Translation of an interview with character designer Atsuya Uki from the Digimon Adventure tri. Memorial Book (デジモンアドベンチャーtri. メモリアルブック) from August 31, 2018, discussing production for the full series after all six parts had been released.
(Director Keitarou Motonaga interview | Lead writer Yuuko Kakihara interview | Character designer Atsuya Uki interview)
I had fun drawing the kinds of things I didn’t have much experience with
Character designer Atsuya Uki
Animation director, illustrator, and manga artist. From Hokkaido. Main works as a character designer include the TV anime tsuritama and the movie Cencoroll (also as scriptwriter and production head). He also illustrates for CD jackets and book covers.
I had trouble expressing the “size” of Taichi’s hair
–When were you called on to do character designs for this series?
It really was a very long time ago. I think it was something like six years ago1. I got the initial request by email. It’s a really famous series, so my first thought was “someone’s playing a prank on me” (laughs). But the email address was right there, so I thought, maybe it should be fine. It was from Toei Animation producer Shuuhei Arai.
–The Digimon Adventure TV series showed a lot about Taichi and his friends’ lives as grade schoolers. When the offer was extended to you, had it already been determined that the series would be about Taichi and his friends in high school?
It was. It had already been decided when we first started talking about it.
–There was already a strong pre-established image of each “Chosen Child” character from the TV series. Did designing new versions of their older selves go smoothly?
When you look at the series, the characters’ grade school and middle school designs leave a strong impression on you. They were designs that fit very well with the modified children’s anime proportions, so the first thing I did was confirm with the staff “my style won’t work with these kinds of proportions, so is that okay?”
–What aspects did you focus on while making the designs for this series?
I knew that the design was going to change a lot once I started handling it, so I focused on making sure that you would still be able to feel “yeah, this is Taichi” as soon as you see him, as much as possible. Taichi, Hikari, Sora, Koushirou, and Takeru didn’t change their hairstyles much between Adventure and 02, so I had them stick with something like their previous designs. Yamato, Mimi, and Jou changed their hairstyles a lot between Adventure and 02, so I worked off their 02 designs and made adjustments from there.
–Was there anything difficult about balancing the designs?
Taichi was difficult to do. He…how do I say this, his hair is really big. I’ve never had any experience drawing a kid with hair like Taichi’s, not with that kind of weight to it, so drawing him was difficult. I could never get him right the first time, so I ended up redrawing him over and over.
–Did any of the other children give you as much trouble?
When I was looking at Adventure and 02, I felt like Mimi could feasibly have any kind of hairstyle by the time she gets to high school. So I attempted all sorts of variations with her. I even tried having her cut her hair short.
–You also had to design the winter and summer versions of the school uniforms.
I did. There weren’t any specifics given about clothing, so they had me draw them in school uniforms. Since the designs would be for both winter uniforms and summer uniforms, so I started with giving them blazer jackets, and because of that it was easier to make the winter uniforms. The summer uniforms may look like they’re more fun to make, but in actuality there aren’t any points that really stick out about them, so they actually end up more difficult.
–Did you use anything as a particular basis for the school uniforms?
Not in particular. I just kind of went with the flow.
–Was there anything you focused on when designing the new character, Meiko?
There’s already three girls in the group, and so I gave her straight black hair so that her visual appearance wouldn’t create overlap with any of the other three. Also, I heard that she was going to have a very shy personality, so I put glasses on her. I wasn’t given any particular order to put glasses on her and did it on my own, but they said that was fine. Although they kept getting cracked in the actual series (laughs). I probably would have made it easier on the animation team if I hadn’t put glasses on her. But I thought, I really wanted her to be distinct from the others, so please forgive me.
–It’s noticeable that, unlike the other girls who wear socks, she wears tights instead.
That was my idea. I felt that a modest girl like her wouldn’t wear things that show much skin, so I designed her that way and it got approved very easily.
–The young child version of Meiko was also very cute. Were there any other designs you did that left a particular impression on you?
Himekawa and Nishijima. Director Keitarou Motonaga and the others had already decided on the base framework. I’d heard about their loose character outlines, like their personalities, but I wasn’t told anything about the fact we’d be seeing their child selves later or anything else of that sort. So I drew based on the information I was given, along the lines of “Nishijima is an absent-minded teacher during the day, but during the night he suddenly becomes well-composed.”
If I had one of the Digimon as my partner, it’s gotta be Tentomon!
–You also did a lot of other impressive illustrations, like the poster art and the package art. Please tell us about how those were made. The poster art showed the characters that would be getting the spotlight in each part, but what kind of request did you actually get from the staff?
By the time I’d started working on the poster art, they’d already figured out the gist of the story, so I would start work after looking over it, but I also did receive a request from Toei Animation on which characters I should put in. But I didn’t get any particular request like “please use this kind of composition.” Starting from Part 1, which has Omegamon and Alphamon, to Part 4, I composed the pictures to look like a showdown — with allies and enemies glaring at each other.
–When the first poster art was revealed, there were a lot of reactions to it. Did you feel any particular impact from those reactions?
Not really, no (laughs).
–There are a lot of small details crammed into the poster art. Please tell us about them and if there was anything about those that gave you trouble.
