Koya Takahashi Speaks, A New Staffer, & Ask Koji Moriga Your Questions
Between the last written update, the informative Google Air streaming session, and now, we've all been pretty busy with much of the action that we can share coming from the art end of the game development process. That trend continues onward in today's update, where we'll keep it more or less people-focused. So to start things off, here's what Koya Takahashi, our Lead Cinematic Artist, had to say in response to the wonderful questions you asked him:
Koya Takahashi's Responses
Can you talk about your background and what led you to become an artist? What advice would you give to people who want to pursue a career in art, based on your experiences?
I grew up in a very lucky environment where I was surrounded by people who were photographers and artists in my family and relatives. Growing up with such people, I always felt that there was more satisfaction in communicating with others via creating rather than by using words.
To become an artist, you have to truly know in your core that you love creating things. On top of this, I think it is important to search for how you can contribute to society.
What artists or art styles have influenced you over the years? What is the impact of these influences upon your work designing the world of Azuregard?
When I was 12 years old, I was completely into the game called “Riven” (editor's note: the sequel to the legendary "Myst"). Even though this game is a complete fantasy story, the setting, feeling, and storytelling felt so true and convincing, I was completely captured by it back then.
I was also definitely influenced by the film, “Powers of Ten”. It is a film where the scale of humanity, universe, and all particles are seamlessly connected. I was never into works that disconnected day to day life from the unusual; I wanted daily life and fantasy to melt into each other seamlessly. Even now, I still feel that this has more value. Azuregard is also a fantasy, but at the same time I feel it should echo our daily society as well.
What is Project Phoenix to you on the art level, what does it mean for you personally to be able to work on Project Phoenix, and what are you hoping to achieve?
This project is very challenging. Unlike creating under a company, each staff member is already independently established as artists. In this arrangement, we have to work with each other by establishing trust between each other. We will probably create something that is more chaotic than what a game corporation might make. But to create chaos that has value is a challenge that rarely exists and this has so much excitement that you don’t know how the end product will turn out. In that sense, I am also excited that every member of the team has taken the same responsibility to make a great game.
As Lead Cinematic Artist, you are obviously someone who has great influence over the players' first impressions of the game's world and how it operates. With this project, have you spent more time trying to distinguish each nation/city/area or have you spent more time trying to connect these areas with common design elements to bring everything together? What other cultural styles can we expect out of the game and do you have a favorite faction within the game?
This is a good question but also a great worry for me. To create an entire fantasy means that this world also has various values co-existing together just like it does in our world. In such a world, does a ubiquitous sense of justice exist? Our earth is not exactly sending a message to each and every one of us. However, a game world must exist with the purpose of delivering a message to us. Differentiating our game from other games is necessary. I believe it will be deeply vexing to create an entire world from scratch.
Personally, rather than historical winners or heroes, I am more interested in the minorities or clans that live in non-Christian regions, or the nameless common people. I think it is important to also give focus to such people even within Azuregard.
In looking at Cordo’s architecture, we see a mix of Imperial Roman and European Gothic influences. How exactly do you visualize overall environments such as these? Do you start by thinking about the atmosphere and slowly build up from there or do you start with a bigger picture and scale downwards by adding details?
In my case, when creating a fantasy world, I find it ideal to think from the geographical environment and the climate of the world as a basis. In every setting, there is a historical background to it and also a reason for existence.
In Azuregard, the humans are a symbol of modernization, humanism, and rationalism. In Cordo, a town where humans live, they've created an environment that is easy for humans to live in by controlling and dominating nature. I included many linear elements to the town structure, as well as a castle that is monument-like so that it symbolizes authority.
When creating cinematic pieces with the intention of conveying scope and scale, do you ever find your imagination taking things beyond what would be technically feasible? And if so, how difficult is it for you to scale back and strike a balance between your original vision and the limitations of the project (technological, budgetary, etc.)?
Project Phoenix must be an entertainment that succeeds in entertaining. This requires characters’ drama and actions. Until now, my forte had always been in creating non-character backgrounds or objects, so to draw characters in a way they can prosper and be lively will be a great challenge.
With a number of different artists creating different characters and elements with which to populate the game, do you find yourself building the world around the characters or is it the other way around? Can you describe the process that takes place when so many artists with their own ideas collaborate on a single project? Does it change given that you’re working with people from so many different nationalities for Project Phoenix?
