I was contacted about the band Modernage about reviewing their album Sirhan Sirhan. The music is fantastic, with sort of a Joy Division feel, but with much more warmth and melody. What really struck me, though, was the cool video. I had recently been complaining about how videos nowadays just seem like a way to market a band and there's a lack of art in a lot of music videos. The music video for the song Creatures uses stop motion with wired up stuffed toys. What is also great about Creatures is that the video was created by a band member. I talk with the multi-talented Garcia Freundt of Modernage, musician and visual effects artist.
MY: You did an amazing stop motion video for your band Modernage for the song Creatures. Do you have a background in photography and video?
GF: I've been working on tv and film for about 12 years. I've never been into photography, just took a couple of classes in college, but I'm thinking of buying a still camera but mainly to work more on stop motion.
MY: Have you done much stop motion work? This looks like a huge undertaking.
GF: This is my second project with stop motion. I've always liked stop motion because it is a unique medium. I fell in love with the textures of the environment and the not-so-perfect movements. My opportunity to explore this medium for the first time was last year, when I was asked to develop some Halloween IDs for a TV cable network. I instantly knew that it would be a great opportunity to create a bizarre world... the short length of the pieces - 10 to 12 seconds - was perfect for a first timer using this technique.
Another reason I like stop motion is the fact that you don't have to work with a lot of people. It's kinda like sculpting and painting, it's very different that normal filmmaking. Roberto Vasconcelos, a great DP I love to work with, worked with me on all the shots with the yellow background, but that's the only person I had to work with.
MY: One shot in the beginning that grabbed me was the change of focus from the rocker to the marble. There's a lot narrow depth of field shifts thought the video, actually. Was that type of effect something you pulled off in camera or in post?
GF: That change of focus was done just with the camera. I was using an HVX200. For the stop motion, I just used the feature in which the camera takes only 2 frames each time you press the record button. In that rack focus I was rolling at 24fpsand with one hand out of the frame I was moving the rocking chair and with the other one I was turning the focus wheel. In general, I've always loved a narrow depth of field and using mainly close-ups to tell stories, and it's easier to get a narrow depth of field when using tight close ups.. so it just works for me.
MY:I'm guessing you took large images and did your pans and zooms in a program like After Effects. Can you talk a bit about your post production process?
GF: Almost all the pans and zooms were done with the camera rolling at 24fps. I tried to stay away from moving the puppets while doing camera moves... maybe for the next project.
MY: What type of plug-ins do you like to use? For the film effect for example, did you use a plugin on that or use some other method to achieve the old film look?
GF: For the film look I just put a vignette (to give it a more fairy tale look) and just added some grain to reduce the sharpness of the video.
MY: Nice particles too!It looks like you shot a portion of it over greenscreen too. You really have a lot of different techniques in a single video!
GF: The only 3 sequences with post effects where done with Motion; the first one is the ball going up and turning into a "planet". The second was the pink puppet going up to the planet (the puppet was on a green screen). The last one was a composite the grey puppet looking at the pink one who is in the planet. The star field is a Motion particle.
MY: I love Motion particles. They're so easy to use and so fast. I'll admit, I've only done stop motion work once and it was in college. It didn't turn out too well. I know stop motion can be tedious work... everything must be so precise. Do you have any methods that you use to time things out?
GF: It really didn't take me a lot of time to do the filming, maybe 20 to 25 hours. The post didn't take me that much either, just working on the three composites I described earlier. With stop motion you don't do much editing, because you don't do any coverage - its very time consuming; you just plan every scene and know in you head how it's going to cut. However, the pre-production part was the longest one but to me the most fun - it took me 5 months, working whenever I had a chance; this involved designing and sewing the puppets and building and painting the set. I guess I didn't want it to end because I love doing stuff with my hands.
MY: So, the dolls... did you put wires inside to get them to pose or did you have another technique?
Yes, I used wires. Now I'm actually learning how to make proper dolls with armatures. The dolls I made were very rudimentary, and I had a lot of problems making them stand right or to have controlled movements...it was a bit of a nightmare, but a learning experience.
MY: How long did it take to make the video? Did you learn any good tricks?
GF: Over a period of seven months, working on it whenever I felt like it. If I had worked on it not taking breaks, maybe 20 days for pre-pro, 6 days for filming and 5 days for post. I started working on it long before the song was recorded. For me, like everything I do, it is just a stepping stone: don't make the same mistakes and build on the good things. I learn by doing.
MY: The opening scene reminds me of something by The Brothers Quay? Do you have any influences in your work? That moving potato is very creepy! The "eyes" look like tentacles.
GF: Yes, among my favorites are the Quay Brothers, Henry Selick and the works of czech animators like Jirí Trnka and Jan Svankmajer. I included the potato cause I always like the "eyes" that grow on them. It gives the potato character...
MY: What do you do in the band?
GF: Keyboards, guitars...and the videos.
MY: When you do a video like this for your band, does everyone have input or do you just do what you envision?
GF: I enjoy doing videos for Modernage mainly because I love the music. I love Mario's lyrics because he has a great sense of storytelling. When I heard the track I felt that it would be good for stop motion. I do most of my creative thinking in bed, right before going to sleep, when my mind is in that weird half-sleep state. I developed the main story line in my head and on the next band rehearsal I showed Mario, the singer, the IDs I had done using this technique, to see his reaction and propose to do a stop motion video for "Creatures", since he was the one who wrote the song. After I showed him the IDs, before I proposed anything, he said: "that's exactly what we should do with Creatures!".. and with that I started working on it.
MY: Have you done other videos as well?
Creatures" is the fourth video I've done for Modernage. I've also done one for a band called "Santos Renuentes" and another one for "Union Cell".
The other 3 Modernage videos are here if you wanna take a look:
- 7/9/12 video for Modernage's 7/9/12 from the EP Sirhan Sirhan.
- Bella - The second video-single off of Modernage's debut EP Receiver.
- Four Eleven - The first hit video off of Modernage's 'Receiver' EP.
MY: Thanks so much for the interview. Best of luck with your music and music video careers! I really love your video work. You have a lot of variety in your style and you're so talented in both fields.
GF: Thanks again!