This interview with Mr. Ueno Ken was published in Animage's special 2016 issue that focused on Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure!. This particular interview is about Ueno's involvement as an animation supervisor for the Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure! Movie .
Mr. Ueno Ken is known for working as an animation supervisor for the Pretty Cure series. His unique art style, soft and cute with its distinct line art, is delightful. The designs for the Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure! movie were Mr. Ueno's work, starting with Cure Mofurun.
Ken Ueno is a freelance animator. In the past, he was the animation supervisor for the movies Heartcatch Pretty Cure!: Hana no Miyako de Fashion Show... Desu ka!? and Doki Doki! Pretty Cure: Mana Kekkon!!? Mirai ni Tsunagu Kibō no Dress. He is also the animation supervisor for a few Pretty Cure episodes from the various past and current TV series.
Mirai and her friends have been invited to the Grand Magic Festival that celebrates the revival of the legendary "Wishing Stone" once a century. Out of the many that attended, Mofurun was the one chosen for the power of the Wishing Stone.
But Mofurun was taken away along with the Wishing Stone by Dark Matter, who has plans to "annihilate all magicians". Mirai was worried sick and felt sad for Mofurun, but Riko and Kotoha help her out. What is illustrated in parallel to the story of Mirai and her friendship is the rapport between Mofurun and Kumata (Dark Matter). We’d like you to pay close attention to Kumata’s feelings that subconsciously arise for Mofurun, and the ending of it all.
Another highlight is miraculous Pretty Cure "Cure Mofurun" being created due to the Wishing Stone's power, and her fight scenes. The intense battle scenes were created by action animators who also had an active role in "Go! Princess Pretty Cure," namely Mr. Ota Kazuhiro, Mr. Itaoka Nishiki and Mr. Masuda Seiji. Those are scenes one should watch over and over again, with great focus.
Other hidden gems include the voice acting of an important character in the story, the baby bear, done by Ms. Kikuchi Mika, and the fact that the cast from the Tsunagi First Middle School are in it. Look for the voices of Kana, Mayumi, Souta, Yuuto, and Takagi-sensei!
Main Interview - The mischievous, boyish Pretty Cure
Mr. Ueno, this will be your third time being the animation supervisor of a Pretty Cure movie, correct?
- Ueno: That is true. I debated a bit about taking on the job or not, but later the person in charge of the production said "Mr. Ueno, I heard you took the job as soon as possible." So I guess I did! (laughs)
Why did you debate on taking the job?
- Ueno: Because a movie is more difficult than an episode job. I was worried if I would be able to complete it. I had thoughts like "this might be the last time I direct anime..."
- Ueno: Oh no, it means that’s the kind of mindset I go in with every time. On top of that, if I’m going to do it, I thought to make the job go as smooth as possible. All the main staff are young except me, and Director Tanaka is only in his thirties. So I decided to become the support role for the young people who want to give life to their creations. I did as much as I can to take in their input and I think the atmosphere of the staff was calm and things progressed well.
What was your first impression when you heard the story of "Mofurun transforming into a Pretty Cure?"
- Ueno: I had a "Mofurun was a girl?!" moment. (laughs) So I asked Ms. Miyamoto about that, and she said "I originally designed Mofurun neutrally, with no specific gender in mind." But, I think generally teddy bear characters are male. Director Tanaka said to not make her too girly, but more like "a mischievous boy". That’s why instead of a skirt, she’s wearing pumpkin pants. And I designed her so that she looks younger than the rest of the Pretty Cures.
Then isn’t Cure Mofurun like your child?
- Ueno: Huh, I guess. I bet it’d be fun to have a child like this! I thought she wouldn’t appear much, but in the middle and at the climax, she made huge appearances. Speaking of which, I thought when Mofurun transforms into Cure Mofurun, Ms. Saito’s voice would change too. So I asked Producer Kamiki Yuu: "Since Mofurun's going to look older, her voice will sound deeper, right?" She responded: "No, it won’t. That’s pretty much Ms. Saito's real voice." I selfishly assumed she was voice acting in higher notes than her regular voice, so I was surprised (laughs). But, because Mofurun transforms subconsciously, her voice can stay the same.
Between Dark Matter and Kumata, which did you design first?
- Ueno: Dark Matter was designed first. Including the puffy pants, the design was made by adding details throughout the editing process. I had a description by Director Tanaka. In terms of designing him, it wasn’t that difficult.
Kumata’s facial expressions overall are very emotionless.
- Ueno: I designed Kumata with the image of him being cool, someone who doesn’t express emotions. But in the latter half, after the poison leaves Kumata, his expressions become abundant. Since that was an important part of the story and more references of this were desired, I drew additional facial expression reference art. The second half portrays Kumata’s eyes bigger than the first half, and he’s able to express his feelings with his eyes more.
Compared to the bears, the dragon had a realistic "animal-likeness".
- Ueno: Initially, the style was more cartoony. But since the dragon can emotionally connect with Kotoha, I eventually gave it an animal-like, charming design. This was done to illustrate a "positive interaction with animals". The facial design resembles a dog.
