We had the privilege of interviewing longtime animator, character designer, and animation director Hidenori Matsubara. A longtime colleague of Hideaki Anno, he’s worked on most major Gainax projects as well as the recent Evangelion Rebuild movies. His work goes back to the late 1980s and includes titles like Oh My Goddess, Steamboy, and the upcoming film At the Corner of the World.
This transcript is based on the on-site translation, and has been edited for clarity.
Computers have changed the animation process a lot. What are some of the benefits of using digital and what was it like using a computer to do animation for the first time?
[With digital processing,] I guess there is less deterioation in the final processing. Before, when art was transferred to a cel, there would be some decay. That’s the best part [of using digital]: there is no more shifting of the art when it’s transferred to celluloid. There’s no more dust, no more scratching. Before, there used to be this gigantic camera that takes a picture of the cel, but with computers there’s a lot more freedom of expression.
As for modern techniques, it’s more like I didn’t have a choice, so I just went along with it. One day in 2000-2001, when doing illustrations for magazines, I was given the company’s final celluloid. That was it for cels; there was just no choice.
Has the use of digital processing changed his own day to day work greatly?
It hasn’t really changed. For me, it’s still pencil and paper. Some people work on tablets and with the computer, but I haven’t. I never tried it, so I don’t even know if it it’s easier or not.
Do you think one man animation projects like Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star are where things are headed in animation? Or is this a temporary thing?
That type of person and production exists, but there’s a variety of productions out there too. [After all], Shinkai works on regular anime now. Everyone’s different; like, Shinkai is really into doing backgrounds himself, whereas [Hideaki] Anno likes doing the layouts himself. Each director has a way of doing things. It’s not like a self-animation would be the only thing out there.
Speaking of Anno, you’ve worked with him for a long time. How has Anno changed or stayed the same over the years?
Nothing’s really changed. He’s like a big shot now, but basically nothing’s changed.
What was it like working for Gainax in its early days?
I started [at Gainax] on Wings of Honneamise; I was a total newbie back then. Then I was an in-betweener, and promoted to key animator for Gunbuster—which was Anno’s first directorial work. After that there was Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, where I became an animation director for the first time. And after that was Otaku no Video.
Since Nadia was a TV series, I was one of many animation directors. But for Otaku no Video, there was only 2 animation directors, so I was happy to be chosen for that one. As for the Evangelion TV series, I was busy with a lot of other things, so I only contributed to a part of it, but I did have a lot of fun.
So just how accurate was Otaku no Video as a depiction of Gainax then?
It’s not wrong! Maybe it softened up our image a little. [Gainax] basically started as people in their early 20s in a nameless company making a movie, and all those people are basically big shots now, so that’s impressive.
You mentioned in an earlier interview about how courageous Wings of Honneamise was and how perhaps a project like that wouldn’t have been greenlit now. Do you think courage plays a large role in the creation of anime?
It’s really up to the individual, to personal feeling. Maybe I did have courage back then, but when you’re young, you just don’t think about things like that.