Although most otome games (games with a female target group that feature beautiful male characters ) are drawn in shoujo manga style. Imprisoned Palm, a popular smartphone app from Capcom, stands out because it uses realistic impasto, a technique where paint is applied very thickly, giving a unique texture.
Chisato Mita, graphic designer for Capcom, designed the characters in this game. She has also designed characters for Capcom’s E.X. Troopers and for TV anime Macross Delta. She has an impressively huge variety of art styles in her repertoire.
We sat down with Chisato Mita and talked about games and art. She shared a few behind-the-scenes stories, tips on how to design characters, and moments from her career as a computer graphic designer.
Chisato Mita (@mitachisato)
Planed and edited by: Koudai Kurimoto (@koudai5511)
Interviewed and written by: Yukiyomi Mikame (@mikameyukiyomi)
A Capcom-style Otome Game: Imprisoned Palm
How did you get involved in the Imprisoned Palm production project?
Right after they launched the project, I got an offer from the staff with whom I had worked together on E.X. Troopers.
Although the style is very different from that of E.X. Troopers, how did you create the designs of Imprisoned Palm?
As soon as I joined the production team, I had already decided to use realistic impasto. Ten years ago, Capcom released the Full House Kiss series for PlayStation 2, and that was their last otome game at the time. I don’t think customers know Capcom as an otome game company, so their new otome game had to stand out somehow.
I reviewed the styles of Capcom’s graphic designers, and found that their sketches of bodies are steady, and they tend to put layers of colors. We thought this technique might be unique in an otome game, so we decided to use realistic impasto.
I heard many men play Imprisoned Palm as well, and I wonder if it is because the design style is impasto. Was it your intention to attract men gamers as well?
I’m glad men play this game too. We wanted our new game to look odd in otome game magazines. I think male players also like it because they like the Capcom-style otome games.
Can I hear more about how you conceptualize characters?
When I conceptualize characters, I integrate my teammates’ opinions. I tend to design characters in the works intended for men more visibly attractive, but for women I try not to make characters stick out.
Speaking of which, products for women are not flashy, but simple.
That is right. The female members of the team prefer flashy stuff, they work for Capcom after all, but customers don’t like that. When we create characters, the first thing we consider is ‘not to be disliked’ instead of introducing the flashy characters we like.
So did you consider all of those points when you designed Aoi and other sub-characters?
Yes. Basically, I tried not to sharpen their hair and shoulders (laughs). In Imprisoned Palm, you mainly talk to a character while seeing his/her body above the bust, so we design the body parts above the clavicle of every character really carefully, including their hair.
People were saying that the blueprint of Haruto on Mita’s Twitter was ‘golden ratio!’ Was ‘golden ratio’ in your mind when you drew it?
I love the reference books on drawing by illustrator Andrew Loomis, and I often use the ideas from his books. I follow the instructions in the book such as ‘the space between eyes should be the length of an eye’ and such, and calculate the rest of the parts using these main parts. I followed the ratio that makes things look beautiful, so maybe that’s why people said it looked like ‘golden ratio.’
The sub-characters are also very unique and that makes the game even more attractive. How did you design them?
Actually, I was not going to use NPCs at all, but the setting in which the player explores the island and gather topics were set from the beginning, and it could not be covered only by monologues (laughs).
It may have been odd if the NPCs were silhouettes.
There was an idea of using only silhouettes for NPCs. Some said it would be ok as long as we can differentiate the NPCs, but at last we decided that even NPCs need personalities. Thanks to that we ended up with much more work to do, lol.
Were there any there complications during the creation of the game?
I knew that I was supposed to draw images using the impasto technique, but you need to get used to it beforehand to be able to use it. I could not draw it at first. The Palm team was on and off. I did some other jobs in between like conceptualizing characters for Macross Delta and drawing the backgrounds of Dai Gyakuten Saiban (part of the Ace Attorney series) so it was hard for me to improve my drawing skills with the impasto technique.
That must have been really hard, to work on other jobs and change drawing styles on each.
Yes, I am still struggling with it (laughs).
I bet you experienced many complications while making 2D designs into 3D.
You may think that when I convert 2D images into 3D I simply calculate the ratio, but actually it requires way more advanced skills. I have a senior who is a 3D expert who created 3D models for Resident Evil, Dai Gyakuten Saiban, and more. I really wanted him to translate the 2D images of Palm into 3D space.
Were there any limits during the translation of images?
Hmm… It was not exactly about limits, but the 3D expert said, ‘If you convert this images into 3D space, it won’t be way off.’ According to him, compared to the profile, the chin on the face viewed from the front is drawn more tucked in on most character design images. When you look the face from the front, the eyes are looking a little upwards so he/she looks more attractive. But on my image the chin was sticking out, so he said my images are broken, lol.
Oh now I see…!
He told me that most 3D designers consider that little advice when they draw. Then, I was asked, ‘the front or profile, which should look more beautiful?’ I answered the front although we prepared 5-sided images for Palm. In this game, when the characters talk they face players, so I asked to make the front face look the best.
There was more freedom with Aoi than Haruto!
Give me the key features of the ongoing episode, Aoi Arc.
When you play Imprisoned Palm, Haruto is the first person you meet, so we draw him with mild, gentle signs. However, Aoi is the second person you meet, so we used more 2D signs.
Like you say, Aoi looks more 2D than Haruto.
Yes, I thought 2D-ish characters are easier for players so they imagine their own characters out of them (laugh). Haruto was drawn in the way I mentioned earlier, so I feel like he could have been better. I like unique things like the rest of the Capcom staff does, lol, so that’s why I recommend Haruto.
So Aoi ver. exists because of Haruto, right?
