Interview: The Mecha Masters of Kotobukiya (Part 2)

-----Based on our Japanese blog-----

Hello, Shizu-Mecha here.

I'm still here at Koyobukiya HQ bugging the staff about the latest entry into the Armored Core V.I. line of model kits, the KT-104/PERUN Hanged Man Sausen Ver.!

In case you missed Part 1 of the interview, today we'll be talking to the staff who have been working on the Armored Core V.I. series of plastic kits for the past nine years:

Souhei Yunoki: Planning and development (Left)
Katsuhiko Hori: Sculptor (Middle)
Nobuo:  Sales (Right)

V.I. Series - Armored Core V KT-104/PERUN Hanged Man Saisen Ver. 1/72 Plastic Model

CAD and Traditional Techniques: The Best of Both Worlds

--- I'd like to spend this part of the interview talking more about Hanged Man, which goes on sale in July. What sort of issues did you have during the sculpting and development stages?

Hori:  The joints were the biggest headache. 

The in-game model data we received had polygons crashing and intersecting all over the place which means that some areas didn't work in real-world space.

First I sculpted the parts to give me a starting point, then adding the joints while experimenting with adjustments. 

--- Armored Core V (ACV) went from tall mecha to wide mecha. Did this cause issues with poseability?

Hori:  The designs became more detailed which meant more thin parts. I worked with the development side to find the minimum thickness necessary for the mold while staying close to the original design.

I'd strike deals with development. “I'll tweak this part to make your job easier, so let me sculpt the shape I want here.” (Laughs)

Yunoki:  There's a tendency to prioritize function over form--you can change parts or shave them down to improve mobility--but sculptors want to stay as close to the original design as physically possible.

I understand this obsession as I used to be a sculptor myself. I think this quality should be reflected in the final product. 

--- I understand that the V.I. series uses a mix of traditional techniques and CAD-based modeling. How do you decide which method to use for what parts?

Hori:  For Hanged Man, the weapons were all designed in CAD, while the AC was sculpted by hand.

Hori:  When we decided to make kits of the ACV mecha, FromSoftware was willing to provide us with the 3D game data. This became the base for the kit.

Of course, at first we had no idea how to harness the data. AGNI was the test subject. We ended up outputting the polygon model with a 3D printer then separating the parts. At this point we could adjust the joints and add detail.

Hori:  The 3D model is intended to function within the game and is different than the physical model kit. My job begins with tweaking the game data to work in the real world. This involves adding thickness to thin parts, making brittle parts stronger, that sort of thing.

I was still inexperienced when working on AGNI so I printed the arm and elbow joints as a single object. This meant more work for me. But working on Vengeance and Hanged Man broadened my knowledge. Also, now we're better equipped to ingest 3D data so the conversion process gets more accurate with each kit.

Our 3D printing technology has advanced to the point that Hanged Man comes out with smooth surfaces, not jagged corners.

--- Sculpting by hand makes it sound like you're working with putty and clay, so it's surprising that you start with 3D printing.

Yunoki:  The in-game data only needs to be good enough to show what's on camera, so the model is empty inside. You can't make a mold out of that. You need to separate the data into parts, 3D print them, clean up the surface of the materials and add joints.

Hori respects the original data as he does his tweaks and adds joints and details. He doesn't compromise in his mission to make a cool kit. If a sculptor has a vision, the only way to realize it is by their own hand. 

On the flip side, CAD provides accurate data and is good at creating small systematic details, making it well suited for weapons.

Filling in the blanks

Yunoki:  The design of the knee joint is a prime example of how we convert the in-game data into a kit. 

Hori:  The in-game model doesn't include moveable joints, so those are the first step of the modeling process. For example, on the 3D model the interior of the shoulder is simply a block that extends out of the arm, so I need to build the inner structure that's hidden from the outside. 

Yunoki:  There's a joint for the shield in the knee that moves independently. Hori noticed that when the mecha readies a large weapon the position of the shield changes, so he designed the kit so that this part worked in the same way.

This joint design is the brainchild of our very own Hori.

--- So even with the in-game data you have your work cut out for you.

Hori:  The knee shield has two variant shapes. You can see this clearly in the in-game movies as well. 

But I didn't notice this until I was nearly done with the sculpt. We ended up including Hanged Man specific parts in addition to the standard leg parts from the game for a total of three shapes.

Yunoki:  Fans of the game will get a kick out of details like this.

--- Even with all the data and techniques at your disposal, it all comes down to Hori's intuition.

Hori:  CAD is reliable. It lends itself to solid kits that are easy to build.

But if you want something to look cool, you need to do it by hand. The hands-on sculpting process is similar to kit building so you'll notice things that a blueprint can't convey. Basing our production on these two foundations--CAD and manual sculpting--allows us to unlock the kit's full potential.

