Aces at War 2011: Talk Dog Fight R02
Update: May 15th, 2020
Original Post: August 24th, 2019
The second of three interviews found in Aces at War 2011, an Ace Combat art and canon information book released as part of the Japan-exclusive Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Special Edition (2011).
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The sky and this world that our eyes are drawn to--- Revealing the technologies and passion that is poured into the graphics
Mr. Hibiki Yoshizaki is an up-and-coming filmmaker who has never participated in the development of the Ace Combat series, but has been in love with the series privately and is “a man who knows Ace [Combat].” As a fan and film professional, this is the first time that Mr. Yoshizaki has met Mr. Kosuke Itomi, who had been heavily involved in the overall graphics [of the series]. They greeted an active-duty Eagle Driver (an F-15 pilot), Mr. Hidetaka Horiuchi, and engaged in a hearty discussion on how to achieve visual beauty.
Bandai Namco Games assistant manager and head art director. Born on September 19, 1974. The much talked about Ace Combat Assault Horizon trailer (a preview movie) was a work that Mr. Itomi produced. He also supervised the overall screenplay throughout the series, including visual art and the parts of stories that had drama. Influenced by his grandfather’s younger brother who was an amateur painter, he opened his eyes to the world of art, and says he chose this occupation by chasing what he really wanted to do. His low and resonant voice was filled with a compelling energy that supported the passion and talent he put into film.
A freelance director/filmmaker and motion graphic artist. Born on March 10, 1980. Beginning with Macross, has participated in Shoji Kawamori’s works focusing on military subjects. This time around, he is analyzing the charm of the Ace Combat series. The “KANADE Dance PV (Promotional Video)” by Clammbon, which he worked as a director for, was published in “CGWORLD Magazine” and the work was invited to be showcased at SIGGRAPH ASIA 2010. His career was also showcased in “100 Filmmakers 2011” by BNN Publishing. Currently, he is diligently working at Khara Studios on monitor graphic designs for Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.
An active duty Eagle driver (F-15 pilot) for the JASDF Komatsu Air Base 6th Air Wing 303rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. His rank is Major Third Class. Born on XX XX, 1973. He is participating in this discussion as a pilot who knows about real fighter jets. A man with a pure heart like the sky, he persisted with his admiration towards pilots which originated from his favorite movie, and made his dream of becoming an Eagle driver come true. From his answers to the questions during the discussion, one could tell that he is sincere and direct. Yet despite that, the instances where he exhibits a seriousness and strong purpose as important topics emerge shows that he is truly a fearless fighter of the sky. Hobbies include barbecuing, and his favorite food is sashimi.
Mr. Yoshizaki and Horuichi dig deep into the techniques of the film magician, Itomi.
Yoshizaki: I’ve really admired the concept of flying through the sky by yourself when I was a child, and even now as an adult. I sincerely love the Ace Combat series since it made that dream come true for me, a single fan. My real occupation is a freelance filmmaker, but I’m a little nervous meeting Itomi-san for the first time, who had been involved in the series in a similar position.
Itomi: This was the first time I was invited to a discussion with a person in the same profession, so I was looking forward to it too. And Eagle driver Horiuchi-san, thank you for joining us. I thought it’s fantastic and respect you for aspiring to be a pilot and actually becoming one, but I was wondering what was your motivation for joining the JASDF.
Horiuchi: In my case, I saw the movie “Top Gun” (released 1986) when I was young and it left a deep impression in me. I thought, “man, I want to fly in a fighter jet,” and became an Eagle driver just like that.
Itomi: Your motive is a lot more straightforward than I thought… Not much different from me, who sought work in the field of film as a result of my love of art.
Horiuchi: Yes, people often laugh and tell me “you’re too straightforward!”
Yoshizaki: I saw the Assault Horizon trailer that you created, Itomi-san! I have experience creating things like this, but what do you think are the important points in the case of a game trailer?
Itomi: The most important thing is to make the viewer understand the gameplay. That and the footage has to look intriguing. In the case of Ace Combat especially, we have movie-like screenplay, so we also need to emphasize the dramatic elements. On top of accomplishing those tasks, we need to make it understandable and not boring. We pay attention to the composition of the trailer every time.
Horiuchi: May I see this trailer? Ooh, that’s nice. I haven’t played the Ace Combat series since 1 and 2, but the graphics have gotten really pretty!
Itomi: Thank you very much. In this game, there is a mission where you fly between tall buildings at high speed. I figure this kind of mission doesn’t exist in the real world.
