They Might Be Giants recently turned to Portland-based Bent Image Lab to create an edgy two-and-a-half-minute music video for their hit song, "I'm Impressed." The video mixes a sense of epic scale with violent undertones. Its gladiatorial combat scenes draw on such influences as BEN-HUR, SPARTACUS and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.
Director Rob Shaw worked for six weeks on the stop-motion video, which tells the story of a dictator's rise and fall, with robot warriors made out of paper.
"The lyrics of the song are playing with the idea of the glamor of power or how in awe of power you can be, juxtaposed with the realism of what that power actually represents, which in a lot of cases is violence," Shaw explained.
He added that he was given a lot of creative freedom and leeway in terms of the violence. And although it's just paper robots, it has an element of realism that pushes the limits.
"The band pretty much knew how they wanted the video to feel. They definitely had a pretty strong idea about certain things that they wanted to be in the video, but once we got started it was pretty hands off," said Shaw. "So I got to run with a little more violence, and they were pretty open to having it be a little edgy."
"One of the things I really liked about what Rob did is this classic arc from dictator coming into power, doing great for a while, and then he falls out of favor and is assassinated," said Exec Producer Chel White. "It's pretty close to what happens to most dictators. So it was great to see that encapsulated with these cool paper robots. It gave it a sort of edge or a visceral quality."
"Rob has always flourished in the lyrical music video genre" said Ray Di Carlo, partner and exec producer at Bent Image Lab. "He has an uncanny ability to depict the plight of the Individual as the mechanism responsible for the inevitable success or failure of society as a whole. Although his work never seems to be about specific politics, it does inspire you to get out there, to get involved, to try to make a difference."
White stressed that while the video has political undertones, it wasn't meant to refer to any contemporary political issues -- that it's about the allure of power in general, and not any current political leaders in particular.
The robots were constructed from paper cut-outs and gradually manipulated in stop-motion, one frame at a time. Shaw explained that on an average day, he could shoot about two seconds of footage. He and animator Sarah Hulin worked long days and late into the night to finish the video on a tight six-week schedule. "If I wasn't shooting at night, she was shooting at night, so we were constantly shooting," he said.
"We shot things in different layers and then laid them on top of each other in the computer, but none of the animation is computer animation. It's all practically shot and then assembled in the computer," he added.
The technique enabled him to get a sense of scale that would have been impossible in a single miniature practical set. It gives a sense of depth and scale in shots like the stadium crowd scenes. While robot gladiators fight to the death in the foreground, the cheering crowds seem distant and far away.
"I wanted to shoot it in a little bit of a flat way -- as a series of three-dimensional layers, but each of those layers is stacked on top of each other, going away from the camera. I feel that gives it a storybook fairytale quality. You can see that technique in a lot of Russian and Eastern European stop-motion animation. Another thing that I really like about the multi-layer approach is the mix between an epic scale and also the feeling of miniature, small scale."
"One of the things that I was really impressed with, was that Rob designed these templates in the computer that had all the tabs worked out, so that when you printed it out, cut them out and folded it together it worked perfectly. It was kind of like a do-it-yourself pop-up book," said White.
White, along with Bent Image Labs' Di Carlo, served as exec producers on "I'm Impressed." Tsui Ling Toomer was senior producer, while Kara Place produced. Mark Eifert and James Birkett served as directors of photography, and Solomon Burbridge was art director on the project. Bartek Prusiewicz designed the characters. Rob Shaw and Sarah Hulin were the animators and Brian Kinkley and Marty Easterday were assistant animators. Monique Ligons was the storyboard artist.