computer animation in music videos

text: Yegor Petrov


The reviews for Harry Martis’s (aka denial.of.service) work feature the word “eerie” no less than the epithet “exquisite”. One of the commentators gave a precise description of his video “Here’s To Them” for RAWTEKK: “morphometric horror that you can’t take your eyes off”.

Martis created an image of a fragmented personality and an anti-utopian atmosphere using an iPhone video shot by the musicians and the data obtained from a game controller Kinect, which he used as a 3D scanner. He also used Processing: a popular programming language among artists, who create digital installations and data visualisation.

Martis is more than just fascinated by the fashionable Glitch effects; his approach to videos is deeply technocratic and show engineering expertise. For example, to create one of the effects in this clip (the net covering a woman’s face) he used instruments of computational geometry: Delaunay triangulation and Voronoi diagram. Although he is a recognized and sought after specialist in his field, Martis, however, harshly criticizes the music video industry. Recently he posted on Facebook that the pleasure of experiencing this business is akin to slow arsenic poisoning, and advised other videographic artists to stay away from all of this if they do not want to encounter boorish treatment from the labels and humiliating fees.


RAWTEKK – Here’s To Them


Two Israeli directors, Uri Lotan and Yoav Shtibelman, shot a beautiful and sentimental video for Jane Bordeaux about the eluding nature of time. A few years ago they graduated from the American Ringling College and have already worked for Disney, Pixar and Sony. One of the latest projects, where they were involved, is the second part of the franchise Hotel Transylvania by Gennady Tartakovsky. However, the lack of creative liberty in big movie production and the wish to create their own projects prompted them to move back to Israel and start working as independent directors. This desire was so strong that they offered Jane Bordeaux to make a clip for them.

The idea of a wooden doll that lives in an old jukebox came to Lotan after visiting the museum of penny arcade games in San Francisco. Ma’agalim is translated as “circles”, and the image of a cylindrical machine, where all the characters move in circles, suited the song perfectly.

The whole video is made in 3D and achieves amazing photorealistic precision, especially when it comes to the textures of the dolls. The authors used the standard toolkit for computer modeling, compositing and video post-processing: Maya, Vray, Cinema 4D, Photoshop, Nuke and DaVinci Resolve. At the same time, the whole team that consisted of approximately ten people was using home computers for work and Skype and Google Drive for communication. It took a lot of time to create images with such elaborate details, but it was clearly worth it: a result of six months’ work is an animation video at the level of Pixar.


Jane Bordeaux – Ma'agalim


Thomas McMahan is a highly productive American director. Apart from the animated ads for MTV, Nike and Dolby, he does visual effects and dressing for movies. For example, the credits for Marvel’s Jessica Jones series are his work. Within the music world McMahan’s closest partners are Autolux: he has already made five videos for them. They mostly consist of experimental graphics with a lot of fascinating morphing.

The clip “Change my head” is a retro-futuristic illusion of a falling android that is being fantastically transformed all the way through. It was created using motion capture: an animation technique based on recording an actor’s movements and mixing the data into a 3D model, which is used to animate the final image. To create the setting McMahan applied Cinema 4D, the editing was done in Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects. Apart from his favorite trick – creating multiple distortions of an image – McMahan also used an analog synthesizer Fun 21 by Tuchyons+, well known to experimental visual artists.


Autolux – Change My Head


Blots, trembling in zero gravity, and the space that alludes to technology gaining life, form Michael Fragstein’s video “Jan Mayen”. It is an example of using elegant digital art in music videos. Michael Fragstein, a talented animator, made this clip for a German electronic duo Boozoo Bajou. He began his career as a 3D specialist, creating architectural visualizations. Soon he founded Büro Achter April, a design-studio that produces music videos, amongst other things. They created videos for such German musicians as Marie Louise, Dan Freeman and the Serious, Max and Laura Brown.

In “Jan Mayen” Fragstein used a technology that can be explained through a simple analogy: take a ginger root and start cutting it in thin slices, filming what is left of the root after each cut. Then put all the shots together and add some speed: the look of the root’s section will be magically transforming. Add music, color and subtle textures. This is roughly what happens in the Boozoo Bajou video. Fragstein told us that he used Cinema 4D; and that he started thinking about flowing and transforming shapes after watching animated maps used in weather reports.

Music videos are not the main specialty of Büro Achter April, but this genre has a personal meaning for Fragstein: “I love music. I collect records and I used to be a DJ for 15 years. Among my close friends there are a lot of musicians; and my way to unite with them creatively is to make videos, because I don’t play any instrument well enough”.


Boozoo Bajou – Jan Mayen


In 2007 James Frost, a director who created videos for Coldplay, White Stripes and Pearl Jam, saw a project called Flight Patterns: a fascinating American air traffic data visualization, made by Aaron Koblin. Frost was so impressed that he met with Koblin and discussed the possibility of making a similar visualization for a music video. Koblin suggested using data obtained with laser scanners. The artist recalled later, that Frost asked him: “You mean shooting a video without cameras? A video without video?” This is how the idea for “House of Cards” for Radiohead was born.

Two scanners were used to produce the clip. One made by Velodyne, which works with Lidar technology, used for designing maps in fields from cosmonautics to archaeology. It scanned the suburban landscapes and party scenes, but could not scan objects from less than one meter away. That is why, to scan the contour and details of Thom Yorke’s face, they used a GeoVideo scanner made by Geometric Informatics, which registers small details from a short distance. The distortions in Thom Yorke’s head features were achieved holding Plexiglas sheets with pieces of broken mirror glued to them between the singer and the scanner. The creators used it to avoid a perfect technological look, and add a sense of vulnerability to the image.

The opening of the video was on the Google Code website. The data it was created from, was in free access: the users could assemble their versions of the clip. The page also contained a special player that could show the video from any point. For example, you could see it from the back of Thom Yorke, basically putting his face on as a mask. Nothing similar has ever been done before.


Radiohead – House of Сards


The video for “See the World” by an Austrian duo Ogris Debris, made by their friends from an animation studio LWZ, is a critique of excessive consumption, wars, ecological situation, migration and human focal perception of the world. The authors show different levels of our not particularly pleasant reality, letting us fly over it all as birds, while the lyrics invite us to look through birds’ eyes. At the same time it is a direct allusion to the old shooter games, where the player looks onto the world through a fighter’s windshield. It stylistically resembles the news feed in Social media, which is currently the basic source of information.

Martin Lorenz, the co-founder of LWZ said: ”Ogris Debris wanted the video to be similar to the Simpsons’ bumper, made by Banksy, but with more morphing and wider range of topics. We shortened this concept a little, and suggested to the musicians the idea of old shooters, because the view from above allows using several scenarios and seemed to suit the general theme”.

Animators managed to avoid pasting scenes together by constantly moving the screen up, which created an endless flow of the narrative. Because of such images as a character drowning in the Google Maps of a huge poop by a shopping centre, the clip doesn’t slide into didacticism and pompousness, remaining above all a bright visual entertainment.

LWZ studio, founded by four students from the faculty of multimedia art at Salzburg University, have two more videos in their portfolio: “Turn” for Amongst Giants (a sweet story of the death of a mountain-giant) and “Capitan Metal” for Die Ärzte (a wild comedy about a saviour of rock music). Both of them were selected for dozens of international festivals. “Turn” received a Staff Pick tag on Vimeo: a distinction more honourable than some festival prizes.


Ogris Debris – See the World