AFA08 Report Part 3

In this part, we shall be covering the convention’s esteemed guest speakers, namely Mechanical Designer Kunio Okawara and Director Koji Morimoto.

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Kunio Okawara

To the multitude of Gundam fans, Mr Okawara needs no introduction. The man has a long history at Sunrise as the mechanical designer behind some of the most iconic Gundam designs in anime history, including the original RX-78 Gundam and Zakus, essentially laying down the groundwork aesthetics for other real robot animes to follow. He is also known for his versatility, designing mecha on the other end of the spectrum such as the Super Robots of the Yuusha series.  It is thus not hard to see why the man is a legend among mecha fans, who rejoiced thrice over when he was announced as a guest at AFA.

Kunio Okawara Special Prize WinnerKunio Okawara Special Prize Winner

Mr Okawara made his appearance on the first day of the convention, first up, playing guest judge at the Bakuc modeling competition where he handed out the Kunio Okawara special prize to one personally handpicked entry seen below. He cited the reasons for his choice being nice cusomization and strong composition with a good balance between foreground and background in the piece. He also quipped that he wanted to bring it back and put it in his living room. What an honour it must be for the winner to hear that from the main man himself!

Mr Okawara took to the stage later in the day for his main event, a talk on his experience as a mechanical designer in the industry. He started off by showing the intro clips to some of the Gundam shows he worked on from the past to the present, to show the progression in design for the franchise. As he moved towards the more recent shows like Seed and 00, the applause and cheers from the audience after each clip became more and more pronounced (sadly no one even clapped whent he original Mobile Suit Gundam opening was played)


Going into his lecture proper, (conducted in Japanese with the aid of a translator. Due to lack of any proficiency in Japanese, everything I write here will be based on what the translator said), he went on to give a brief description of the design process in the Japanese animation industry. In an anime production, often it is the story concept work that comes first, which usually includes a description of what is needed design-wise for the anime. the story concept is then passed down to the three main design groups, character design, mechanical design, and set design to translate what is written in the concept into a visual form to be used as reference for the actual animation.

Mr Okawara noted that as a mechanical designer,it is extrememly important to be mindful that the animators have to work with your design and make it work in animation, hence it cannot be too overly complex in shape or detail. He demonstrated how different shapes are more difficult to animate  and that designers have to keep that in mind in their designwork. He did this while going through one of his designs from Gundam 00, showing the progression in stages from sketch to final design.  He later commented on how when asked to do designs for video games, he has more leeway to do more detailed designs as video game productions are either on a less hectic schedule than a TV anime or the more extensive use of 3D animation in games.

Mr Okawara demonstrated how he tries to build his mechanical designs around what is needed for the story. Citing that it was the year of the rat, he used rats as the basis for the mechanical designs in his presentation. He demonstrated how subtle design changes can make a difference in the portrayal of the mechanical design (eg. rounded design for “good” guys, angular and sharper for “bad” guys) and also how the story genre affects the design he comes up with.

Good vs Evil Mecha-RatGood vs Evil Mecha-Rat

After this he ran through a gauntlet of designs he’s done over the years, from stuff on kid’s anime like Yattaman and his works for areas outside of anime. He rounded off his slides by mentioning in his spare time he likes to design and build custom trinkets and knickknacks (Votoms scopedog glasses!) in his own workshop.

Like any other talk, they ended off witha question and answer session, except that the questions were already preselected from a bunch e-mailed in before the event. The pool of questions came from all over the world, with contributers writing in under aliases such as “A Char”, “Quattro Bajeena” and “ladiesman217” (props if you catch all those references!) I cannot remember all of the questions or answers, but I’ll cover those that I can remember.

One question asked what inspires him to create his designs, to which Mr Okawara readily admitted that most of his desings are not so much inspired but rather based on what is dictated from the story concept description or the director himself. Another asked how Gundam designs have changed so much compared to the original designs in Mobile Suit Gundam, which Mr Okawara has attributed to the success of the Bandai’s Gundam model kit line. The original Gundam was primarily conceived as an Anime, sohe went with more simple and “Anime-ish” designs. However, when Bandai’s Gundam model kit line really took off, he had to keep in mind that his designs were going to be translated into a 3 dimensional form to be built and assembled by model hobbyists and collectors, hence his designs became more complex and detailed to make them more realistic. The last question i can remember fully was on whether how one can go about becoming a mechanical designer and whther he needs any educational qualifications. Mr okawara said that there is no set path or set of qualifications required to become a mechanical designer, all is needed is practice and needing to get your work out there and seen. If I recall, there was another question asking him  how he would go about designing a Singaporean mecha, the answer had something to do with durians I think.