Artists with various backgrounds are creating different characters, so the chaos that goes on in the creation process is unavoidable. But this is a reflection of reality. By respecting the good nature of chaos, I would like to provide consistency when designing the stage setting.
In terms of collaborating on a single project, I thought the secret should be to have one person charismatically pulling together the group, or there should be staff members that have similar values working closely together. But this project doesn’t fit into either category. The setup is so different to what I have experienced before, which was worrying at first, but I would like to carry on the project by showing heartfelt respect towards each other and creating something absolutely new together.
What kinds of scenes are most challenging for you to depict through art? What tricks or techniques do you use to make the process easier?
It will be a huge task for me to create something that everyone thinks is good. Until now, I have only really created things that were a bit off the beaten path. Because of that, I've had to put a lot of work into investigating and studying various works of entertainment.
However, I do not want to lose my sense of humility towards drawing. Whatever it is for, I firmly believe that having a stance of humility is vital towards making your work better.
Can you take us through the process of creating a work of art? Do you prefer to have a brief description or do you prefer to work with broad general themes?
Art reflects the artist’s way of life. Having a different concept for every project is important too, but you cannot create something that defies your personal concept. The theme that you carry within you and the aim of the artwork must agree with each other. Then, when you visualize your intention, you must discard any futile components. This is the way I work.
When working, do you do anything like listening to music to stay focused? If so, what genres do you listen to and does it inspire any elements of your work? In particular, is the soundtrack for the medium you’re working in helpful?
My favorite music genre include Jazz and Ambient music. I often listen to music while working, but there are times when even without music my hand will not stop drawing, and such are the moments in which I feel “I am properly working”.
How involved have you been with video games, whether it’s playing them as a consumer or working on them as an artist? What, if anything, have you noticed differs between Eastern and Western games and what elements do you like best from Eastern and Western games?
When it comes to being a game player, I am probably an amateur compared to other staff members. Other than Project Phoenix, I have only ever worked on one other video game. So, although I cannot compare between Eastern and Western games, in the videogame industry, there are more ‘passionate’ people and it is very enjoyable to work with such people.
Do you think that more Japanese-made games should be less reliant on pre-rendered FMV cutscenes and make more use of real-time in-engine cutscenes, like how many Western made games do?
I like real-time cutscenes better since the flow of the game is never broken and it is easier to stage how the user becomes immersed into the game. However, it is important to understand the why cutscenes are used. If the usage of cutscenes is thoroughly planned and elaborated, then the technical methodology should not matter so much. I think that for this project, we will use pre-rendered movies, but we will aim to express in a way that is impossible to express by real-time movies.
Based on a recent Nikkei news article, what are your thoughts on Kickstarter’s ability to expand beyond anime and games in Japan? Is it feasible?
I anticipate that it will turn out to be successful pretty quickly. If Mr. Yura did not invite me onto this project, I would not have ever understood the effects of Kickstarter. I was like this too but I think most Japanese people do not fully realize how much the world pays attention to their own culture. I am happy that through Project Phoenix, I can have the chance to listen to the opinions of people from around the world.
If you weren't an artist what would you be doing instead? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not drawing?
If the possibility of creating things was taken away from me, I probably cannot do anything. It really scares me. But if I had to say, I would like to study folklore and archaeology. Although I probably would not make any money from this.
So hopefully you all got a lot out of Takahashi-san's responses, which gives a pretty detailed look into the creation process!
Moving on, we wanted to formally introduce the latest staffer to join Project Phoenix: the talented Jun Okutani!
Introducing Jun Okutani
Okutani-san boasts extensive experience working as a character artist for well-known game franchises as Pokemon (in his case, he worked on Gold and Yellow). He's also done 2D background art and a bit of the monster design for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fate and worked on projects for companies as varied as Monolith Soft, NCSoft Japan, and Konami. Needless to say, we're very grateful to have him on board as the SD Environment Concept artist, where he'll be busy creating 3D environmental assets for the cities and overworld to make the world come alive!
Ask Koji Moriga Your Questions
And finally, we come to our last segment where you get to ask one of our developers your questions. This week, Koji Moriga, our Concept Art Designer was willing to step up and discuss Project Phoenix and talk about himself and his past projects. Your questions for Takahashi-san above were really solid, so let's keep that trend rolling!