Music Videos – Split Screen

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by Massimiliano Manzo, Giorgia Salis, Francesco Strada


Split screen is a video technique in which the visible area of the screen is divided in multiple parts each depicting something similar or completely different. Music videos have challenged various directors in interpreting such effect obtaining vary different results.

One of the first has been the music video for Billie Jean by Michael Jackson (1982) directed by Steve Barron (Take on Me – a-ha), although it doesn’t make full use of the split screen, it implements it in different parts where the singer is freeze framed in one part of the video and appearing in an another.

In the late 90’s it’s the turn of another great black music performer Lauryn Hill, with her debut single in 1998 Doo Wop (That Thing), for this song the director represented two different bloc parties: on the left side of the screen one taking place in the 60’s and on the right one in the 90’s. The screen is not explicitly separated but the division is visually achieved by the clear references to the two different time periods. The left is an homage to Doo Wop genre and the right is a tribute to hip hop culture.

Director Joseph Kahn in 2004 took advantage of the split screen technique to portray the Blink-182’s song Always. The screen here is divided into three equal horizontal parts, one for each member of the group, narrating how each one of tries to reconcile their relationship with the same girl.

Has we have always been mentioning him in our posts; we couldn’t avoid talking about Michel Gondry. Once again he pulled off a great interpretation for the split screen effect when he directed the song Sugar Water by Cibo Matto in 2005. It’s a one-take video told on two sides of the screen, left side going forward and right side going backwards. The two singers perform the same actions but in different environments, while meeting in the middle of the video and switching sides. Gondry took inspiration from palindromes; in fact the video is a palindrome itself. Just to mention other works by Gondry are music videos for La tour de Pise – Jean-François Coen and How Are You Doing the Living Sisters.

We also decided to experiment with split screening, making a short video over the song Do You Want To by Franz Ferdinand. Dividing the screen into parts each character interacts with one another and with the respective layers: jumping into, pulling and throwing them. Timing at the moment of filming each different shot was the most important and difficult task in fact the actions were to be synchronized in order to properly edit them achieving a proper visual effect. To manage people going into other layers, besides timing, we needed the use of a green screen to properly cut out one person. This way we have been able to place him accurately were we wanted. All the transition effects are realized by animating different layers and masks in accordance to character movements.

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