Design Knowledge Intermediary
Tani Kunitake

To reveal the 21st century Cinema and the role of industrial product designer in this sector more effectively, it would be more suitable to reflect the facts from the perspective of a person who shares this summit and emphasizes all his creativity in this field. We talked with Tani Kunitake, over his career and "the role of industrial designer in Cinema industry". He is currently working in the studios of Square Pictures -creator of the movie-, and also a working as a freelance industrial designer.

Filmography of Tani Kunitake
Superman Returns (2006) Storyboard Artist
Serenity (2005) Illustrator
Son of the Mask (2005) Storyboard Artist
The Island (2005) Illustrator
After the Sunset (2004) Storyboard Artist
Peter Pan (2003) Storyboard Artist
Fight Club (1999) IllustratorThe
Matrix (1999) Storyboard Artist
Armageddon (1998) Illustrator
Blade (1998) IllustratorFear and
Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) production illustrator
What Dreams May Come (1998) Illustrator (Cinema Production Services)
Batman & Robin (1997) Illustrator
The Chamber (1996) production illustrator

Which incidents, people or institutions have influenced you to choose such an education and work career?

I think it was actually the movies. Seeing movies like "Star Wars" and "Alien". Especially "Alien"- They really got me curious and you know, drawing objects and machinery and things. And also I was raised in Detroit, so it was like a heart for automotive industry-

What did you study?

I studied Industrial Design Automotive. Actually, initially in Graphic Arts area. One industrial design instructor had seen some of my work and asked if I was interested in a career in movies. And if I had that interest, I should move over to industrial design. That's where I started to learn about people like Syd Mead, who had an industrial design background. Actually in my generation, we graduated pretty much from college in 1991, there is a large group of industrial designers, it's a small industry but a good part of it and the heading people come from industrial design.

How did everything work with your career after school?

After school I went to work for Ford and Honda as a car designer for a couple of years. Ironically, I had worked in the same studio in Ford as like Syd Mead and it was big stroke for me at that time. After that 1 moved on to California with Honda and spent the rest of two years in automotive there. Then I started commercials and animations. I have also a background in figure illustration too. So being able to draw figures I was easily able to go to my storyboarding with my industrial design background and it also helped me with pre-visualization techniques and ways of pre-planning things out enough so I could start working at the sets...

You have worked with the top directors like Ridley Scott and David Fincher How does that feel?

Yes. That was great at that time. Those are, something like, working with him almost pi decades later after I saw Alien, was a very important and big stroke for me. Once in a while I would catch myself saying "Hey! OK! I'm working for this guy. We are just doing our work and we are doing it well…”. Unfortunately, the movie I worked on was canceled we never made it...

The concept of Final Fantasy is very different from what you have done before as a conceptual artist with Fight Club, Matrix and etc. How does it feel like to illustrate a non-existing world?

Actually they are all kind of non-existing in a way. When you are working from the script it's basically the same mechanics. Even, turning back, with industrial design for cars what you are designing doesn't really exist. You still can pull more from reference it's more realistic and more contemporary, but when you are doing something like fantastic like we are doing in Final Fantasy we pull a lot of reference we were always looking at the space shuttles when we are doing the Black Boa were looking at the humwees and other vehicles when we think about the jeep it is always the same process. We create ideas, figure out the problems and try to design everything. And of course you always have to be connected in thing like camera angles, shots and to their purposes. So it's still the "form follows function" attitude.

Could you please briefly describe the work from very first step to the final in the movie and your team's part in it in more detail?

It's pretty similar to a regular movie. What we would do is go over the script with the director. The director informs you what he feels and wants to do in a certain scene in the script and we decide on we are going to illustrate and design for these scenes and how we are going to show what is happening in them. What I was doing in this project was creating storyboards, which are basically like quick illustrations just like in a comic book of what the camera would see in the shot. From there we can actually figure out fig out what and how much of it is to be used where, and what is to be created and then these decisions are given to the crew who are going to use the the computer cameras to create the shots. At the same time they are given to another department where a lot of designers design specific items, which are wanted in the scenes. And then this will continue for a couple of years.

During storyboarding did you prefer to illustrate by hand or by computer?

Storyboards are always done by hand. We transfer them in a logical order to the computer to make a layout like a story movie-reel through a computer like an Avid system or drop these. There we can make like a slideshow movies from the storyboards. And basically concept are I would do a sketch and scanned it in and finished it oft" in Photoshop I'm using more Photoshop than I've ever had before that's where the industry is moving towards actually.

Did you have to consider movie aesthetics, lightning, props and character designs? Or will it come from itself?

You try to do everything in a limited amount of time and you have to try to put as much information as possible. And you actually try to place a key light or directional light or even the main light in the boards if you have time. Generally, it's just a motion and content what you will see per shot to help express the narrative. So, the type of camera move you want to use would be like there is a design purpose on it, either like showing the landscape, defining a character or something actually like a metaphor for a how a character or action should feel. So, we try to get as much information as possible. We have to block, pre-block all the characters, which is like your stage play; how the characters are going to move around on the stage when you are storyboarding as well.

