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Maaya Sakamoto & Gekidan INU Curry special interview (I)

- Maaya Sakamoto meets Gekidan INU Curry -
The untold story behind the production of Universe (I)

Maaya Sakamoto's 2007 album 30minutes night flight was released on March 21st, after seventeen months following her last work. An animated promotional DVD was produced for Universe, the sixth song in the album, and included as a bonus DVD in the limited edition of the album. The animation was made at Production I.G's Studio 4 (IGPX) and almost entirely crafted by Gekidan INU Curry, the creative duo composed by Doroinu and 2shiroinu.. In this interview, Maaya Sakamoto and Gekidan INU Curry look back at the production of the video clip and talk about how they put their feelings into the song and video.

Profile: Maaya Sakamoto - Born on March 31, 1980, Maaya Sakamoto started her professional career as a singer at 15, when her talent was discovered by world-famous composer and music producer Yoko Kanno. At that time, she performed the opening song for the animated TV series The Vision of Escaflowne (1996) while giving her voice to the heroine of the series, Hitomi Kanzaki. Her career as voice actor and singer continued in both animation and live action productions, her credits including Nathalie Portman / Padme Amidala in the Star Wars saga. Maaya's 10th album 30minutes night flight is a musical concept work that the artist herself describes as "a 30-minute night flight dedicated to all the people who experienced at least one sleepless night."
Profile: Gekidan INU Curry - Translating 'Theatrical Company Dog Curry', it is a creative team composed by two young artists, 2shiroinu. (2white Dog., picture right) and Doroinu (Muddy Dog, picture left), who after a career in commercially-based animation decided to focus exclusively on art films that can express their sensitiveness. "We both had set our eyes on Russian and Czech animation styles. Rather than working with a lot of people like in an orchestra, we prefer to create miniature landscapes that can be accomplished by working individually." A few years after Universe, they were to receive global attention for designing the witches in the hit franchise Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

When was this project initiated?
Maaya Sakamoto (Sakamoto): I think it was last summer (NOTE: of 2007). I remember I was wearing short sleeves.
Doroinu: At first, we received some written material on the concept of this project. And we started working with it.
Sakamoto: At the time of our first meeting, I just had a demo of a demo of a demo composition, with only the piano and the voice parts. Of course I had a definite concept for the song, but I preferred to let them listen to the music and share its atmosphere rather than giving instruction to "create something like this." And after they listened to the song, they surprised me with a wonderful story they sent me afterwards.
Doroinu: You mean the rough outline that we sent you?

The Little Girl is the main character in Universe. According to Maaya Sakamoto's concept, the song was "to start from a personal sphere in the very beginning," so the character initially totters around town alone at night.

Sakamoto: It was like a poem that summarized the images I was after. I really loved it, so, then on, I left everything up to them.
Doroinu: After hearing the song, we already had a solid idea of what Sakamoto-san had in mind. It's just that since this was going to be a promotional video of a song, and we were told that it had a strong message to tell, I felt we should have a storyline to some extent. Sakamoto-san had her concept story, so we structured the story along that line.
Sakamoto: But at that time, I only had a melody for the climax section. So I just sang the melody tune - like la-la-la. What did you think about it?
2shiroinu.: I thought it was a slow and relaxed tune.
Doroinu: With up-tempo music, it's easy to come up with a lively bustling video, but with a slow-tempo tune, it's kind of tricky. The melody was really beautiful, and this added more pressure. We tried hard not to ruin the atmosphere.
Sakamoto: As for myself, I had set out my own big theme for this song, so I had no room to think about the actual scheme and storyline for the clip. I guess if this song was an up-tempo piece, you could come up with many options. However, with a slower tempo, you certainly have an image, but it's hard to move from there. That's why I left everything up to them.

The Prince, one of the characters originally created for the web content DecoBlog (Decoration Blog), makes an appearance as a special guest in the promotional video. He appears at the height of the Little Girl's expanded imagination. "He is the VIP guest who appears for a matter of a second in the climax (lol)," explains Sakamoto.

What was your impression of the characters when you saw them for the first time?
Sakamoto: They showed me a drawing of the colored version. It was sort of rough sketch drawn with colored pencils. They were really colorful, cute and fantastical. The characters convey this fancy atmosphere at first sight, but if you look at them carefully, you can see them injected with a needle, bandaged, or drooling. You see, they are not only cute, but they also represents human imperfection. I had the impression each character had a story behind him or her. I thought they were ideal actors to appear on the video.
The drawing had the quality of a picture book and the unrealistic feel of a fairytale as well as a dark aspect to it. I remember that when I told you that that was what I liked about it, you were a bit surprised.
Doroinu: I thought you were a real gambler. (lol)
2shiroinu.: When she said she liked the dribbling, I thought, "Is she kidding me?"
Sakamoto: Compared to the first rough drawing, the characters turned out to be a bit less... intense. (lol) Of course you still have the bandages.

The bandaged characters with silk hat are simply called Humans. In Universe, they are just standing motionless in the beginning, but they gradually start to move as the song progresses. Must not miss the drooling details.

How did you come up with those movements in the dance sequence?
Doroinu: The storyboards are the result of a lot of pondering. Every time I came up with an idea, I discussed it with 2shiroinu.. First from right to left, then a vertical movement that would eventually pump up to the climax of the bridge section.

The bridge turns into a dance scene.
Doroinu: In fact, I asked two assistant production managers to actually dance for us.
Sakamoto: Really? I did'n know that! That's cute! I wish we'd added that footage as a bonus video. (lol)

The Humans dance with the Little Devils. The dance is the symbolic leit-motiv of the entire clip. The Humans and their counterparts bow, join hands and then stretch their hands straight towards the sky. These movements are amazingly in tune with the movement of the searchlight in the beginning of the video.

Doroinu: They danced for us for about two hours in the empty studio in the middle of night...
Sakamoto: Who choreographed it?
Doroinu: I was right beside them for the entire time and choreographed the dance. And 2shiroinu. was there just staring at us. (lol)
2shiroinu.: I'd say I was grinning while sketching the movements (lol).

(1 - to be continued)

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