What if instead of berating us about the detrimental effects illicit substances have on eggs, the creators of anti-drugs PSAs demonstrated the brain-scrambling experience of a truly bad trip? While we can’t vouch for its abstinence efficacy, I think we can all agree that Prettybird Director Yousef’s take on the celebrity-endorsed anti-drugs PSA for Piero Pirupa’s Braindead makes for an infinitely more entertaining watch. We asked Yousef to tell us why Barry from Eastenders (Shaun Williamson) was the perfect candidate for this descent into hallucinatory chaos and the key role 3D scanning played in pulling off this chemically induced trip down the rabbit hole.

The two main take-aways from the label’s original brief were they wanted a celebrity and they wanted them to lip-sync to the track. At the time, the track I was pitching on was about four minutes long so I wanted to keep it interesting without being a purely performance-based video. What I wanted to do is find a way to do that but also build a story around it and that’s where the idea of it being an anti-drugs PSA came from.

I had no idea there was a radio edit at the time of pitching and if it was presented with the brief the concept would have had some major changes. The eye shot and the brain pulsating shot are key to the thumping beat in the middle of the track and the “Tiny Shauns” I thought of because the vocal samples during that section of the track sounded like tiny, impish sort of characters dancing and chanting.

The original cut of the track also had a long intro for which we shot a long Steadicam shot of Shaun getting ready in the make up area and gliding through the studio as he made his way in front of the camera.

I wanted to keep it interesting without being a purely performance-based video.

It wasn’t too crazy during production. There was a relaxed vibe on set throughout. It’s all set in one location so we had the luxury of not spending time moving locations and equipment but we were still up against the clock as we had a lot to shoot. I remember distinctly the crew giving a round of applause to Shaun after a three minute take of him dancing relentlessly to the track.

I think timezones were definitely one of the trickier aspects of the post-production workflow. We had freelancers working all over the place so I’d have to be ready to give feedback essentially 24 hours a day so we didn’t lose time.

Another challenge was predicting how well the 3D scanning process would turn out. It was new to me so I had to do a lot of research and figure out a variety of possible approaches we could take to get a realistic 3D model of Shaun within time and budget. We ended up going with a 3D scanning place in London close to the set and then sending that data over to LA to be cleaned up and rigged for animation use. Thankfully it turned out great. The other animators and I were really impressed with it.

We were commissioned back towards the middle/end of December on the final few days of production companies and labels being open. I pitched in early December. Then we had the Christmas break and spent most of January going back and forth on who to cast with the label. I stuck to my guns and was persistent that Shaun Williamson would be ideal for this. We had a quick meeting with the label face to face and decided Shaun was our guy!

I had to do a lot of research and figure out a variety of possible approaches we could take to get a realistic 3D model of Shaun within time and budget.

We had about three weeks of actual pre-production (not just emails back and forth about casting). We shot in mid/late February in London and had about three weeks of post production time which was tight. I had used the time between December and January (whilst the label were discussing casting) to source specific animations that I really liked.

Our shoot date was going to be in early Jan but it kept getting pushed back multiple times which meant certain animators weren’t available, certain studios and crew had to be changed because of the dates. We graded in mid-March as one of the last few grades at Electric Theatre Collective before the lockdown. I remember being in the grade and still making minor adjustments to the animations whilst Connor our colorist was working on the shots. I was working on it until the eleventh hour.

Braindead is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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