I’d say all of the poster art pieces gave me trouble (laughs). I started off working myself hard by putting the canvas at a very high resolution. I remember quite clearly that, even at the beginning, the canvas would get to around probably something like 10,000 pixels in height, including the trim borders.
–The art for Parts 1 and 2 have some little nuances in the shadow, and they’re also quite impressive. What did you pay particular attention to when it came to those?
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly paying attention to those. Now that you mention it, it really does feel like they were specifically made to look like they were under a backlight.
–The difference between how Meiko appears in the art pieces for Parts 5 and 6 also leaves an impression.
Once I started drawing the main illustrations for Parts 5 and 6, I thought, “drawing the showdowns was easier” (laughs). For those two pieces, their corresponding stories didn’t have much of a showdown in them, so they became as you see them now.
–When you planned out the layout, which did you decide on first, the humans or the Digimon?
The humans. I figured out where the humans would be on the composition, and then I draw the Digimon afterwards. For the Part 6 main illustration, there are a lot of humans and Digimon, so it gave me a hard time (laughs).
–Of all six main illustrations, Part 3’s Patamon was the only one to not be at Ultimate-level. Were you requested to do it that way?
It was. I was requested to do it that way in accordance with Part 3’s story.
–The package art has the children in school uniforms, along with their Digimon. It has a pleasant drifting feeling, like the atmosphere of daily life.
Since the poster art was made to give off a sense of motion, the package art was made to give off a quieter feeling of daily life, so I drew those pieces to contrast directly with the poster art. Actually, for the backgrounds, I was given pictures of the area around Odaiba to work with, and used those as a reference to draw from.
–The way the package art has each child and their Digimon in fullbody, and the way you can get a good view of the background, is really impressive.
The children have gotten older and they’ve gotten taller, which means the visual balance between them and their Digimon has also changed, but on top of that I had to think about how to make the best use of the pictures of Odaiba I had to use as backgrounds. I thought, if I put them in there in fullbody, I’ll be able to fit them into a nice design no matter how I do it, so I went with fullbody.
–Between the softer atmosphere on the package art, and the grittier ones on the poster art, which was easier for you to draw?
I had an easier time with the poster art. It’s actually pretty hard to make natural things look natural.
–You also did an illustration for the front cover of the September 2016 issue of Animedia, which shows a summer festival. Considering this is different from both the poster art and the package art, how did drawing the characters in yukata2 go?
There certainly were a lot of characters in that one. I just drew the yukata by feeling instead of overthinking it.
–Please tell us your impressions of the actual series from seeing it in the theater.
Something like “you worked hard, good job.” When you add up the time spent on the series’s story, it’s about the same amount of content as a 2-cour TV series3, so I bet it must have been difficult for them. All I did was draw illustrations for it and I had pretty much no involvement with the rest of the production, so I can only imagine.
–Also, now that you’ve seen all six parts, was there a scene that left a particular impression on you?
I really liked the chat between Yamato and Takeru in Part 3.
–In an earlier interview you had in an Animedia issue4, when you were asked which Digimon you would want for a partner, you said, “Tentomon”. Now that you’ve seen all six parts, which would you want as a partner?
Still Tentomon (laughs). He seems like the aggressively helpful type.
–Tentomon got to have a huge role in Part 3, didn’t he?
He also came and brought oolong tea. He was very good.
–If, perhaps, Taichi and the other “Chosen Children” were to grow up even more, what kind of atmosphere do you think they’d have?
In order to become an adult, you have to keep going…I wonder if they’ll still have room for the Digimon by that point (laughs). But at the end of 02, they showed a bit of Taichi and his friends as adults, so I suppose it’d be that kind of atmosphere. From a design perspective, the Digimon designs have been fixated from the start, so I feel like if they decide to put an even older version of Taichi and his friends on the big screen again, it’s going to be even harder…
–Please tell us about any particular memories you have from looking back on all six parts.
I had fun studying and drawing the kinds of things I didn’t have much experience with. I had no idea it was going to end up spanning this long of a period of time, so my impression was that it really was a long time (laughs). As far as Digimon-related design goes, when I was drawing the poster art, they’d show me the draft idea, and I had to juggle a sense of balance of the sort I definitely wouldn’t have come up with myself, and drawing it was a lot of fun.
–Was there something you paid a particular close eye to when drawing the Digimon in motion?
I focused on making the Digimon have thick lines. I was thinking something like “it’s because they’re digital.” Normally, when I draw, I use very thin lines. So when I started making them thicker, I would have to draw over it a second time, and I started really feeling the difficulty of making them look like they were in motion (laughs).
–In closing, please leave a message to those who have bought this book.
It’s a sequel to a series with a long history, so there were all sorts of difficulties, but thank you for watching it to the end.
- “Six years ago” = This book was published on August 2018, so presumably 2012. [↩]
- Yukata: Traditional Japanese clothing worn in a variety of settings, including, naturally, festivals. [↩]
- A “cour” is used in descriptions of Japanese TV shows and anime to refer to a 12-14 episode block (i.e. Adventure is a 4-cour anime). [↩]
- The Animedia interview in question refers to the one from the September 2016 issue. [↩]