After his talk, he capped off the day with an Autograph session at the Seminar room, where his fans queued up for their legend to put his signature on their books or Gundam model kits (including, embarassingly, some not even designed by him!). This marked his final official appearance for the two day event.

Koji Morimoto

Mr Koji Morimoto may not have as big a fan following as Mr Okawara, but judging from those who turned up at his AFA talks, they are no less devoted. A veteran of the industry, he worked his way up from animator, to animation director, to director, eventually becoming one of the founders of Animation company Studio 4°C. He has contributed many short works to collaborative projects like Robot Carnival, the Animatrix, Memories and his own Genius Party Beyond. His work, with heavy influence from the Superflat art movement has a style that is entirely his own. To his fans, his coming down to AFA would be a big chance to learn more about the man behind the art.

Mr Morimoto on the left, 0ne on the right Mr Morimoto on the left, 0ne on the right

The dialogue session was held on the 2nd day of AFA and was hosted by 0ne from The FØØL’s Progress. Unfortunately it did not run very long due to the previous event (Cosplay Mania) starting late and running overtime. Hopefully, his fans found his session engaging and interesting enough.

The session began with a screening of Mr Morimoto’s segment of his new collaborative project Genius Party Beyond, named “Dimension Bomb”. I’d give a brief description of the story but due the nature of the short with its lack of any clear linear narrative within the short, intentional on Mr Morimoto’s part, I was left entirely befuddled after that first time viewing. Nevertheless , despite my confusion, I can definitely say it was an impressive and eye-opening animation piece.

Through the dialogue session, Mr Morimoto revealed what went into the production of Dimension Bomb. He first mentioned that while famed music composer Yoko Kanno helped provide some voicework for the short, she was not involved in the music production. Instead, the music was supplied by a British band he previously worked with on the Animatrix, and that the music actually came first before the Animation work. In fact he built “Dimension Bomb” around what he gleamed from the music, which he listened to repeatedly on his Ipod to inspire him, approaching the project in a similar way to how he does music videos.

0ne questioned him on whether the short symbolised a coming of age story, and Mr Morimoto replied that it is up to each individual to come up with their own intepretation, as it was his intention that everyone will take away something different from their viewing of the short. Through his unique visual and narrative style, his main purpose was to convey the feeling that time is non-linear and that any given moment can be seen from the myriad of wildly different perspectives giving rise to different layers or dimensions of reality, hence the name “Dimension Bomb”.

At the end of the session, the dialogue was open to questions from the audience, who asked mainly about his experience on his previous work such as Macross Plus and what work he is working on next (he kept mom on that). One memorable question asked about the recurring motif of weightlessness in Mr Morimoto’s work. After some deliberation Mr Morimoto replied that he believed everyone is one way or another “weighed” down by many obligations in life, hence he uses the concept of weightlessness to represent the general idea of freedom.

For the final question, 0ne asked Mr Morimoto about what he thought of Singapore and how he would use it in an Anime. Mr Morimoto said he was most impressed with the multicultural society of Singapore, and that if he were to ever do an anime on Singapore, his main theme would be cross-cultural communication. Ending off the session, 0ne presented Mr Morimoto with a signed copy of Imaginary Friends Studio’s latest book, The Pepper Project, and thanked him for his time. My Morimoto later adjorned to the Genius Party booth where he held a signing session for his fans.

While Mr Okawara mainted an air of professionalism about him, in contrast Mr Morimoto in all his appearances felt alot more approachable. He was sighted walking freely around the convention on his own without any staff escort, for the most part successfully maintaining his anonymity. He reportedly also gleefully attended Aniki’s performance. It’s good to see that he actually enjoyed the convention and hopefully he (and Mr Okawara) find his trip here to Singapore worthwhile.


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