Returning to our site, as 2Dx3D hybrid animation studio KINEMUS, Directors Michelle Brand and Toby Auberg (aka Toberg) are back with a hypnotic music video for French artist Vonfelt. Having written about both of their work individually and being familiar with their individual styles I was fascinated to see what would happen when their unique styles collided. In their video for track Je Pars (I’m Leaving), the pair take us on a disorientating, hypnotic ride through a city, leaving us questioning what we witness. We invited Brand and Auberg to join us to discuss animating to music, combining 2D and 3D animation and what we can expect from their collaborations in the future.
I’m always interested to know how filmmakers become attached to music videos, did you have to pitch for it? Can you tell us a little about that process?
Michelle Brand: Célestine Gonzalez, a music video producer at STINK Films in Paris, approached me after she saw my film Any Instant Whatever, an abstract piece that discusses time and motion. The musician, Vonfelt, was looking for a way to visualise acceleration in the video, since the song is all about gaining speed, reaching higher grounds and leaving everything behind. I pitched them a few different ideas, but they immediately fell in love with the abstract journey through the night.
In addition, Vonfelt was looking for imagery where you cannot tell dream and reality apart – this was the perfect opportunity to make use of some new techniques I’ve been exploring with 3D animation director Toby Auberg, as we were in the midst of setting up a 2Dx3D animation studio called Kinemus. Together, we crafted a hazy and mysterious style, where we could control how realistic scenes felt depending on the ratio of 3D versus 2D animation.
The video is a mesmerising, kaleidoscopic piece where did the idea come from and how much was it inspired by the track?
MB: When I heard the track the first time, I felt that it suits the feeling when you’re sitting on a train late at night and everything rushes past you – train wires swing up and down, tree trunks swoosh past you beat by beat and lights become more and more blurry the faster you go. The idea of animating abstract lights in this style came from two sources:
One, I’m a huge fan of animating abstract shapes and visual music, I adore classics like Oskar Fischinger or Walter Ruttmann, and have always dreamt of diving into the realm of music videos and animating to beats, rhythms and musical structures. The very abstract animations were inspired by the track, as most of them were animated straight ahead to the beat of the music.
Two, I’m also a huge fan of visualising time and one of the best ways to do this is through moving lights and shadows. For years, I’ve been keeping a library of photos, sketches and videos of random ghobos and lights, which came in quite handy for the project. In the end, it was so much fun to combine the world of abstract explosions with the world of moving lights and shadows!
There’s some stunning imagery throughout the video, but I’m fascinated by the character we get glimpses of, what’s their story and their role in the piece?
MB: The character hints at the musician himself, Vonfelt, and his outfit is actually similar to the outfit he usually wears during his performances. However, it was really important to us that the character simultaneously feels like it could be anyone and everyone, which is why you never see their face.
We really wanted to create a piece that hopefully reminds people of their own journeys through the night.
Ok, so let’s dive into the aesthetic of the piece, which I totally adore. It’s obviously set in a city at night with lots of blurry lights and movements, what was your thought process behind this particular style?
Toby Auberg: Immediately after the conversations between Michelle and Vonfelt, it was clear that we need our night time city vibes to be sentimental and cinematic. The style needed to make you feel like these are both expressed and recorded memories of a place. The technique we ended up working with really helped us reinforce this slightly haunting, impressionistic, and cinematic feel until the colorful 2D light elements blast away reality.
MB: Exactly, we really wanted to create a piece that hopefully reminds people of their own journeys through the night – that moment on the train, where you saw those lampposts whoosh past you, or some interesting play of lights reflected on the car driving next to you.
And how did you create the look? It seems like there’s a mixture of traditional 2D animation and 3D CG animation that combines perfectly in the video and plays to both of your strengths.
TB: Michelle and I have been working closely together to find all sorts of novel ways to combine 2D and 3D. In this case we fused 2D and 3D via projection. First, there’s a 3D world, with camera moves and all, built to match the 2D animatic reference Michelle created. Then a 2D pass is projected onto the surfaces of the 3D both casting and receiving light and subject to 3D fog, denoising, DOF, and other CG approximations of film. In the case where there is no 3D base, 2D elements were rendered out in separate layers and placed in 3D space to achieve the same sense of physicality amid 2D illustration.
Having a tight edit from the start enabled us to go crazy with the 2D animations.
One of my favourite parts of the video is the edit and the rhythm it creates. Although it’s very different, it reminded me of the classic Chemical Brothers Star Guitar video in that sense. How much attention did you put into getting the pacing of the edit just right, or was it something that came naturally?
MB: I absolutely adore that video and it actually was my main reference for the pitch to get the idea across! As spontaneous as I was with the actual movement of the straight-ahead abstract animations, I was really strict with the edit. I had the editing finalised before animation began, I knew exactly each shot length, or on what exact frame the main action had to occur to the beat. Having a tight edit from the start enabled us to go crazy with the 2D animations in exactly the right moments, knowing that everything would fit back together in the end.
TA: On my end the timing challenge mostly consisted of keyframing camera movements so that they’d always frame the important stuff, constantly negotiating between the animatic, the beats and rhythms, and the placement of things in the environments. For longer shots where the camera has to cover a lot of ground, I’d animate the camera on a track and separately animate the point of focus, building the scenes around the camera’s movements, which are bound to the music.
We’ve featured both of your work individually on Directors Notes but this was very much a collaborative piece. How did you find the process of working together and what do you think you achieved as a duo that wouldn’t have been possible working alone?
MB: It was so much fun, also because there was so much that I couldn’t have done without Toby! All those camera movements, providing me with references for cars or characters… I didn’t have to focus on getting things right and could just concentrate on doing what I enjoy most – just animating abstract shapes all the time! And no matter how crazy my 2D shapes were going to be, things always felt slightly ‘real’ and were grounded into the scene thanks to Toby’s comping magic. There’s just so much less to worry about when we’re working together.
TA: Oh my gosh, yeah, there is a whole new zone of visual possibilities working together – new looks, vibes and channels of thought that neither of us encounter separately. But on a more practical front, working with Michelle takes such a load off the typical 3D pipeline, I can focus primarily on movement and less on the really technical fuss involved in making plain CG look good. Working with her frame-by-frame painting casts a more human quality onto any scene that is really difficult to achieve otherwise. I often feel surprised at what’s in front of me when we work on stuff together, as if it must have been made by some third person.
You’re continuing to work together as animation studio KINEMUS, what can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any plans to work on any short films together?
MB: We will continue to work together and keep exploring hybrid techniques! Right now we’re working on a more commercial piece, but there is also absolutely talk of a short film soon. I think working together like this is a wonderful way of relieving somebody of a certain weight on their shoulder and freeing up space for each other. It enables us to just work on the things we’re good at as individuals and worry less about the other stuff!
I think we’re both eager to make a short together next year!
TA: It’s still early days for KINEMUS, but it’s already clear this is working for us. Both of us have our own practice, and I kind of see KINEMUS as a third director between us that’s a host to a different set of capabilities and creative priorities. It’s insanely refreshing to work on things with this totally new orientation and style. This year we’ve been focusing on small projects and experimenting, but I think we’re both eager to make a short together next year!