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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/04/2005 Archived Entry: "An interview with Range Murata"

An Inteview with Range Murata

Renji "Range" Murata is a Japanese artist and designer, best known in the United States for his conceptual design work on anime series "Last Exile" and "Blue Submarine No. 6". He still continues to do some work in this area today, and is working on a new anime series for GONZO studios for DVD/Video release called "Mardock Scramble" (I'm not completely sure of the name, but that was the best we could figure out in English). Mr. Murata was born on October 2, 1968 in Osaka, Japan. He originally studied industrial design, with an emphasis in auto design, at Osaka Art College. He has published more than a dozen books of his work, some of the most notable being "Robot", "rule", and "futurhythm".

Mr. Murata graciously gave this interview to Ginger Mayerson of J LHLS in Anaheim, California (across the street from AnimeExpo 2005) on July 3, 2005. The interview was courtesy of Isaac S. Lew of Digital Manga Publishing, which was hosting Mr. Murata's visit to California for DMP's launch of the English language version the first "Robot" anthology. The translator was Katherine U.

Ginger Mayerson: What are you working on these days?

Range Murata: For "Robot," the first volume, that's being released in the US, and volume 3 is going to be out on July 8 in Japan and I'm currently working on volume 5, and for "Robot" I'm thinking about releasing four, five or six maybe a year. Apart from "Robot," I've been working on illustrations in general and, to be more specific, I've been doing cover illustrations for novels, and apart from illustrations, my animation job right now, I'm working with GONZO studios with the upcoming anime series that I can't say too much about right now.

GM: May we know what anime series?

RM: Really, I can't discuss too much about it yet, but the title is "Mardok Scramble," and the animation is adapted from a novel that received an SF award in Japan, so this will be one of the series that GONZO has worked on with its original video animation series, like "Blue Submarine Number 6".

GM: Is this like "Last Exile"?

RM: This is different. This is only released in video; "Last Exile" aired on TV.

GM: I have a few questions about your background as an artist. Where did you receive your formal training?

RM: It was in industrial design, at the Osaka Art College. I wanted to be a car designer.

GM: In your training as an artist, what do you feel was the most important part of it?

RM: I've been drilled in figure drawing and color scheme design, design layout. That has really helped me to do my illustrations now.

GM: Has your training in car design affected your human character designs?

RM: In doing my industrial design, we did learn about the history of design, and through those lessons I was able to discover the lines that I liked, the shapes that I liked. So going through that I was actually kind of ambiguous at that time, and from that training I was able to find the real thing I wanted to purse as an artist.

So, from way back, I knew the lines that I favored, and the lines I leaned toward, and by actually learning about the history of design I was able to find the eras that shared my viewpoints, the eras that actually had themes going along the same as I favored, so by finding out about these times when everyone liked these particular designs and lines, I was able to be more connected it. By looking at the car designs of each era, you can get a glimpse of what the building designs, clothes designs, and other design of each era, I've been able to explore it further. And the car designs of each era, they're the most innovative styles of that era. So, I'm not limited to just liking the car designs of that era, I like everything of that era, like the tables, lamps; everything from that era, all the designs.

GM: Do you feel that car design is the top of heap in each era's design?

RM: I don't feel that car design is the best. But in car design, you do have to take more into consideration, such as number of passengers, how the driver drives the car, what shapes give it maximum spend or comfort. You have to factor all this in and still achieve something with maximum speed and efficiency.

So, I started my work in car design because of my love of cars. I think it's really interesting, because of the (design) restrictions for cars because of the road rules and engineering, but amidst all those limitations, that are posed in car designing, the car designer has to take those, turn them around and create something that is actually nice for the consumer, comfortable to drive and ride in.

As a child, I always liked drawing things with wheels, and as I pursued that drawing, I found things related to it that I liked and influenced my work as an artist.

GM: One more car question-

RM: I like car questions.

GM: What do you think of the new line from Chrysler? Like the PT Cruiser and those cars?

RM: I like them, I like the way they're putting old time designs on modern cars.

GM: Old wine in new bottles?

RM: Yes!

GM: Okay, back to art questions. What artists in the past do you admire?

RM: For like manga artists or artist artists?

GM: Artist artists.

RM: For American art, I like Norman Rockwell.

GM: And for Japanese art?

RM: I really haven't been influenced by Japanese art. I really haven't been really influenced by any one artist; I've taken bits and pieces from the eras of art more than from the individual artists.

GM: In modern time, in anime and manga, what artists do you read and do you like?

RM: In animation, right now, I'm looking at Garasu No Kamen (Glass Mask), it's an anime from a manga by the same name. It's airing in Japan right now. The original manga is a Shojo comic, a girl's comic, that's been around about twenty-five years, and is still being written, so right now there's forty-two volumes of it (the manga). I'm watching the show every week.