Haruto was created according to the general evaluation of the teammates and he symbolizes the title, so we created him with a lot of care and love with attention to the details like the subtle movements of his heart. Because of the nature of Haruto’s existence, we could create Aoi’s appearance more freely.
Is there anything special about Aoi?
Aoi looks sharp and stands out, so we made his feelings complicated; he doesn’t open his heart easily. I hope you enjoy the disagreement between his looks and his emotions, especially when he touches his earrings and rolls his eyes. Those detailed motions were designed by the motion specialists. I’d be happy if the players can detect his weaknesses through those movements. Personally, I like his embarrassed face during the Memorial Meeting…!! Check it out on the app!
I was attracted to Capcom’s open atmosphere.
Now, I would like to ask about yourself. Could you tell me how you entered Capcom, and how it has been since then?
When I was playing Capcom games as a gamer, I had Street Fighter, Resident Evil, and Rival Schools: United by Fate. I thought that someday I might be able to make interesting games. At that time, they had a Design Department that worked for other companies as well.
An illustrator known as Akiman was working for Capcom. He has since left Capcom and started his own business. He was conceptualizing characters for Turn A Gundam, and told me just how free-spirited this company was (laughs). I thought that if I could join Capcom I could develop games, and work for other companies as well!
Speaking of robots, you took over the job of creating characters in Macross Delta, after your boss. Did you feel moved by it?
Yes! Capcom accepted a job from another company for the first time in almost ten years. I feel grateful to them.
What was your first job after you entered Capcom?
For ten years after joining Capcom, I designed backgrounds for lots of different works and learned a lot.
Although you had been working on backgrounds for long time, didn’t you feel frustrated by not being able to draw characters?
Yes I did. I was sure I could draw characters , but my bosses didn’t understand that (laugh). They didn’t let me draw characters for five years, and I found out that even if I was talented, I needed to show everyone that I work hard. I was really sulky until I realized that. (laughs)
What happened between that realization and until you were in charge of designing characters?
I asked my bosses what I needed to do to be able to design characters; they advised me to think a lot and try to amuse the audience. I had been thinking about that myself, and I was unable to think about my goals clearly. When I set my goal, to entertain the audience, I found which were the right things to do. Since then I have tried to finish my work quickly and help others. I thought I may get more jobs that require a lot of responsibility if I continued that for a few years.
After going through these hardships, you were chosen to conceptualize the characters for E.X. Troopers. Did you feel pressured when you were chosen for the job?
No, I didn’t. It may be because I didn’t think about failure. My gratitude that they finally selected me to work on characters was much greater than any negative feelings. Originally, E.X. Troopers was a spin-off of the Lost Planet series. At first, we were going to make a hardcore game, and I was in charge of backgrounds and UI (user interface), but we changed the theme of the work into a manga-like, cheerful one. That was hard for the members in the team at that time, and we needed someone who could draw bright, super deformed style characters, which happened to be me!
If they hadn’t changed the theme of the game, you might not have been in charge of character design for a long time, right?
Right. The timing was perfect.
Can I hear about the time you were in charge of the character concept design of the TV anime, Macross Delta?
When the Macross Delta project started, the general director, Shouji Kawamori, was looking for new designers. Macross Delta was the latest work of the Macross series, but he wanted it to be a brand new game, not a continuation. That’s why he didn’t want to pick designers from the past Macross series, so it took forever to conceptualize the characters.
New designers who can properly design…that sounds hard.
There were meetings upon meetings to decide who will conceptualize the characters, but they couldn’t find anyone for three months. Then the director, Yasuda, suggested me saying, ‘How about Mita of E.X. Troopers?’ They knew about me because the animation studio Satelight Inc. had created a trailer for E.X. Troopers, and director Kenji Yasuda of Macross Delta was in charge of its storyboards.
Although you conceptualized anime characters for the first time, how was it different from working for games?
When I work on games I can see how they will turn out at the end, like the still images of Imprisoned Palm, so I can handle a lot of work. However, for anime, a lot of people draw many images, so I have to use easily recognizable signs to make each character look the same all the time. I had to design them so clear that you can tell who they are from a distance.
You had to make easy signs so anyone can understand, I see. By the way, which would you rather work on, games or anime?
It’s hard to decide, but the images of Imprisoned Palm were hard to draw because it required basic skills. I realized I love 2D so much!! (Laugh) When I worked on Macross Delta, I tried to fulfill Director Kawamori’s expectations of how he wants Macross to be. I feel like I improved on how to deal with 2D signs.
You’ve worked on 2D images like those in E.X. Troopers and Macross Delta and realistic 3D images like those in Imprisoned Palm. What are your goals as a computer graphic designer?
I wanna be fit, lol. My bosses tell me I work only with my mind so I shouldn’t overwork. I can’t work at all when I’m tired, but I work with all my energy when I do. I wish I could tell you cooler goals,lol.
That’s fine (laugh). Since the art style of Imprisoned Palm is very different from your style, I wonder if you found new possibilities through that work.
Yes, when I draw in the same style over and over, I don’t learn much, so I learned many lessons during Palm. I think background design is my core job, so I would like to improve it too. When I work on characters, I get too concentrated and it wears me out, but I can work on backgrounds without getting too tired. Whenever I start in a new team, I tell myself, ‘This team is going to be fun for sure!,’ which makes me motivated. I feel fulfilled when I achieve the goals of the team, so I want to work on characters, backgrounds, and everything! So I need more stamina!
Alright, thank you for your precious stories!
Mita was friendly and humorous, and the interview was fun. She loves the games and anime she works on. Mita cares about her characters and designs them very carefully. Her efforts to deal with responsible jobs, and her deep affection for her characters help her make wonderful work. I am looking forward to her new designs!
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