Interview with Jotaro “A-Key” Nonaka
The Pioneer Multimedia Creators Network (MmCN) was a team of digital and analogue artists, programmers, musicians, and media creators, formed and commissioned by Pioneer Japan to create exclusive software titles for their fledgling Pioneer LaserActive platform. Their titles include 3D Museum, Melon Brains, and Goku, as well as the cancelled UFO & ET. The key figure of the MmCN was Jotaro Nonaka, a multitalented creator with a keen interest in the LaserDisc medium. We at the LaserActive Preservation Project are incredibly grateful that we were given a chance to interview Nonaka-san, and his account provides great insight into the development process for the LaserActive.
On the Formation of the MmCN:
“One of my business partner back then who was working with Pioneer for their marketing/promotion, came to me about this yet to be released disk format called LD-ROM, which Pioneer has developed proprietary as the future extension of their LD format, and they need to create some software titles to explore its full potential, however since the LD-ROM format was very new and not been publically released yet, there were no software developers who could meet their demand.
I myself being a musician, but was heavily into Multimedia format which was emerging back then, namely initiated by the HyperCard released earlier, I became interested and started to recruit my close friends to see if they would be interested to work in this new environment.
Some of the names whom I first contacted were, Hiroyuki Nakano for video production, Hakubun Ito for CGI production, and my mentor Haruomi Hosono for music, etc. and gradually formed this very eclectic group of artists and creators, as well as engineers and programmers who actually showed interest to take their part in this unique endeavor.”
On Developing Mega-LD/LD-ROM Titles:
“I was of course, primarily in charge of music/audio productions, composing and producing various sound tracks and effects, but I was also heavily involved in development of the original authoring program for LD-ROM, which was actually needed for our own production, since there was no such thing as a commercial authoring tool packaged for LD-ROM format.
So while we started to develop our plans for various titles, and started to produce some video clips and music tracks to see how they would to fit to LD-ROM, we had to develop the authoring software with our programmers, who were hired from outside of Pioneer, and basically, we would try out the system, make a master disk to test and play them on the machine using actual controllers, mesure [sic] the seek time for each actions made, and tweak the program to make it work, and repeat the process until we had something workable.
Also, since LaserActive was Pioneer’s strategic product to be marketed globally, for each of the titles we produce, we had to develop two different programs coded for PC Engine by NEC and MEGA Drive by SEGA, and in Japanese and English! We were like producing four different programs for the each title simultaneously, and three different titles in paralell [sic].
It was more than multi-tasking, it was INSANE!
Then, it became clear to me that it is virtually impossible to complete the whole project by renting out various studios per hourly basis, especially the studios in Tokyo were, and still is very costly, I have decided to provide my own house to Pioneer and facilitate as a private studio dedicated for the project.
The studio was named Media Garden Studio, simply because my house had a huge Japanese garden surrounding it, and I situated most of the studio equipment in the largest living room in my house which was facing directly to the garden. It was very nice setting and I loved it. I’ve done all my recordings there, but unfortunately, my family had to move around 2002, so the studio no longer exists.”
On the LaserActive 3D Goggles and the Development of 3D Museum:
“Nakano came up with the idea for making a title using 3D capabilities of LD-ROM, packed with all sorts of 3D method, and it became “3D Museum”. People at Pioneer who were in charge of LD-ROM format was planning to push 3D viewing with LaserActive, and they were planning to debut the machine equipped with LCD goggles from the beginning. Naturally, they needed something to show off what the machine can do in 3D, and Nakano basically realized what they needed the most.
And like myself, he decided to make his own video production studio, right next to my garden studio, which was named Studio 629. We were going back and forth between our studios, I deliver my audio tapes to him in next door, and he came back with a video master he edited, and vice versa.
Since “3D Museum” had so many different clips literally packed from rim to rim of the disk, I had to come up with all different types of music and SE to accommodate, additionally, I wanted to make the sound synced with 3D images, we tried whatever the latest equipment and software available to process and control the audio in 3 dimension, but I ended up using “RSS” developed by Roland, and I recall I was one of their first real client, who actually purchased the entire package and installed in a professional recording studio.”
On the Development of Goku:
“Hakubun Ito came up with the idea of “GOKU”, an interactive title to tour seven wonders of the world in high definition CGI, but he was just really into producing CGI simulation of the seven wonders at Magic Box, his own CGI studio in Hollywood, and in fact the images they created were in superb quality back in those days, but I think he spent most of our budget, as HD CGI production was sooo expensive then.
Anyway, he didn’t really have any concrete scenario to go along with the images he had created, so I ended up developing an interactive scenario for “GOKU”, with a help from one of my favorite authors Mr. Hiroshi Aramata, who knows everything about anything historical. I developed a whole scenario based on his telling of the ancient mystery of the seven wonders of the world. ”
On the Development of Melon Brains:
“Lastly, I had come up with this idea of making a title featuring Dolphins. Somehow during the time when I was working with Yoko Ono around 1989 and 1990, to produce a series of concert event and CD, Video, and TV program to commemorate 50th birthday of John Lennon at Tokyo Dome, the event was titled “Greening of the World” (Dec.1990), I came across via Yoko, some amazing stories of Dolphin’s lifestyle and their ability to communicate with each other using this organ called “Melon”, a fatty part located in frontal area of their brain, and I became totally fascinated by them.
So I came up with this idea of making a program featuring top class scientists and researchers who were studying dolphins from various perspectives, and based on their findings and understanding, something intellectually intriguing, along with some beautiful video footage of Dolphins in wild, something relaxing and emotionally engaging, and combine them together, try to illustrate the dolphin as a being possibly smarter than us human.
Nakano liked my idea and it became “Melon Brains”. We were privileged to have interviewed some of the top names on this subject and based on their interviews, we have created interactive scenarios and produced visuals to accompany them. We also were lucky to have Bob Talbot who provide us his gorgeous film footage which he filmed exclusively for this title.
My best memory from this unique and yet exciting ordeal was my meeting with Dr. John C. Lilly who unfortunately past away already.
He was one of the top scientist on human brain and mind, his life was modeled after for several movies such as “The Day of The Dolphin” directed by Mike Nicolas, and “Altered States” by Ken Russell.
He was studying dolphin’s brain, which is relatively much larger and more complex than ours, and their ability to communicate using this big brain. And through his research and experiments, he came to believe that dolphin’s ability is far beyond our imaginations, and almost like extraterrestrials.
When I interviewed him at his house in Maui for “Melon Brains”, I felt deeply connected to what he was saying and I really felt that I have encountered someone who vested a true wisdom.
We became good friends after the shooting, and me and my wife visited him in Maui time to time.”
On The Fate of UFO & ET:
“…yes, we had this one planned, but we couldn’t make it, simply because we used up all of our budget with the three titles we’ve made already.
I wish we had more time and budget to finish this title as well, since the subject related to UFO and ETs has been, and still is one of my strongest interest, and I have been following the subject since I was a little kid.”
Thanks again to Nonaka-san for such an informative interview!