Interview with Psyop directors Marie Hyon & Marco Spier on Converse "My Drive-Thru".
1. Tell me about how you were approached to do this video.
Converse and Anomaly initially came to us with the idea of 'connectivity' and an existing print campaign, where different artists, as paper cutouts, are connected by their feet, their Chucks are a symbolic link.
They invited us to collaborate to expand upon the ideas for the music video along with the cut downs for a :60 second and a :30 second commercial. The Converse direction from the agency was very much in line with the sensibility of what we like to do at Psyop. We were so psyched to work on this project.
2. What was the creative brief?
Be awesome. And stick to the concept of 'connectivity' and stay in line with the print campaign. Keeping it simple, black and white and in the paper world.
3. How did you approach this job creatively?
We had to bring this concept to life. Give it movement, keep it motivated throughout and come up with unique and clever ways to play on "connectivity". We created a world made out of paper that tricks your perception of perspectives, inversing realities, and create hero actions that trigger an invention of space that links to another action.
We wanted to inject a lot of attitude into our video and have it be music and personality driven and create a dynamic sense of energy through the camera moves. If you noticed, there isn't a single cut in the video. It's all 'connected', all 2 minutes and 30 seconds of it. Rather than cutting actions together, the camera is thrown around to find the next moment in time. This gave it a spontaneous and raw quality which we liked.
We applied that attitude to our process as well, trying not to over think or overcomplicate things, having fun during the process.
It was also important to see the artists personalities. We have 3 very different artists perform in very different ways. We needed to create scenarios that support their individual styles.
4. Please tell me about the four months you spent in pre-production, production and post-production.
We first began by brainstorming ideas for 'connectivity'. We didn't have a track in place yet or the artist locked in, let alone the lyrics. Therefore, we knew going in, we would have trouble creating a story so we relied solely on the concept of connectivity to drive the film.
We researched and developed a bunch of ways in which the personalities could connect, motivate change and create surprising moments.
Meanwhile, we began our design process by exploring the paper look by shooting digital stills of our team in motion. We printed them out on our crappy black and white printer, and then cut them out like paper dolls. Next, we set up the dolls on our desktop lit by our desk lamps, and shot it with a macro lens to capture a miniature set quality. We then created a backdrop to the paper dolls by exploring lots of ways to create folded paper environments that is tactile to give us some sense of perspective.
We wanted to keep a simple and effortless handmade feeling where the paper world had no rules so that we were able to play with how negative space can turn positive, top perspective that can become the bottom, the end could be the beginning. A shadow can also turn into a hole. Certain actions can trigger the environment to change or appear.
After the artists were in place, we shot Pharrell and N.E.R.D. in a studio in L.A. and Julian and Santogold in a studio in NYC. We needed to design a stage for the artists to move around, to perform and do their thing, but also perform certain moves that we designed and planned for some scenarios. we built a big white "playground" with some objects like stairs, boxes and a punching bag for them to react to and interact with.
On set we used a setup with 3 HD cameras shooting three different angles at the same time, so that we would have different camera angles to transition and switch perspectives. This also allowed us to be most efficient and flexible since time with our artists was precious and we didn't know what to expect.
Then we edited the best takes together and handed the footage over to our compositers to define a style of the footage. They color correct to a black and white photocopy grade and dropped frames to create a subtle jitter in the footage.
The roto artists then had to "cut out" each person, frame by frame. There were over 150 shots to cut out. eeek. That’s a lot of roto, even Jen, our producer, roto-ed a few shots. I think she lowered her rate for those hours.
We then brought all of the paper doll performers footage into a 3D program, our animators brought them to life and we carefully linked together the scenes to create a single connected camera move. The scenes were then lit, rendered and composite. All in CG.
I believe there were about 9,580 paper dolls all together in the music video and it took 30 animators for two months to complete the project.
All in all, our converse team was amazing. They worked really hard and had a blast on this job. We’d also have to add that the agency, Anomaly and the client, Converse were a joy to work with. We were given so much room and trust to do our thing. We felt very supported. They have so much love and confidence for this project that we could only do well. We wish all our jobs could be like this one. We were all so thrilled to polish the last pixels and get it out there to share it with everyone since we kept this project under wraps for a long time. And now there you have it.
5. Please tell me about the challenges of this particular job compared to others you have worked on.
It is unusual for us to go into a shoot not knowing exactly how the final spot would play out. We are usually very particular in our planning process, we plan every little detail of the shoot, especially the story or the journey aspect. On this job, we could not do our normal anal retentive planning. Because of the nature of the collaboration between the three artists, we did not have a track until the day of the shoot and the parts were being moved around and finalized, so we could not really create a story line. So rather than force fitting a story, we thought to bring it back to the concept of ‘connectivity’ in a paper world and be spontaneous about it. Have Pharrell, Santi, Julian and N.E.R.D. guys perform the song in their very unique individual ways and to let that be a guide for us.
This was very nerve-racking experience for us but we welcomed the unique challenge it presented. In the end we like the more loose approach to shooting, it really paid off by capturing some really great spontaneous actions.
6. Tell me about your favouroite parts of the video.
Santi flower, Pharrell foot stomp, Julian summer and Santi Bundt Cake…cool.
7. what tools were used?
XSI, aftereffects, Flame, Avid, Photoshop, laser printer, paper, scissors, Exacto knife, glue stick, desk lamp.
8. Anything else I should know?
This is definitely one of the most enjoyable projects we’d had in a while.