A night with Mitsuhisa Ishikawa

A night with Ishikawa – March 24, 2006

This was a lecture with Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, President of Production I.G. Some parts of the event were edited out of the recording and the following due to the wishes of those present. The following is not the entire event, but most of it.

Interpreter: David Wheeler

All written answers below are transcribed from the Interpreter’s dialog.

At this point the first episode of IGPX Immortal Grand Prix was played.

Ishikawa: Nihao (Chinese for hello)

Interpreter: IGPX started in November 2005 and what you saw was the inaugural episode. The next series starts in May and will run until June and will be a thirteen episode series. So although you may learn more about it soon, you can certainly look forward to May when the next series starts, 10 o’clock Saturday nights on the cartoon channel. Just tell your kids or your little siblings that there is something you gotta watch. Now what I want to suggest to you is if you have any questions about this or about the process of creating Anime in general, anything germane to what you just saw, ask away.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: First by way of explanation, not in general but about this, IGPX comes from Maha Go Go Go, it may not ring a bell for that is what it was called in Japan. In English it was called Speed Racer. That was the inspiration for this idea of a futuristic competitive race, based on Formula 1 racing taken into a futuristic level.

Q: The city design was interesting, how about a little background on how you came up with that and why you decided to design it that way?

A: Interestingly, this was the first time we had the animators and designers, of both the background and all the mechanics themselves, as the same people. So we weren’t compromising the background because it was the background. So we put a lot of time into it, interesting that you noticed. We decided that in order to create this futuristic scene we wanted something that would have a quality to it that would pass where we are. Having done that not only the foreground but the background was done in 3-D.

And some of you may have seen GITS (Ghost in the Shell). And GITS 2: Innocence. The creators of those, both the mechanics design and the layout were the same people, so this is a continuous process. Going on for about ten years.

Q: How do you feel about 3-D vs. 2-D and the integration of the two?

A: As you may know the tradition in Japan of writing Manga and even historically going back centuries, the tradition of writing comic figures, and then everything from wood block through the the present Manga printing all has a tradition of two dimensional condition.

So while we would like to be able to do everything on characters themselves in two dimensional drawing, when you get to the using these mechanical designs like these futuristic racing machines; to do that with just two dimensions and hand drawing it is a nightmare. So we do a lot of that digitally in 3-D. I’s sort of a compromise.

Q: Do you use a 3-D rendering program to draw these? What software do you use for your animating?

A: It is an interesting process and we use a variety of 3-D software programs. But what we use is basically something that I.G itself has devised that is sort of a compromise of 3-D software and physical human animators. The problem of 3-D software is that once you go into a digital mode you can’t get a human flex, for example the way a camera man would follow something physically, and the way that image could be drawn physically by an animator. So what you have to do is take the mechanics of moving across the racing machines, moving across the screen, digitally create that, and then have input by a physical human animator to make that digital form look more natural, to a human viewers eye. That is something that I.G has worked to develop themselves. This is something that they have in house.

Q. What is the specific name of the software that you use now?

A: Formerly we were using a software called LightWave that was very economical that we used for quite a while. What we are now using is a Software called MAYA.

An interesting aspect of this process is, this is sort of when you’re compromising between the past and the future, and technology is that, we have animators, older animators that all their lives have been animating with a pencil and paper. And one picture after another, each a little bit different, that’s how you made animation. And now these same people are using mice to do the same job, and the cursor becomes the tip of the pencil. And it’s interesting that, just like for example with 20th century when automobiles were established it was a big thing and people were trying to learn how to use them. We grew up with automobiles and it no big deal; we know how to drive them before we ever get behind the wheel. Kids in school now draw pictures with out ever picking up a pencil they start by using a mouse. So moving that cursor around is a very natural thing for them. Ironically draftsmen, people that learned to draw with a pencil, are much quicker even when they switch over to a mouse at getting a much higher quality of picture than someone who has just learned from their childhood at just using a mouse. So the experience of drafting is something that we can’t compromise on.

Q: What is the best thing for someone interested in getting into animation to do?

