toys, vinyls and scorched plywood: contemporary animation in music videos

text: Yegor Petrov


The creators of Wax Tailor’s “Time to Go” video turned to animation as the most comprehensible way to talk about complicated things. A naive cartoon about an octopus, which travels across town dyeing things blue, turns out to be an existential story about death and disappointment in life.

This work is made by an Australian studio Oh Yeah Wow, which makes intelligent and unconventional videos for such artists as Gotye and Architecture in Helsinki. It became widely known in 2014 after a plagiarism scandal: a clip of the band One Direction for the song “You and I” repeated an unusual special effect, used previously by Oh Yeah Wow in a video for an Australian band called Clubfeet.

In “Time to Go” Oh Yeah Wow used stop motion technique. This is a frame by frame shooting of an object that is slightly changing its position. According to Darcy Prendergast, the studio’s founder, they were initially planning to make the octopus out of garbage, but later came to the image of an abandoned toy. Stop motion is a meticulous technique: it took over 200 hours of time to make this clip.

However, music videos are not the main source of income for Oh Yeah Wow, but rather an opportunity to test their ideas, glam up their portfolio and gain experience as directors. “It is not the kind of work you take up for money. Each of the five members of the main crew got a thousand dollars for nearly four months of work. At the same time you are basically paid for learning and making mistakes, so when you get to making your own film, you have already honed your skills at another’s expense, not your own”, tells Prendergast.


Wax Tailor – Time to Go


Long production time and a fanatical approach are quite common for animation. In this sense Sverre Fredriksen, a Norwegian director living in Amsterdam, is a typical animator. For a Dutch singer Tim Knol he not only invented a story about a dreamy traveler, but invested two months of his life into making it: all characters in “When I Am King” are cut from plywood, outlined using poker drawing and finally animated using stop motion.

You can imagine the amount of labor put into it by this number: each second of the video required five hours of work. There were also incidental complications. “Because of the smell of burning wood we started to have problems with the neighbors in the building where my studio is located. They threatened me from time to time, called the police and once even tried to break down the door”, said the director.

In Fredriksen’s animation technology plays a minimal part: the more he can do manually, the more interesting it is. Before he was shooting an animation film using graffiti stencils; and currently he is working on the production of Cloacinae by Serge Onnen, where he is creating scenes using ice. “It is important for me to conserve in my work the feeling of miracle, which I experienced when I shot my first animation film at the age of 8 using a LEGO set and toy dinosaurs. It was an uncharted territory and this meant magic. That is why I am primarily interested in using the means of expression that I have never tried before. This is where poker drawing and ice come from”, explains Fredriksen.


Tim Knol – When I Am King


However, not all animated videos require heroic efforts and unprecedented patience. This can be proven by the example of “Demoni” of Kottarashky and the Rain Dogs, where neither the idea nor the technology is complicated or elaborate. Even so, this unique work received over a dozen festival prizes. It was created by the combined efforts of one of the most outstanding new Balkan folk musicians Nikola Gruev, who performs under the name of Kottarashky, and internationally renowned animator Theodore Ushev.

Originally Bulgarian, Ushev moved to Canada at the end of the 90s and won almost all existing cinematographic awards in that country within the following decade, including the local equivalent of an Oscar (Génie) for his sensational work Les journaux de Lipsett. Most of Ushev’s animation films are inherently tragic (Tower Bawher, Drux Flux, Gloria Victoria), while in “Demoni” he is truly larking about. Shapes and forms that, on the one hand, resemble Miró or Klee, and on the other, Balkan traditional ornaments, sing, dance and generally go nuts. This video – a clear reference that pays respects to the Joseph Plateau’s stroboscope – turned out bright and modern.

This is how Ushev described the process of its creation: “All together it took me three-four weeks. I drew everything on 50 vinyls I found in the dumpster. It took some time to find the right markers, which ended up being the most expensive part of the production.”


