Interview with Nintendo Animator Yoichi Kotabe

Jotting Down Sudden Ideas

Iwata Okay, now let’s talk about Flipnote Studio. The kind of flipbook animation that you draw in the corners of your textbook and the kind of animation that Kotabe-san has worked on are in some respects complete opposites, but you could also say they spring from the same source. Koizumi-san, what did you think when you showed Ugomemo (Flipnote Studio) to Kotabe-san? Having been the master’s pupil for so long, were you excited or afraid?

Koizumi I thought he was sure to like it. When I first explained it to him, I knew if I said I wanted to make pictures move that he would understand, so I could approach with my head held high.

Kotabe When I heard about it, I thought it was an interesting way of making animation.

Koizumi Inside, I was pretty nervous, though. (laughs)

Iwata Kotabe-san, what do you think about this company that you have worked with for so long suddenly creating something that some might call the starting point of animation and offering it for free to people who buy Nintendo’s new game console, the Nintendo DSi?

Kotabe What? It’s free? I didn’t know that. Oh…that’s quite extraordinary. In my day it took forever until we could actually see something moving on a screen.

Iwata I see.

Kotabe We used to learn movement by hand, drawing pictures frame by frame and flipping through them to learn the general speed. But by hand, something would suddenly appear a little off.

Of course, now you’ve got computers, so you can see the actual timing, but it’s amazing how easy it is with Flipnote. What’s more, you can use dozens of frames and there are also frame settings. I think this was only possible because Koizumi-san knows about animation.

Koizumi I learned it all from you! (laughs)

Kotabe-san would draw the original art and I would create the proofs and have him check them. The lines he drew were so graceful. He can draw line art that stands on its own, so ever since that time I have thought that you could complete a work of animation simply through lines and movement.

Iwata I see.

Koizumi Japanese animation has both graceful lines and incredible movement. The movement techniques discovered by Kotabe-san and others involved in the early days of Toei Animation are very impressive, so I feel like I want to unearth those again.

Kotabe Sometimes as I was scribbling away, I wished I had a tool to help me out. It wasn’t exactly a fly in the ointment, though.

Koizumi What kind of tool do you mean?

Kotabe Like a sketching tool. For example, if I wanted to draw a girl skipping, in order to finish off her face neatly, I wanted to sketch it first, but didn’t have the tool. If I could use grey to draw a rough sketch, then I could draw it accurately.

Iwata Don’t worry. We plan to include such a tool in Flipnote Studio Version 2.

Koizumi We’ll include a layering function in Version 2, (Updates made in Japan version 2 of Flipnote Studio were incorporated in the initial US version). First, you can draw a rough sketch as one layer, then you can place another layer over it to polish it off.

Kotabe Oh, you can do that? That’s good to hear! (laughs)

Everyone (laughs)

Kotabe You’ve really thought this through. I’m impressed.

Koizumi First we’re just going to release the bare necessities, then later, just when everyone wants more functions, we’ll release Version 2. If we handed users a bunch of functions at once, they might get confused. Also, the absolute minimum necessary features are explained in writing, but only icons serve for all the rest. When someone notices one of those icons, he or she will wonder what it is and try it out. I’d like it if everyone teaches each other what they’ve learned.

Iwata When you showed Ugomemo to Kotabe-san, what did you want to stress the most?

Koizumi How easy it makes drawing. You can draw something and set it into motion in two simple steps. You won’t find anything else that allows you to do that with a stylus.

Iwata Once you draw something, you can immediately start it moving and check it right away. Kotabe-san, as an animator, do you find that amazing?

Kotabe It truly is amazing. When a professional animator suddenly has an idea, he can’t immediately check out how well it will work. Certain materials are necessary. But with Ugomemo, drawing is easy.

Miyamoto And it’s great how you can draw anywhere. The reason I doodled in the corners of my textbooks during classes at school was because I had so much time on my hands.

Iwata Is that why you’re still drawing caricatures during meetings at Nintendo?

Everyone (laughs)

Iwata You pretend like you’re taking notes, but I bet you’re really drawing our visitors’ faces. I suppose it’s a different kind of memo.

Miyamoto Right. I don’t want to forget whom I met that day. But I haven’t been doing it much lately.

Koizumi From now on you can do it on Ugomemo.

Miyamoto Good idea!

Everyone (laughs)