GM: What media do you work most in? How do you create your work?

RM: I draft in pencil and then scan them into computer. I've been using Photoshop for about three years. But before that I did my drawings on paper and then colored them in with markers.

GM: Is Photoshop better?

RM: In the beginning it was hard to learn all the functions, but now I find it better.

GM: What is your favorite media to work in? For your own pleasure?

RM: Computer.

When I used to use markers, markers seemed to promise you endless possibilities, but they really don't (deliver). In the beginning, when I was drawing with markers, for my drawing skill, markers did fulfill their purpose and I was able to express my feelings through markers. But when I tried different styles, the markers kind of hindered my expression. But with computers, unlike markers, there are billions of colors out there for me to choose from, and I can actually go back and fix up certain elements. For computers, the bad thing is that there is only one piece (one color) like this in the world and it can't be varied. I think it's a fair trade: the markers limited my ability to express feelings, and on the computer, I'm not hindered by this.

GM: What do you feel is your most successful project so far?

RM: For American audiences?

GM: All of it.

RM: I don't feel that any of my projects have ended in failure. My name is pretty famous in Japan as an illustrator, so I've been able to make a lot of art books and other different things, and that was easy to do because my name was known in Japan. But in America, where they don't know me too much, it's very difficult break out and just publish and sell our books.

It's a different story for animation because animation is exported to the world, so I've become known through that.

GM: What project have you enjoyed working on the most?

RM: All the projects that I've worked on, they've all had their good times and their hard times, but I don't take projects that aren't interesting to me. Basically, I've enjoyed all of them.

GM: I was only able to get and view the first eight episodes of "Last Exile," so I have a few "Last Exile" questions, if you don't mind.

RM: Okay.

GM: In designing the characters for "Last Exile," did you have models in mind or were you working from the script?

RM: I made my character designs from directions of the director and the writer. They asked me bring out certain characteristics of the personality, the gestures, the age. The scenario also plays a big role in shaping the character design.

GM: This is a little silly, but I really like Alex Row. He's very sexy.

RM: [laughing] Is that a question?

GM: No, but there is question in here: Where did this character come from? What was the inspiration for Alex Row?

RM: The director and writer asked me to model him after Captain Harlock, who is from an earlier anime series. He's a character that goes by himself, a loner. Captain Harlock is that character, and they asked me to make Alex Row Captain Harlock-ish. Same kind of black clothes.

GM: What was your favorite character to design in "Last Exile"?

RM: I liked them all. There are different challenges with each character, some are easier to draw than others. Of course I do like Alex, too.

I had to take Alex's military type clothes into consideration and in designing his uniform, I put in all the lines that I liked, and then the black and grey covered them up when I colored his clothes. It turned out all black, no matter how carefully or subtly I put in the line, the were all the same when I colored it in.

The animators weren't very happy with Alex because it was hard to animate him because of his wavy hair and constantly moving cape.

Have you seen them around (people in Alex Row character costumes at AnimeExpo)?

GM: Oh yes! What do you think of them?

RM: I'm worried they're going to get heatstroke (AnimeExpo is in July in Southern California).

GM: Okay, "Robot" questions. Was the "Robot" anthology a new kind of project for you? Had you put an anthology together like this before?

RM: I did release a similar anthology in 1999 called "Flat." For both "Flat" and "Robot," it got together a bunch of artists. The difference between "Flat" and "Robot" is that "Flat" was a one-shot project, and "Robot" is an ongoing project, where we release two or three issues a year.

GM: How did you choose the artists for "Robot."

RM: I asked my friends to draw for it, and I asked the people I admire to draw for it. I also asked my publisher to recommend a few artists.

GM: What was the most difficult aspect of putting "Robot" together?

RM: There were things that were hard to do, like the deadline: I didn't have a definite release date for it.

GM: Why not?

RM: We weren't able to have a specific release date because some artists take a long time to get done with their work, and it was impossible to have a specific release date. It was really hard to get everything to come together to make a final product. What I was trying to do was to let the artists give it their best so they could be proud of being in "Robot," and I gave it my best, too.

GM: How long did it take to publish it?

RM: A little less than a year.

GM: What's next for you?

RM: The anime I'm working on now, "Mardok Scramble."

GM: How long will you be working on that?

RM: Over a year.

GM: "Robot 3" is out in Japan, are you working on "Robot 4?"

RM: Yes, I'm working on "Robot 4." I'm trying to get the production time to be less. I'd like it to be a monthly.

GM: That would be quite a monthly. Thank you, Mr. Murata.

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