This is a translation of the interview with Sachiko Kawamura from the old Sonic Channel site. She has an extensive history as an artist and art director for the Sonic series so many of you are probably already familiar with at least some of her work. If you ever wondered who made those Chao so darn cute, you’re in the right place.
-Today we’re going to be talking with Sachiko Kawamura who is known for her work designing the Chao. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Kawamura: Thanks for having me.
– To start, what was it that motivated you to join Sega? What kind of work did you want to do at the company?
Kawamura: I had loved games ever since I was a student so I decided that if I was going to enter the workforce, it was going to be in the games industry!
You often hear about people wanting to be designers, but I wanted to try creating characters. That isn’t something you do just after entering a company though.
– Then what was it like when you entered the company?
Kawamura: There were newcomers to the left and right of me and we were trying our best to show we were capable.
It might be obvious, but it’s rare that a new employee gets trusted with designing characters right away. You have to build trust to get those kinds of responsibilities so I did all sorts of jobs.
The Terrors of Character Design
– You’re known as the creator of the Chao. During the production of Sonic Adventure, the first game to feature Chao, Uekawa Yuuji’s work had become the standard when it came to character design, but what kind of approach did you take within that? Can you tell us the series of events that led to the creation of the Chao?
Kawamura: We were in different departments at the time, but he was a mentor that really looked out for me. He would say, “Kawamura, if there’s something you want to do then you have to make a case for yourself!” which was big for me.
It was decided that Sonic Adventure would have A-Life (artificial life) like the Nightopians in NiGHTS.
I loved the Nightopians so I really wanted to be involved with the A-Life. While being in charge of other tasks, I was constantly asking my boss to let me work on the A-Life. Thinking about it now, I was probably pretty annoying.
I actually ended up being tasked with the character design, but there wasn’t really much as far as a direction in place to go off of. I was just told to make cute characters that had various transformations and had to work from that. It was really tough.
It was my first time designing characters for a product and I’m not the type that constantly cranks out various designs. But after some fretting, the last design I came up with after forgetting about trying to make it cute was what ended up being used.
I’m very thankful for my boss at the time that gave me that job. I’m also thankful for Uekawa who taught me about the terrors of character design.
– The terrors of character design? Would you mind telling us a little more about that?
Kawamura: You can’t design from just feeling alone. You have to consider how the design will later get turned into the actual product when designing.
You can’t haphazardly put in elements that are hard to turn into an actual product like vague color schemes, and you have to be responsible for all of the elements of the model’s configuration. That kind of stuff.
I cringe now thinking about when I designed characters without considering such obvious things.
Chao have that part that floats over their heads and gradation on their bodies so they aren’t designs that are well suited for becoming products. It caused trouble for those involved in making goods like the stuffed animals, and for the those that worked on the cartoon.
I should have been painfully aware that you have to worry about those types of uses when designing… But I made the same mistake later with Chu Chu Rocket.
– As for where the Chao go from here, do you have anything in mind you can speak about?
Kawamura: In the cool and fast world of Sonic, Chao give a lax impression, which is rare. It would be great if they were sort of a mascot for the relaxed part of high speed games.
With that being said, Sonic characters also depend on their popularity, so without support they’ll be forgotten. Since they can’t continue being a part of the game without support, I hope they’re loved as mascots for the series.
Some Fun Within the Hardships
– What kind of work are you doing now?
Kawamura: I’m involved in game production while also having management duties.
Game development technology is always advancing so it’s a scramble to not get left behind. I feel like that’s already kind of happened though.
Ah, I also designed characters for the recently launched Mind Quiz for the Nintendo DS. I was able to draw without having to think too hard so it was a lot of fun.
– The characters in Mind Quiz are really cute! What project has left the biggest impression on you to this point?
Kawamura: Hmm… Let’s see… Probably Sonic Adventure 2: Battle for a lot of different reasons. There were a lot of hardships, but we crammed in as many Chao features that we wanted to implement as we possibly could. It was a project that was difficult at times and fun at other times.
Speaking of having a hard time with characters, there was also Chu Chu Rocket. I strongly remember struggling to find a good idea. I drew up a design prioritizing having a fresh 2D silhouette, so it was even more of a struggle when trying to model it in 3D later on. That’s the mistake I was referring to earlier (laughs).
– This might be a dumb question, but could you tell who your favorite Sonic character is and why?
Kawamura: I think it would have to be the Chao because I’m attached to them and they hold a lot of significance to me.
Out of the other characters, I like Shadow. He has that fluffy spot of fur on his chest. He’s a character with a lot of dark stories, but I want him to retain his image of being the anti-Sonic.
– What does Sonic mean to you?
Kawamura: The other interviewees gave such great answers! Sorry if mine seems general, but to me, Sonic is an icon.
I think it’s a character with a lot of potential.
He’s cool, but also cute. At some point I want to try making a game with the round classic Sonic.
– And lastly, is there anything you want to say Sonic Channel readers?
Kawamura: Thank you for checking out Sonic Channel and please look forward to the always expanding world of Sonic.
And don’t forget to support the Chao!
If you like reading interviews, there’s more where that came from. You can find the original interview here and more translations here. If you’re also interested in studying Japanese, have a look around the site and share it with your friends. Every bit of support helps!