Horiuchi: It’s extremely dangerous, so it’s unthinkable (laughs). Even if you have a secure route, you have to worry about things like air currents. Often in the real world, you experience turbulence on the back side of a mountain. For example, it’s well known that the turbulence is especially severe on the east side of Mt. Fuji in the winter. So even in areas lined with skyscrapers, you can expect strong winds. Of course, even if you disregard that it’s only something you can do in games since you never fly through those kinds of places in reality.
Itomi: I see, air currents. I don’t think anyone in the development team thought about that. The point of view really changes if you know the real thing. This is a great learning experience.
Yoshizaki: Do you have any tips when creating footage?
Itomi: I always think about sections that will make people really gasp. In these portions, I purposely tease them, insert images with a conflicting tone, and leave some spacing [between action-packed scenes]. By inserting some kind of feint before important scenes that you want people to really watch, you make the viewer go “huh?” and has the effect of drawing their attention.
Yoshizaki: Ah, I do that often as well. It’s really effective isn’t it?
Itomi: Nowadays, you can conveniently watch videos on sites like Youtube. I do this too, but I’m sure you guys also switch between channels one after another on your PC or mobile phone. With this amount of selections, if it doesn’t interest you after watching it for a little bit, you stop watching and find the next video to watch. To have them watch till the end, you have to think about how to keep their interest from the creation of the opening. Even if it gets exciting towards the end, if you can’t keep their attention until then, it’s a failure. Those are the things I think about when making a trailer.
Yoshizaki: That part is the same for music videos too! I guess everyone devotes themselves to creative originality.
Horiuchi: Wow a feint! I didn’t realize advanced techniques like that were being used. Next time, I’ll keep this in mind and rewatch. Maybe if I watch it with this in mind, I’ll discover a different kind of fun in the trailer.
Itomi: Please do! If you watch it normally, I don’t think you’ll even realize those kinds of feints are being used at all. If you watch it till the end and find something that makes an impression on you, that’s OK with me.
Yoshizaki: Do you use irregular movements or feints in mock exercises with the F-15?
Horiuchi: I can’t think of anything that falls in line with the feints used in film techniques we just heard, but we do have “deceptions.” For example, there’s a technique where you roll the craft and make it look like you’re going to turn, but instead just fly straight.
Yoshizaki: That’s very nice! That will be very effective in PvP in games. In the case of the pursuer, if the enemy in front of you rolls to the right, they’ll determine that the target will definitely turn to the right and try to turn with them.
Horiuchi: That’s very true. I heard that in the US military, they used to paint a canopy on the underside of F-14s. By doing this, the pursuer can’t determine which is the real one immediately, and wasn’t able to tell which way the rolling enemy plane was turning.
Itomi: That’s an interesting story! I’m definitely taking notes on this one! Feints are visual tricks after all. Also, there are different kinds of feints used in trailers, and there are techniques I call “shifting” and “breaks” that use sound. The theory is that the sound and footage matches perfectly, but by intentionally shifting the rhythm of the footage or stopping it, you make people go “huh?” again and draw their attention.
”I think there are lots of Eagle drivers that are really fixated on competition. It’s a world of battles after all." - Horiuchi
Horiuchi: I see, a shift. I feel like that can be used elsewhere. Eagle drivers also have the job of announcing things to allies, including during briefings (operation explanation). It’s what ordinary people call presentations. I tried to improve these by including sketches and photos, but these are monotonous no matter what I did. Then, I thought maybe this shift I just learned might solve the issue if I use it well.
Yoshizaki: Only someone like ventriloquist Dou Ikkoku could shift the volume of their voice and movements during a presentation! (laughs) However, I think being silent for a moment, creating space, and drawing attention can be something done in real society. But I’m really impressed that you thought that far, Horiuchi-san.
Horiuchi: Eagle drivers live in a world of battle. If you can learn something, I don’t think you should make fun of it, even if it’s a game or a trailer.
Yoshizaki/Itomi: Wow, that’s great! (applause)
Thoroughly unraveling charm of characters and the art-like aspects on the briefing screen.
Yoshizaki: I really love the dramatic aspects in the Ace Combat series. What do you pay attention to when you supervise the visuals of characters and animations, Itomi-san?
Itomi: There are a lot of things I focused on, from the expression of eye movement in Assault Horizon, to the selection of live-action actors/actresses in Zero… An interesting one are the habits peculiar to each character in 5 [The Unsung War]. 5 has a lot of characters, so we had to make each character distinct. Actually, all the main characters have some trait programmed in their behavior. Chopper, who gets extremely over-the-top when he’s stressed; Genette, who opens has his mouth open when he’s thinking about something; Bartlett, who avoids looking towards you when he’s slightly embarrassed, etc. We made it so the player can understand, “oh, this person is this kind of person” by just watching them.
