Music Video: MJ Cole — <I>Pictures In My Head</I>
Issue: March 1, 2018

Music Video: MJ Cole — Pictures In My Head

UK-based artist/DJ/producer MJ Cole’s latest music video for Pictures In My Head represents the dreams and imaginations of a girl wrapped in romance. The piece was visualized by director/designer Nik Hill (, who brought in a global team of skilled 3D artists to execute the project.

“I was trying to keep it dreamy,” Hill says. “A lot of the lyrics in the song are about love and sex. I was trying to play with those ideas, but do it in a way that's not crude. I like to hint at ideas by creating clever visual metaphors. Most important for me was to keep it fun and colorful.”

Hill, who was previously art director at Territory Studio's London branch before venturing out on his own, says the inspiration for Pictures In My Head’s visuals sprang completely from the music itself. Opening with piano chords, a subtle guitar hook and prominent female vocal, the music shifts quickly into a steadier groove that’s offset by slightly jarring synth pads.

“Sometimes a piece of music makes you see a certain thing, or a collection of things,” Hill notes. “When listening to Pictures In My Head it instantly triggered images of a colorful world made up of random visual metaphors. The more I dissected the lyrics of the track it felt like it was all about the idea of love and the emotional experiences that go with it.”

Adriana “Electra” Mora, a Mexico-based artist, was charged with creating a lot of the 3D environments. Toronto’s Lauren Galloway handled the bulk of the project’s 3D modeling. And French artist Grace Barth oversaw much of the 3D animation on the diamond sequences. While the team was never in the same room together, they were able to collaborate through apps such as Slack and Dropbox. Modeling of 3D assets and assembling the scene was primarily achieved using Maxon’s Cinema4D. From there, the assets were then textured, lit and rendered using Octane Render, and composited into the final sequence using Adobe After Effects. Hill used Cinema 4D to create design frames, geometric rigs and keyframes, generally keeping the animation minimal so as to focus more on the flow of the edit overall.

“My style is to give them direction but leave it open somewhat to interpretation,” Hill explains. “Sometimes you might be surprised by what they give you. If you shut people down too soon, then it's not fun for them. Artists want to feel like they're adding value, expressing themselves through they’re work. In terms of what I’m looking for, I try to keep it quite broad in the beginning and trust my gut about whether something is working or not, and methodically work towards the final look together.”

In addition to the challenge of facing demanding rendering times and intricate lighting, Hill points to the sequence with the pulsating turntables, speakers, and the hanging word ‘You.’

“The first iterations were not feeling vibrant enough, so [we] made several revisions,” Hill notes. “Conceptually, the theme of the video is the word ‘you’ — it's part of the chorus and you hear that word a lot in the lyrics. Because of that it took a bit of back and forth to get the right kind of look so that it felt quirky and more upbeat than the rest of the song.”