Professional artists and industry vets hosted a live draw and Q&A at ACEN 2018!
Takahiro Yoshimatsu, Yokota Mamoru, and Rossuri form an unlikely trio, coming from different corners of the industry, but one thing all there have in common is their art. Working incharacter design, art direction, and key art, these three professionals hosted a live draw and Q&A where they showed off their talent while answering the burning questions of the audience!
Rosuuri: I'm Rosuuri, and I'm from the Philippines, this is my first time in North America, and I draw for Visual Novels and Mobile Games.
Takahiro Yoshimatsu: My name is Takahiro Yoshimatsu, I'm from Japan. I primarily work on animated character design and animation art director for animated products.
Mamoru Yokota: Hello, my name is Mamoru Yokota, I'm an illustrator for animation work. I also work as an art director and key art. I also do some art for novels, and I am a producer for animation publications. Aside from actual art and illustrations, I also work on set design for live-action dramas as well.
What about designing original characters do you enjoy the most and find the most rewarding?
Yokota: So for my illustrations, then? When I'm designing original characters without a particular order or direction in mind, without a proper direction that I need to follow, it is a little bit difficult. I need to first consolidate an image in my mind, and then produce it. Of course there's definitely fun in that, for sure. I guess when there is more of a direct order, or at least a direction we want to take, it makes things much easier because I have something to go against. The less direction I have, the more time I spend pondering as to what kind of posing or what kind of structure do I want to do before I even get something on paper.
When you're using a character from a previous existing show, for example Dr. Slump, how much leeway do they give you with the free use of the character?
Yoshimatsu: So I felt like I had a lot more freedom in the past. Back in the day, there was no such position as the executive art director, which meant that each of the art directors within particular confines, were given the opportunity to show off their personality or distinctiveness. But nowadays, we are more or less expected to stay level regardless of who the art director may be. So I guess its maybe a little bit less fun for the viewership and the creators.
There are a lot of people who want to be illustrators. Can you please tell us how became an illustrator?
Yokota: Before I started working in animation, I was working as an illustrator. I'd been asked to do some illustrations for strategy guides, and, from there, I was concurrently working on in-game illustrations, and through that I was able to get orders for illustrations and that's how things got going.
Yoshimatsu: I've liked drawing since I was a kid. I've been very much interested in both anime and manga, and back when I was still in school, I'd get together with my buddies and create some animation together. There happened to be, within the group of those buddies, a guy who was really good with manga, so I felt 'I could never beat this guy in manga'. So that's why I pursued a career in animation. Concurrently, I was asked to do some illustration works for anime, so that's how I got myself going as an illustrator as well.
Are there any hardships to becoming a professional?
Yokota: It's not just about drawing or keeping your works by your hand, being able to show that to people. Nowadays we have many outlets like the internet to publish or show your work. Alternatively you could submit your work to magazines or what have you, so that people get to see what you do. You might need to do some self marketing towards gaming companies, or other companies that work that sort of art or illustration. The worst thing you could do, no matter how good you are, is keeping everything to yourself and waiting for someone to come to you, you'll never get that opportunity. So you need to be very proactive in showing what you do.
When we say illustration, there are different types. Some may be anime style or more the fine arts, like a painting or more finer arts, or just scribbles and doodles, of that really rough ones. Its not necessarily about how good you are, but rather if you can get matched up with someone who's got the demand for that kind of work that you do. If you want to pursue this career, its really about trying to get your work out into the world so that it'll get into the sight of someone who may have a demand for the kind of work you do, regardless of how 'good' or 'bad' you are. If you want that career, get that portfolio going, and spread your work, so that one day, someone will come by going 'oh I think I want to work with this person.'. That's really the start of establishing that business relationship. So unless you can do that, you really can't be a professional.
Yoshimatsu: My opinions are very much in line with what Yokota-san has already said. I think its really about determining what your selling point is and how you can push that out as your characteristic. Its really about getting your portfolio out and getting people to recognize and acknowledge the kind of work that you do so you can get matched up with someone who's got a demand for the kind of work you want to do.
Rosuuri: I have almost the same opinion because I started by posting online, and I've been constantly posting online thinking that I just want to do what I like. I mostly draw anime girls, I rarely draw boys and always thought that I have to be good at everything, like backgrounds, character design, but as long as you love what you do, someone else will love what they see in your gallery.
Yokota: Just to interject a little, we're old guys. So rather than listening to our opinions on how to become a professional nowadays, maybe her opinion would have the best match with how current trends are.
Rosuuri: So I was very based in the internet, because when I started out, that was the time when they internet was growing. If it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't be here!
Yokota: You just need to say 'hey I took first place in a pixiv, once.'
Have western viewers affected your work at all? If so, how?
Rosuuri: Because I only speak English online, it isn't my main language, but because I can only speak English online, I've gathered a more western audience than like, a Japanese one. I've really had a really great experience with them. They've influenced me in like, they provide criticism. When you're starting out, criticism is very appreciated, so they've helped me grow to where I am now.