How difficult was to illustrate the imaginations of somebody else in this case Mr. Sakaguchi's? Did he limit your work and imagination?

He was very comfortable to work with. He let us all participate in any ideas, which we would be able to express these, as long as it suited his plans for how he visioned the movie and then he integrated 輙. He is a very open person.

Do you notice some advantages of being an industrial designer in movie sector?

It also helps, I guess, being trained somewhere you are throwing a lot of ideas out in a way. It's like a whole ideation process of industrial design where you are brainstorming in the beginning where you really don't feel so attached to whatever we are doing. That helped a lot. Depending at the circumstances we have to adapt and throw away something that we saw that could or did work completely well because of the budget and time or availed researches we couldn't do that kind of thing. We had to pick up another solution instead. It's a lot of problem solving and I think that part of the industrial design training has helped mentally with on the problem solving.

Do you know any other industrial designers in this sector? Are there more of them?

There are a few of them. There is Ed Natividad; the storyboard artist that worked in Phantom Menace for Lucas. He is also doing the costume work for Matrix 2 and 3. He comes from the same industrial design background. There is Warren Manser who also works for set and as a prop designer and stage designer. What he'll do is the concept art. I think his latest work is Spiderman. He works on stuff like that. There is another person Harald Belker, who comes from Automotive Design as well. He had done the batmobil in Batman & Robin. He continuously worked also in Spiderman recently. There is Tim Flattery who is also like done a lot of movies all the way back to Total Recall. He has also got an industrial design background. We all graduated from CCS and Harald was from Art Center.

Talking about your work as a conceptual industrial designer, can you inform us on your projects and on your style?

Project style varies. What I actually like to do as a concept artist is try to get the right mood and lightning. It's a complete package when I'm doing the illustration for concept work. For example If I have to do a house and Cyclops, I make sure they are in a mood suitable for what you want to capture in the film and try to make it very cinematic. For storyboarding; if I have time it's something like a quick marker wash with ink but if don’t I am just doing pencil and line drawings. It depends on the available time and the technique. In a concept work initially I use materials like markers, which are things that are very quick to use and easy to work with and then if I really want to get further refinements I put them into Photoshop and actually make them more detailed there. Basically, I also try to acquire as much reference as possible whatever I'm doing. A lot of photos, lots of books and reference cases. And also when I'm designing 1 try to get similar designs for materials same as in reality to try and give the right impression to whatever I'm doing and try to keep to the right psychology about it.

How does it feel being in Hawaii? Does it influence your work positively?

It makes it more difficult. Actually, it is easier to work in an environment where you have a lot more variety, like a major city, metropolis type of city, gives you more ideas and inspiration with all the variant materials, age, people, cultures… It just seems to be easier when you are in that kind of an environment. Here, I really have hit to libraries to get really inspired. Otherwise, I just want to sit under the sun and have a good time and talk about the stuff.

According to you, has industrial design always existed in movie sector's nature or has it begun to grow after the necessity in science fiction movies like Star Wars and Alien?

I think, as things get more tacky you are going to have to have a lot more people from that sector going into movies because you are able actually make things that you wouldn’t be able to do normally. Now there are more people involved in this but there was always a small presence of them in the past, too. There were always architects involved in filmmaking. There were always concept illustrators. Some of them had shared the same background of an industrial designer. They were labeled that way.

How does the scope of industrial designers change in this sector through the years?

I think they are recruiting more people from industrial design background versus illustrator background in the film industry now. Generations from 60s early 70s had a lot more illustrators involved. After mid 70's they started really having a lot more industrial designers. Now a lot of people are trying to move into the film industry directly from school. Some even do not become conceptual artists. There is one guy named Phil Celler who comes from Art Center. He came from automotive program and just went storyboarding so he doesn't really do any concept design. The training is extremely valuable in this industry.

What will future bring for animation and real motion films and how can you describe the role of industrial designers in future, who are in this industry?

They are rather accepted. There are a lot of industrial design programs, which are cooperating 3d, work in computer and that is extreme feature for this industry. It's changing. Even live action films are actually pre-visualizing the film like a virtual environment in a computer So I think that training in industrial design and getting these computer skills are going to be what will be really wanted and looked for in the industry and also especially d in animation. A lot of animations are moving towards computer generation.

As an outsider, do you think that Turkey, where there is no sign of animation and special effect films, need the vision of industrial designers in movie sector?

I guess basically you just have to have somebody with very strong visual skills and imagination to start off in this industry. But if Turkey has a project I'm sure they will benefit from hiring industrial designers as conceptual artists.

Finally, What are your plans for the future?

I am just kind of doing what I'm doing except just trying to use my mind rather than my wrist. Basically I just want to keep on going doing what I'm doing. It's a fun job.

Will you try to design something as an industrial designer?

Actually no. The work that I do is quite involved. And I usually take that with me home. I really don't have any extra time to do these other things. But in-between projects I might try to figure out some personal projects.

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