I became involved with the design of Zanbot 3 at the beginning of the process, when it was still a five-unit combining robot. I recall the flow of work being that first Kunio Okawara drew a rough sketch of a three-unit combining base, then Ryouji Hirayama smoothed out the lines, and then I went in and added various details. Yasuhiko Yoshikazu and Hirayama did the final clean up.
This project marked the first time Studio Nue worked with Sunrise, and this is where I learned one of the fundamentals of robot design, “one point, many directions” (note: a method of design that places emphasis on the lines that radiate from the center of the design outward.) We were specifically asked to use it to design Zanbot. We used the technique to shape all of Zanbot 3’s lines. For example, the fins on the waist were initially positioned higher and were round, but if you do that, it disrupts the flow from the center of the design. That’s why they have the shape they do and are positioned where they are.
We were incredibly busy at the time and did a lot of rough sketches. Studio Nue was capable of cleaning up its own roughs, but we just didn’t have enough time to make them good enough to use in animation. I remember us begging Sunrise to let us off the hook just before having to turn them in. (Laughs) During that process I created the perspective drawings for each vehicle and designed the cockpits. I had originally drawn different cockpits for each of the three vehicles, but circumstances dictated that we only use a single common cockpit in the end, which is a shame.
The Zanbo Magnum was created with the help of then-president of Studio Nue Kenichi Matsuzaki, who was a total military fanatic and came up with all sorts of ideas. It feels like I tried to incorporate every single one of them into the drawings. I came up with the Holster Jet myself.
I didn’t put too much thought into how Zanbot 3’s head would be stored away. At first I drew a picture of the Zanbird with the head poking out of the tail, but even I felt like “this doesn’t really cut it.” In the end it was decided to store the head in the body, but manufacturing costs, the limits of technology at the time, safety considerations and such meant that Clover (note: the toy company that sponsored the show) couldn’t replicate the feature in their toys. It was Clover’s first animation production as well, so they made all sorts of design requests to Sunrise, who told them what was possible and what wasn’t, and there was a lot of back-and-forth fumbling around. That was the era.
But now, there’s a toy maker who’s willing to give their all to make a perfect three-dimensional representation of the character as seen onscreen. It really shows how times have changed. It’s also miraculous that there’s an older audience out there willing to buy the toys, and this project and production is a reflection of that. You know, Sunrise and we put our all into making something for the kids, who’ve grown up to be fathers and now adult customers. It’s really touching.
[Credits: Interview conducted by Akira Tanizaki. Appeared on page 3 of the guidebook provided for the Bandai Soul of Chogokin Zanbot 3.]