Introduction: I attended Otakon this year and got the chance to interview mechanical illustrator and designer Tenjin Hidetaka. Responsible for box art from various series including Gundam and Macross, his latest work can be found in Aquarion Evol. His official website can be found at http://www.studio-tenjin.com and his Twitter is @TENJIN_hidetaka.
For the sake of consistency with the rest of this blog, Japanese names are last name first.
OM: How did you get started working in the anime and toy industries?
Tenjin: My very first anime work was Macross Zero from Satelight. I can’t remember what year it was, either 2002 or 2003, but my first anime was Macross Zero.
OM: How is it like working with Kawamori Shouji? How did you meet?
Tenjin: I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji because I had been illustrating for a Macross fansite. I was drinking with a few friends of mine I had met through the fansite and Mr. Kawamori Shouji also attended the event.
But even before I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji I had been working as a professional illustrator, so when I had a chance to meet him I showed him my portfolio, and he gave me the chance to start working with him.
OM: Does the fansite still exist?
Tenjin: The fansite no longer exists. I deleted it right away. But I think some archive of it still exists. Some very hardcore fans from the past still hold onto their precious archives of the past.
OM: I can understand that. So you work both in fantastic designs such as robots as well as more realistic designs such as planes and other vehicles. As an illustrator, do you use the same philosophies and concepts in drawing the realistic vehicles and the more fantastic ones, or are there more significant differences you have to keep in mind while drawing them?
Tenjin: I think about the practical purpose of the vehicle, how it’s used. For instance, with a Gundam it’s a weapon, an instrument of war. So I picture what a tank would be like, and I take the heavy texture of paint and use it for the Gundam. But on the other hand, for something like a Valkyrie, it’s basically a plane so I try to use lighter textures and try to focus on thinner silhouettes.
OM: I actually have a question related to that as well. When it comes to robots, we mainly hear about mechanical designers such as Katoki, Okawara, and Kawamori, who are all about designing the robot from various angles, but we rarely get to hear from someone who’s a mechanical illustrator. What are some of the unique advantages and some of the things you have to consider while drawing mecha without necessarily having “design” in mind?
Tenjin: The difference is, when there’s already a design, I need to think about what the designer had in mind. Even with something as simple as a single line, I have to think about what its purpose is. I need to focus not just on the design in front of me, but other designs that the designer has created because what I am trying to portray through my illustrations is not just the mechanical design or that one item, but the worldview of the designer, the fantastic world that the designer is trying to communicate.
For example, for classic model art for the package or box art, something I focus on is the background. By putting a lot of details in the background, I try to express the storyline of the world behind the design.
OM: You worked on Aquarion as well as its sequel Aquarion Evol. It’s been a few years between those projects. What do you feel you’ve learned between Aquarion and Evol in returning to the franchise?
Tenjin: Something I improved in is weathering texture, introducing weathering to express just how old a vehicle is within the world of Aquarion and Aquarion Evol. But with Aquarion, there are two time periods, the present and 12,000 years ago. I don’t think I was successful in depicting how things would change in 12,000 years.
OM: Related to Aquarion, it seems like 3D modeling is increasingly used to animate mechanical designs, and figures such as Mamoru Oshii have talked about how there are fewer and fewer people who know how to work with 2D designs without going to 3D models. As an illustrator, what do you see as the potential for 3D modeling for mechanical designs in anime?
Tenjin: When I first entered this industry, 3D animation was just at its start. You were seeing the very first examples of 3D animation and, to be honest, the quality was very low. But these days 3D is used very frequently in Japanese animation and very naturally and so the techniques have improved enough that you don’t really notice the differences between 2D and 3D animation. So, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about in that respect.
OM: I just have one more question. I noticed that there quite a few works in that slide show [Tenjin had in front of him an iPad displaying various examples of his box art] from VOTOMS. Do you have a particular fondness for VOTOMS?
Tenjin: [in English, without the need for a translator to explain my words] Of course!