Aramaki Shinji is a creator known for his mechanical design work for Bubblegum Crisis, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23, etc. He also designed many toys that became Transformers, including Soundwave. Aramaki is also an animation director who has focused on promoting 3DCG animation since the early 2000s.
You have extensive experience as a mechanical designer and I understand that different mechanical designers have different processes for designing. For example, Shoji Kawamori talked about how he uses Legos. What are the key aspects of your approach?
Well, it depends a lot because I get different requirements for each project that I work on. For example, you mentioned that Kawamori Shoji-san uses Legos, but I think that’s mainly for transforming mecha designs. Should I answer based on transformations only? It will be easier if we narrow it down to a certain category.
Sure, let’s switch.
So we initially choose two or three shapes/forms and we ask, what are we going to convert and how. But we start with the two most interesting forms.
Can you say you are about to work backwards with the final designs/shadows?
In the beginning, we didn’t really go into the details. We just thought, oh, this is what a great bike looks like, and this is what a great robot looks like. So we’re just starting with what’s eye-catching and haven’t gotten into the details of how it transforms.
From there it became difficult. In the past, I’ve been researching how things can be transformed using craft paper. However, nowadays we can use 3D programs. We start with simple blocks, but as we use them we can join them and see how these blocks move around.
Using 3DCG we can study how these forms look from different angles, so it makes the process much easier.
The next job is the one you might not be known for. I looked up your attribution and it says that you are responsible for the concept design for the anime Star Driver. The mechanic’s style there is quite different from what I usually think when it comes to your job. How far does the final design differ from your original?
Actually, for Star Driver, I don’t do much mechanical design and I don’t really touch any of the robots. But actually I designed the scenery and the backdrop—the stage design—for Star Driver. The series is set on an island, and I designed what that island looks like and what the school looks like. I did it based on discussions I had with the director, Igarashi, to set the mood for the anime.
You’ve directed works like Appleseed, at this point, decades ago. I remember seeing them first come out and that was at a time when directing an entire 3DCG wasn’t nearly as convenient as it is today. What were some of the challenges you faced in the early 2000s?
We had a lot of problems back then. There is no standardized software for design, so character design software is different from landscape design software. That makes it really hard to keep things organized and keep everything together as a team.
In one scene, when we decided on the camera angle and looked at the scene, the table and the character almost shifted because they were designed with different software.
They may seem like simple matters, but back then, Japan was not yet advanced in corporate governance. So we face challenges every day.
My last question: I really have fond memories of cartoons MASK and its toys, and I’m glad you worked with it. What are you responsible for designing and how does it feel to work on a foreign product?
This series involves a lot of transformative vehicles like trucks and boats, but early designs have emerged from the toy company, Kenner. I was working in LA back then, but I went to Chicago, where their company’s headquarters are, and took a lot of pictures of the prototypes. We drew to assist with animation.
Most of the machines are toy-provided designs, but some aren’t, so I had to design them.
I don’t I don’t remember exactly where they appeared on the show, but back then they let me design two transformation vehicles where I had to choose the types of cars and how they morph. They are called Manta and Shark.
Thank you for this interview. Great to have you at Otakon!