Forward by Yoshiyuki Tomino from "Mead Gundam", a 300+ page Turn A Gundam art book featuring concept sketched drawings by mechanical designer Syd Mead.
TL/edit: Mia U./Feez
ENCOUNTER MEAD AT “Turn A”
General Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
In “PLAYBOY” magazine’s January 2000 publication, the focus of the magazine was the “[New] Millennium”. One of the futuristic features was Syd Mead’s design of his “future house,” that more or less looked like the cabin of a spaceship. The concept behind the design was a “sophisticated pot,” where one could find peace and relaxation. The illustrations of the inside and outside of this cabin were presented in a youthful and playful manner, just as Mead’s “Land Yacht” was also presented in “PLAYBOY” 30 years or so ago. “Land Yacht” was my first introduction to Mead, as I quickly fell in love with his work.
The 67 year old artist had once given me a fright, as he had lost a lot of his drive over the years. I was worried that “Turn A” might be his last work- it would have been such a shame for such a wonderful and creative career to end with an anime robot project. Those thoughts were that of the year before last. I can only imagine that he took on the “PLAYBOY” project after “Turn A” was over. I know that this may sound like I’m bragging, but seeing Mead well and working again, might be a result of the “Turn A” project. Either way I was incredibly happy.
“Turn A” was not the beginning of my interaction with Syd Mead. During the “Z Gundam” era, I had actually commissioned him to draw one of the posters. We were somewhat acquainted then. I myself had gone through a decline in health after “V Gundam,” and I had experienced being in the middle of a project, while fighting what felt like death. Seeing Mead’s work in “PLAYBOY” really did bring me joy.
When I first approached Syd Mead about working on “Turn A Gundam,” I’d asked his manager Mieko Ichikawa to be cautious and to take good care of him. She scolded me, saying that “he was aware of his age” and to not “say anything unnecessary”. She had also been inclined to say that “they hadn’t casually answered yes” to working with us. When the “Turn A” project began, she and I were not on the best terms. I’ve also made her cry once.
I have no idea whether or not Mead knew about these interactions. Staff members from my end- such as Sunrise’s mechanical orderer Shigeru Horiguchi and science fiction (SF) director Shigeru Morita, had both warned me that communicating and contracting the entire project would be difficult. I can’t thank Horiguchi and Morita enough, taking the Gundam universe from the Ogahara era Gundam to the SF future, through the massive workload we threw at Mead. As the project proceeded, Bandai’s Katsumi Kawaguchi always had constructive criticisms ready, and Shigeta Atsushi realized the animation process through editing. For a designer, it must have been incredibly frustrating to see his work constantly being manipulated and changed by us animators, without even having started the animating process. When working together on-site/ face-to-face, I’ve seen designers call quits angrily. Mead really stuck it out.
As far as my role goes, I really only had the plot and the bigger themes of the series ready. At times I’d voice my opinions on technical settings, but in terms of making the mechanical aspects and the character development work together, I have to give credit to Tetsuko Takahashi and Yoshitaka Kawaguchi from artistic productions. It was important for Syd Mead to understand that, on top of redesigning the mobile suits, there would be a lot of studio work. We needed him to view this production as in league with the scale of a Hollywood movie production- or even more hectic. What’s more, the series wasn’t just my own work- it has a really rich history. That’s why it was necessary for him to meet Kunio Ogahara, to process his work, and to see the faults and shortcomings with the Ogahara designs.
It’s not as if we met in person and discussed these matters, so that I could wow him over with the validity of this project. I had faith in Mead’s professionalism, so there was no need to show off the studio work. What I wanted to accomplish, was to let him know that we were ready to cut him if he ever slacked off, or presented us with any “elderly lousy work”.
He really got that message, and not only did he take time out of his busy schedule for every meeting, but he was also ready to present a rough draft on the spot, after each of our discussions.
I look back on these moments fondly as a very fruitful time.
To this day, I cannot think of any other designer who can do this.
It saddens me to say that today our Tokyo staff has people who are too young, too arrogant, or too much of a chicken to properly respond to any of my requests, and so much so that our work suffers. They tend to draw whatever they want to draw, and try to take ownership. They don’t understand what it means to work as a unit.
Syd Mead is the only person who became involved with the studio and worked so hard with us- despite the Pacific and the distance.
He really taught us an incredibly valuable lesson. If you have the ability to perform, then you have an ability to understand. If you have this ability to understand, then you can work with any age group. We learned from his greatness, the power to be humble and to cater to all needs.
WORKING WITH CULTURE
I’m sure that readers will gain the insight they seek, if they look through the process and the final product that is in this compilation. There’s really no need to add details about that. When going through the pages of the process, people who are in the in will easily come to see where there were any problems. If you don’t see it, then it just means that you don’t really have a trained eye.
A few points need to be made though.
One thing I want to stress, is that it’s really exciting to work with someone who comes from a different culture, and to really feel that difference. I learned that any limitations in our perspectives that cause problems, are personal (petty).
These personal issues, are really the results of holding a culture dear to yourself, after living within a society and specific structure. Our values are not definitive. Yet, we need to live by them. After all, what is life if we don’t stick to our beliefs?
Life may be that way, but the creative process is something else. Every action comes with its own effect, so that something new comes out of it. It is impossible to do so with a narrow mindset or attitude. If you look back on history, or think about anyone you know who comes with endless potential, that person is probably free and without conditions or restrictions. Otherwise, if someone doesn’t have talent, then they can create something new by looking for new inspiration. The ordinary person does this.
Let’s take the Japanese artist Kaii Higashiyama, who passed away last year. Before World War II, he went abroad for two years in Germany to study western art history. This experience allowed him to explore Japanese art through a new foundation. The Japanese military’s “Zero-Sen” and “Yamato” are also great examples of how Japanese people took upon western technology as a new resource, and brought it back to the land of the rising sun. Nothing is really original, in this way.
