It’s Range Murata’s first visit to Singapore, and he’s here for STGCC 2018! With his unique glasses and wide-brimmed hat, Range Murata is easily recognisable among the crowd. We had an opportunity to find out more about his design process, interests and inspirations, as well as what motivates him to go one step further in his work.
Check out a sample of his art style:
Just to start off, could you give a self-introduction for our readers?
Hello, I am Range Murata and I am an illustrator from Japan. I do character designs for anime and games. Currently, I am simultaneously working on a few ongoing titles.
Welcome to Singapore! How has your stay been?
It has been fun, and it’s a little bit hot.
Did you manage to do any sightseeing?
I haven’t really had time to go around much yet. I’m actually staying at Marina Bay Sands Hotel right now, so I’ve gone around the area. I’ve seen the Merlion, at least.
Good to have you here with us. If it’s alright to share, what have you been working on recently?
I’m currently working as a character designer on 2 anime titles which will be released in spring or summer next year. That’s all I can share for now. The titles have not been released yet. In February this year, I released an artbook.
Was the artbook titled Futurelog?
Congratulations on its release! Your attention to detail is breathtaking. What is your thought process when you design clothing, for example?
I also do human portraits, and when it comes to drawing humans, you have to think of the clothes and accessories and other things. What I usually think of when I do a portrait like that is to think of what kind of person the character is, what this character would be thinking of, what this character is interested in, so I guess that makes the basis of the character. This also adds up to how the end-product would turn out. I go for something that is realistic. I think, if this person were to exist, how would she think, how would she dress, that kind of thing.
Speaking of realism, since you work as a character designer for anime in particular. How much realism can you achieve through animation?
My job is to come up with the character designs. Let’s say that for the character I designed, I assign a numerical value of 100. When it’s being translated to animation, it’s not done by me but by the animators. Only about 20-30% is applied, in a sense. It’s sort of watered-down. In order to bring that 20-30% up to 40-60%, I personally visit the animation studio and work alongside the animators and directors in pursuit of getting more detail out of what the animators have perceived from my illustrations and character designs.
How often do you visit the animation studios?
When I was working on Last Exile, I stayed in the studio for one year.
Were you physically present in the studio?
Back then in the building, the animation studio was on the 13th floor while the lower floors had apartments for people to live in. I lived on the 8th floor. So I’m literally living with the studio in a sense.
It’s been hard on you.
It has been very hard.
Going back to your work, you often include elements of science fiction or steampunk. It’s been described as dieselpunk as well. Is there a reason for your interest in this area?
I have a personal interest in old machinery and old cars, let’s say about a century ago. I’m very interested in what existed back then. When I was born, those things don’t exist anymore, but in the past, they were there. I look up some information and dish out some ideas of what it was like back then. I have some longing of that era.
This is random, but do you own a car?
Yes I do.
What’s the model?
I own a Volkswagen Type 2, something that looks like a minibus. It’s a model from 1959, something from 60 years ago.
So it’s more related to interest, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s cute and it runs well. Right now the parts are still being produced so I have no worries about maintenance. The car has 2 colours – dark brown and light beige. There is no aircon in the car, and in summer it is quite hellish. The front windows can open so at least there’ll be some wind coming in. In winter, it is cold.
There’s no heater as well, is there? The car wouldn’t do well in Singapore because it’s hot.
It’s possible to modify it and add on the aircon.
But you don’t want to, right?
It can be done, but I don’t want to jeopardise the power of the car or the aircon, because the car may not be able to go up slopes.
I see. Going back to the topic of illustration, your style is very clean and unique. How do you approach style?
When doing human portraits, I like to use very clean lines to depict the human body. For example, when drawing the arms and legs, males have a more bony structure, but I try to define it and make the lines more clean so that it’s not so bony in that sense. I also take into consideration possible changes and differences in body types.
How do you find inspirations for your designs? Are there any illustrators or designers that you look up to?
