An interview with Range Murata
Range Murata ~ re:Writing the Future
Cosplay Lab met with Japanese illustrator Range Murata at Anime Expo 2004. Best known for his amazing work on Blue Sub #6 and most recently Last Exile, Murata sensei shares with us some of his methods for developing characters with a fresh style and a level of detail not seen in other anime productions. Join us as we explore the many facets of his career and where he's headed.
How do you pronounce your name and what does it mean?
Range, pronounced Ren Ji, is a pen name I made up. The character Len in Japanese means lotus and I really like the lotus flower so I wanted to put that in my name somehow.
How did you get involved with character design?
I used to be a simple illustrator doing magazine cover art and one day I was contacted to do character designs for an anime. Back when I was studying product/industrial design in college, I created things like watches and office products. So when I started to do character designs, I used a similar approach. I start by setting up a role for each character, then draw the character to fit that role. In the real world, everyone laughs in their own way, so I try to design my characters so that, just by looking at them, you can tell that they laugh and act differently.
I hear you get inspiration from your antique collection. What are some of your favorites?
Well, there is a lot. I have these 1:43 scale model cars that are precise to every detail and there was only a limited number of them ever made and I really like those. I also have antique cameras and antique electronic equipment like phones and radios from long ago that I really like. With Last Exile we originally set the world far in the future, but then somehow we kept pushing it back further into the past until around the 1910-1920 era. From my antiques, I had a good knowledge of what the world was like at this point in time and what science could do, and the types and strength of materials they used that affects how everything is designed in the world. This led to my designs of the vanships.
Production was going in parallel with the script writing. My background knowledge created the economic standard of that world. That in turn affected the kind of products I designed. I considered whether the people of that world had discovered streamlining in their aerodynamic designs. I also wanted the smallest objects within that world, such as goggles, to reflect their available technology.
What is the funniest thing you remember happening during production of Last Exile?
[ponders] There are so many things strange and good that happened every day. It seems that not a single episode was able to be done on time to make broadcast. Somehow an animator would get sick or someone in their family would die and they would be gone for a week. [shakes head smiling]
How has your popularity in the U.S. and abroad affected your work?
It hasn't really affected my work very much. I don't get to meet the fans very often, so I don't really get a sense of being well known except that I do have a lot of work coming in and it's very nice to be able to feed myself. [smiles]
What does it feel like to see people wearing costumes of your character designs?
Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed and apologetic that some of the designs may be a little "way out" or could have been better designed. It's been many years since I actually sewed anything myself.
You recently started making your fashion designs available for purchase. Is that where you'd like to see your career head?
I don't really want to limit myself to any one thing. Basically I just design what I want to design at the time. Whether it be a character, or clothes, or mecha, or a watch. I don't want to be limited to a single genre. I think of myself as an illustrator and even when I do character designs, I focus the design around a certain aspect like the clothes, or a bike, or a car. As for my own fashion line, someone approached me saying "Hey maybe if we actually make products based on your clothing design, they will be great." That's how it came about.
What is your favorite thing to illustrate and why.
Most of my illustration work is for magazines and the clients tend to request drawings of cute girls. [smiles]
The character designs for the Power Instinct games, did you look to martial arts for influences?
These designs were solicited internally at the company I was with, so there were a number of designers working on the characters. Only a couple were my own. We each had to develop the motions for our characters, but I didn't have any martial arts references.
You have a booth at the next Comic Market in Japan.
Yes and I am planning on releasing new designs, however if I don't start working on them, I will be in peril. [sobs]
How would you feel about working on a U.S. animation project?
I would be interested in that opportunity, but I can't fully comment on my current plans. I've published a couple of artbooks in Japan, and there is an American publishing company working to release it here in the states some time in 2005.
What were some of your early influences and what contributes to your present tastes?
When you live in Japan, you are inundated with manga. Since childhood, I was part of the Shonen Jump generation and enjoyed reading Jojo's Bizarre Adventures. There was a lot of anime on TV, so I tended to watch everything. Some of my favorites include Haiyao Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan, The Adventures of Gumba, and other anime re-runs. If you are a manga artist, typically you would draw with a manga style. Because I like retro references and antiques, I find those things becoming more influential in my current work. I listen to a lot diverse music and I am particularly fond of African music.
What are your comments about the current economic outlook for animators today?
I think it's not a good thing. I'm an illustrator that does contract work with animation houses. Compared to the amount of work that I put into Last Exile, the pay wasn't that terribly high. One thing that I can say about working in the animation industry, it's a very fun line of work. A lot of people are proud of the work they do, and it's the pride that keeps them going.
As a professional artist, what is your view of others using your work for their own web sites, or doujinshi?
In general I see it as a sign of flattery. Some of the work I do is owned by companies like Bandai or Geneon and those people are not as forgiving as I am. As for my doujinshi, I am more lenient on those type of efforts.