A: Draw a lot of pictures. Draw more pictures than anyone you know or can imagine. Really pay attention at looking at things and be very clear about what you are seeing that you want to draw.

Q: How much time goes into production?

A: 3-D stuff is 10-15 people for 2-3 weeks, and the 2-D animators is about 10 people working for a month, to create that 20-minute clip.

Q: How much of the 2-D animation is reused?

A: The 3-D, since it is all absolutely digital, is able to be recycled and reused, so the more we create the more we have this pool this backlog of stuff we have archived we can easily access. In contrast the 2-D animators working on human expressions, it is something that has to be done from zero every time.

Ishikawa talks directly to the audience.


I am so excited to be here, I love American culture, American ladies and American food, but I need chopsticks to eat. Also American baseball, but maybe the CO Rockies could use some Japanese players. I’d like to see Japanese players. Thank you.

Back to the Translator

Q: How do you feel about collaborations with other studios? Like the AniMatrix?

A: I’d like to spend a little bit of time now looking back at the ten years, since the first movie came out, GITS to the present where Production I.G is now.

When we made GITS 10 years ago, we were actually just a sub-contracting production company, it was not our production.

Interestingly in Japan still most animation companies are sub-contractors, someone else has the money, someone else pays for them to do the job, and someone else takes the credit for the job. And it’s interesting that it was American producers that said it could all be done under one roof.

In 1996 James Cameron, who was in the process of producing the blockbuster Titanic, became aware of the phenomenal talent of the animators in the industry in Japan, he invited 5 of the top animators in Japan to see if they could help in what he was doing. He had them all flown over and met them at LAX in a big black limo. And I was very excited to be able to work with Cameron and in my role as producer I was honored to send five of my top animators to meet with him. So when they came out of LAX after this trip over the pacific, and those who have done this know afterward you are physically and mentally toast afterwards, so they come out of the airport and see this huge black limousine and the two big bodyguards in sunglasses and tuxedos, they are a little shocked at what they are getting into.

So now they have arrived, got through customs, they realized they forgot to eat breakfast, and they are getting hungry, as it is getting on into the afternoon. So they have this stretch limo take them to a 7-11. So as they pull into the parking lot a bunch of panhandlers see this limo pull in and realize that this is their chance, they go up to the limo and out pop a bunch of guys worse dressed than I am, (see photo on Anime-Pulse website for image of Ishikawa that night) and they been awake for the last 24 hours and they look like it. And the homeless guys were shocked that they were dressed better than the guys that got out of the limo.

James Cameron runs Digital Domain, and the third shocking thing for these five animators on their trip to see the new world was they were met not just by James Cameron, but also by Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who wasn’t the governor yet).

Actually I’ve already signed a contract to preserve the confidentiality of that meeting, so I can’t tell you everything but I’ll tell you what I can.

So Mr. Scott Ross, who is the CEO of Digital Domain had these five animators come, and this is how he convinced them to come and see him. If you’re gonna do baseball you want to play it in the major leagues in the US, and if you’re going to do movies you want to be in Hollywood. Interestingly those five animators, after having this meeting went back to Japan and are still working at I.G.

And so while I am still aware Scott Ross’ words that if you’re going to do movies you need to be in Hollywood, in an era like now, where everything is moving around so quickly digitally, where ever you may see that movie, that becomes your Hollywood, where you produce that movie becomes your Hollywood. And hopefully through this IGPX series I’m able to show a little bit of that idea to someone who lives in Hollywood and still thinks it’s the center of the universe.

And now I’d like to move on to 2001 when the famous actor and more famous movie director named Quinton Tarantino, showed up at Production I.G’s studio in Kokubunji City on the Western side of Tokyo, without an appointment or anything, he just showed up.

Why he did that is explained by his having seen, first GITS and then Blood: the Last Vampire, two animations that Production I.G had produced. And Tarantino, the movie fanatic that he is, wanted to use I.G’s Anime in Kill Bill. So he came to Japan to make sure he could do that.

