Interviews: Range Murata
by Erwin Limawan
Murata: Hello, I'm Range Murata, and I've worked on Animes such as Blue Submarine No. 6 and Last Exile.
Q: How did you get started?
Murata: I used to be a simple illustrator doing magazine cover art and pinup posters. One day, they contacted me about doing character designs for Anime, and that's how I entered the industry.
Q: Range is an interesting name, why did you pick it?
Murata: The name Range is my pen name. The character “Ran” in Japanese means lotus flower.I really liked the lotus flower a lot and I wanted to put that in my name somewhere, so that’s how I came up with the name Range.
Q: Since you work with a lot of CG in your characters, do you build your character to work with CG, or do you just build them and the CG team has to adjust their approach to deal with your design?
Murata: When I was originally contacted by Gonzo, they requested that I draw however I want and to not place any limitations on my art, so I didn't really think of any of that. I'm sure some of it was hard to work with, but they worked around my art.
Q: You've mentioned that you think of yourself more of an all-around designer rather than just doing characters. When you started as a character illustrator, did you ever see yourself going more into designs?
Murata: When I was studying in college, I studied product designs, - designing things such as watches to be used for business -, so when I was doing character designs, I thought about it the same way. I thought of character as taking the order that they gave me, thinking about the world setting that they have, and fitting the character into that. I try to design my characters in a way that just by looking at them, you can tell that they laugh and act differently.
Q: You recently started making some of your fashion designs available for sale. Is that where you want your career to head?
Murata: 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's a character, mecha, clothes, or a watch. I don’t want to be limited to a single genre or group. I think of myself as an illustrator. Even when I’m designing a character, I focus around a certain aspect that I want to design at the time, whether it’s the clothes, a bike or a car. As for my clothes design, someone came to me and said "hey, maybe if we made products based off your clothes designs, they’ll be great", and that's how it came about.
Q: What do you think makes your designs really different from other styles?
Murata: I think the critical difference is the departure point for the designs when creating the animation. With regular animator, before they do character designs, they’ve drawn the same art over and over to create the animation, but I started out as an illustrator. While regular animators try to decrease the number of lines and make characters that are easy to animate, that’s their particular style. But when Gonzo hired me, they told me “we don’t care how hard it is to animate, just do what you want and we’ll animate it for you”, so I really just went and designed what I want to. Take clothes for example. I always wondered “why do they have such big bosoms? Why are the creases in their clothes so deep?” And things such as that, and when I did Last Exile, I tried to designs clothes that can actually exist. Like you mentioned, I also do fashion designs, so I also tried to draw in the kind of materials used in creating the clothes, and tried to represent that material, the stitches connecting the clothes. After I design the characters, the animators color and animate it, so some of the three-dimensional aspect is lost, but I think the critical difference that you mentioned comes from that departure point of character designs. In Last Exile, there’s a group called the Guild, who comes from the far future, so when I designed them, I tried to create an artificial, structured element into it.
Q: You've become quite popular both in Japan and North America. Has it affected your work at all?
Murata: I was aware of the fact, but it hasn't really affected my work. I don't get to meet my fans very much, so I don't really get a feel that my work is popular, except that I have a lot of work coming in, and it’s very nice to be able to feed myself. *laughs*
Q: I understand you get inspiration from antiques. Can you talk a little about that?
Murata: I have these model cars, 1:43rd scale that are precise to every detail, and there were only a limited number of them ever built. I also have antique cameras that I really like a lot, and antique electronic equipment like telephones and radios from long ago. I (the translator) mentioned that he put a lot of it into Last Exile, and we got into a long discussion. Last Exile was originally set in the far future, but then, somehow we kept on pushing it back and back until we hit the 1910-1920s, and from my antiques, I had a good knowledge of what the world was like at this point in time, and what science could do at this time, from what materials they could make, and the materials they had affect how strong everything could be, and that affects how everything is designed in the world. That is how I came to the design of the Vanships and the objects in Last Exile. Basically, the background created my idea of the economic idea of the world, and that affected the kind of product I designed for that world.
Q: Since you have knowledge of fashion designs, what do you think is the expressive range of clothing and costumes in an Anime?
Murata: Although clothing can show a lot about the character, it really only assist in showing the personality of the character. About 60-70% of the personality is shown in the face, the eyes, the hair, and the expressions and motions the character takes. I think clothing only assist in developing the personality of the character. For example, with the clothes, you can show what kind of color the character likes, the dimensions of the character. If it’s a female character, you can show a lot about their personality through making her wear pants or skirts. If a female character is tomboyish, you can make her wear pants all the time. If she's more of a quiet, calmer kind of girl, you can make her wear darker and duller colors.
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