Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth Developer Interview About Art Direction and Opening Animation

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The “Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth Official Visual Materials” art book was released last month on April 1st, and it included a creator interview about the game’s design and artwork with the developers.

The first part features P Studio’s art team, which previously had an extensive interview. Some of the points discussed had also been talked about in a Dengeki Online interview with producer Daisuke Kanada, and director Yuta Aihara in December 2018.

The second part features animation director Takashi Kojima.

Below is a full translation of the interview by @shininyan.

Part 1

Design Director: Naoya Maeda
P-STUDIO Art Team: Hanako Oribe, Akane Kabayashi, Azusa Shimada

Q: What aspect of the art team’s work do you start with first?

Oribe: In the first planning phase, we select the theme colors and start brainstorming ideas. For Persona Q2, the game’s design keywords were retro, pop, and kitsch. We first gather images of all kinds, ranging from candy wrapper art to contemporary art—around 500 pieces in all. From there, we narrow it down to 30-50 and create something called a “mood board” that will determine the game’s art direction. We share this with the other staff, get their feedback, and move on to sketching our ideas on image boards.

Q: Did you decide that the game would take place in a movie theater during this first planning phase?

Maeda: In the initial phase of development, the producer and director wanted to tell a story in a setting that included “storage media.” Since they wanted something similar to a materialization of the Akashic records, we came up with motifs such as a library, archives, a brain, etc. In the end, we went with the flashy choice of “movies,” which seemed like it’d be fun, albeit not exactly a great representation of storage media. Since the theme would be movies, we immediately decided that the characters’ home base would be a movie theater.

That said, the movie theater’s ambience would change drastically based on how we designed it—would it be a multiplex with all of the latest features, or an art-house cinema with old-fashioned charm? A regular movie theater wouldn’t be interesting enough, either. As we were wondering what to make it, Oribe suggested adding American-style retro elements and put together an image board which would become the basis for Persona Q2’s movie theater.

Oribe: When I was assigned to Persona Q2, very little had been decided at that point. Most of the elements were still uncertain, so I relied on the mood board as I felt my way through drawing the image boards. But, despite the uncertainty, some of my initial image boards did end up being selected as-is.

Q: So, the game’s setting was created by combining the scenario’s motif with the art team’s vision.

Maeda: The design keywords of retro, pop, and kitsch were decided at around the same time that the setting was fleshed out. Retro for an old-fashioned feeling, while not forgetting pop, because it is a Persona title. On top of that, we have kitsch, because eccentricity is another Persona staple.

Q: One of Persona Q’s major appeals is that it brings together characters from the Persona series. Which phase are the character designs done in?

Oribe: When the setting and dungeon specifications are done, we draw concept art for the dungeons with characters inside them. Locations such as the hub where the characters gather and Theodore’s shop are also drawn in this phase. These are basically the reference sheets for the setting. We also make corrections to the Persona Q-style character sheets for the characters new to Q2, 3D character models and field maps, and illustrations that appear in the game. And of course, we also draw concept art for the new characters. That’s a rough outline of the 2D work.

Q: What do you pay attention to when converting Persona characters to chibi form?

Maeda: When it comes to character mannerisms during scenes, chibi models have more symbolic, expressive silhouettes than realistically proportioned models. So, the best way to draw chibi characters is to make them move around a lot. We did this for the previous game too, and for Q2, we again prepared as many motions as we could.

Oribe: The 3DS has a small screen and several characters appear on-screen at once, so I had to design them in a way that you could recognize them even if they were very small. I avoided detailed linework wherever possible, and emphasized the variation between straight lines and curves. I also drew each character’s unique features bigger, such as Ann’s twin tails and hood. Those are the kinds of things I paid attention to.

Q: In Persona Q2, the cast of Persona 5 joins the ones from Persona 3 and Persona 4. Was there anything difficult about unifying all of the characters?

Oribe: There wasn’t anything particularly tough about creating that sense of unity. If I had to name something that was a struggle, it’d be the issue that Persona Q had: the “weakness” of the chibi art. We had to figure out how to address that without changing the impression of the previous game’s 3D models. Our solutions were to emphasize the chibi style by making thin parts thinner and thick parts thicker, and make the facial expressions livelier.