But he didn’t make an appointment with anyone, he just showed up all of the sudden, and I wasn’t there that day. So he’s walking around the studio’s looking around, with people looking at him wondering what’s this all about?

So my employees, not having ever met him before thought that maybe this was a double. It’s not like Tarantino is going to show up and walk around here. But then he sat down and for three hours talked about how he wanted to use animation created by production I.G in his movie Kill Bill. And my simple answer was “sorry can’t do it”.

So as the CEO and head producer of my company, we’re in the middle of GITS:2 and GITS Stand Alone Complex, there was just no time in my schedule, and my employee’s schedule to fit in another animation project. So I told him sorry, to busy.

Apparently in Tarantino’s vocabulary there isn’t the word that “no means no”.

So time after time he sends me the first draft the second draft, the third draft for the scenarios for Kill Bill, and each time they are getting more interesting.

And finally I was convinced this was something, even though we were really busy, this was probably something we should do. So I said sorry guys you’re going to get even busier and were going to do this. And I told him I would do it. And if you want to know what kind of director Tarantino is I can tell you, I worked with him, “crazy”.

And now I’d like to show you the trailer for the second Ghost In The Shell movie, Innocence.

As I said Tarantino as a director is insane. After we watch this I’d like to say a couple words about Mamoru Oshii the director in that context.

(Note: We actually watched the trailer for Tachigui:Retsuden)

The first time I saw this movie I thought, “well this is probably the end of my life as an animation director”. (This was in response to the movie for the trailer we watched, the trailer really was insane) So while I said I thought that Tarantino was crazy. Mamoru Oshii is way more crazy than that. The first time I saw it I was convinced that as an animation producer my life was done, the second time I saw it I thought there might be something there, and on the third time I thought this is going to fly.

So it took me three times from my standpoint that this will work as animation, so it’ll take you a little more than that so you should all watch it ten times. So far the second in the series GITS2:Innocence we expended a huge amount of money to make that movie. So from the stand point as a producer we decided for this film, Tachigui:Retsuden (Biographies of Standing Fast Food), two years later, the first consideration I made clear to Oshii, was that I wanted to spend as little money as possible on this film. So from the technique of what you watched you might be able to call this animation or you might not be able to call this animation. It’s like you took animation and real film with real actors mixed it up and took half of that. For each of the characters in this film we took a variety of digital shots, 30,000 for each of them. And then incorporated that in to computers and the post-production process moved them around, expending huge amounts of time to develop the images you will see in this movie. It’s way to expensive to pay a lot of people to do this, so we had college students do it for us. So the students did the post-production work and the animators and people who are very famous in the world of animation are the actors.

For example the art director of Macross, Shoji Kawamori, or Shinji Higuchi who wrote scripts for Evangelion, Toshio Suzuki from Studio Ghibli and a very famous illustrator in Japan, Buichi Terasawa.

And in this unique situation where the students are doing this for the honor and the experience of doing this. All these actors, the conditions of their contracts are they won’t be paid and they are obligated to promote the movie. So our marketing cost was zero. And all these people are really famous and if we find they aren’t advertising our stuff, we will just cut their scenes. So at the very least I can say this film will be well advertised and financially secure. And with GITS2 we went through a lot in making it 3-D while trying to make it look not 3-D.

So having done GITS, a type of thriller, IGPX and Tachigui, we hadn’t done something from a woman’s perspective. There is a group of 4 women Manga writers called Clamp who have been very successful, so this last year we started a road show for two of their shows. So we took their stories and turned it into a theater movie.

(Now we watched the preview for the XXXHolic movie)

So as you may understand these two stories are converted into movies and was a really big deal in Japan last year. This is such a big deal because these women are so popular in Japan. They are so popular that now they are famous as speakers. So while doing Tachigui we felt bad about not paying them and we asked what we could do for them and they asked if we could get Clamp to come talk to them. So that ended up being their payment.

