Creators of digital imagery Albert and Meiko Mizuno can’t picture themselves anywhere else
Story by Brian Marks | Photos by Zsuzsi Steiner
Flip through the pages of a glossy national magazine and you’ll see ads for everything from designer handbags to space-age vacuum cleaners. One thing you may not notice: many featured images aren’t really photographs, but realistic facsimiles created on a computer.
Albert Mizuno and his wife Meiko Mizuno create these digital landscapes, so convincing that their artistry typically goes unnoticed. During a late-morning visit to their stylishly minimalist space in the Sausalito apartments, part of the Villas at Playa Vista, we sit together around their kitchen table in a clean, white, sun-dappled space.
The couple first met in 2000, while living in Miami. Albert had approached a mutual friend who ran a Japanese restaurant and asked if she knew any women she could fix him up with. When Albert saw a photo of Meiko, it lit a spark. He would stop by the restaurant periodically, jokingly asking, “Where’s my girlfriend?” Meiko, who was born just outside Tokyo, had lived between Miami and Japan most of her life and was in Japan for the summer. Six months after they finally met, Albert and Meiko got married. They now have two children together: 10-year-old Mia and 13-year-old Noa.
As business partners, Albert creates images for advertisements and architectural designs, and Meiko runs the administrative side. To give a better idea of how he works, Albert opens a file on his computer. What looks like a photograph of a chic bedroom transforms into a grid of straight and curved lines. The rumpled duvet becomes a tangled web of digital strings, the result of a program designed to mimic fabric textures.
Albert initially studied film and art at the University of Miami, but ended up taking classes in everything from medicine to interior design before shifting to architecture and eventually visual effects, hoping to someday work in the movie business. “It was always an ongoing cycle of diversification, of trying to find the happy place,” he recalls.
The Hollywood dream seemed almost within reach when Albert launched his own visual effects studio in Miami in 2005, but the onslaught of the financial crisis in 2008 led to its shuttering. Once again at a crossroads, he turned his focus to digital design for architecture, finding the industry was no longer dominated by traditional blueprints and photography. Albert harnessed his knowledge of visual effects to create realistic mock-ups of architectural projects and fully digital advertisements for products.
“It’s cheaper [for companies] in the long run because you could only shoot one location at a time with a camera, but I can create many different locations at a time. It doesn’t seem cheaper — because photography should be cheaper — but you don’t take into consideration transport, delivery, set up,” he explains. “Most of the things you see in catalogs, you wouldn’t even think twice that it’s CGI. Even me, it fools me sometimes, because it matters what the context is, if you mix it in with real photography.”
Albert’s designs feature clean lines, muted colors and simple furniture, a minimalist’s paradise. The apartment he shares with Meiko reflects his imaginary spaces with its lack of extraneous decoration and its clean white color scheme. Albert prefers the space nearly empty, but Meiko adds visual flair with decorations related to her passion for crocheting, origami and crafting. The one big item with meaning to them is a tall, silver-trimmed mirror leaning against a wall that hails from their early years.
“I remember when I came home one day in 2001,” says Meiko. “We had no furniture, but when I came home he had designed the whole house, and the furniture was there, including the mirror.”
Meiko is an accomplished yogini, a passion Albert ignited years ago by giving her Travis Eliot’s “The Ultimate Yogi” DVD because she was looking for a fitness program that didn’t involve going to the gym.
“It’s a 108-day program that comes with a calendar,” says Meiko, explaining that work and family kept her from committing to daily exercise but she never gave up on the idea. “After about three years, I finally finished the 108 day program!”
Now she’s hooked, and practices every day after she takes her kids to school. After moving to Los Angeles, Meiko was able to take a live, in-person class with Eliot, who teaches at studios in Santa Monica in Venice — an amazing experience, because he was in our lives every day for so many years,” she says.
“When I do my yoga, it’s my own time — just me and my breathing. You get in tune with yourself, and it’s great to have that me-time,” says Meiko. “Reality is not easy, so I guess the key is to try to be conscious about it and use your yoga practice to deal with all the situations in life.”
Though Meiko was initially hesitant to move to Los Angeles, everything fell into place when a friend introduced them to Playa Vista. It was clean and spacious, blessed with great schools and personal neighbors, and it didn’t hurt that they can walk to SOL Mexican Cocina, their favorite restaurant.
Although they are looking for a new home with a little more space, Albert says they won’t move far.
“I can’t picture myself anywhere else.”