Channeling Golden Age UPA cartoons, Childish Gambino’s ‘Feels Like Summer’ and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,’ director Musa Brooker and Six Point Harness — the studio behind Oscar winner ‘Hair Love’ — create an animated music video for the two-part ‘Black-ish’ election special.
Oscar-winning director Matthew A. Cherry made headlines with his recent two-part election special for ABC series Black-ish, part one of which included an animated music video for “Vote,” a new, original song written and recorded for the episode by R&B artist Jhené Aiko.
A soulful tour through just some of the myriad difficulties many African Americans face while voting, the 60-second music video, which was directed by Musa Brooker and produced at Six Point Harness, the studio behind Oscar-winning short Hair Love, channels influences like UPA cartoons from the Golden Age, the video for Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer,” and Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower” video from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:
With the aid of animation partner Lowbrow Studios, the music video was completed in less than six weeks from concept to completion by a small team of principal designers and roughly 15 additional animators and crew members overseen by Six Point Harness production manager Connor Slack.
“Six Point Harness has produced a variety of the animation for Black-ish for the last several seasons,” notes Brooker, who joined the studio in 2019 and was appointed Creative Director in September. “They approached the studio again this season, starting with this first episode, one specifically about voting and the 2020 elections,” he continues. “I didn’t work on the previous seasons, the bulk of which occurred before I joined the studio, but I was asked to work on this season, starting with directing the music video for this episode.”
Brooker cites several visual references for the music video. “The creative team at Black-ish had a few key influences on their end — one of which was the Childish Gambino video for ‘Feels Like Summer.’ They liked the cool, mellow vibe of the video and the idea of a central character walking along through the various scenes,” he says. “Another key reference for them was the ‘Sunflower‘ video from Into the Spider-verse. From that they loved the idea of the lyrics being part of the scenes and incorporated into the background design.”
Given the project’s timeline, Brooker wanted to avoid some of the complexity and detail in the design and animation of the visual references. “I suggested that we might try something similar to the design approach and style of limited animation pioneered by UPA,” Brooker recounts. “That way we could concentrate on smart, stylish designs that would move sparingly and with purpose rather than a more lush, full animation look, that we just did not have the time to create,” he explains.
“The Black-ish team understood why we needed to approach it that way, but they were a little concerned that the mid-century design aesthetic would make the video seem dated and frankly not reflect the ‘urban’ look and feel that they wanted,” Brooker continues. “Being ‘urban’ myself, I worked with the design team to come up with a style that felt contemporary and ‘urban’ but that also reflected the influence of UPA and mid-century graphic design — while simultaneously also showing the influence of the videos that the Black-ish team really liked. We mixed all of those things up together and the final video is the result. Hopefully you can see each one of our influences in the video but know that we also tried to make something unique unto itself. I think the team was pretty happy with how it all came together.”
The principal designs for the music video were created by a small team of designers at Six Point Harness. “The main character designs were by Soyeon Yoo, a terrific designer, while the backgrounds were primarily designed by one of Six Point Harness’s principals, the robustly talented Saharat Tantivaranyoo, as well as the remarkable Kelsey Suan. Additional designs on props, characters and backgrounds were contributed by noteworthy artists Yuki Mori, and Kalvin Kulz, with additional ancillary designs by the team at Lowbrow Studios,” Brooker details.
“I’m so proud of the entire team, in every department, for all of the hard work, dedication and brilliant artistry that went into this,” he adds. “I wish I could take all of the credit, but it really was a wonderfully collaborative effort.”
Although the team was working remotely, due to the pandemic, Brooker found the work to be incredibly collaborative. “Everyone did such a wonderful job — It was a real pleasure to work with such a talented design team,” he enthuses. “I had an overall vision of how I wanted the video to look based on the inspiration, but the team really outdid themselves and came up with some fantastic and inspired designs. We got some feedback, of course, from the team at Black-ish, and I helped guide them, but the designers did the heavy lifting and did a fantastic job realizing the look.”
Working from a written treatment provided by the Black-ish production team, storyboards for the music video were completed by Six Point Harness designer Yuki Mori. “She started at the studio a little bit after I did and we’ve worked together over the past year on a different project. She really is a phenomenal talent and did such a wonderful job especially given the shortened production timeline for this video,” Brooker comments.
“Together Yuki and I worked to fit all of the action that was described in the treatment into the video — which was tricky because there’s quite a lot going on in just about a minute,” Brooker continues. “There was a lot of back-and-forth, not only between myself and Yuki but also between Yuki and the other members of the design team. Yuki would sketch something in the boards after we talked that would inspire the other designers. They would intern design elements of the production that Yuki would work into the next round of boards. So, the direction, design and boarding process was incredibly collaborative — it had to be with our timeline.”
Even with the challenges of working remotely under such a tight schedule, Brooker calls the music video a dream project. “There were a lot of complex ideas to get across in a very short period of time. I credit the writers at Black-ish for coming up with a complicated and nuanced idea that was both funny and thought provoking. I think we took up the challenge with the design and animation, knowing how important the subject matter was and how many viewers the project would have,” he says.
“We strived to make the best version of the video that we could,” Brooker adds. “Which was challenging and at the same time fulfilling to create something that was both entertaining but also had a purpose. The team at Black-ish gave us a lot of creative freedom and we ran with that in order to create something that was unique and meaningful. And of course, there’s the terrific track by Jhene Aiko!”