Designing Woman: Atsuko Nakajima
The simple answer to "what is a character designer?" is, of course, to design characters for animating, but that's hardly the whole answer. Character design requires an artist to not only be able to create original designs of his or her own, but to interpret other artists' work in a way that translates to animation. This is especially important when a project is based on a manga or other original work.
"The character design process is entirely different for animation based on another work versus original animation, so there's no real definitive way to go about it," says character designer Atsuko Nakajima, who has worked on all of the animated adaptations of creator Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ½ so far. "I think my job is to include my own style without destroying the manga's image. In the case of Ranma ½, its been so long that all of the characters have become very precious to me," Nakajima says fondly.
Though Nakajima went to animation school to learn character design, she admits that she doesn't really remember what her first job was. She remembers that her childhood ambition was very different, though. "I think I wanted to become a beautician," she laughs. "If I hadn't gone into character design, I probably would have been a kimono dresser, or something else that involves drawing." As for the job of character design itself, Nakajima is quick to point out that the designer is not only responsible for the main characters, but sub-characters as well, something that's often overlooked when viewers assess the completed project. Hiroyuki Kitazume remembers clearly his first big design job (in Mobile Suit Gundam Double Zeta) that "it had so many subcharacters. Even a middle-aged man had to have a profession and social position and a personality."
Likewise, Nakajima's job on Ranma ½ didn't end with the adaptation of the main characters - background characters, and even some new to the animation such as Kuno's anime-only sidekick Sasuke had to be drawn and realized. And although Nakajima admits that she is "never satisfied" with her own work, she still points out that the main difference between TV work and OVA/theatrical work is the time involved.
"I am impressed though," she says, "over how much always gets done within the limit of the schedules given." And to give a story which before only existed in the paper of a manga - and the imagination of its readers - a face that moves, a voice that talks, and a story that happens in real time....that is something impressive indeed.
On designing the characters of different mangaka
"I've worked on Rumiko Takahashi's characters for so long that it was hard to adjust to (Kosuke) Fujishima."
On American animation versus Japanese animation
"The designs are just different."
Born: Kanagawa Prefecture
Blood Type: A
Birthdate: December 21
Star sign: Sagittarius
Marital Status: Married
Favorite anime: "None in particular."
Hobbies: Travel (hot springs). "I walk around Kichijoji when I'm free," she laughs. (Kichijoji being a trendy area of Tokyo known for its many animation and manga studios. - Ed.)
Philosophy: "Even if you're doing something you like, it's hard to stay there. Keep working."
Originally Published in:
Animerica Vol 4. No. 4
Animator, Key Animation
Character Design, Key Animation, Animation Director
Ranma ½, Movies, OVAs
Inuyasha the Movie 4
You're Under Arrest
Rurouni Kenshin, OVAs, Movies
Queen's Blade Rebellion