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December 2014
Issue: August 1, 2014

Music Videos: Short films with inspired soundtracks

By: Linda Romanello and Marc Loftus
The value of music videos can not be understated. Many artists use them to promote new or upcoming releases, to shape their image, and to feed a hungry fan base’s unending desire for new content. Lesser-known acts can also use the format to get in front of a potentially global online audience.

Post has long heard pros comment that there’s no money in the music video business, but that they take on the work for creative opportunities and the prestige of adding a well-known artists’ work to their show reel. This month, we caught up with a number of facilities that are working on music videos — live action, VFX-heavy, dramatically-driven, or entirely animated. The styles of the artists varies considerably, as does the list of services studios provide.
 

MAROON 5

Kilt Studios (www.kiltstudios.com) in Culver City, CA, recently provided post services for Maroon 5’s new Maps music video. Writen and directed by Peter Berg, Maps is the first in a trilogy of videos that Berg will have a hand in.

The music video takes a dramatic, live-action look at love and loss, with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine starring as the lead. It begins with Levine arriving at a hospital, where he is trying to check on a girlfriend who’s been involved in an accident. It then plays back all of the sequences that led to the event, including a party, a misunderstanding and the accident itself.
Kilt performed all of the color grading and VFX for the video, including composites and transitions. Levine’s head replaced a stunt driver of a Porsche, who races to the hospital. His bloodied girlfriend had additional damage added to her face via VFX. The studio performed the tasks using Autodesk Smoke and Flame. 

"The drama of the video is all about the drama of the story,” explains Matthew McManus, CEO, co-founder and EP at Kilt Studios. “And though at first glance it may not look like a VFX piece, the ability to create the visual elements, such as face replacements for both Adam and his on-screen girlfriend, ensures that the viewer is never distracted from the story progression. Peter Berg is a big proponent of incorporating VFX to enhance the story in an elegant way and that's what we envisioned from the first meeting on this project."

Kilt co-founder/creative director Andy Mac made a cameo in the video. 


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

Final post production for Hunter of Invisible Game, the new short film from Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimny, was completed at The Room, the finishing boutique located within Technicolor-PostWorks New York (www.postworks.com). The Room’s Ben Murray conformed the film and applied the final color grade, working in collaboration with filmmaker Thom Zimny, who co-directed with Springsteen.  
Hunter of Invisible Game, which recently debuted on Springsteen’s Website, is based on an extended version of a song from the album High Hopes and was created as a gift for his fans. Springsteen also stars in the film, an impressionistic story of a lone traveler making his way through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Zimny and Springsteen shot the video with an Arri Alexa in Log C mode in full HD [1920x1080] on Pro Res 4444 format in northern New Jersey, including on the grounds of an abandoned World War II-era military base. 

The imagery throughout has a cinematic quality, the lighting is soft and subdued, and the editorial rhythm is graceful and deliberate. The poetic quality of the visuals was further enhanced during grading sessions at The Room. 

The project was done on Autodesk Flame Premium (which includes Lustre for color).


BEYONCE

When Beyoncé wanted to surprise fans (and shut down iTunes) with the debut of The Visual Album, a full-length album launched simultaneously with 14 music videos, she also surprised the team at Nice Shoes, a color grading and finishing studio in New York City with a request to make her new visual album "flawless."

According to Vin Roma, head of VFX/visual effects artist at Nice Shoes, “We didn't even know when it was going to debut! We all contributed to Heaven, Blue, Flawless, Rocket, Blow, and one of our colorists, Ron Sudul, worked on Partition, which is nominated for a few MTV VMAs.”

Roma says the visual effects and color teams — including colorists Sudul and Lenny Mastrandrea, and VFX artists Jason Farber, Russ Bigsby, Kevan Lee and Roma himself — worked extensively on Beyoncé's The Visual Album, with a three-week schedule, and getting in a new video every day or every other day. “We’d be still working on the previous batch while getting looks set on new videos,” he recalls. “Once the colorists had approval, shots went to the Flame team for VFX work.”

Explaining that it was important for each video to have its own unique look because they were all being released simultaneously, Roma describes Blow as “having a '70s feel to it,” while Rocket was “much softer, but still contrasting. Ron achieved an interesting look, giving it a full range of values while still keeping it in a soft feel. Nothing is really white and nothing is really black. Lenny brought a different look to Blue, which was really vibrant and natural, not as stylized as the other videos.”

