Interview
Michael Arias
An image from the 1999 Tekkonkinkreet pilot.
Emru Townsend: I first heard your name when we were both working for Softimage in 1999; you were in Japan as part of Special Projects. I'm not sure, but I think I saw your name in conjunction with Studio Ghibli's use of Softimage|3D and Toonz on Princess Mononoke. The Special Projects guys in Montreal were right around the corner from my desk, and they seemed to always be working on pushing the software to come up with awesome demos for trade shows and the like. Your job was clearly different. What did it entail?

Michael Arias: That was a long time ago and my memory's not so great. That's right, though, I didn't get involved in any of the trade–show-related work. I think my being in Japan was, to a certain extent, a prohibitive factor. But on top of my distance from the rest of the team (all in Montreal and Los Angeles) there was also my desire to work on small-scale projects on my own. I've always been something of a Jack-of-all-trades. And my programming skills were confined to a very small area of the software (and not nearly at the same level as the professional developers on the team). I got to do a great many fun projects while part of Softimage. The Toon Shader development, of course, but also producing The Animatrix and, before that, directing the animation for the Tekkonkinkreet CG pilot film Koji Morimoto and I did. Mixed in with all of that was a fair amount of client-related work: education, co-development, etc. That put me in touch with some very interesting folks, particularly in the Japanese traditional animation world. But, for better or worse, my position at Softimage was very independent of the rest of Special Projects and R&D.

ET: So part of your job was to bend Softimage's software to the wills of particular directors or studios. What sort of work were you doing for Koji Morimoto's studio before the Tekkonkinkreet pilot?

That's right, in a nutshell. I had various little technical projects that Softimage would shop around to studios.

But I'd never worked with Morimoto or Studio 4°C before Morimoto and I embarked on the Tekkonkinkreet pilot. We were introduced by friends who thought we'd be a good team. Of course I was a huge fan of his. He's done an incredible range of work, from early TV series to the stuff he's best known for now (Akira and a Ken Ishii music promo). He also knew of my work for Ghibli and was curious to see how we could push the CG envelope.
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