Yoshimatsu: So having been invited to these events abroad, be it in the United States or where ever else, I am very happy to see that my works have been well received. Now if I'm getting any influence from western audiences or the existence of, not necessarily. If I try to cater towards a western audience, when I'm intending to make a work for a Japanese audience, it only serves as a distraction. If what we made for a Japanese audience just happened to work out and become well-received in the western audiences, then all the better, but I'm not deliberately trying to cater towards that kind of a worldwide audience, so to speak. And I'm sure that's not necessarily what the overseas audience is expecting either.
Yokota: Just to add a little bit to what Yoshimatsu-san has said, when it comes down to doing work for animation, we basically have a client who we receive orders from and we abide by that. Now whether to cater towards a particular audience or not, that's really a responsibility that lies with the producer or the director. So its not really something that we as animators would have to be concerned about. In the example of Supernatural, which Yoshimatsu-san seems to have forgotten that he worked on.
Yoshimatsu: *In English* Sorry!
Yokota: In that particular case, it was clearly for an overseas audience and that was part of the direction, that was part of the order that he received. That's why the style ended up catering a little bit more to a western audience, getting the influences from American comics, or having a little bit more of a stronger shadow as part of that characteristic. So really, we as animators, without really taking into account who its intended for, we basically receive the order and based on that order we strive to do our best work, so that whoever the audience may be will enjoy it to the fullest.
As far as illustration work is concerned, I've attended conventions in the not just the US but also in France, Germany, etc. But when I go to those conventions, I draw with those kinds of audiences in mind, you know, giving it a stronger shadow and giving it an American comic feel and thinking that would cater better to such audiences. But not many people really found interest. People ask me to draw cute girls, so I guess that really is the demand. Regardless of what I personally want to draw, I prefer drawing those more American comicky sort of styles. That's my own preference more than anything else, so as far as demand is concerned, that may not necessarily be the case.
What one cartoon or manga lead you to say 'I want to do this as a career'?
Rosuuri: When I was around 10 or so, the first artist that I found was Arina Tanimura, I have her manga. I don't draw manga but I really love her illustrations, very detailed, so that's when I started to imitate her art style. I think that's how we all start learning to draw, and eventually I evolved through that. And she's also a big influence why I only draw girls, because she's really good at drawing them.
Yokota: Out of curiosity, which work was this?
Rosuuri: Full Moon o Sagashite.
Yokota: I'll let her know.
Yoshimatsu: Back when I was a child, Lupin the III was something that was airing on TV. Its the very first one where Lupin is wearing the green jacket. But I was shocked in a good way as to what kind of work this was. So before the airing starts, they show a little snippet, a preview and such, and that really caught my interest. I was literally glued to the TV, just really attracted to it. And of course I got very excited over the sexier scenes. But that was really the origin of where this all came from.
Yokota: I've read through many manga works, but if I were to pick up one in particular work, for as long as I can remember, it would be Ashita no Joe. So back when I was a kid, there were some movie promotions, I think this was kind of in correlation with movie promotions that they had with Ashita no Joe, immediately after such promotions, we'd then see Ashita no Joe II come on the TV. I think what really got me intrigued and committed that I wanted to be an animator and illustrator, was Ashita no Joe II.
With the release of Megalobox this season, are you happy to see an older style of anime coming back onto the fold?
Yokota: I don't think its necessarily an old style, per se. Sure its more cell shading with the clear lines and such, but whether someone perceives something as old or new, that's more perception than anything else. So however, as far as the contents are concerned, its got that manliness, so I quite prefer it. I prefer the more manly styles rather than a bunch of girls being all girly and everything, compared to that I prefer the former better.
Can you tell us the recent years tendencies in manga and animation?
Yokota: So I'm not necessarily well-versed in what the current trends are, to be honest, but as far as personal preferences are concerned, I'm happy that works like Golden Kamuy that's airing right now is gaining popularity. I guess this might tough upon works like Attack on Titan as well, but recently in Japan, there's works that are borderline taboo, or getting closer to it, in that the regulations as far as what can be aired on TV has become much more strict lately. Now we're finding works that are trying to get through those restrictions and finding loopholes, and getting creative in doing so. Such works are becoming better quality as well, and I'm quite happy to see that too. When it comes to manga, because its got so many different dimensions, that there are so many different kinds of works that act upon political satire or current events and so on, so when its trying to find what is the current trend I think maybe the best answer is whatever is resonating with the audience is the trend. Its hard to say what exactly is trending, so to speak.