According to Roma, he relied on his fellow visual effects artists Bigsby, Farber, and Lee more than any toolset, as well as the rest of the Nice Shoes artists, but says, “because of the workflow we have in place, we're able to seamlessly collaborate between VFX artists working in Flame and colorists working on Baselight.”


THE PEACH KINGS

The swamp rock blues duo The Peach Kings relied on the talents of New York-based design and animation studio Ataboy (http://ataboystudios.com) to create a music video representing the title track of their new EP Mojo Thunder. 

The graphic novel-inspired animated video tells a hypnotic tale of vice and voodoo, and explores how cycles of abuse and pain can trigger self-destructive behavior.
According to Vikkal Parikh, owner and creative director of Ataboy, the team was asked to think “swamp, dark and psychedelic.” They took that direction and crafted a sexy, graphic and engrossing visual story. Ataboy directors Kris Merc and Benjy Brooke studied the backgrounds of crime lords and read pulp novels for inspiration. 

“The visuals had to leave the viewer a bit haunted and uneasy,” says Merc. “The song really brings out that feeling of darkness.”

The video uses a darkly shaded, angular white-on-black sketch style. The team had just a month and a half to create the video once the storyboards and animatics were completed. Ataboy’s team used Adobe Photoshop to bring the lyrics to life, after experimenting with hand-designed options. All drawings and animations were created in Photoshop. Compositing was performed in After Effects. Autodesk Maya was used for some previs shots and editing was done in Adobe Premiere. Adam Van Dine served as compositor and Jeremy Baumann edited the project.


COLBIE CAILLAT

Nashville's Moo Creative (http://moocreativemedia.com) handled everything, from casting to post production, for a new music video for artist Colbie Caillat. The Try video features of range of woman, each shot against a white background, singing the lyrics from the song, which focuses on how women alter their image with makeup, hair extensions, etc., to appear more beautiful.

Roman White directed the video, which was shot using a Red camera. Moo Creative filmed the women without their makeup, which was gradually added. The sequences were then presented in reverse to appear as if the women were deconstructing their individual looks.

Ryan Kendrick cut the video in Adobe Premiere. Rhet Bear served as DP. Director White applied VFX, creating them in After Effects.


CRIS CAB

Aggressive (www.aggressive.tv), the independent, “technique agnostic” production company and design studio in Ridgewood, NJ, recently completed work on a music video for singer-songwriter, Cris Cab. 

Directed by Dan Shapiro and Alex Topaller, Loves Me Not features the Island Def Jam Music Group artist performing solo on a small platform in a ballroom, as strings of pure-white light bulbs ascend and descend from the ceiling. It also features twin super models, who appear separately and together. In some scenes there are as many as four girls, so the viewer never knows if they are real twins or digital doubles.
The Loves Me Not video was shot entirely against a greenscreen using a Red Epic camera. All of the sets, as well as the automated kinetic light-bulb sculptures, were created entirely in CG.

A controllable light-bulb array was hung over the set to create accurate lighting that would enhance the CG effects. The studio was able to raise and lower the rig relative to the talent and fire the bulbs off in patterns, dimming and brightening the lights as needed.

To create the “twins,” Aggressive shot the featured talent twice for each scene. The camera remained locked for those shots, but the Epic’s high resolution capture allowed for panning later in post. 

The video was edited in an Avid NLE, first by assembling one master green-footage sequence, as well as multiple additional footage streams that corresponded with the twin girl layers. These were then exported as flat Red log ProRes4444 clips and were color graded in Da Vinci Resolve. While the final delivery resolution was 1080p, the studio opted to export the graded footage at 3K for VFX, leaving room for virtual camera moves. 

Master sequences were brought into After Effects (coupled with Sapphire and Trapcode plug-ins) for keying and compositing. The CG light sculpture and environments were created in Autodesk 3DS Max and were rendered in V-Ray. In total, the video has over 150 VFX shots.


BARENAKED LADIES

Rooster Teeth (http://roosterteeth.com) in Austin, TX, recently collaborated with Barenaked Ladies on the band's new music video, Did I Say That Out Loud?

The video was directed by company co-founder/CEO Matt Hullum, and features a number of familiar faces from the studio, including real-life couple Meg Turney and Gavin Free, who act as the music video's featured couple.
 
