Passion Pictures: Red Bull Music Academy World Tour
By Michelle Higa Fox
If you’ve got a month-long tour of events spanning from Berlin to Toronto, from Melbourne to Detroit, how do you visually convey the magnitude of the event? How about hiring a whole team of artists to collaborate on a mixed-media hommage that moves from city to city, hopping from style to style, to reflect the range of locations and music they’re celebrating, while Sammy Bananas seamlessly provides the soundtrack?
For the 2011 Red Bull Music Academy World Tour, Mother New York and Passion Pictures created a short tribute for each of the 10 cities. Led by Pete Candeland, the talented team of directors blended 2D, 3D, stop-motion, photography, illustration and CG. I’m most impressed with the many co-directors and art directors that got credited and the creative freedom to run with their respective sections.
An interesting model for sure, and it sounds like they had a lot of fun as well. Read on for some insight into the process.
The biggest challenge in bringing Paris, Berlin and NYC to life for the shoot was the clock. We had a limited time to scour the greater New York area for the unique items required for each city. Many trips to vintage stores, junk shops, salvage yards, scrap heaps and Chinatown were made, looking primarily for a plethora of African drums, boom boxes of every flavor imaginable as well as much recording equipment from the ’70s/’80s we could get our mitts on. It really was an all-hands-on-deck approach with everyone out scavenging, something I happen to love.
The idea was to capture as much as possible in camera, alleviating the CG/post load. What was originally slated to be a stop-motion shoot soon became a live-action one for expediency’s sake. Cinematographer Ken Seng was enlisted to shed light upon the three city sets simultaneously, allowing us to create one long master motion-control move that spanned over 40 feet. The Alexa, fitted with a snorkel lens, was mounted to a Gazelle Motion Control System that was programmed to service all the shots required without ever moving the track.
— Drew Lightfoot, co-director (Berlin, Paris and NYC)
Berlin: Hansa — Das Studio der Mauerstadt
The soundtrack for this clip is inspired by one of Hansa Studios’ iconic albums — Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” Tape creatures climb across the concrete cityscape built from the analog musical artifacts used in the recording studio.
Berlin wanted to feel like an art installation so we didn’t fuss with hiding the studio floor or back wall. Here we still had to submerse the viewer entirely in the landscape as the other cities do, forcing the viewer to forget about scale and the real world.
The tape creatures in Berlin were brought to life with stop-motion animation shot on a small greenscreen set once the edit was locked in. This was some of the faster animation I have done in a while, as the characters had no faces, or limbs to speak of. Trying to give life to a floating square did not prove easy.
— Drew Lightfoot, co-director (Berlin)
Paris: Questlove’s Afro-Picks
During the Jazz à la Villette festival, Red Bull Music Academy and Questlove of the Roots co-curated a special night dedicated to the immense impact of African funk and soul on modern music. The visual inspiration for the Parisian leg of the tour is a collision between the textures of the African soul and funk that comprised the concert and the architectural backdrop of Paris.
Paris was a challenge in creating perspective with found objects that would not be trumped by the moving camera. It was really an evolutionary process of maneuvering the various chess pieces about the set surface until it worked. I was pleasantly surprised by how close the final build was to the original drawing, always a sign of success in my books.
In Paris we had planned to shoot the car elements in stop-motion but quickly fell in love with the look of the car being puppeteered manually through the set. As the entire set has a very hand-crafted quality, we opted to leave the slots in the roads where the cars would be operated from under the set.
— Drew Lightfoot, Co-Director (Paris)
Detroit: Motor City Frequencies
In tribute to this capital of innovative music, Red Bull Music Academy created a museum-level installation of music production and studio equipment. Inspired by the Detroit automotive industry, the viewer is immersed inside the iconic TR 909 drummachine — a nod to the intersection of man and machine central to the city’s musical innovation. As we travel through a CG circuit-board city, the cyclical nature of the assembly line process is increasingly apparent, transitioning us from the heydays of motown R&B to the minimal stylings of techno.
Toronto: Culture Clash
The animation style here is directly referenced from the iconic soundclash album “Scientist Meets the Space Invaders”. The four superhero characters battle it out across the streets of Toronto — each one representative of one of the four soundclash crews competing at the Toronto event, Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation, Mad Decent, LuckyMe and Toronto All Star.
Creating Toronto was like the realization of a childhood ideal. I have always secretly hoped that someone would one day suggest that I design a team of Jamaican-inspired superheros and animate them into battle against an evil cowboy based loosely on myself. I never really thought it would happen though.
— Lee Gingold, co-director (Toronto)
Melbourne: Notions of Sonic Space
The bright, visually rich palette of this section is inspired by the coastal location of Melbourne. The Red Bull event featured electronic music accompanied by 3D visuals courtesy of ENESS. The narrative of this film explores the relationship between sound and space. The audio of the Melbourne tram chimes set off a wave of fluid illustrated animations that bounce around the screen, visually inspired by traditional aboriginal paintings.
New York: Five Out of Five
The Red Bull Music Academy paid tribute to hip hop right where it all began. Over the course of five days, five classic albums from five boroughs were revisited. For this film, NYC was reconstructed out of boom boxes.
New York was my favorite set to play with as the individual boom boxes were so beautiful. I wanted to keep them all! We had played with records and various other material options for the floors but eventually settled on the stainless steel, which effectively doubled the size of the city optically by reflection. Shooting into a mirror added a few extra lighting issues but it was well worth the trouble.
— Drew Lightfoot, co-director (NYC)
Rome: C’era Una Volta a Roma
Italy and Cinecitta Studios are credited for producing some of the most influential cinematic masterpieces ever. The Red Bull event featured a 52-person orchestra playing arrangements of composers, including Ennio Morricone, Piero Umiliani and Goblin. This film paid tribute to different genres, from comedy to spaghetti western, ’70s cop films and “giallo” horror flicks to psychedelic animations, in one narrative mash-up.
I never thought that one of the most enjoyable jobs that I would have the privilege to art direct would involve cowboys and zombies killing each other. Creating the visuals would often have me giggling to myself in a quiet corner. Working with everyone involved on Rome was an amazing collaborative experience. The absurd spirit of this project made it very fun for me.
— Kim Dulaney, art director (Rome)
London: Revolutions in Sound
The culmination of the world tour featured unique music events happening in each of the capsules of the London Eye. The robot dominating the landscape is inspired by the local architecture, subwoofers, and the London Eye itself.
Title: Red Bull Music Academy Client: Red Bull Agency: Mother NYC Agency Producer: Kyle Wright Creatives: Scott Carlson, Tom Webster, Thomas Punch, Stacey Lee, Blaise Cepis
Live-Action Producer: Joel Kretschman DOP: Ken Seng Art Director: Elise Ferguson Motion Control Operator: Donald Canfield Best Boy Grip: Casey Wooden Key Grip: Matt Walker Best Boy Electric: Boris Cifuentes, Jarrod Kloiber Camera Assistant: Drew Cerria On Set Prop: Tim McDonald Set Fabrication: Ian Cooper, Jacob Dyrenforth, Tim Laursen, Erika Bettencourt, Bjorn Copeland, Ben Kress, Lillian Crowe, Jesse Greenberg Art Department PA: Kevin Coyle Digital Imaging Technician: Thomas Wong Production Assistants: Ed Harris, Tim Kuhl, Jack Dawson