Aramaki Shinji is a creator known for his mecha design work on Bubblegum Crisis, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23, and more. He also designed many of the toys that became Transformers, including Soundwave. Aramaki is also an anime director who has focused on pushing 3DCG animation since the early 2000s.
You have a lot of experience as a mechanical designer, and I understand that different mechanical designers have different processes for designing. For example, Kawamori Shoji has talked about how he uses Legos. What are the key aspects of your approach?
Well, it depends a lot because I get different requests for each project I work on. For example, you mentioned that Kawamori Shoji-san uses Legos, but I think that’s mainly for designing transforming mecha. Should I answer just based on transforming ones? It’ll make it easier if we narrow it down to a certain genre.
Sure, let’s go with transforming.
So we initially choose two or three shapes/forms, and we ask, what are we going to transform and how. But we start out with the two coolest forms.
Would you say you sort of work backwards from the final designs/silhouettes perhaps?
Initially, we don’t really get into the details. We just think, oh this is what a cool bike looks like, and this is what a cool robot looks like. So we just start off with what looks cool and don’t get into the particulars of how it transforms yet.
It gets difficult from there. In the past, I used to study how things might transform using papercraft. Nowadays, though, we can use 3D programs. We start off with simple blocks, but using them, we can join them and see how these volumes move around.
If we use 3DCG, we can study how these forms look from varying perspectives, so it makes the process much easier.
The next work is one that you might not be as known for. I looked up your credits, and it said that you’re responsible for conceptual design on the anime Star Driver. The style of the mecha there are quite different from what I typically think of when it comes to your work. How far removed are the final designs compared to your originals?
Actually, for Star Driver, I didn’t do much mechanical design, and I didn’t really touch any robots. But I actually designed the landscapes and backgrounds—the stage design—for Star Driver. The series is set on an island, and I designed what the island is like, and what the school is like. I did it based on discussions I had with the director, Igarashi, to set the mood for the anime.
You directed works such as Appleseed, which was, at this point, decades ago. I remember seeing them first start to show up, and that was a time when directing in full 3DCG wasn’t nearly as convenient as it is today. What are some of the challenges you faced in the early 2000s?
Back then, we actually had a lot of problems. There was no standardized software for design, so the character design software was different from the landscape design software. That made it really difficult to organize everything and keep it together as one team.
For one scene, when we decided on the camera angle and looked at the scene, the table and the character were sort of shifted because they were designed using different softwares.
These seem to be simple problems, but back then, Japan wasn’t as advanced in the field of CG. So we faced challenges every single day.
My final question: I actually have fond memories of the cartoon M.A.S.K. and its toys, and I was excited to learn that you worked on it. What designs were you responsible for, and what did it feel like to work on a foreign production?
This series involved a lot of transforming vehicles such as trucks and boats, but the original designs came from the toy company, Kenner. Back then, I was working in LA, but I went to Chicago where their company was based, and took a lot of pictures of the prototypes. We did drawings to help with animations.
Most of the mechas were designs provided from the toys, but some were not from the toys, so I got to design them.
I don’t remember all that well where they appeared in the show, but they let me design two transforming vehicles back then, where I got to pick the car types and how they transform. They were called the Manta and the Shark.
Thank you for this interview. It was great to have you at Otakon!