Q: What was the reasoning behind using chibi characters for Persona Q in the first place?

Oribe: There are various reasons, including technical ones, but the first one that comes to mind is that telling a dark, Persona-style story with cute chibi characters seems like it’d make for an amazing contrast. That curiosity may have been the starting point. *laughs*

Q: The P3 female protagonist seems to have stronger characterization in Persona Q2 than she did in Persona 3 Portable. When you were designing her, were there any special instructions you received from the scenario team?

Oribe: Actually, when it was decided that the P3 female protagonist would be appearing in the game, there was absolutely nothing decided about how she would be handled. So, I only designed her as a blank slate protagonist like the others. However, she did already have a dignified, somewhat lively impression from Persona 3 Portable, so her sprite reflects that.

Q: What kind of instructions did you receive for the original heroine, Hikari, based on the story objectives and setting?

Oribe: At first, the scenario team described Hikari as “a considerate girl who blends into her surroundings.” However, when I tried to draw that, she looked just like a regular NPC—she didn’t stand out as a character of her own. So, I determined that it’d be difficult to design a character like that. I wanted her to want to express something—to have some kind of passion—in addition to being a considerate girl who blends into her surroundings. That’s where the idea of her aspiring to be a movie director came from, and when it was approved, I used that as a foothold to create her current design.

Q: Which character was the hardest to design?

Oribe: The new characters had to be redone a lot to match the story as it got more fleshed out. Doe’s design remained undecided until midway through development; he went through many rejected designs, such as a regular middle-aged man, a janitor, and a panda. He was a problem character design-wise.

Q: Persona Q2’s UI is influenced by Persona 5’s. Were there any difficulties in striking a balance between it and the original Persona Q’s?

Maeda: The graphics side was reinforced by assigning Hanako Oribe (who worked on Persona 5) to Art Director and Masayoshi Suto (who worked on UI for the Persona series) to Interface Design Supervisor. Persona Q2 was developed in collaboration with LANCARSE, and almost all of the UI and character model creation was done by them.

During early development, there was a period of delayed progress because we didn’t make our requirements clear, and the quality we were seeking was difficult to implement. However, from the middle phase onward, we held in-person meetings with them more frequently, which reduced the number of inconsistencies. LANCARSE never gave up on accommodating for us, and we were able to successfully complete the game.

Q: In the opening movie, there are scenes with film effects, such as the noise shown on the theater screen. What was the motive behind this?

Maeda: In order to make Persona Q2’s setting more enjoyable for the players, we decided to include cinematic themes in all of the important parts of the game, not just the opening movie. We had several staff meetings to brainstorm ideas. The countdown when you enter a dungeon, the clapperboard at the start of an encounter, doors depicted as roll film, and the movie projector in the Persona fusion cutscenes all resulted from those brainstorming sessions.

The part below does not include actual spoilers for PQ2, but it includes discussion about the ending credits sequence and the illustrations within. Click below if you do not mind reading this.

Persona Q2 Ending Credits Talk
Q: Speaking of cinematic effects, the illustrations in the credits roll were also well-received. At which stage of development were they drawn?

Kabayashi: I recall having to rush because the request came in rather late. *laughs*

Q: Where did you get the idea to draw scenes for the credits roll that didn’t happen during the game itself?

Kabayashi: The specific ideas and character combinations were worked on with the planners, but all of the illustrations shared the same purpose: to show an “after story” that the players would want to see. But, as you said, these scenes don’t take place in the game, so they feel like fantasies in a way. So, to me this feels like content for those who play the game all the way to the end, and I’d say that we drew these illustrations from the players’ point of view, based on what they’d want to see.

Shimada: We created them with the intent of reliving the memories of the areas the characters went through while drawing out their unique characteristics and personalities. Cramming all of the questionable ingredients from Junessic Land into a mystery stew, Caroline prodding a singing flower with her baton, and so on. We tried to draw as many items and symbolic backdrops from the game as we could, so I hope that you’ll look back on it when you see the pictures.

Part 2

Animation Director, Animation Supervisor, Key Animator, Storyboards / Director: Takashi Kojima

Q: First of all, Kojima-san, have you played Persona games before?