One thing I remembered is that we're saying more gay manga, I feel, that pertains to homosexuality. We're not talking hardcore sexuality that show so much exposure of skin or those more sexual scenes, but its more of a softer homosexuality. If we're talking anime works, there's things like Yuru Yuri or fairly recently there was a motion picture called Doukyuusei that's illustrating somewhat 'green' love lives that kind of take place when these protagonists are still in school. I just recently watched a live-action title called Ossan's Love, ossan pertaining to 'old guys', having their loving relationships and such. So we're seeing those sort of works on the rise. Also what's on the rise is manga that's distributed over the internet, digitally. Perhaps, I can't say for sure if this is true or not, but it does feel that when you're publishing something on the internet, the restrictions are a little bit looser. You get things that are very graphic manga that's portraying Japanese horror, or alternatively things that are portraying Japanese mafia, those kind of darker backgrounds. With the protagonists being not quite as cool as an outlaw, someone who's not exactly with an organization but has worked with an organization doing really terrible things. So those kind of graphic or suggestive content seems to be coming up more on the internet, or that's what I've heard from publishers who work in digital publishing.
How does working on an opening or ending differ from typical key animation?
Yoshimatsu: There isn't too much difference but when it comes to the opening, it needs to be much more active, flashier, so because of that, there is a demand for much more talented key artists to work on that. Those need to be worked on concurrently with the actual animation product, and the scheduling becomes very tight. So when we're working on the opening animation, because we need to have the opening theme song that goes along with it first, before we can even get started working on it, we're always wondering 'when are we going to be able to get that song?!'
Do you find it difficult to work in the medium of mobile games given the different sizes of screens between phones and tablets, as far as making art fit and translate properly across all platforms?
Rosuuri: For mobile games, I usually draw characters that are in full-body. I've worked for games that are anthropomorphized ship girls, so you don't have to take in mind screen size because the games will usually do it on their own. But I think what I have a hard time with are the PC games because sometimes the screens are different, like they're too wide and you can't fit everything properly, or there's too much negative space. So I usually cheat by using dutch angles, like tilting the composition so everything fits, but if you do that too much then it becomes boring. That's where I'm having problems more than mobile games.
Are there any other mediums you want to go into, like console games, or into animation or comics?
Rosuuri: Yes, I do, but I don't think I'd like to go into animation, because its very very hard, and I took an animation class in college and I don't think I'd be able to do that in the way I work.
Yokota: I actually have been a president of a game developing company myself, so I've done everything from top to bottom. Essentially if you draw something in 350-450 DPI, then we can somehow make do with things. It also comes down to determining proper frame size, like how many centimeters by how many centimeters, during the prior meetings, then things should directly work out.
How big is the art scene in the Philippines?
Rosuuri: The art scene is not that big. Some people are surprised I'm actually from the Philippines, even from my own country, despite me posting it online!
Considering the history between the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, do you feel like your artwork is helping to bring these people together?
Rosuuri: I have no idea about it. I think that I didn't pay attention that much, because I focused too much on my art and how to expand my audience. Because I don't speak my main language online, I only speak English, people in my country don't even believe I'm from my country. I tried to take Japanese classes but kanji was very very hard.
Yokota: Speaking to the second question, on if these activities have brought these countries together, I have friends in Korea, and Toei has outlets in the Philippines as well. In Korea there's a large doujin market called Comic World and you see many people attending that. So I think at the end of the day, otaku are all the same no matter where you go. Its really the difference in the languages we speak. If you think 'oh, is that person an otaku?' 9 times out of 10, it ends up being one. Its not necessarily finding friends around the world but finding people with common interests. We also have the potential of getting along, certainly. As of late, when we say otaku, we see more cute girls like her, so we really are the 'old guys'.
In most creative industries, you either get lots of support or lots of negativity. What was your experience in that aspect?
Rosuuri: My parents didn't approve of art when I was young. They usually disregarded it, because in my country, unless you do fine arts, exhibitions and painting, that's when you get money. But in digital art, they disregard it. But then its something I liked to do, so I continued to do it. Because of the internet, I managed to put my stuff out there and managed to find work. Now they know that I draw, but they don't particularly care what I do, so long as I pay the bills.
Yoshimatsu: In my case, there were no strong oppositions. Especially my mother was the kind to say do whatever you want. Granted she was much more strict during my youth, but I think down the road she became much more mild and supported me in doing what I wanted to do. Now what I found out recently was that my dad was actually very much opposed to this, and because of that, it turned into a quarrel between my parents. But my mom told my dad “Well, you didn't really contribute too much in taking care of him, so what's it to you to interfere now?” So my dad was a little disappointed and got a little sad and that's how things turned out to be.
Yokota: My parents had some debt they had to pay back so in order to assist with that I was working at a Chinese restaurant as a line cook, but because of that history, my mom was very supportive of what I wanted. Or rather, she was just letting me do whatever the heck I wanted to do. So with the money I earned through working, I took it to go to a specialized art school. I don't have much endurance, perhaps; the school program was two years but within half a year, I had already gone into an animation company. By the time people were in the same year had gone into becoming an animator, I was already doing key art. From then I was just doing those sort of things. But at the end of the day, my mom was very supportive of what I was doing. I didn't have much financial support, so I have been going through 'Hard Mode' of this. When I see kids who want to stay at home but find work, I've been scolding them saying they need to get out of the house and start working, and then pursue what you want to do. Granted, if you have an easy way out, that's probably better for you.