AX 2015: Livin’ the animation dream with Thomas Romain

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If you’ve ever watched Cartoon Network or Disney’s Jetix, chances are you’ve seen some of his creation as Code Lyoko and Oban Star Racer. He’s also worked on anime titles such as Space Dandy, Symphogear, Basquash!, and Bodacious Space Pirates. French creator and designer Thomas Romain gave us a little bit of his time during Anime Expo 2015 to talk about Kickstarter, the industry and working in Japan.

NR: Hi Thomas! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers who might not be familiar with you?

Thomas: Yes, my name is Thomas Romain (roh-mAN) in French, not Thomas RoMAIN. [Laughs] I’m living and working in Japan for more than ten years now in the animation industry. Currently, I’m employed at a studio called Satelight (Macross Frontier, Log Horizon, AKB0048 are some of the shows they’ve produced) and I’m working as an animation creator. Sometimes I am creating shows, and sometimes I’m working as a designer.

NR: First off, I want to congratulate you on the success of the Cannon Busters Kickstarter. As you know more and more people in the industry are starting to utilize Kickstarter as a means of funding their original projects. What do you think about more creators that are looking at the crowdfunding model as opposed to the more traditional production committee model that many shows obtain its funding.

Thomas: I think it’s great, but I also think it has its limits because you can not raise millions of dollars just to produce anime. So for example, to do a feature film I think it’s a little bit difficult, but for shorts or pilots or half-hour long episode, it’s great. You need to already have directors and creators with a fanbase otherwise I don’t think a Kickstarter campaign would be successful. For young creators, it might be difficult; for already established creators it’s a great way, but they can work with the usual system. I don’t think they necessarily need Kickstarter.

NR: Adding on to that, do you think it’s a larger challenge for creators to be accountable for hundreds of pledge money. Do you think it’s more difficult to fulfill your promises?

Thomas: For example, on Cannon Busters, we’ve released a lot of pre-production designs and it’s difficult for us to change it because sometimes I would like to change some designs or make it better, but we were discussing that people would not like it if it was changed too much or if there was a new direction. Usually we don’t deal with this kind of problem (in a traditional sense) because it hasn’t been revealed to the public yet. Since the budget is smaller, we have to take into account all the backer rewards like T-shirts and such so we really need to be careful about those costs as well. Also I don’t think that people realize the cost of producing animation, it cost a lot of money. Even with $100,000 we can’t do a feature film, just a few minutes and even that takes months to make. That’s also something we need to promote more awareness about and get the fans more educated about this kind of reality.

NR: As mecha designer, your current designs for Cannon Busters seems very much inspired from your older works such as in Basquash!. Are you a fan of cars?

Thomas: No. [Laugh] You know when we landed in LA, our driver loves cars. He was talking about cars the entire time. I just don’t. I’m a designer, if I have to a draw a car, I draw a car but that doesn’t make me a car fan. I don’t have a car myself in Tokyo, I don’t need one. Some of the work I do in Cannon Busters have some coincidental similarities with my past work. It was LeSean’s wish, “Okay we need to have a Cadillac Eldorado.” I had never heard of it so I looked it up on the internet to get some pictures and have it transformed into a robot.

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NR: So recently, there’s been a resurgence in calling into question the working conditions in the industry. You also tweeted an article few weeks prior from the president of Satelight, Michiaki Sato. He mentioned that he was worried about the future of animation studios and their sustainability. Do you think this is an issue that the industry has to address as soon as possible?

Thomas: Yeah, I just had this talk with our animation production last week. I think this is an issue to solve, but it’s very complex and nobody has a real response or solution. Because we can’t make the production costs explode and drive the price up because it’s already very cheap compared to France or the US, however it’s still quite high and people need to understand that. If we pay animators more, of course it’s better for them, but also the animation jobs could disappeare because the investors who want to maintain the same budget will force us to outsource the production tasks. Already France and US are doing that, but Japan is the last country where we still do most of the animation (in-house), so we have to be careful about that.

NR: You’ve been fortunate to be one of few foreigners working in the Japanese animation industry. I’m aware of your work on Code Lyoko, and Oban Star Racer later landed you a position in the industry. Tell us a little bit about that.

Thomas: I’m very happy about my current job. I’m “living the dream” as you know. I intend to go back and continue working in Japan to do awesome stuff.

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Hokan Lo
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Hokan Lo is a contributing writer and photographer for Nerd Reactor. He likes Pizza Butts and Mello Yellow. You can contact him on twitter @colorinlive. <a href="http://nerdreactor.com/about/">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>