The early ’00s introduced some stunning examples of seasoned CG used to heighten visual commentary on technology and the burgeoning new century. As the decade wore on, it would become harder to find the line where in-camera shots met sophisticated CG and compositing — the holy grail for aspiring artists.
Icelandic star, Björk, opened the new decade with a jaw-dropping video for “All Is Full Of Love”. A glossy android version of the star lay in a sterile environment while robotic arms performed work on her hardware and an additional droid. In one fell swoop, director Chris Cunningham leveraged Björk’s Siren vocals and lured viewers onto the rocky shores of love, gender, feminism, culture, technology and humanity.
Director Chris Cunningham came to the project with fresh Aphex Twin filth under his fingernails having just directed the disturbing “Come to Daddy” video and the equally unsettling “Windowlicker” video. In the “Making Of” video Cunningham confessed that the “All Is Full Of Love” video was an absolute disaster up until the eleventh hour, when the graphics & compositing by Glassworks began to turn the piece around. In a weird way it’s comforting to hear Chris talk about his utter lack of self-confidence in his own ability to pull off a project that is widely regarded to be one of the finest examples of the medium to date.
Robbie Williams’ 2001 video for his hit single “Rock DJ” featured the party boy singer stripping down to literal bare bones. The popular hook, charismatic performer, clever choreography, expert make-up and refined CG made this video a memorable, if not entirely enjoyable, piece of visual accomplishment. See how they made the magic happen in this “Making Of”.
As the 21st century wore on, still with that lingering scent of fresh potential, groups like Queens Of The Stone Age and the White Stripes produced videos that didn’t put the CG front and center, but used it as a stepping stone to a more graphic look for their videos. QOTSA’s “Go With The Flow” had a posterized 3D look that felt like an animated silkscreen print, while the Stripes “Seven Nation Army” featured an infinite tunnel effect that played with scale, employed strong geometry, enforced a strict palette and utilized audio-synced lighting effects.
That same year, David Fincher took on a Nine Inch Nails project directing their video for “Only”. The resulting pin-art inspired piece was a triumph of 3D animation as it was used to recreate a newly nostalgic desk tchotchke that operated in surprising ways.
Linkin Park had already experienced a decade of success when they released “Bleed It Out” in 2007. It was a reversed sequence of events taking place during a performance that unwound from all out violent chaos, back to a relatively mundane genesis. The reverse sequence concept had been used before in 1989 by Danny Wilson in “The Second Summer of Love” video, in 1996 by Spike Jonze for The Pharcyde’s “Drop” video, and then later by Coldplay in their 2003 hit “The Scientist”. For Linkin Park’s updated version, the motion control cameras and subtle CG enhancements allowed director Joe Hahn to produce a video that looked like a seamless continuous shot that actually consisted of many takes and multiple composites.
Lady Gaga’s one-two punch with “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance” solidified her grip on the popular music scene as the new decade approached double digits. Both videos showed the multifarious influences of Gaga’s aesthetic; from Bowie’s glam-rock to Madonna’s confident sexuality; from Andy Warhol’s pop-art to Michael Jackson’s choreography. Although not obvious as effects-laden productions, this “Making Of” for “Bad Romance” gives a sense of how much work was still left to be done in post-production.
Pop darling Katy Perry came out with yet another catchy track in 2011, when she released “ET” with Kanye West. The zero-g video, directed by Floria Sigismondi, was a Hubble-photo inspired space extravaganza where Perry met an android version of the classic prince-charming and turned him back to humanoid form with the ever-magical kiss. The sumptuous production design and grandiose effects garnered much praise for the previously candy-coated artist.
One of the most recent music video sensations was created by Capital Cities for their 2013 smash “Safe And Sound”. The most popular of three videos made for the song was directed by Grady Hall and featured the stage of the historic Los Angeles Theater. Various time periods from the stage’s past were shown while the band members danced their way through an entertaining set of ensembles and chorales. The slick production included a myriad of “looks” employing a pastiche of techniques, and as an added bonus, fantastic genre-specific typography.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinhert (affectionately know as “The Daniels”) were responsible for 2014’s video “Turn Down For What” by DJ Snake & Lil Jon. The outrageous dancefest is a collection of insane interactions and impossible consequences, leaving the viewer entirely exhausted by the closing credits.
The common thread that links many of the videos mentioned here is the fact that they gave us something we had never seen before. Conceptually, “Thriller”, “Money For Nothing”, and “All Is Full Of Love” were groundbreaking for their ability to innovate and create new ways to tell a musical story. On the technical side, some videos were included here because they showcased the pinnacle of artistic craft like “Take On Me”, “Love Is Strong”, and “Rock DJ”. The future is likely bright but uncertain, and as we’ve discussed on Digital Canvas before, the unknown is fertile soil for creativity to take root and for magic to happen. What’s next for the music video is up to artists like you.