Also, the movie has designs of festival outfits. The clothes on Mirai, Riko, and Mofurun are designed by kids who entered the design contest, correct?
- Ueno: Yes. It was all based on the artwork that Director Tanaka and everyone else chose. I was present at the final choosing round of the art contest and interestingly, none of the designs were something adults could have come up with. All designs stood out, there were lots of patterns which were all very eye-catching.
During your work on the movie as the animation supervisor, what did you keep in mind overall?
- Ueno: In terms of Cure Mofurun, since those were my designs, she was easy to edit. How to break her concept down or how to make her cooler was all based on my taste. On the other hand, the other characters that weren't designed by me were harder to edit.
What was the hardest thing while drawing?
- Ueno: Mirai is easy to draw. I'm used to drawing characters with drooping, round eyes. Kotoha is easy to draw too, but after she transforms into Felice, she becomes more difficult to draw. When transformed, both Miracle and Magical have pointy and courageous eyes. But depicting Felice's round eyes as courageous was tough. Riko has almond-shaped eyes, so overall they're hard to draw. When I draw her eyes, no matter how hard I try, they become acorn-shaped, so it looks different from Ms. Miyamoto’s art, and that makes me feel bad...
But that makes it cute and Mr. Ueno-like.
- Ueno: It makes me happy you think that. Another tough aspect was them changing their outfits several times during the story. Because we don’t work in order from the beginning of the story to the end, we almost got confused, asking: "In this scene, what do they wear again?" Also, since all the main characters from the Magic World appeared, the number of characters was huge! (laughs)
Do you have a favorite scene?
- Ueno: I like the scene in the middle of the story, when Mirai gets sad and Riko and Kotoha gives her words of encouragement. I didn’t let the TV version of Mirai’s personality get in the way, and thought: "In this scene, Mirai would probably be like this!" and drew her with lots of empathy. Of course, I created those images based off of Director Tanaka’s facial expressions from the storyboard. Because Director Tanaka can draw too, it made it easier.
Please tell me the good things about being a part of making this movie.
- Ueno: While working as an animation supervisor on the TV series, we don’t get to see face to face and work with the people from specific departments. I think it’s nice that when working on movies, I can work together with the color scheme coordinator and the art director. It was good to participate in a movie version of the TV series.
In the future, do you plan to participate in the TV version of Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure!?
- Ueno: Timing-wise, probably not. I mean, I drew everyone a little too often for the movie. If I can maybe participate a little in drawing the key animation, that would be nice.
In the TV version, the BBQ clothes you designed for Episode 13 are pretty memorable.
- Ueno: I had the producer or the assistant producer show me a few reference pictures, and I chose and drew ones that might looked good on the characters.
Out of all of them, Mayumi’s long skirt was unique.
- Ueno: The inspiration for that is Mori girl fashion. Like, grabbing the long sleeve a little. (laughs) Since this was the first time I drew Mayumi, I haven’t gotten the hang of her, but while I was drawing her, I thought to myself: "Oh, this is cute!" (laughs)
Please give a message to the fans.
- Ueno: I don’t think anyone thought Mofurun would transform into Cure Mofurun. I think that’s interesting, and this movie illustrates Mofurun’s earnest feelings. All the viewers have something that they love fondly and always carry with them. If they can relate to this movie, it would be great.
All comments by Mr. Ueno and the movie director Mr. Tanaka Yuta. (Editor's note: Some of the commentary was left out due to being simple descriptions of the design itself.)
Cure Mofurun Design Notes
- Cure Mofurun's gloves are designed big, which is cute.
- The usual shape of her mouth is bear-like.
- Her rosy cheeks are done with a brush. The stars in her eyes are rounded.
- Her facial expression references are minimal. Mr. Ueno on the subject: "Because I edit the animation, I thought it would be acceptable to not have too much variation on the expressions. (Editor's note: He implies that, since he is good with coming up with expressions on the spot, he doesn't need many references for it.) I also thought it would be alright if the key animators took care of cleaning up the artwork of the eyes." The shape of her mouth is squiggly like a bear. This basic shape is one of the design quirks that points to her "Mofurun-like" personality. According to Mr. Ueno: "During battle scenes, her mouth can look more courageous, of course."
- The striped sock is only on her right leg.
- On the back of her cape, there’s a heart and a star.
- Since she transformed with the "Mofurun Linkle Stone", the style is dubbed "Mofurun Style". Mr. Ueno drew the design and the character designer of Mahou Tsukai Pretty Cure!, Ms. Miyamoto Emiko, edited it. She also slightly edited the Ruby, Sapphire and Topaz Styles. In the series, there were no yellow Pretty Cures, and considering Mofurun’s color, they’ve settled her base color as yellow. Director Tanaka adds: "I thought a brown Pretty Cure would be a bit too plain (laughs)."
- Mr. Ueno on Cure Mofurun's hair and clothes: "The director decided that, including the hairstyle, there should be some fluffiness to it, so Kamiki got us a lot of reference pictures for fluffy hairstyles."
- Each of Cure Mofurun’s colorful hairstyles are based on sweets.
