it's anime, games, theatrical design... it all starts with me working at my desk.

W: One form is 1001 Nights. The origin of that work seems to stem from your book, Budo-hime, your illustrations working with broad canvases...

A: I can't quite express this properly, but yes, Budo-hime is essentially 1001 Nights. It's actually based on Arabian Nights. There's a strong aspect of fable to Arabian Nights, and then there's this project-- a variety of people, work done in London, San Francisco, and L.A. 1001 Nights was my first chance to work in this context, and I believe it's a good example of art evolving.

W: Creating 1001 Nights, your work is mostly on paper. Did you get frustrated with the high degree of collaboration with others?

A: Yes, and that's a good point! I didn't like organiztions. Several things about 1001 Nights were a headache. But I was happy with it.

W: With the advent of computers, we're seeing new artistic techniques. But you don't like computers.

A: I've been in the field for a very long time. While I always want to inquire about how art evolves, I've been interested in other elements than computers. Personally, however, with computers I think using 3D graphics is really the best way to visualize my art. I'm pursuing visions of my imagery done in 3D graphics, but I'm not directly involved in computers myself.

W: You've got a work in progress called Hero, and it's supposed to be on an even grander scale than 1001 Nights.

A: That's true. Long ago, I wanted to do opera as film. In fact, I begin sketches for Hero over 10 years ago. But 3D technology was not evolved enough for me to visualize what I wanted properly. Now it is, and I can do what I want with art and storyboards. But such a project requires a huge budget. There are operas that would be interesting to visualize, and I want to do something in the future... a myth set in the future, for instance, NYC 10,000 years in the future.

W: Hero is mythical, but also very original. Are you embracing eternal themes? Science fiction is limited to a vision of the future based on the present, but you're envisioning something much grander, aren't you?

A: Yes! I think it should be okay to visualize anything, even the ridiculous. Many things are constants, for instance, human relationships. These are the sort of things I want to incorporate. I'd like to actualize thought and memory, I'd like to mix futurism and aspects of the present.

W: So you'd advocate imagination without restraint. I'm told that you sleep a lot; how do you get so much work done?

A: I'm not sure. Yesterday, I slept twenty-four hours. I have jet-lag!

(The panel was opened to questions.)

Q: You've worked in a number of different creative communities in different countries. How are they different in different countries?

A: I'm not too sure I understand the question. Los Angeles was tough; the way the animation industry works over here is different.

Q: (Mike Toole, Anime Jump) You've designed and created dozens of characters, from Gatchaman's Kentaro Washio to Final Fantasy's Cloud Strife. Do you have characters that you prefer, that you enjoy working on?

A: I like the cool ones! I like cute, endearing images. My favorite characters are whatever feels good to draw. The characters are a cast that I have in my mind, and aren't always even necessarily related to projects.

Q: I'm a stop-motion animator. I can't seem to get any work done during the day. What is it about the night? I get hugely creative after sleep deprivation. What about you?

A: I rise around noon, and I rarely work beyond midnight. What's important is to keep working, to keep a good pace. I stop before I start feeling bad. I learned my own pace fairly recently-- when I was 32 and working on Angel's Egg, we were awake for what seemed like forever, and I got seriously ill.

Q: What about your work in games? Do characters get described to you before you design them? What other games have you worked on besides Final Fantasy?

A: Tough question. I've done such a variety of characters... well, I'm now working on a project for the new Dreamcast console which is a secret. I've also done design for Front Mission, Kartia... I'm very active.

Q: How do you have time to work on both personal projects and games?

A: I always seem to be doing many things in tandem. I just never get bored.

Q: What does your workspace look like?

A: In Japan, it's a basement. In NYC (Soho), it's a loft. I've been working with huge canvases lately. I also have a desk. I like to just listen to music and draw. I don't leave work often, and I want it to be an enjoyable environment. It's important.

Q: Can you tell us anything about the new Vampire Hunter D film?

A: It's not something that I'm directly involved in, actually. I'm just overseeing it. I can say, though, that I think it's pretty awesome! As far as I know, it will be released in the U.S. before it will be in Japan.


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