The Saturday of MCM London Comic Con October, Toonzone News were given the chance to pose some questions to Shigeto Koyama. A talent who has worked on titles including Kill la Kill, Heroman, Disney’s Big Hero 6 and his own original short “Obake-chan,” Koyama attended the event as the Anime Guest Of Honour.
TOONZONE NEWS: There’s a very appealing fluidity to your designs, lots of sweeping curves that hint at the hands of the artist. What exactly is your drawing process?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: Nowadays, it’s all done digitally. I start with a rough image that tends to be just a silhouette that is then filled in with a brush pen and then I go on to add the detail from there.
[Opens portfolio on smart phone]
So this is the rough design for Baymax from Big Hero 6, done in just black and then I’ll go on to add the details.
TOONZONE NEWS: Speaking of that, as you say you designed the character of Baymax. In the past you’ve mentioned that you got the job when the director came to Japan and became aware of your work, but what was your thought process in designing the character?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: Don Hall, the director, didn’t have an image from the outset of what he wanted him to look like. Rather, he had small snippets of image. So he had the idea that it should be something like a snowman and he wanted it to be the texture of medical rubber. So I listened to all this and pulled the ideas together into this idea that when he was white he’d be cute and then turn into this red hero.
TOONZONE NEWS: You were involved with the design work of Gundam: Reconguista in G. Would you mind talking briefly about your involvement and any key designs in particular which came from yourself?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: There are no designs that are mine alone. Kenichi Yoshida is someone who I worked with on Eureka Seven, where he was the character designer, and we often design together. So I’ll come up with an idea and he used to be an animator so he’ll draw the idea. He asked me if I would help on Reconguista so we worked on the character designs together.
SHIGETO KOYAMA: I was really honoured and Stan Lee himself is such an interesting person. I went over to the States several times and we had meetings via Skype. He really is as he comes across in the media. He’s extremely kind and generous, and it’s crazy how many ideas he has despite his age. It seemed like we really were on the same wavelength because he used a lot of my ideas and he was really easy to work with.
[Opens up a model sheet of Bellri Zenam from Reconguista in G as a visual aid.]
Usually when you do character design you make a collection of expressions of the character, so you can see what they look like when angry, laughing, crying, etc. But he was slightly odd because when I sent him that he said, “I’m always smiling, so I only want to see smiling characters. Don’t send me pictures of angry characters.” So I had to do them all smiling which meant there wasn’t much point in doing it. [Both laugh].
TOONZONE NEWS: Your portfolio contains a wide range of content, including characters and mecha. Which element for you is the most interesting to design in a production?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: For me, mecha are characters. For example in Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, I think everyone sees the Fiat car he escapes in and thinks of it as a character. So I don’t draw a distinction between the two.
TOONZONE NEWS: If you don’t mind me saying, I think your design for Baymax proves that point. Audiences don’t see that as a robot, they do see that as a character because of the traits you’ve imbued into it.
SHIGETO KOYAMA: Thanks! You’re right. For example if I’m designing a cool robot it’s like designing a handsome male character.
TOONZONE NEWS: In the past you’ve mentioned Neon Genesis Evangelion was an inspiration for pursuing your career and have gone on to work on the recent movies. How does it feel to be helping to create the next incarnation of a work which directly inspired you?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: It’s one of the titles that got me into anime so it’s really interesting. It’s difficult but worthwhile. I’m working with all the people I looked up to like Anno-san, Sadamoto-san and Tsurumaki-san so I want to make sure that I continue to respect them and it’s a very special project for me.
TOONZONE NEWS: You directed the short “Obake-chan” for Animator Expo. How did you become involved with the project and how did you decide on the distinct style of the short? [Note- Koyama was wearing an “Obake-chan” shirt on the day]
SHIGETO KOYAMA: I’d heard about Animator Expo from Studio Khara via Tsurumaki-san . Because of Khara’s involvement, having made the new Evangelion, a lot of top Japanese animators were involved with the project. They all seemed to be making serious shorts and Tsurumaki-san said “It would be good if we had one, just one, that’s a bit crazy and out there.” He’d seen “Obake-chan,” which was an independent children’s book I’d created, and suggested I might like to make that into an animation.
As for the style, usually you have the characters and you have the background art and they come together to form the anime. But in this case I got rid of the background altogether and just had it as brown paper though you still know where it’s happening. That’s the style I’d been experimenting with in the book and this was the opportunity to test it out as an animation.
TOONZONE NEWS: There’s a lot of your distinct style displayed in Kill la Kill. How much freedom were you given with the art direction and was there anyone else who really helped establish the visual dynamic of the show?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: With Kill la Kill all the main staff had input; director Imaishi-san, Yoshinari-san who directed Little Witch Academia, character designer Sushio-san, Amemiya-san who directed Inferno Cop. All the main staff. It wasn’t just me, it was the whole team who had worked together on Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking in the past.
If you feel you can sense my influence in there it might be because my role was to check all of the designs in the role of art director and pull them all together.
TOONZONE NEWS: What’s currently next for you and do you have any dream projects you’d like to work on?
SHIGETO KOYAMA: I’m working on a few different projects at the moment, I can’t tell you about them I’m afraid but when they’re announced everyone will be excited and also surprised.
Toonzone News would like to thank Shigeto Koyama for answering our questions, Anime Limited for facilitating this interview and Bethan Jones for interpreting.