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'Simplicity key to successful design'

May 01. 2015
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A MAJOR factor in the success of the design of "Mobile Suit Gundam", a famous robot-genre animated television series, is its simplicity, according its creator, Kunio Okawara.

The series has been seen in more than 25 countries, and its producers are exploring opportunities in at least 15 more. Globally, sales of Gundam properties, including broadcasting, merchandising and publishing, were worth US$700 million to $800 million (Bt23 billion to Bt26 billion) in 2013.

Born in 1947, two years after the end of World War II, Okawara now is a well-known designer of robots, specialised vehicles and other mechanical objects that appear mainly in animated features. He was responsible for creating mechanical characters for the “Time Bokan”-related series “Yatterman” and “Rescueman”, as well as for “Mobile Suit Gundam”. This all started with his 1972 series “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman”.

“At the first time I designed Gundam in 1978, there were [already] many robots in the animation industry in Japan. But most of them were in geometric forms. However, I decided to change the silhouette of my design for a robot to be different from the others by placing ‘humanity’ into my work, such as human muscles on the robot’s legs and arms,” he said.

Okawara said he still drew his designs on paper so they represented the unique characteristics of his line patterns, which are different from those created by other designers.

“I also put the form of the chonmage, which is a form of Japanese traditional haircut worn by men, and kabuto, which is a type of helmet first used by ancient Japanese warriors, into the design of Gundam. They are my inspirations that are concealed behind the creation of Gundam,” said Okawara, 67.

He was invited by Dream Express, the officially licensed representative of Gundam in Thailand, to hold a live onstage forum at “Anime Festival Asia Thailand 2015”, being held until today at Bitec in Bang Na, and to meet Thai Gundam fans.

“The attraction of Gundam is its simplicity. It is different from other robots of that time, which were quite messy. I designed Gundam to have a simple composition, so that its attractiveness would last [a long time],” Okawara said.

He said his design of Gundam had also kept in mind the goal of creating a robot toy that children would enjoy.

Okawara gave the example of the FF-X7 Core Fighter, which is an integral part of the Earth Federation Forces’ “Project V”, forming an interchangeable cockpit block for the RX-78-2 Gundam, RX-77-2 Guncannon and RX-75-4 Guntank. The role of a mechanic designer is to find a new gimmick that other toys do not have.

In 1979, the first series of “Mobile Suit Gundam” began broadcasting in Japan, followed by “Z Gundam” in 1985 and “ZZ Gundam” in 1986.

At that time, Okawara had the idea of designing a new “Mobile Fighter G Gundam”. That series started to be broadcast in Japan in 1994. Even though it did not receive strong feedback from viewers as expected, “G Gundam” became a turning point for new Gundam series, including “Gundam Wing”, which has been broadcast for the first time in the United States and has earned a new group of female fans both in Japan and around the world.

Generally, design work results from brainstorming of staff and is finished six months before the first animated broadcast.

Over the last 36 years, the Gundam franchise has crossed generations and has been enjoyed by an ever-growing fan base. In Japan and Thailand, the largest group of Gundam fans consists of working people aged between 25 and 40.

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