--- Building a model kit is the pinnacle of the human touch. There's something deeply satisfying about putting together a cool kit.

Hori:  When it comes to designs with a lot of curved surfaces, I think your brain fills in the blanks to make what you see on the screen look cool. That's the sort of nuance that you can't represent numerically with CAD data.

Being hands-on is the best way to find the correct lines to create the visual impact you want

Big name mecha on "the battleground of nameless mercenaries"  

--- Hanged Man certainly left a big impression on everyone who played the game.

Yunoki:  We intended to focus on generic mecha, but after seeing the story missions it turns out that wouldn't be the case. (Laughs) Hanged Man has such a unique color scheme and strong personality that we knew people would want to have him so we added him to the lineup.

Hori:  AC3 and AC4 had many standout characters. AC4 in particular had a dramatic story. ACV features repeating characters, with Chief being one of the more memorable ones.

Hori:  Vengeance, the second kit from the ACV line, is also a unique character but we chose him because it shares parts and design elements with AGNI. It let us get the first two kits out the door without too much downtime between them.

For the next kit, we knew we wanted something that contrasted with Vengeance, so Hanged Man was in. Hanged Man has different equipment every time he appears, but we went with the classic LR-81 KARASAWA laser rifle.

Yunoki: We tried to balance the V.I. series to allow the customer to swap out parts between AC of varied body types.

AGNI and Vengeance have similar frames so we didn't need another one like them. Hanged Man has a curved body with radically different proportions and mass compared to the other kits. This will keep the parts swapping feature fresh. 

--- So you're thinking of the V.I. series in the aggregate as opposed to individual kits. The more you collect, the more building options. 

Nobuo: We don't want more kits to result in less play options. Adding Hanged Man to the lineup expands the world of Armored Core.

--- It sounds like you have a long-term plan for the series.

Yunoki:  That's right. Vengeance and Hanged Man are unique characters, but we plan to include more generic AC such as AGNI in the future to allow for more part and weapon possibilities.

We want the V.I. series to be about collecting and customizing, not simply owning a piece of your favorite character. More kits means more fun.

Hori: The game's system is based on interchangeable parts, so if there's a part you want to see made, please let us know!

We're not restricted to bipedal AC. There's quadrupeds, tanks, or the weaponized arms from the recent Armored Core Verdict Day. Some mecha will be popular based on their appearance, while others will be popular based on their in-game stats. We want to cater to a wide range of needs, so we need your input!

--- On the topic of weapons, I'm sure people would love to see Chief's Giga Cannon!

Yunoki:  Yeah, it's like his trademark. But from a business perspective it was too expensive to include it in the kit so we had to let it go.

With that said, there will be quite a bit of downtime between Hanged Man and the next kit. We're looking for a way to fill the void, and Hori suggested the Giga Cannon... 

We'd release it together with Vengence's Grind Blade as an Ultimate Weapon pack. Of course, it wouldn't be a simple tie-in. Look forward to more information in the future!

--- The Giga Cannon prototype from last February's Wonder Festival was awesome! I can't wait to see the final build.

To the kit builders and fans of Armored Core

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--- Is there anything you'd like to say to fans of the game and kit builders about the V.I. series?

Nobuo: Kotobukiya takes all of our products seriously and this is especially true for our Armored Core kits. We want you to be as serious about the kits as we are.

Hori: The Hanged Man sculpt emphasizes form over function but that doesn't mean that we sacrificed any of the poseability. Recreate your favorite scenes with Chief, or simply have it lord over the other bipedal AC.

I always make sure that my kits look awesome out of the box. Applying paints and washes will make it look even cooler, but I'm confident that he'll look great on your shelf as-is. 

Yunoki:  If this interview caught your interest, by all means please pick up an actual kit. Pre-orders for Hanged Man are open, so... (Laughs)

Product shots don't tell the whole story. As I said at the beginning of the interview, the kits need to be seen in person.

The life of a model kit, including the V.I. series, doesn't end when it arrives on the store shelf. A kit isn't complete until the customer puts it together. I'd love for you to build one and let us know what you think. Be it compliments or complaints, knowing how serious our customers are about our product helps us make the next one even better. 

--- Thank you for your time!

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These guys are super hardcore about the Armored Core kits! Their number one concern is how best to bring awesome AC from the screen to your hot little hands. 

We haven't seen the last of Hanged Man! Stay tuned to the blog for a full preview in the near future!

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V.I. Series - Armored Core V KT-104/PERUN Hanged Man Saisen Ver. 1/72 Plastic Model [Kotobukiya]

(C)1997-2013 FromSoftware, Inc. All rights reserved.

(C)2012 BANDAI NAMCO Games Inc.(C)1997-2012 FromSoftware, Inc. All rights reserved.
*Photographs are of a painted kit. This product is an unassembled, unpainted kit.