Kojima: From the Persona series, I played Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment when I was in elementary and middle school. The literary style back then really appealed to my edgy tastes, so I liked the series a lot. I even researched the myths and urban legends that the Personas (demons) came from. I particularly liked Persona 2: Innocent Sin’s setting where rumors came true, and the characters were great, too. So, I felt nostalgic when I was approached with Persona Q2. Also, since I’d even be doing the storyboards, it felt like a very worthwhile project.

Q: Were the opening movie and its storyboards created before the game’s scenario was complete?

Kojima: I believe the storyboards were done after the scenario was completed. At a meeting with Atlus, they said that I could create the opening however I liked, so I watched the other Persona openings and then deliberately tried to distance myself from the existing works while retaining their unique traits. If I referenced the existing works too much, then there wouldn’t be any improvement over them, so I went for a different approach. Thus, it became something more like a music video. I also intentionally increased the number of cuts, making for a nice and fast tempo. The melody was catchy too, so it was easy to work with. So, when I showed Atlus the storyboards, they were even able to clearly understand the movie’s tempo.

Q: Akechi’s scenes, such as the one where he’s standing on the roof, leave quite the impression. What was the intent behind them?

Kojima: The opening movie is centered around the Persona 5 characters. In my mind, when I think about the P5 protagonist moving about, I want to have Akechi quietly standing still in opposition to that. Rival characters have a stronger presence when they’re calm, rather than running around. At the beginning of the song, Akechi sprays paint onto the screen, and then when the P5 protagonist is walking forward during the first verse, you see this graffiti art beside him. I bet Akechi drew that.

Q: Hikari has a scene that feels rather unsettling…

Kojima: I was told that the theme of the game was “peer pressure,” so for the hook, I put Hikari on a red background with eyes opening all around her, followed by her falling from a building. The way I envisioned it was a shocking scene where she falls from the building to escape from the pressure, only to be engulfed in flames and disappear on the way down.

After that, she appears from the flames in a blank white space, showing that she’s freed herself of the peer pressure. In this cut, the P3 (P3P), P4, and P5 protagonists appear before her one after the other, which represents that Hikari is also determined to move ahead, just as the protagonists were.

Q: Were there any scenes that were added based on your ideas?

Kojima: Kamoshidaman in the opening, perhaps. Atlus probably didn’t expect Kamoshida to be appearing, and at first, I didn’t plan on including him, either. However, since there was that rap part in the middle of the song, I thought it’d be more entertaining to insert a cut like that instead of staying serious all the way through. The animated scenes throughout the game had to follow the story, so I had less opportunities to play around.

Q: Since the game takes place in a movie theater, what are some tricks or techniques you used to make the animated scenes feel more cinematic?

Kojima: Since the theme was movies, I think I consciously tried to switch between various techniques for each part. Kamoshidaman’s setting was in the style of American comics, so I added things like the Superman parody at the beginning. It was very Western-influenced, and I intentionally made it a bit on the cheesy side.

Q: The themes of the game are “peer pressure” and “individuality,” but you also had to unify the overall image while showing the unique personalities of 28 Persona users. What did you pay particular attention to in order to achieve this?

Kojima: That’s a tricky question. First of all, the length and content of the animated scenes were set such that they wouldn’t feel like they get in the way of gameplay. Due to the length restrictions, there wasn’t enough time to give each character their own time in the spotlight, so we had to narrow down the focus. That said, in the parts where each main character appears, I made sure to have both layouts with many characters on screen and layouts with the protagonist by himself. This was to imply that maybe they were also being affected by some kind of pressure, and (although it wasn’t actually the case) show a bit of the “peer pressure” and “majority mentality” themes outside of Hikari’s parts.

Q: Lastly, which animated movie do you want people to see the most?

Kojima: It’d have to be the opening movie, since I was given quite a lot of freedom. Making the first cut match up with the last cut was something I personally wanted to do, and it worked out well. I also enjoyed creating the action sequence at the hook where the protagonists use their Persona abilities, and I tried to make good use of the butterflies that were an early symbol of the Persona series in the part with the mask. I think that shows how big of an influence the early Persona games were on me.

Also, I was pretty aggressive with color usage this time, and I think it was a good match for the video. Colors are a major element when you’re watching it on the screen, and at any rate, it was a fun project. If I get another opportunity like this again, I’d like to make something even better.