Now I would like to talk about my personal life. When I was a college student instead of studying in classrooms I spent most of my time traveling the world. For some reason as a student I was interested in Bunraku (puppet storytelling). So the group I had become a member of went on an international tour, they said I wasn’t good enough and told me to stay behind and earn some money. So while looking for a job since I didn’t get to go with the group I thought I was a member of, I saw an ad for Tatsunoko Production, the company that produced Speed Racer, so I got a part time job as an assistant producer, and then a producer, and then 5 years later I quit that job. And while I was working so hard in this job I wasn’t able to practice Bunraku so I was cut from the theater group. So after quitting Tatsunoko Production I started Production I.G (Originally I.G Tatsunoko). So my mother didn’t really care too much about what I was doing in all my academic performances good or bad, mostly the latter I’m sad to say, but she did say I don’t ever want you to become the president of a company. She was very worried about this, and so I felt bad about starting my own company, and as such was president. So for four years I didn’t tell my mother, till one day she called my previous employer looking for me and they told her I hadn’t been there for 4 years. So she called me at home and said even now, it’s just fine, just quit being president of your company. So I apologized and said I have so much going on just give me one more year, and here I am 18 years later and I’m still doing it. For those who don’t know this Production I.G is now on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE), this is the thing I am most worried about my mother finding out about.

So if I were to explain why my mother feels this way, my mother’s theory about life is to make sure we have a good idea about where our feet are. Don’t look up looking for the next thing, make sure we have a solid footing, that what she told me my whole life. In first grade I got my first report card, and my mom got shocked and told me “I don’t care what’s on them just don’t show them to me anymore”. And it’s ironic that I always had terrible grades and that through college I was traveling around the world and now I’m a special lecturer at the prestigious Tokyo University. I’m not sure my mother would even believe this. There are students now in Japan who want to be venture capitalists, get listed and by the time they are 30 be able to retire. And so for me that I got listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange is no big deal, it’s not my dream. If anything, getting listed is just one more step in my long list of goals, in making my dream come true. So my philosophy is that it’s important to have huge dreams. But in order to reach those huge dreams you have to have a series of small goals. And my feeling is that having a big dream is important, but if you set your goal and your dream at the same place, you’re never going to get there. It’s just too hard to do all at once. The thing you have to do is set a bunch of small goals that you are committed to, you can’t decide it’s too hard. If you did that then obviously your goal was too hard or you weren’t committed enough. But through a series of small goals that you commit yourself to, you get to a place that’s high enough that then that big dream you had isn’t all that high anymore. So as you get through those goals you can reach that dream, but you don’t have to, because you can make your dream bigger, and this is what make my life beautiful and exciting, and should be a part of everyone’s life.

And its true that in Japan they say don’t boast about your family, it’s important to be humble and I think that is an important thing.

Q: In the 19 years since you started Production I.G with your partner Takayuki Goto, I believe he’s a character designer and you do the rest of the production work. How has your relationship with him evolved over that time?

A: My feeling is that the producer, which is my role as the President, and the creators, the animators or various designers, is a separate role, which is needed. Because if a creator was at the top that creator will be worried about hiring any other creator that might challenge him, however I can hire whoever I want and put them all together and let them work on something, and by them working together they can work on something much greater than them working by themselves. I believe it’s important to keep the two separate.

Q: How is the competition, considering that there are hundreds and hundreds of titles out there, how do you stay afloat?

A: I believe that simply producing one piece after another is not going to lead to much. The important thing is to have everyone you’re working with be motivated. Motivation is the source of good production. That is something that has been a central philosophy in all my work and I think that’s one reason that we are able to keep going as we are.

Interestingly as you can imagine no work is so fun that you can survive on motivation alone. In cases like that I make sure that work is well paid for.

Q: Why is it you think major productions like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within have failed in the US. And do you think there will be something that will respond well with American Audiences.

A: As you may know Final Fantasy was a flop as a movie, but in the process they got a bunch of know-how that enabled them to make a successful game. So it has been a success, but there is a give and take sense in investing in one area to realize a benefit in another area. So you can see that there are multiple games but there will not be a sequel of the movie. I.G is making one major movie a year. And not every movie will be a success, but by making one major movie a year we are going to have a variety of different successes down the road.

