"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Anyone doubting the truth of Picasso’s famous quote would do well to take a trip to the V&A Museum of Childhood in London. Their newest permanent exhibition shows what happens when you bring kids’ imaginary friends to life – local children collaborated with a diverse group of exciting animation artists around to share their fantastical companions with the world. I headed down to East London and caught up with Arvid Harnqvist & Amar Marwaha, the creative team at AMV BBDO who came up with the whimsical experiment, and dwarf’s Tsuneo Goda who flew over to Japan to lend his skills. It’s a wonderful project and proof that, if you’re in a bit of a creative rut, you should act your shoe size and not your age…
Venture into a cavernous hall of iron, glass and neat Victorian brickwork, navigate cases of vibrant Javanese shadow puppets and a Stephen King novel’s worth of china dolls and eventually you’ll meet Monster, Lilly, Swerl, Jamie, Nessi and Chloe. They’ll be very pleased to meet you. These friendly – if odd-looking – folk are unlike any you’ve ever met. They’ve sprung straight from the imaginations of children, with a little help from dwarf’s Tsuneo Goda, Picasso Pictures’ Péter Vácz , Psyop’s Lauren Indovina, BlinkInk’s Becky & Joe and Aardman Animations.
The Imaginary Friends Collection
was devised by Arvid and Amar at AMV BBDO – the agency has worked with the museum for several years and they describe their imaginary friend exhibit as their ‘most ambitious yet’.
But while the characters look like they’ve simply slipped through a portal from Narnia, Wonderland or the place where the wild things are, the project involved a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Arvid and Amar tell me that producer Adam Walker had to corral five artists from all around the world, as well as organising a workshop for 60 children. It sounds pretty exhausting. But worth it.
“It was amazing to see the children's creativity flourish. They don't apply the same shackles on creativity like adults do,” they say.
That’s something that dwarf’s Tsuneo Goda – best known as the designer behind the internationally famous character Domo
– found too. He wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when he agreed to get involved, but he’s entirely happy that he did.
“Once I got here it was really interesting because I normally create my own characters. But on this occasion I got to create things that were in children’s heads which was really unexpected and I gained a lot from it,” he told me when he visited the LBB offices in September with Ground Control’s
Michael Stanish (Ground Control represents Tsuneo's studio dwarf in Europe).
He’d just spent the weekend working with the children to draw up designs and was heading back to Japan to create fox-like creature Jamie, a character whose quirky nature appealed to him.
Having spoken to Tsuneo and then Arvid and Amar, I was desperate to see the creations in the flesh. There was something about the purity of the project that appealed to me – so often we cover creativity in the context of solving a business project, building a brand. This was creativity without restrictions – free-wheeling. Goda-San observed, wryly, that the imaginary friends seemed to evolve and sprout limbs as the drawing process unfurled, requiring heft use of the eraser… proving that even world-class creatives need to race to keep up with the minds of children.
For an industry devoted to creativity, we don’t always create the conditions for it to flourish. Long hours, 30-minute turnarounds for scripts, and in some cases near-sweatshop conditions – you do hear stories. Even the most overworked creative could benefit from rewinding the clock and letting their inner child out or, better yet, watching real children in full flow (I’d suggest turning creative departments into kindergartens but I don’t want to invite hate mail or heavy sarcasm from frazzled CEOs, heads of production and account execs…)
When I finally made it down to the V&A I was struck by the variety of beasts on display and the joyful photos of the children, snapped by Rankin
. Meeting the children and collaborating with them seems like it’s been energising (if exhausting) for all involved.
So have Arvid and Amar learned anything from the project? “To think more like a child. Their brains are something special.”