An Interview with Hidetaka Tenjin Mechanical Illustrator and Mecha Designer
Date: 2015 June 1st Monday [15:36] | Posted By: Joe
As children we've often spent our time drawing giant robots and fighter jets. Many of our readers would still do this for fun now and again. But what if you want to do it professionally? We were lucky enough to meet one such man - Mecha Designer Hidetaka Tenjin. He's does technical illustrations and designs cool mechanical things. He's done technical illustration for Macross Zero, Macross Frontier, Macross Frontier: The False Diva and Macross Frontier: The Wings of Goodbye.
He's got a few art books to his name too. Plus he also does lots of box art for model kits.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Hidetaka Tenjin at the May 2015 MCM London Comic Con where he was invited by streaming service Viewster to be the anime guest of honour.
We imagine as a child you would spend time drawing giant robots like all children do. Did you ever imagine you'd make a career out of it?!
Not at all, I had a brother who was 8 years older than me, so he introduced me to lots of anime and sci-fi films, but I never dreamt that I would make a living this way. So now I send my work to my brother just to show off.
Did you always love drawing, sketching and designing robots? Or was it something you ended up doing just by chance?
It wasn't even a case of liking or not liking drawing robots it was completely natural for me, it was like breathing. I was always drawing robots at lessons in school. So it wasn't that I liked doing it, or didn't like doing it. It was just completely natural for me to be drawing all day every day.
When you're working on a design someone else has done such as a Valkyrie how do you put your own touches on it?
I try to draw it as if it really existed. So I try to think about how it's been used, who's inside it, what circumstances surround it.
What details do you find challenging to design?
Any details that are hard to put across in 2D are challenging to draw. The setting sheet is always line art, so it's always hard to get some else to understand that.
What do you find really easy to design?
Nothing's particularly easy to design! There's always a lot of obstacles. It's hard to draw something that people can understand at a glance how it functions.
For example I think the iPad and the iPhone are the ultimate in design because it's only got one button really and yet people can use it. No sci-fi designer has yet come us as something as fantastic as that in design.
Would you like to design something like that in a sci-fi concept?
Yeah! I'd like to design something that could be made. I think what I draw at the moment is too massive and wouldn't actually work in real life.
You mentioned Apple, it's said that Apple designer Jonathan Ive has been influenced by Braun designs, have you got any industrial design influences?
With things that people actually use and touch, you have to be careful to design them. The things that I design are so big that people don't have to come into contact with them. But if you're designing things that people actually touch they have to be safe. That's a rule.
For example this bottle, you can see at a glance where you need to hold this bottle. It's not dangerous, you can see what's inside the bottle. It's a very clean design.
I think even if a baby were to play with this bottle for even one minute they could work out where you drink from.
So all that kind of design inspires me.
What would you say the role of a mechanical artist is exactly in the anime process?
The main thing is you have to work out the best way to depict mecha in a scene to their best advantage. The fact is you can't be involved in every single scene. So you work on the scenes that need to have impact and think about things like which angle the light needs to be coming from and how much of a shadow there is, the colour, the texture, how you can get people to understand the temperature of the metal through the colour texture.
You make the mecha real within the drama.
How does that design process work? Is there much collaboration with the other staff? Is there much freedom in the design?
There's quite a lot of freedom. I work a lot in box art, with that it's from scratch to completion all by myself and I do whatever I like.
Are there any robots in anime that you wish you could the design work on?
I'm friends with Go Nagai, but I've never drawn Mazinger Z for work.
You've done a lot of work on Macross titles. Do you have a favourite Valkyrie?
The first one. The VF-1A. That was cannon fodder. I love the cannon fodder.
Apart from fighter jets and robots are there any other large vehicles you'd like to design?
Actually, I would like to try character design.
For a new show? Or something established?
Something new! Fantasy I think. With dragons and creatures and ladies.
Something like Final Fantasy or Monster Hunter?
Yeah, something like that. I love that work. I occasionally draw something like that for Vanguard the Japanese card game.
Otaku News would like to thank Hidetaka Tenjin, Viewster, Anime Limited and the London MCM Comic Con for making this interview possible.