- "Topaz Style’s hair and outfit is inspired by donuts, so there are donuts wrapped around her wrists and stomach. Because I’m old, I didn’t know there were donuts that came in such shapes. I got all the reference pictures for them (laughs)." - Mr. Ueno.
- The ponytail hairdo for Sapphire Style is based on a chocolate cornet or an Anpan roll.
- Ruby Style's pigtails are supposed to resemble two bread rolls stuck together.
Dark Matter Design Notes
- The base sketches are by Director Tanaka.
- The fabric over his hand is see-through. The shoulder parts are metal, with gems on top of the pedestals.
- His nails are sharp and he has a ring on his right middle finger.
- When Director Tanaka thought of the visuals of Dark Matter, "he had to be big and weird. Since I wanted to make him strange and unique, I added lots of colors and had them add colorful polka dot patterns on his pants. Because he’s a "distorted bear", the way I designed him was to make him overly stand out."
- He already has a mask in Director Tanaka’s first draft. "At first, there was no need for it story-wise, but if he’s going to wear a mask, he can reveal who he is when he cries. When the mask is taken off, you will know that he was Kumata who got bigger." - Director Tanaka.
Kumata Design Notes
- Unlike the other bears, his body is black.
- On his ears and hands he has a triangular symbol.
- His eyes are shaped like half moons, and the white of his eyes are yellow.
- "I added the scarf to distinguish him from the ordinary bears, and to leave some essence of Dark Matter. The scarf is wrapped around Dark Matter's hat as well. I thought characters who are cool wanderers or characters who can't tell the truth might look good in scarves." - Mr. Ueno.
- His facial expressions illustrations are composed of cold facial expressions, but these [depicted in the Animage issue] are faces from the first half of the movie where he tries to trick Mofurun. There is another facial expression reference sheet separate from this, for the latter half of the movie.
Heartful Style Design Notes
- Miracle, Magical, and Felice are drawn in their Alexandrite Style, with feathers and intricate decorations added. "Ms. Miyamoto drew the three and I edited her drafts. With Cure Mofurun, Ms. Miyamoto checked what I drew, and added various parts. For example, some of the bear-shaped decorations." - Mr. Ueno.
- The four bows on Cure Mofurun's buns are colored according to the Cures' theme colors.
Mirai, Riko and Kotoha's casual outfits
- "I had reference pictures for the outfits shown to me, chose a few and designed these. Thinking of each of their personalities, I made sure to leave some resemblance to their clothes from the TV series. I think in terms of fashion, women are way more coordinated. The assistant director Ms. Furuya Yoko helped me by drawing the rough drafts." - Mr. Ueno.
- Keeping the seasons in mind, these are their autumn clothes.
Flare Dragon Design Notes
- Director Tanaka had the image of the white dragon, Falcon, from "The Neverending Story". "So that is why it resembles a dog." - Director Tanaka. Looking at the joints, it has characteristics of a bird as well. That was also thought up by Director Tanaka.
- Due to circumstances of the work for the movie preview, the Shadow Dragon version was designed before its original form.
Festival Outfits Design Notes
- These outfits were designed based on the artwork sent in from viewers. There were over 10,000 entries. Since the outfits from the winning entries only depicted the front side, Mr. Ueno designed the other sides.
- "What I thought was girly were the striped bows. Most of the artwork sent by kids had a striped bow in the design. Many of them drew flowers and hearts too, but I think the striped bow is very "Pretty Cure" like." - Mr. Ueno.
- Using Mr. Ueno and color palette designer Takezawa's taste, they skillfully arranged the original artwork ideas into designs for the animation.
- Mr. Ueno designed Kotoha's outfits similar to the outfits that Mirai and Riko wear, since Kotoha hasn't appeared before the art contest. "I designed it like how a 6 year old would!" he says. Along with that, the braid in the back was added by Ms. Miyamoto after doing design check.
- Kei's, Jun's and Emily's festival clothes are based on Ms. Furuya's original ideas. "I asked Furuya, 'If you have any design ideas, please draw it.' I sensed a woman's originality. Ms. Miyamoto also said 'What wonderful designs!' The cute hat design is slightly different from the wizard school uniform's hat." - Mr. Ueno. By the way, Ms. Furuya is an ex-animator, and was a student of Mr. Ueno back in the day when studying at Toei animation.
Forest Bears Design Notes
- "Even though they're bears in a magical world, including the colors, we made sure they're just like normal bears, and wouldn't stand out much in comparison to Mofurun. The mama bear has a well-rounded and motherly kind of image. The baby bear plays with Mofurun in the first half, and at the end it has an important role, where it holds hands with Kumata, so I distinguished it from the rest by adding circular eye brows." - Mr. Ueno.
Shadows of Dark Matter - Design Notes
- These are minions created by Dark Matter. They're designed based off of what Director Tanaka had in mind. "They don't have a mind of their own. There's a spell on the shadow seeds, and when they become real, they move according to Dark Matter's commands. Dark Matter can create the shadows, but cannot get rid of them. Once they get attacked and take damage, they'll disappear.” - Director Tanaka