Like I’ve mentioned before, I take interest in a lot of old things, machinery and the olden days, which also includes the fashion and accessories worn then. Even the cityscape and buildings are my source of inspiration. Good designs from those eras exist today because it is good. This means that human perception of what is good remains. Of course, there are many things lost along the way, which also reflects the change in what humans think are acceptable or relatable in the current era. What has been lost actually reflects the change in values, which I also take into consideration when I draw. I feel that change is fun and has a certain beauty in it. So I try to translate that change in thinking into art as well, be it like shoes or bags and stuff like that, in those areas.
How do you know what everything was like 100 years ago?
I get inspiration from photos on the Internet and from sites like Wikipedia. It’s now easier to get information about what happened in the past. I’ve also seen how people 100 years ago tried to imagine the future 100 years later. It’s a genre called retrofuture. For advertisements in the past, they actually depicted cows flying in the sky, movie phones and other things. Interestingly, we have movie phones now, or smartphones, as they are called. The ‘what-if’ part, if the future was like that, greatly interests me and I try to draw that. Even if that reality doesn’t exist now, it could have and it is fun to think about how things would be different had these possibilities been realised.
Going back to the time when you stayed with the animation studio, what drives you as a creator? Why do you go to such lengths to stay with the work?
I started off as an illustrator and mostly worked with publishers for a few page inserts or covers. When I received talks of working for the anime Last Exile, it came from some other routes. It sounded interesting so I tried it out. I designed a total of 50 characters, which is a lot! When character designers work for anime, usually they do a few of the more important characters and leave the rest to the animators. But for me, I want a say even in the very minor characters that do not have names on-screen e.g. an old man. I want control over how my characters look and that is the drive that keeps me in the studio.
Because it takes a long time to design each and every character, before I slept at the studio, I got calls every 4-5 hours asking if I was done. I thought that if they were going to be so intrusive, then I’ll just stay with them. I moved. In hindsight, it was not that good a move because now that they are so close, they stuck to me and once I was done, they just took the design. They were running on a tight schedule.
In the production of animation, character design is very crucial. If the studio doesn’t have the character designs, the animation team doesn’t know how to work around those characters. If I’m late with my works, it will cause the rest to be unable to keep to schedule. It was good that I stayed with the studio.
After finishing the character designs, I have the fear of only 20-30% being translated, and because I want control over how my designed characters turn out, I want to bring the percentage up to 40-50%. This also contributes to my drive of wanting to stay with the studio, even though it takes away time from my other creative processes.
For example, the Last Exile anime was based on a world that existed 100 years ago, which is closely related to what I am interested in. The anime also deals quite heavily with flight. If you think about it, 100 years ago, plastics didn’t really exist that much then, so in place of that, what could have existed? If plastic buttons were not available, what material could people have used then? If using zippers, remember that but they didn’t have plastic zippers, but metal zippers which will become cold when they go to a high altitude. All these factors come into play when I design characters. I’ll think of what can or cannot be made in that era. Based on that, I will come up with the location of the characters, which includes the consideration of the climate surrounding the characters (whether they are on land or in the air).
That’s interesting! Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
What illustrators want to draw will definitely differ based on the country’s culture and values. I would like to tell all aspiring illustrators to stick to what they think is good, then go ahead and bravely portray what they define as good. During the process, they will often have trouble with expression, colours or technique, but as long as they work on it every day, they will eventually get to where you want to be and be able to push out what they perceive as good. What is perceived as good by one person will definitely differ compared to another person. I wish to see more individuality! I would also advise aspiring illustrators to draw everyday. If you slack for even one day, you’ll be behind by 2-3 days.
We have time for one last question. Do you have any words to say to our readers?
It’s my 3rd day in Singapore and this is actually my first visit to Singapore. I hope to enjoy more of Singapore, like how I did when I enjoyed Singapore yesterday.
Interviewed by: Ivy
Transcribed and edited by: Kar Yee