Q: Current animation in the US is being influenced by Japanese animation, is Japanese animation influence by classic US animation.

A: Techniques in Disney’s Classical animation are really high technical quality, and this is still highly respected in Japan, but technology be it as it may, now animators are watching things made by Pixar.

Q: In 2003 you gave an interview to Newtype, in which you said there were so many Anime series coming out that the quality would decline. Now three years later is that still your view or what do you think about that now?

A: My impression is that the quality may have lowered some, chances for people to do things have increased.

Q: Do mothers have a lot of influence to children in Japan?

A: I have two daughters, there is no way I can influence them more than their mother.

Q: Does work get outsourced much?

A: My personality is that I do the opposite of what everyone else does, so while many companies are outsourcing to China and Korea., Production I.G is unique in that they not only don’t outsource to other countries, they don’t outsource to other companies.

Q: What does I.G stand for?

A: It stands for two words Itsumo (always) and Genki (happy), you should ask is that true. In reality it stands for Ishikawa, and my artist collaborator’s name Takayuki Goto, the initials of our last names. But now though I am the sole president, we kept the name. But I am happy to say it means Itsumo Genki.

Q: Do you see future collaboration with US companies?

A: I may be collaborating with people, or I may not, I would like to tell you more but there is recording equipment turned on at the front of the hall (Yeah, that was us. We felt pretty bad because we really wanted to hear what he had to say) and I can’t say anymore.

Q: As your company gets bigger and expands, are you going to get into distributing your own stuff?

A. Production I.G is a B2B (business to business) company, as opposed to a B2C (business to consumer). Right now I am most attracted to production and creation as opposed to distributing. The advantage of this is that I can team up with the best company for whichever region I need to distribute something in. Even if the different distribution companies have issues with each other, it doesn’t bother me, I go with the best company for the situation.

Q: How is it that GITS: Stand Alone Complex came to be written by a committee instead of an individual?

A: Even though the title Stand Alone Complex talks about, sounds like one person but we had many people working on it. The aim of this was putting science, a very concrete thing together with animation, a very abstract thing. In order to do that we used a committee.

Q: What are the differences between speaking to college students here and giving lectures at Tokyo University?

A: I guess the big point here is that it’s not just one class, it’s more of a whole 2 year curriculum. Only 20 students get to take this course, so even after getting into Tokyo University they have to take a test to get into this course. Then we take 20 people from the public domain. It’s very selective.

And in this course, for example we are doing a Q&A session here, but in Tokyo, all the students ask one question, and I answer the questions I want to answer. Recently at one class where I got 10 questions that were all too hard for me so I didn’t answer them. And so honestly one of the reasons I accepted this position at Tokyo University even though I’m not big on academics. It is a good opportunity to scout out new talent. The largest amount of people from any one university is Tokyo University. The only problem is that the parents don’t want them to come and work for me because they spent so much to get their kid into Tokyo University, and then when they want to come to Production I.G, the parents wonder what they spent the last 20 years on. I can understand the parents feelings. On the other hand I would like to say to them that it’s a wonderful thing that their child has found what they really have a passion for and want to do and have taken the first step into their personal life in a way that is paved for success. And I truly believe that 10-20 years from now these people will look back and be glad that they came to work for me. And the reason I can believe that is that I know the people I hired and I believe that they are the best people in the world that I could have hired. With that point alone I’m proud to be able to lead them down the road into this world of animation to be the best company in the world in animation.

And to end this, I would like to say something to these three guys up front here, (yes it’s us the Anime-Pulse staff). What I want to say is from here on out in your lives there are two things that you should not try to chase after and get, that is women and money. (We really wish we knew why he said that to us).

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0 Replies to “A night with Mitsuhisa Ishikawa”

  1. Great episode i liked it alot. That was hillarous Ishikawa saying that at the end. It would be great to hear more of this in the future. I like how that one question was kind of dodged before igpx XD.

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