Robotic Flights of Fancy

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By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF

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Vincent Toyama receives the Emmy for background design for his work on the animated series “Transformers Prime,” which is shown on the Hub TV network.

The futuristic headquarters of Optimus Prime and other locales populated by the giant robots of “Transformers Prime” all originated in the mind of background designer Vincent Toyama, who received an Emmy for his work at the 38th annual Daytime Emmy Awards on June 19.

The Daytime Emmys also honored Kaz Aizawa, a background painter, for his work on Nickelodeon’s “T.U.F.F. Puppy.” The categories are judged by peers in the animation industry who are members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Toyama, who has worked in television animation for the past 15 years, was humble about receiving the award.

“It’s pretty big deal, it’s what you always hope to receive in this industry,” he said.

Toyama is currently in the middle of working on the second season of “Transformers Prime,” a computer-animated series based on the popular Hasbro toys. He previously worked on such action-adventure shows as “The Spectacular Spiderman,” “Jackie Chan Adventures,” and DC Comics properties, including Batman, Spiderman and the Justice League.

A Sansei, Toyama studied architecture in college, which he says gives him an advantage when he is creating the vast environments for the show.  The animated show is broadcast on The Hub cable network and is part of the growing Transformers franchise which includes Wednesday’s release of the live-action film “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.”

Artwork by Toyama depicts a cityscape of Cyberton, the homeworld of the Transformers. (2011 Hasbro)

As part of the pre-production team, Toyama creates the settings for the characters. The final animation is completed by a studio in Japan.

“It’s a collaborative team effort. We have a team that designs characters, another that designs color, it’s a pretty big team — then everything gets sent overseas,” Toyama explained.

One of Toyama’s challenges is setting the proper stage for a cast that includes humans and two-story- tall robots.

“It is important to have the proper scale and environments that feel realistic. When we design, we provide the sketches, technical and design documents that detail how the studio overseas will have to build the sets,” Toyama explained.

The Emmy is industry recognition for the former architect, who grew up watching the Japanese cartoons of the 1960s including “Astro Boy,” “Speed Racer,” and “Gigantor.”

“It’s fun too, I get to design worlds and fantastic sets that I probably would never have the opportunity to do if I had stayed in architecture,” said Toyama.

And he noted there is another distinct advantage to being the architect of the fantastic worlds of the Transformers.

“I don’t have to worry about the building code at all … or liability insurance,” he said.

 

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