Yoshizaki: Yes, you can tell Chopper is someone who gets carried away easily. (laughs) There are characters with lots of different personalities that show up in games to make the story more interesting, but what kind of personalities are common among Eagle drivers?
Horiuchi: Hmm let’s see. By nature, a lot of those in service with the JASDF are the so-called sports-oriented type, but among them, I feel like there are many that are especially fixated on competition among Eagle drivers. It’s a world of battles after all.
Itomi: I see! I guess that’s how it really is. I really wanted to paint that sort of picture of men living in a world of battle in Zero.
Yoshizaki: I’m often responsible for the design of the HUD or consoles in my work in anime, so I use the Ace Combat series as reference. I heard Itomi-san took part in the animations on the briefing screen as well.
Itomi: Just a part of it. Monitor design is something we always have trouble with and think hard about. The design can’t be far from reality and if it’s too realistic, it’ll look plain and doesn’t look attractive. That balance is difficult.
Yoshizaki: I understand this. I feel it’s the same with games, but in anime, they ask for 4 things: it feels sci-fi-esque, it’s not far from reality, the information is easy to understand, and it looks cool. These are the requirements. Making the combination of these 4 things compatible is surprisingly tough. The Ace Combat series does the design for these things really well.
Itomi: I’m really happy. In your opinion Yoshizaki-san, what balance of things drew your eye?
“I really wanted to paint that sort of picture of men living in a world of battle in Zero.” - Itomi
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Yoshizaki: From even the font selection, you choose something that looks like it would be actually used by the military. It feels genuine since it makes you imagine that “based on the hardware’s specs, these kinds of fonts are the only ones available.” But then the display for the images is high spec, and the balance is not right logically. However, each and every component works as intended, and feels complete as an overall presentation. The feeling that this is a real machine is fantastic.
Itomi: You’re very sharp. We also researched briefing materials that are actually used, but the maps only have complex lines and numbers. These are simple, yet the density of information is really cool. I initially thought about doing the briefings in that manner, but giving a mission summary in a concise way was hard and unrealistic. That’s why we drew the maps and lines digitally and added things like the lighting of the room itself to make the whole thing look real and that you were actually looking at the monitor.
Yoshizaki: In mock exercises in the JASDF, are the briefings digital? Or are they hand-written?
Horiuchi: They are all hand-written. We have a flat map and write in lines with pens on the paper. In the debriefings.(results report), we analyze our flight paths with VTR (video tape recorders) and write it on boards. This is also hand-written. Using this we review things like “if I turn like this, the enemy moves like that...” and benefits us in the next flight.
Itomi: The debriefing in-game is entirely generated from the player’s flight path data. These are recreated with CG lines, including movements of enemies and allies in the mission.
Horiuchi: Wow, the paths are all automatically displayed? In my work, we have the younger guys do it by hand.
Yoshizaki: Do you not have systems that record GPS data?
Horiuchi: Of course we have the equipment. It’s just that it hasn’t been available widely yet. Games are really convenient. And also easy to understand. I almost would want one given to Komatsu Base if possible.
The compass of victory given to Ace [Combat] by God. Uncovering the true value of “clouds.”
Yoshizaki: I love the sensation of flying through the clouds in-game. Horiuchi-san, would you take a look at this? It’s a photo of a mountainous region in the game, but how do the clouds look compared to the ones you see from the F-15?
Horiuchi: Let me take a look. There are different kinds of clouds, but the faint clouds that reside among mountains have the same feel as the photo. The fuzzy edges of the clouds is basically just like this. And also, the top of the clouds are brighter while the bottom gets darker. Just like this photo. Yes, this is amazing. It’s as if you took this from above [in the real world].
Itomi: I’m really glad. I only supervise over the scenery or clouds, but if the staff who drew the clouds were here, they might be touched and be in tears (laughs). But the expression of clouds has an important meaning not only in the screenplay, but system-wise as well.
Yoshizaki: That’s unexpected. Specifically, how does it operate?
Itomi: Clouds have a role in giving the player a sense of distance and positional awareness. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you had a sky that was just one solid blue color, you couldn’t tell if you were flying at high speed or stopped completely, and doesn’t give you that sensation. In the same way, you couldn’t get an understanding of the distance between you and enemy craft. Because there are clouds and white smoke trails left by missiles, the player can intuitively get a feel for that airspace.
Yoshizaki: I see! That’s definitely true now that you mention it!
Horiuchi: It’s similar in a real F-15 too. For example, in a clear autumn day in a blue sky with no clouds, there are times when we can’t see enemy aircraft at all even if they are flying all alone. What this means is that the brain can’t get a grasp of the distance, and the focal point is not set at the right range. We call this “lost blue.”
