In producing this ground breaking music video, the band Modest Mouse got the royal treatment from Bent Image Lab and director Nando Costa. A dark and expressive piece of filmmaking, this 6-minute video includes intense moments of live-action, stop motion, visual effects, and motion graphics techniques, all brought to life within the studio’s walls.
Concept: After entering his personal sanctuary, an artist is presented with a hand-crafted drawing tool that assists him in materializing his mental impressions. The machine discharges his thoughts as an endless web of yarn that guides him through his physical thoughts. The story progresses to reveal that he is divided between two worlds, one of dull reality and the second of warped memories. In the process of finding a way out of his consciousness, he is trapped between the two competing spaces, which eventually inflict lethal damage, acting as metaphors to self-destruction.
This lyrical and moving piece was conceived by Nando Costa working closely with lead singer/guitarist Isaac Brock to polish some of the film's intricacies. Featuring a seamless combination of live-action and stop motion that alternates between stage shots of Modest Mouse and a spiraling dream-like world of ever-shifting landscapes, Whale Song is a stunning representation of the combined capabilities of Nando and Bent. The variety and execution of the VFX portions of the video – from yarn reeling into complex patterns to a guitar that plays with no musician attached – strongly evoke the confused and surreal patterns of one's warped memories. Additional creative touches such as animated and intricate photographic collages and giant CG snails sliding across the band's stage – add variety and depth to the surreal world.
One of the challenges in Whale Song was to recreate the contours of an ever changing, disorienting and intriguing series of landscapes. Costa shot the majority of the piece with Bent’s RED cameras. In order to create the feeling that lead singer/guitarist Isaac Brock was being split up between two competing scenarios of pure reality and his imagination, for example, Costa mounted two of the RED cameras side by side on a custom plate, each with identical lenses set at an angle to simulate a stereoscopic effect.
In another instance, band members that appeared to be standing on the ground were actually hoisted aloft and secured to a fake ground plane, which meant that the stage floor was perpendicular to the ground. This situation intentionally restrained their flexibility and shifted the gravity, adding oddness to their movements.
Costa used a variety of frame rates, ranging from time-lapses at 6 frames per second, to 1000 fps shots from a Phantom camera to give the feeling of variety of speed in the character's memories. Blue screen stages were used extensively to place Isaac against the varying landscapes of mountains, dense forest valleys, and deserts. Bent's CG department was also responsible for creating significant portions of the video's landscapes and scenic elements.
During production, Nando and his team relied solely on a very detailed script containing technical and creative notes, live-action and animation guidelines, with specifications for composting and stop motion, which were all previously defined and polished by the director.
Music: Modest Mouse
Animation Studio: Bent Image Lab
Director: Nando Costa
Executive Producer: Ray Di Carlo
Senior Producer: Tsui Ling Toomer
Producer: Kara Place
Production Coordinator: Ryan Shanholtzer
Director of Photography: Bryce Fortner
Motion Control Operator: Jim Birkett
Gaffer: Adam Burr, Jim Birkett
Phantom HD Technician: Benji Brucker
Kinetic Sculptor: Ben Hopson
Set Designers: Nando Costa, Solomon Burbridge
Set & Prop Fabricators: Daniel Miller, Eric Urban, Greg Fosmire, Jamie Hanson, Jen Prokopowicz, Justin Warner, Kimi Kaplowitz, Marty Easterday, Sarah Hoopes, Solomon Burbridge,
Art Department Coordinator: Evan Stewart
Carpenter: Drew Lytle
Graphic Designer: Nando Costa
3D Artists: Eric Durante, Shirak Agresta
2D Animation & Compositing: Brian Kinkley, Brian Merrel, Jay Twenge, McKay Marshall, Nando Costa, Orland Nutt, Randy Wakerlin
Stop-Motion Animation: Jen Prokopowicz, Marty Easterday
Still Photography: Jared Tarbell, Nando Costa
Special Thanks to: Isaac Brock, Darrin Wiener, Linn Olofsdotter
working with bianca and michael of kid icarus was a blast. their shop is super cute, their location is in one of toronto's hippest neighborhoods, and their love for craft and handmade is infectious.
while what they produce is impeccable, kid icarus is really just a two person shop. michael handles all of the production and bianca manages all of the pre and post production, among all of the other facets that go along with running a storefront.
throughout the day they continue like busy bee's working apart but every so often they meet. what starts off as a split screen of the two of them working independently breaks when they meet in the middle to work together.
the color of the piece was pushed as far as i could go in apple color to really bring out the saturated colors apparent in screen printed goods. one of the main differences between screen printing and digital printing is color; with screen printing, anything is possible - including crazy neon colors (colors that we have incorporated in to printed collateral, particularly the orange that is seen on many of the goods that kid icarus has printed for us), whereas with digital, you can only go so far.
now, being that kid icarus is located in a small shop, we did run in to some challenges with lighting. luckily though, kid icarus is closed on monday's so we were able to film while the storefront was closed. setting up lights while the store was open would have been impossible. we ended up lighting from the outside of the shop when we lost the sun in the back of the building, and then lighting the interviews in the same direction of the sun when we lost the sun behind clouds.
what i really love about this piece is that it was filmed in 1 day, about 6 hours to be exact, with 1 cinematographer, 1 assistant cinematographer / pa, and an AD. the ability to go in for a day, create a film about kid icarus and their process with relatively low impact is quite amazing to me. the power of these cameras and lenses continually blows me away.
michael, of kid icarus, was kind enough to chime in on the process of being filmed and what it was like from their perspective:
I'm always skeptical when someone wants to bring a class on a field trip, a group of tourists, or a film crew into our space. It's not that I get camera shy or nervous around groups of people. It's the fact that our space is about 300 square feet and once there are about 6 people in the store, you start to feel a little claustrophobic. Filming on a day that we were closed was important. Gear scattered all over the place, store product stashed into any corner possible, the store started to look like a packrat's den with just a thin clear path on the floor to get from one side of the room to the other.
The folks at stillmotion were great. They put up with my random art direction and shot ideas, and also our many side tangents on whatever we decided to talk about that moment.
The night before the shoot we were finishing up a job for the My City Lives Anniversary party. We were on a roll and decided to plow through the printing until it was done. It felt great to head home late that night with another project wrapped up. Bad idea. This left us unable to articulate anything on the day of the shoot. No amount of coffee helped, we were zombies. I'm surprised at the end result of the clip, it comes off really polished despite or lack of sleep.
Some of the shots where we are in print production are my favourites, capturing the viscosity of the inks and the texture on the mesh, those look great in video. Alot of it was "1 shot only". From laying down a fresh bead of ink on a screen, to chopping down paper on the hydraulic cutter, it only happens once. When it comes to the physical printing portion, I generally rely on my core muscles to do most of the work . But there were quite a few overhead shots where I needed to shift my usual stance to accommodate cameras hovering over me. Awkward, yes, but I feel those made up the most interesting shots. It's pretty much what you'd see if you were printing.
Overall it was an interesting experience, especially not really knowing what angle the crew wanted to take on everything. It was loads of fun explaining the process, doing what we do everyday, and just having people around to document it.
technical notes: we used the Mark IV's with a 4 lens kit (24, 35, 50 and 135) and a couple of lights when needed. there is 1 slider shot in the entire piece, everything else is with a monopod or tripod for the interviews.
music is licensed through with etiquette. the artist is purse candy and the song is i need want it.