Kottarashky and the Rain Dogs – Demoni


An idea of making a clip using puppets cut out of cardboard may seem less impressive compared to ornamented vinyls or a whole world poker drawn on plywood, but one would feel ashamed of such skepticism after watching “The Synesthesia Ghost” of a Japanese musician Sasanomaly.

This amazingly implemented story about a man chasing a woman, while they both change appearance is a reason to pay close attention to its author – a great inventor and experimentalist. This young director from Tokyo is called Atsushi Makino. Before starting to create music videos he studied animation in the Prague Academy of Fine Arts and Tokyo University, on the faculty of the famous Japanese animator Koji Yamamura.

Makino prefers an animation technique that requires manual work (often literally so): in “The Synesthesia Ghost” one can see how hands are moving the puppets, which emphasizes the contrast with computer animation and makes his style more sincere. “Although I use some programs like After Effects for the editing, all characters and objects in my videos are hand-made. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know how to do computer graphics,” confessed the director.

Apart from being an excellent artist, Makino is also a great stylist: the use of old-fashioned means such as marionettes or a thaumatrope makes the story subtle and romantic. He created a whole series of animated videos for Sasanomaly, the most brilliant of which apart from “The Synesthesia Ghost” are «Re: Verb» (a story of a girl with a plant for a hand) and “M(OTHER)” (a chronicle of the complicated relationship of a couple). All the clips are made in an allegorical manner particular to Makino and include a wide range of techniques: from book illustrations to children’s game of joining dots.


Sasanomaly – The Synesthesia Ghost


The amazingly picturesque work for the Japanese pop-singer Shugo Tokumaru’s composition “Katachi” was made by a directorial duo from Warsaw: Kasia Kijek and Przemek Adamski.

They met at school and later studied graphic art together at the university, and finally decided to form a creative partnership. It happened when Adamski made his first music video “Dziwny jest ten kraj” for Pink Freud. It was named “music video of the year” in Poland, which affected the main direction of the duo’s work. Since then they have gained a reputation for their disposition towards visual experiments and tricks.

The most memorable of Kijek’s and Adamski’s works are: a video for Oi Va Voi, created using shredded photographs, and a clip for a Polish jazz musician Tomasz Stanko, where the objects are made of several kilometres of yarn and some flash lights, making a complete illusion of computer animation. The silhouettes for “Katachi” were drawn and animated using After Effects. Later they were cut from five millimeter thick PVC sheets with the help of a computer controlled plotter. Next stage was to paint them and stick them sequentially together, moving the camera that was filming the column of silhouettes exactly to the depth of each figure – five millimeters. In the end the number of silhouettes added up to two thousand.

“We decided to depict a structure that unites time and space, visualizing the past and showing that it never disappears. Our main inspiration was the rich musical structure of the song, the instruments and sounds that build up in layers. Only later did we get to know that the lyrics coincide with our concept, and the word katachi means “shape”, the directors told us.


Shugo Tokumaru – Katachi


However, one should never forget about the good old methods: modest watercolor with pencil drawings is sometimes no less expressive. “Autour du lac” is a great example of this.

The phantasmagoric composition about a walk around a lake was created by Belgian illustrators Carl Roosens and Noémie Marsily for their own band Carl et les hommes-boîtes. The weird scenes that they have drawn echo the loose and theatrical tone of the song. Despite the naïve and extremely free style of the drawings, the movements of the people running around the lake are transmitted with utmost precision and the planes that overlap each other create a hypnotic feeling of blurring reality.

“Me and Noémie like to watch the people and their movement patterns. Joggers are an amazing miracle. When we walk we often draw them, and this became one of the sources of inspiration,” said Roosens. However, according to him, it is difficult to create a video for one’s own composition. That is why he and Marsily prefer to do it for others. For example, for BRNS they made a very sad and moving video, where a volcano is destroying the character from within. Their solo works are no less unique – let’s recall Marsily’s video “Black socks” for Témé Tan or Roosen’s «INDIEN» for Castus.


Carl et les hommes-boîtes – Autour du lac