First appearing on DN back in 2010, when we featured his unique short Fluffy McCloud, Conor Finnegan has become somewhat of a regular feature on our site over recent years. With his previous award winning short Fear of Flying still floating in our memory banks, the animator returns to our networked screens with his latest work – a music video for old school friend Candice Gordon. Once again showcasing his distinct animation style, Finnegan reveals a darker side to his work in this promo for Sound of Horns:
There’s a strange narrative at the heart of the Sound of Horns promo, how would you describe the concept of the video?
It follows a little pink naked guy on a trip through the woods. Along the way he starts to see replicas of himself and begins to hallucinate more and more until he’s left all alone. There’s some time-travel and murder in it too, though I’m not sure how clear any of that is in the video.
How did the collaboration between yourself and Candice Gordon come about?
Candice and I were in school together. We’ve met up a bunch of times since and have discussed doing a video together – originally we were talking about doing a live-action video, but with Candice living in Berlin/touring and me living in Dublin/working in London we’ve always managed to put it on hold. Last summer, after finishing a couple of commercials in Dublin and in the UK, I decided it was time. Candice and I got in touch, picked a song and it was decided I’d animated it. I’d wanted to do this thing with the “boiling” paint effect for a while and after listening to Sound of Horns, this seemed like a valid excuse.
We’re used to seeing you work on narrative shorts, how different was your approach working on a music video?
Working to music is very liberating – there’s definitely a freedom that comes with it to steer away from conventional narrative. Candice was pretty open to me doing whatever I wanted, but I think (or hope) that there is still a bit of a narrative going on. The song itself and lyrics are quite story-like and I definitely used a lot of that as inspiration while animating the scenes. The main difference is that I didn’t storyboard much of it and I didn’t do an animatic. I was animating and editing as I went along which was really enjoyable. There were moments I knew I wanted to hit and I knew it had to end with something weird, but I ended up changing what that would be in my head as I went along. Animation is such a slow process that I think it’s nice to have that room to breathe and think and figure out what you’ll do in the next scene as you animate this one. I animated some stuff and did a few tests that ended up getting chucked from the final edit but I was ok with that. It was all very “organic” and “natural” which was nice.
How much did Candice’s track and her musical style influence your video?
The track, for me at least, is quite trippy and dreamy. Especially the whistling section, it reminded me of the Beach Boys’ Theremin sounds. I wanted to get that lucid feeling across. I listened to the track a lot while going for long cycles during the summer and trying to figure out how it should look and feel. It worked out to be more of a personal project, as Candice was flexible with the dates and there wasn’t a lot of money to put towards it, so I worked on it in between other jobs. I think having those breaks away from it while working on other stuff helped a lot. Weirdly enough, I still really enjoy the song after listening to it a billion times.
Your description of the production process as ‘using stop-motion paint on puppet parts and lots of After Effects’, sounds like a lot of hard work! Is this a new technique you’re using and how did you pick the visual style for this promo?
I don’t know. The technique of photographing puppets as separate elements and then comping them together was massively influenced, and I think pioneered by, Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata from Tiny Inventions. Their short film Something Left, Something Taken blew my brains when I first saw it in 2010 but I haven’t seen the wet paint thing before. Originally I wanted to use something like the Sapphire plugin in AE to reduce the flicker I got shooting the test in natural light, but I grew to love it. It adds a lot to the boiling effect of the paint swishing around his head and body and makes him feel more vibrant. The backgrounds and environment of the forest came from doing some tests and just using things I had lying around. I went on a couple of nature walks for sticks and twigs, stole some logs from my mum’s house, got some rocks from a beach near where I grew up and borrowed some plants from Conall, the guy I share my studio with. I also bought a bunch of plastic plants from a pet shop that were supposed to be used in fish tanks. They really helped make the forest that bit more unusual. In terms of hard work, every project has its own difficulties but I think it would have been a lot more hard work to get the look I wanted using traditional stop-frame techniques or otherwise.
Even though this is commissioned piece of work, there is still something very ‘Finnegan-esque’ about the final film. How important was it that you injected your own distinct style into the video or was this something that happened organically?
I think that happens quite naturally when making something, especially if it’s character based. Candice had seen my stuff before and liked it but we both agreed that this shouldn’t be a repeat of the overly cutesy Fear of Flying vibe, even though it has its dark-ish moments, we wanted this to be a bit more creepy but still posses a friendly/lonely feel.
What are you working on next?
I wrote and designed/fabricated some props and puppets for a Nickelodeon ident recently so hopefully that’ll be released soon and I’ve an idea for another short that I’d like to get working on this year. Other than that, more commercials, more writing and I’d love to be doing more music videos.