The project marks a continued collaboration with the Canadian band, as Rooster Teeth teamed up with them last year on their Odds Are music video. In the new Did I Say That Out Loud? video, a young couple, as well as the band, use social media to connect with each other. This includes online video chats and Facebook posts. The video is presented as if the viewers is taking it all in on their own computer screen, with multiple windows displaying content simultaneously.
  
Rooster Teeth shot the video in 5K using a Red Epic. A Phantom Flex was used for slow-motion shots. A home-made gyro servo stabilized hand-held rig was used to capture the downtown scene. The video was edited in Premiere with animated sequences created in 4K using After Effects. 

The flame that catches on to Gavin’s pants was simulated using Cinema 4D, Turbulence FD and X-particles. A null was tracked to the general area of his mid section, and then an emitter was attached to the null with an X-particle skinner attached. The randomness of the skinned particles made the flame look a little more organic and having a null that tracked to Gavin allowed for the fire to match his movement. Additional candle stock footage was used to light up the candle that started the whole mess.  


A$AP ROCKY

New York's Hiccup Media handles many aspects of the content creation process within the music industry, including development, production, editorial, animation, color grading and VFX.

The studio's music video projects have ranged from Michael Jackson to Daughtry, and they recently completed a video for hip-hop artist A$AP Rocky, providing post, animation, color, and VFX for the Goldie track. Michael Cruz, creative director, says, “We feel the key to our success is being able to blend some original looks with motion graphics and live action, as well as give each piece a distinctive tone that’s in line with the artist’s music and style.”

The latest project was a "game-changing release for the artist," he notes, "so there was a lot of pressure for the video to be amazing." Much of the look was created in post, with scenes and backgrounds built entirely through compositing. The golden tones on each object were all achieved through tedious masking, tracking and rotoscoping.

The Hiccup team relies on Avid for editing and Maya, Cinema 4D and After Effects/Illustrator/Photoshop for design/animation.


PORTER ROBINSON

Los Angeles-based Coyote Post is a full service post production studio specializing in editorial, VFX, graphics and color correction that includes, among its range of projects, music videos for artists across all genres. The company recently completed color and beauty work on a number of Keyshia Cole videos, VFX on Porter Robinson's new video for Lionhearted and Jacob Latimore's Heartbreak Heard Around the World, as well as videos for One Republic, Tiesto, Colbie Calliat, Gavin Degraw and several others. 

“I enjoy working on music videos because I have been a fan of them since the day MTV hit the airwaves,” says executive producer Rik Michul of Coyote Post. “I really enjoy the unlimited creative freedom music videos offer and being an avid music person, I find great music videos to be very inspiring.”

While Michul admits that music videos can pose challenges due to limited budgets, he adds that it also “forces people to try and be efficient, creative and clever as possible to do something that stands out without breaking the bank.” 

Michul says he particularly likes the VFX in the Porter Robinson video, where Coyote Post was given several shots from the director Jodeb. “I think the VFX and concept for that video are really cool and fun,” he says. “The VFX involved in the Lionhearted video were basic low-fi 3D and some heavy compositing work of digital and glitchy animated textures,” he explains. “It was mainly a work of design, and there was a lot of roto. And I also wanted to make sure that the glitchy elements would have a natural feel to them, that they’d be believable in the scenes even if their nature was to feel digital/electronic and literally added over the footage.”

Michul explains that he made sure to have some nice lighting and flare effects that would feel right within the scenes. He shot with the Panasonic anamorphic B-Series lenses, to make sure “the CG light behavior was in line with them. Along with Paul Laberge [working in Croatia at the time], Coyote Post [LA] and Workshop Mile-end [Montreal], I had about 80 shots of VFX to do. Coyote Post worked specifically on the rocket-launcher sequence, as it was something I was really comfortable with and they really nailed it quickly. I was working out of Bécancour, Quebec, Canada, where I live, so it was definitely fantastic to work with people located all around the globe. Add to that that we flew a stylist from Tokyo for the shoot and there you had team that covered all time zones. Overall, I’m pretty sure everybody had a good time working on this project as the VFX weren’t technically complicated, they just required some groove, arrogance and love.”

Working with an array of tools that includes DaVinci, Flame, After Effects, Premiere, Avid, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Creative Cloud, Michul says, “All our editors cut in Premiere and we rely almost exclusively on After Effects for all our VFX and GFX work. Creative Cloud is a game changer for productivity, and the way we are able to pass projects back and forth from editorial to VFX seamlessly is unparalleled. Adobe also makes it very easy for getting our projects into Resolve for color as well.”