Can you tell us briefly how did the project come about? How much creative involvement did Wally (Gotye) have in the visual direction of the piece?
Near the end of production on our previous clip Sometimes the Stars for Australian band the Audreys, we begun talking to Wally about a clip for an upbeat song off’ve his new album, Making Mirrors. The contact came through another animator Shannon Cross who’d produced a clip for the previous Gotye album. Wally’s been incredibly supportive of independent animation in Australia and for this new album he commissioned several animators to create clips. While Jason and I loved the song, even preparing a fairly ballistic treatment for it, we ultimately decided that it wasn’t quite the right fit for our style.
We’d shown Wally an early cut of Sometimes the Stars, which he loved, and, despite our hesitation on the upbeat number, he soon came back to us with the soulful song Bronte. Jason and I both felt this new song was much more fitting in tone for the sort of animation we’re inclined to produce and so begun to discuss with Wally an appropriate visual treatment. The song Bronte is about a friend’s family gathering as their old dog is put-down. Given how personal the subject matter is we spent a lot of time refining the concept with Wally to ensure the song’s integrity was maintained in the visuals. Wally stressed the importance of a familial relationship between the girl and the creatures and also expressed interest in seeing moments from the perspective of the herd, rather than just from the girl.
How did you end up choosing this concept for the piece? What inspired you to go down this path?
I grew up in a family with many animals, at its peak: three dogs, three rabbits and five cats, so I related well to Wally’s song. I wanted to deal with the subject allegorically and the idea, of a young girl’s relationship with a herd of ancient creatures, came about whilst first listening to the track. I discussed the idea with Jason who helped to exorcise less subtle elements from the treatment. The intent of the clip then was to highlight the importance of our fleeting relationships with animals culminating in the girl’s realisation that, while her relationship with the herd is no longer possible, the experience enriched her life.
And as I was watching the clip and I listened to the chorus ‘We will be with you, we will be with you’, I felt like the ‘we’ in the song is actually the woodland creatures, and ‘you’ is the human girl. But when I read the lyrics and thought about the meaning of the song, clearly it’s the other way around, ‘we’ is the human family, and ‘you’ is their dying dog. What’s the thought behind this?
The final chorus of the song: ‘We will be with you,’ a family singing to their departing loved one, is mirrored in the visuals. Its a suggestion that the relationship goes both ways, that loss isn’t one-sided and that each party, human or not, cherishes the memory of their time together.
Can you share with us briefly some insight into the making of the piece? How many people were involved? what was the production pipeline/ timeline like? What software and hardware did you use?
The Bronte clip took three months to complete with me providing the animation and storyboard and Jason the background art. In the last stretch animators Shannon Cross and Makoto Koji helped out to add colour to the frames and prepare shots for compositing. All the elements were created in Adobe Photoshop. Once completed each shot is brought into Adobe After Effects where camera moves and the occasional effect or tweak is added. Despite its digital creation we wanted to give this clip a natural hand-crafted quality so we intentionally kept our construction simple, reducing the amount of treatment and effects on each shot. While labour intensive the whole process is actually very simple. Photoshop is incredibly stable, even when dealing with large amounts of animation and I’ll frequently work on eight to ten shots in one document. Beyond that we encounter few technical difficulties and our render-times are insignificant. Having worked a lot on 3D productions in the past we both love the elegant simplicity of this sort of 2D production. Not having to deal with stressful technical concerns means we can focus properly on the narrative and art.
To me this piece seems to have a strong Anime feel about it, especially the work of Studio Ghibli, both in the movement of the characters, to the underlying narrative message. Is this deliberate or purely unintentional?
We both consider it a huge compliment to be even associated with the likes of Studio Ghibli and, while I’ll say that any relation is unintentional, as fans of their films their influence is perhaps unavoidable. Ghibli are the king at visualising romanticised childhoods so for us, working also in 2D with common themes, similarities arise. The primary influence for this clip, from its tone to the slightly watercolour style, was actually Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, which I loved growing up.
Comparing this piece to ‘Sometimes The Stars’ I notice similarities as well as differences…would you care to talk a little bit more about that, and how this comparison reflects your artistic/visual ‘raison d’etre’? For instance, both clips feature female protagonists, both feature whimsical setting and emotive use of lighting, can you talk a little bit about your decisions around those?
After our last clip, we had a strong desire to create something with warmth and to work in colour. Sometimes the Stars presented a vast beautiful world but one that was often cold and oppressive. Bronte provided the opportunity to show the opposite: memories of joy and intimacy bathed in golden dappled light.
The use of a girl as protagonist is similar to Sometimes the Stars, but the decision to go with a female was probably more about creating a contrast with the heavy masculine quality of the herd. Saying that the simpler answer is that both Jason and I probably relate better to this gentler, quieter character. I think the strongest element that links the clips is the melancholy tone and concept of loss permeating both songs, this in turn dictated certain similarities in our visual approach.
What’s it like to be based in Adelaide? Do you find yourself working remotely a fair bit for other companies on other parts of the world/Australia? Are there certain advantages / disadvantages about not being based in the so-called ‘epicentre’ of motion graphics and animation such as Sydney, London, or New York?
We’ve definitely never felt restricted working from here and we both deal frequently with inter-state and occasionally overseas clients. Ours is a digitally savvy industry and so communication via email, Skype and messaging service is common. I won’t speak for Jason, but I know that even from such a remote location work has always come to me, with the difficulty more in choosing the more exciting and challenging opportunities.
Its funny but for our work we spend so much time buried in a screen that beyond it our location, even our immediate surroundings, can fade into irrelevance. The flip-side then is that because we are not reliant on any one particular place in order to create we can do our work from anywhere, which is quite a liberating feeling.
What’s coming next on the horizon for you and Jason? Are there any plans to take on the commercial side of things on a grander scale?
For the moment we’re steering towards more artistic, less commercial projects, but we’ve had a lot of interest from some highly regarded agencies and its definitely something we’d look into in the future.
Next week I’ll begin work on a new 2D project. I can’t say too much about it yet but its shaping up to be a huge challenge and potentially larger than anything I’ve yet worked on. Jason is currently trekking through remote regions of South America but he too has a really intriguing personal project in the works. You’ll no doubt start hearing more about it on his return. As a duo Jason and I have a great time working together and we’re really proud of how Bronte turned out so expect to see more from us soon.
Thank you Ari (and Jason), congratulations again on making such a gorgeous video and we wish you all the best for your future projects!