Vfx in music videos, Stop Motion

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di Massimiliano Manzo, Giorgia Salis e Francesco Strada


Over the years stop motion has been used quite widely in music videos but, differently from cinema where the medium is mainly adopted to realize particular animation (puppet or clay animation), in music clips, directors have shown a wide spectrum of creative usage of this technique.

The first videos to use stop motion are also two of the most famous early clips: Video Killed the Radio Star by Buggles in 1981 and SledgeHammer by Peter Gabriel in 1986. The latter though, directed by Stephen R. Johson, will always be remembered as one of the most innovative and influential in history, earning nine video music awards and becoming one of the most played videos of all-time on MTV. Stop motion is used both in basic Claymation and also making real life objects, like furniture, move on their own. Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit sereis) and the Brothers provided all the effects. The video is highly inspired by the work of the Czech surrealist artist and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, the great master of stop-motion animation.

This iconic video has been of great influence for the music video directors that were yet to come, like Michel Gondry. It is in fact impossible not to mention Michel if we are to discuss about stop motion in music videos. One of Gondry’s first stop motion animations has been for the French band (he was the drummer) Oui Oui song Ma Maison (1990).  In the early years of 2000’s he continued to express his infinite imagination with two stop motion videos for the White Stripes: Fell in Love With a Girl (2001) and The Hardest Button to Button (2003). The former was first shot with the real actors, consequently the source material was edited via computer through the pixilation effect in order to obtain a Lego-block style image. These stills were printed and used as reference to actually build with real Legos each frame. This is the final outcome:

The Hardest Button to Button is an unconventional stop motion where the White duo moves along the streets and in the subway playing numerous drum kits and using many guitar amplifiers. Explaining it is quite difficult, Jack White himself wasn’t sure about the final outcome and was quite suspicious, Gondry’s words are:

“Jack wanted to do something else, and I generally compromise a bit with artists, but this time I was so sure it would work that I said we have to do it this way, and I didn’t know for a bit if it was going to happen”

“When I heard the song, it was so incredible, I knew I had to do the video”

For the realization they used 32 identical Ludwig drum kits, 32 amplifiers and 16 microphone stands. Each element was laid on set and the duo would move to the adjacent one at every take.

In 2009 Oren Lavie shocked YouTube with an astonishing stop  motion for his song Her Morning Elegance, which will be for long time remembered, holding at the present time almost 27 million views. The video earned a Grammy award nomination for “Best Short From Music Video”. It was made editing together a total of 2096 still images, which are now being sold separately as single-edition photographs. A video illustrating the making of can be found here.

In conclusion it has to be said that many artists are experimenting with this particular technique exploring many different ways to create compelling works, both as a stand alone effect and merging it in “regular” time videos. A mention must be done to the Australian collective Oh Yeah Wow. We managed to contact Darcy Prendergast, director and animation coordinator of the group. You can find here the interview.

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