There’s nothing really novel about this kind of human pattern. Apparently, though, it hasn’t occurred to the people involved in today’s Gundam world. The “Gundam” design hasn’t changed in 20 long years. This could be because people are afraid of change, or are avoiding the challenge. Most likely they have completely exhausted their imagination.
What if I were to say that I only look at the “Honda S8,” “Toyota 2000 GT” and “Morgan 2 Seat Open Car” as cars. All other cars are not acceptable. I mean, in the end I only drive that awful “Crown”. I can’t stand that thing, but it’s the best I can do. There’s so many options out there though.
People find that one thing in their lives that they think they own, and live through it. This is human nature, but it’s a complete mistake to assume that anything is their own and original product. It probably comes from our desire to be special, which is really just a defense mechanism.
The new Volkswagen Beetle is a nice car. The MRS looks pretty darn cool.
The bottom line is this. Unless they are genuinely a genius, there is nothing that one person can claim as their original work. To sum it up, we really needed to bring in a new kind of martial arts. I truly believe that residents of Tokyo live in a catalogue world, driven by specs and regulations. That’s why it’s easy to forget that change is a good thing. I only know this though working with Syd Mead.
The same goes for Mead. I’m sure that there were times when he had a fit too, alone in his studio, screaming “those bastards from Tokyo!” The number of times he didn’t pick up his phone is proof.
It’s been in the headlines a number of times, so I think it’s public information. When we first asked for the “Turn A” design, we requested something that resembled the Mitsubishi A6M Zero (Zero-Sen). What we received was something that much more closely resembled the Grumman (Cats).
The original design for Sumo is the perfect portrayal of “Turn A”’s design process. There was much discussion over the design of Sumo, and a need to educate Mead.
I still appreciate the beauty of Sumo’s design. It is the epitome of how two cultures meshed and produced something noteworthy. Sumo was molded into an enemy character, as Grumman was an enemy during the war in the pacific. We still asked Syd Mead to continue to work on Sumo’s rough draft, so that it would better fit the new plot (including the specs and how the mobile suit was controlled).
Horiguchi ended up flying to Los Angeles more than once. It was impossible for us to communicate everything, just through fax. Action can often times speak much louder than words. The details are included in the section that explains how “Turn X” was coined.
Mead was able to understand the greater themes of “Turn A,” and yet, as a joke, he’d refer to the series as “Turn X”. At least, we interpreted it as a joke in Tokyo, and started using the term “Turn X” also. It even came to a point where, maybe we could use “Turn X” within the series, in the script. This was another topic of discussion, over some sake and okonimyaki. Again, actions can speak louder than words. I’m not sure if this idea would have materialized, if it were only on paper.
As soon as word had reached Los Angeles on how “Turn X” was becoming legitimized in Tokyo, Mead felt more weight in his designs- even if they were just gundams with ‘honey bee antennae’ after “Turn X” Gundam. Readers can also see this in this book.
Even with an incredibly competent designer like Syd Mead, there’d always be problems. One issue we faced was how Turn A’s Sumo was supposed to be from a completely different culture/ society/ ‘people’. Yet, ultimately, Sumo looked more or less like the other Gundam mobile suits.
Within the plot development of Turn A Gundam, I look at this as the biggest failure for the artistic production team and myself.
After all, Sumo’s design was completed very early during production. We were so caught up in communicating with Syd Mead, that the changes made by the Japanese production followed the “Gundam routine”.
Admittedly, the design process was rushed. We needed to begin production, so that the series would air, and be completed.
Similarly, Rib was also designed during a time of great stress. The studio knew that if we did everything Mead suggested, we’d run out of time for coloring. That’s why I gave the permission to just have Rib done- add tires, or caterpillars, or whatever. The finished Rib was so out of place, and ironically incomplete, that Rib couldn’t be fully utilized in Turn A.
I couldn’t apologize enough to Syd Mead for his time on Rib.
In the end, the only domestic automobile design magazine in Japan, “Car Styling,” took a keen interest on Turn A and heavily featured the series in one of their issues. You can see why that was, in this book. Perhaps an even greater and deeper understanding of what Turn A meant to us, can be gained as well, through the text in this book.
The questions that cannot be answered are: “What is design? What purpose does it have?”
I’m actually the least qualified person to begin answering the questions above. One thing I’ve learned though, is that, any tool that is used by a person, usually looks like what it’s supposed to do.
If the function of a device is visible, then it is most likely beautiful. Then again, I can easily come up with a counter-example, in the Stealth Aircraft- a wretched and miserable thing that makes me boil with rage. Despite my feelings, its shape really follows the philosophy of “simple is the best”.
I had told Syd Mead that the mechanics of Gundam were completely imaginary- he could do anything he’d wanted. Yet, when the mobile suits were in the hands of Syd Mead, he still kept it simple. I’ve also once heard that everything manmade will eventually evolve towards a more baroque style.
Today, we as animators are currently in the midst of a war with the CG (computer graphic) environment- suffocating as humans, for our incapabilities. But is that all so bad? That’s really up to the individual to decide.
Creating anything may seem like an original process. However, creating anything of value is heavily dependent on the creators’ having a good foundation for whatever skills they’re bringing to the table. Not only that, but having an open mind is a necessary mindset towards creativity (bringing in a foreign object). That’s how I’ll summarize my working experience with Syd Mead.
I’d also like to impart to you, that I believe that Syd Mead’s touch to Turn A Gundam, had transformed the Ogahara Gundams into unforgettable mechanical bodies- in terms of business and design- much like the Zero-Sen weapons form our history.
I wish you all the best.