Location: Anime NYC 2018
Interview Date: 11/17/2018
Anime Herald: At its core, Gundam has always been about life during wartime. How hard is to resist focusing on the giant mecha, and instead retain the humanity of the material?
Naohiro Ogata: Of course Gundam is about giant robots, but they’re not mecha as just machines. We treat them as characters in their own right; they just happen to be mechanical characters. Rather than weapons, there is more to them.
We use one of our anime direction tricks of the trade. When the pilot is sad, we try to have the Gundam appear sad. When the pilot is fired up we try have to have the Gundam appear more forceful. We try to keep that in mind that the pilot and the mobile suit are in emotional sync at all times.
Anime Herald: Interesting. How do you manage to have to Gundam’s emotions appear to change?
Naohiro Ogata: So, to give you some literal examples, the most obvious way is the eyes of the Gundams. What color are they flashing, or are they matte? The angle of the headpiece. Depending on the angle, the eyes can look bigger or smaller. When they look narrower or smaller, they look angry or glaring. When they are larger, they look friendlier or more benevolent.
Anime Herald: Sunrise has undertaken the “UC NexT 0100” project with the goal of covering the next 100 years of the Universal Century timeline. How did you feel when you first heard of such an ambitious undertaking?
Naohiro Ogata: I was one of the people who helped develop the concept. What we wanted to do is depict the 100 years following Gundam Unicorn. While the feature films are the flagship, we hope to use manga and games to fully flesh out the timeline and bring this to fruition.
Anime Herald: Sunrise has taken an effort to stay true to hand-drawn animation. How hard is it to do that with the industry shifting towards computer graphic animation?
Naohiro Ogata: Well actually, to be frank, right at this moment I don’t think Japan has the infrastructure to be as digital as some of the areas outside Japan. However, over the last year, we’ve seen major rapid advances. I expect to see the shift in Japan take place over the next five years.
In fact, right now at Sunrise, if individual animators wish to pursue and hone their craft in digital animation, we encourage that. We try to support them, especially from a tech point of view. We are trying to incorporate more digital animation ourselves. We’re incorporating more and more equipment for digital animation. However, we aren’t going completely away from hand drawn animation. We still ask them to hand draw it, just now it’s more often on a tablet than on the physical cells.
Anime Herald: We had the pleasure off interviewing Hideyuki Tomioka at Anime Boston, who has talked about how much work gets done during the day, and how much work gets done after work. Have you ever worked directly with Mr. Tomioka, and if so, what was that experience like?
Naohiro Ogata: He’s my immediate superior. I worked under him on Inuyasha, Brain Powerd, [and] Turn A Gundam. He was the producer and I was the production assistant.
Anime Herald: What was it like working under him?
Naohiro Ogata: Mr. Tomioka is one of the veterans of Sunrise, and Sunrise has been making original animation for over 40 years. I would say he has the most “Sunrise DNA.” I feel it has been quite an honor and an excellent experience to work under him.
Anime Herald: Have you ever had occasion to go out drinking after work with Mr. Tomioka?
Naohiro Ogata: (laughs) Yes, I have gone out drinking with Mr. Tomioka. Back in the day, it was the job of the production assistants to escort and make sure that a slightly tipsy Mr. Tomioka made it home safely. (The translator had to make sure that was safe to translate.)
Anime Herald: In 2015, you were on a streaming event with Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, when he famously stated that Reconguista in G was set 500 years after the events of Turn A Gundam, and just 1,000 years after the Universal Century. What went through your mind when he announced this?
Naohiro Ogata: A few years have passed, so I can probably say this. What he said during the streaming event differed quite a bit from what he previously said. For better or for worse, when Mr. Tomino is working on a new project, he’s constantly adapting and evolving, even his own way of thinking. He can forget the things that can be considered canon because he is the creator of Gundam and has the license to do so. Sometimes, I wonder if he purposely forgets what came before so that he can come up with newer concepts and projects.
Anime Herald: Has the growth of the American anime industry affected the production decisions at Sunrise?
Naohiro Ogata: In terms of Gundam, Next year is Gundam’s 40th anniversary. We’re in talks with Legendary to produce a live-action Gundam [movie]. We want to still please the Japanese fans, but we do have global development in mind at all times. It’s always at the beginning of any project when we’re doing idea pitching and production meetings, we always try to keep that in mind that we’re making something for the fans across the world. We hope to announce more details about the project next year.
Anime Herald: Final question: Do you have any questions for us?
Naohiro Ogata: If we were to do another Gundam from scratch, either for television or a feature film, that is completely focused on an American audience, what do you think fans would want to see?
Anime Herald: For me, personally, something like Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team.
Naohiro Ogata: So something more militaristic.
Anime Herald: It’s the one that stuck with me the most.
Naohiro Ogata: It’s been my impression that Gundam Wing was the most popular. In my opinion, Wing is quite different from MS08.
The discussion became a little bit free-range at this point. I’m curious what the general fan opinion is here. For what it’s worth, he’s correct that Gundam Wing has been more popular here. Whether or not they’d be able to capture what made the original popular 20+ years later is a good question.
Thanks to Anime NYC for making this interview possible. Special thanks to Naohiro Ogata for speaking with us.