In the animation "Before MIMOCA" Ryo Inoue confronts the conundrum of how to spend time in an art museum, and offers his answer, as an artist. Since its debut on YouTube this video has been watched and enjoyed by thousands of people, of all ages.
A year on from the release of "Before MIMOCA," its creator reflected on the process behind its production, on art museums, and on Genichiro Inokuma.
View of the initial character designs. The Mimomi with the hairstyle on the right ultimately did not make the cut.
"Before MIMOCA" is the cumulative product of a few little challenges I had. For one thing, I was dealing with Genichiro Inokuma, a man who made art throughout his whole life, and was constantly evolving in different ways. And from the beginning to end of the production, I too had a feeling of attempting things new to me.
One manifestation of this was that stray lock of hair hanging from the fringe (I guess?) of my heroine, Mimomi. That straggly piece of hair added extra work to the drawing, but also a little insight into Mimomi's lifestyle, during the first half of the video when she is at home. Because I do all my own drawing for animations, I have to keep the design of the main character as simple as possible. You may wonder what the big deal is about a fringe, but it was risky, because having elements like this increases your work more than expected.
I remember the initial brief was to make an animation to "serve as a gateway to the museum for those hesitant about visiting MIMOCA, or who had actually come to MIMOCA, but were uncertain how to spend time there." Having spent several years now in work that involves using song and animation to introduce people to art, I'd heard many say they didn't really understand art, or that they were interested in it, but didn't know where to start. The character of Mimomi is the sum of those voices.
Mimomi is an office worker aged somewhere between her late 20s and early 30s, who lives alone. Most of her income goes toward making a relaxing home for herself, but she is also thinking about checking out an art museum on the weekend. My animations are basically fantastical in nature, which makes it hard to project a sense of everyday routine, and this lock of hair was one way I came up with to express such a character. Genichiro Inokuma apparently said he wanted people to come to the museum on the way home from doing their shopping, groceries still in hand.* So Mimomi's unruly fringe was critical in helping the video to convey that intended accessibility and ease.
Rough sketches exploring Mimomi's hairstyle
Another challenge was that of showing the interior of MIMOCA in as much detail as possible.
Genichiro Inokuma's inscription "the art museum is a health resort for the spirit" adorns the director's office at MIMOCA.
Written in Genichiro Inokuma's (1902-1993) own hand
I don't know what Inokuma's exact intention was in saying this, but I imagine his fervent wish was for the museum to be a place to soothe the weary soul. And it's true that when you are at MIMOCA, the place that grew out of this desire, you do feel mysteriously calmer, and much refreshed. I suspect this is due to a combination of factors, such as the airy design of the building, the generous space between works on display, the abundant outside light shining in, and the flooring material. I was eager to show these details as accurately as possible.
Reference photo used for drawing the interior. Note the numbers to count the stairs.
But this turned out to be a tough and time-consuming task. Fundamentally, MIMOCA is made up of simple straight lines, but the way those lines intersect is highly original, and hard to reproduce in drawings. I also struggled to express in the crisp tones of my usual animation style the subdued yet sunny hues of the museum's interior, product of gentle light entering through windows, mixed with artificial lighting.
Writing this I am reminded of the complex construction of the Wassily chairs at the entrance, with their tubes bending in and out. These were particularly hard to draw. Although not that obvious in the completed animation, I tried to include as many such details as I could, to give a feel for the museum's laidback comfort and friendly vibe.
The actual background I ended up drawing. The Wassily chairs were the final touch.
The last challenge I'd like to mention here was that of making an animation of the actual act of viewing art. This was in the final scenes, which show Mimomi in the act of looking at works by Inokuma and pondering them quizzically. Viewing art is hardly dynamic, which makes it a difficult subject for animation. To animate after all is to set things in motion. It would also be fair to say that what goes on within individual viewers of art varies a great deal, is complex, and not really suited to expression in a short animation. But I thought it was important to show one example of the viewing experience. It is rare to experience vicariously what someone else is thinking as they study a work of art, and I'd long thought this was one thing causing people to give art a wide berth. That is, the idea that they might be "looking at the paintings the wrong way." So although Mimomi is a fictional character, by sharing her viewing journey in the animation, I wanted people to feel comfortable with their way of looking at artworks. In reality of course we have all sorts of odd thoughts running through our minds while looking at art: "Ooh I must remember to call so-and-so..." "Hmmm, might be time to eat..." Genichiro Inokuma's works have interesting titles, great for stretching the imagination. Using these as a departure point I was able to "animate" the art viewing experience.
There were a few other challenges too, but it would seem I have reached my word count. I cannot end without expressing my gratitude to the works and words of Genichiro Inokuma, and MIMOCA as the venue, for giving me the opportunity to tackle these challenges.
Storyboard for art-viewing scenes
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Born in Hyogo Prefecture. Graduated from the Kanazawa College of Art Department of Design in 2007. Received an honorable mention at the BACA-JA 2007 student film awards for his graduation work Little Red Riding Hood and Health. In 2013 launched art-related TV show Biju Tune! on NHK Educational.
*From an interview with Genichiro Inokuma on the occasion of the museum's establishment
"There will be places to go for tea, listen to music, read books. It will be a museum people can pop in to with their shopping on the way home from the grocery store... the idea is to help people to get up close and personal with art easily, in the course of their daily routine." "Genichiro Inokuma: People and artworks" Art Top 119 (October/November 1990), 104.