Itomi: That’s a really interesting story. I guess the usefulness of clouds in obtaining spatial awareness is something the game and the real world have in common. In the case of the game especially, the selling point is chasing down enemy aircraft and flying around and around, but in doing so, the player loses awareness of where the ground is. In missions where it is hard to determine the horizon, we arrange the clouds and missile trails so that the player can grasp their speed and altitude smoothly. This information is also displayed on the instruments (HUD), but telling the player, “use this to determine everything” is impossible in a game where you have aggressive maneuvers.
Yoshizaki: I see that everything is created with these things in mind. Horiuchi-san, in the case of an Eagle driver, do you mainly use the instruments to determine the directions of the sky and ground?
Horiuchi: It’s not always the case. There’s no way we’re looking at the instruments all the time, so even in real flight, it’s important to use our eyes to look at the horizon or clouds to determine the situation. Of course, there are times we rely only on our instruments. For example, when flying inside a cloud, the surroundings are completely white and we can’t see anything, so our senses aren’t reliable. Often in these cases, you might feel “I’m tilted diagonally” but the instruments indicate you’re flying perfectly straight. Then you burst out of the clouds and see the horizon and realize “my instruments were right after all.” This isn’t uncommon.
Yoshizaki: I see. In games where the mission has you fight in heavy rain with poor visibility, instruments become more important than in regular missions, so it’s similar to that. I don’t know if you actually fight in heavy rain or blizzard conditions.
Horiuchi: If visibility is that bad and you couldn’t see the horizon, we normally wouldn’t engage in intense dogfights. We never even fly in cumulonimbus clouds in real life.
Yoshizaki: As a game lover, that seems like it’ll be really impressive and I’m rather intrigued by cumulonimbus clouds. But it seems impossible given the field of view.
Horiuchi: I don’t have experience so this is just based on knowledge, but the air currents and hail inside cumulonimbus clouds are supposed to be extreme. Before even considering visibility, I don’t think the damage to the aircraft can be avoided. And of course there’s lightning. The reason jumbo jets can fly into cumulonimbus clouds just fine is that they can ensure safety with their large size.
Itomi: Oh really? In-game, we go rather hard core. And in Assault Horizon, cumulonimbus clouds are nothing…
Yoshizaki: What? Is there a mission where something insane happens?
Itomi: You’ll know as you progress through the missions (laughs). Like the dogfighting among buildings, I think you can experience the wonder of clouds that can only be done in a game.
A creator and another existence work together to make stories and history
Yoshizaki: I was able to participate in a discussion as a film creator and military GUI designer, but through all of your talks, I was able to really feel the charm of this series which allows you to fulfill your dream of dancing through the sky and has so much drama that plays out, and feel the thoughts put into it by the developers.
I really think it would be great if I could help with the development of this series and deliver this charm to everyone.
Itomi: When that time comes, please reach out! We’ll give you a warm welcome. Horiuchi-san, how is the Ace Combat series now that you’ve seen it for the first time in a while?
Horiuchi: It’s been 14, 15 years since I last played, but I was astonished at how real and how cool it’s become in all aspects. I’m jealous of current players. Like I said earlier, I flew into this world because I was attracted by a movie, and now that my dream came true, every day is fulfilling and full of happiness. If there are those who aspire to become a pilot because of a game, please aim to become an Eagle driver! I was able to chat with a creator today, but I’m hoping that this seat will lead to the take off of a future Eagle driver!
Itomi: As organized in the timeline on pages 134-137 of this book, the history of the Usean Continent in the Ace Combat series is portrayed in chronological order from Zero, 04, and 5. To reveal a little bit of inside information, Zero was initially going to have a novice pilot during the fall of Ulysses before 04 gain lots of combat experience and mature into a veteran that saw through 5’s Circum-Pacific War...That was the kind of worldview we were thinking about. Kind of like a documentary from the point of view of a single pilot that reminisces about historical events. Afterwards, we talked a lot on how the work should be so that it was the best, and we eventually took up the story of the previously untold Belkan War. When we were discussing things like this, we often browse through books and other media that fans have created. They were done really well and seeing them was fun, our inspirations were motivated, and ideas like “an episode to fill this historical gap would be nice” kept welling up. The history of the Ace Combat world was crafted by the development group, obviously, but also the fans. That’s why I think such a magnificent and interesting history was able to be built. I don’t think there is a greater joy than if we could continue to work together with everyone and add pages of new history again.
”I’ve really admired the concept of flying through the sky by yourself when I was a child, and even now as an adult.” - Yoshizaki