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Playing a Deadly Board Game of War in Iron Maiden’s ‘Stratego’ Music Video

Blinkink director Gustaf Holtenäs, inspired by Kentaro Miura’s ‘Berserk’ manga and the battlefield strategy game Stratego, mixes hand painted 2D backgrounds with 3D elements and Houdini simulations to take Maiden fans inside a stylized, fantastical Japanese-themed gaming world.

Blinkink has shared with AWN their new animated music video for legendary rock band Iron Maiden’s track, “Stratego,” which just premiered on Adult Swim’s YouTube channel. The song is one of 10 on their Japanese-themed 17th studio album, Senjutso, their first in nearly 6 years.

Produced by Blinkink, directed by Gustaf Holtenäs, and executive produced by Maiden’s lead singer Bruce Dickinson, the short’s release follows on the heels of the album’s debut music video, Writing on the Wall, also animated by Blinkink. Writing on the Wall was written by Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith and lead singer Bruce Dickinson, produced by Kevin Shirley, and co-produced by Maiden bassist and founder-member Steve Harris; it was conceived in collaboration with former Pixar creative leaders and long-time Maiden fans Mark Andrews and Andrew Gordon.

Put on your headphones, crank up the volume, and enjoy!

According to Holtenäs, the project was done in a “flash.” “I tried to combine the album’s Japanese theme with the boardgame Stratego,” he explains, “to tell a story based on a similar Japanese game called Shogi. All the characters live inside this chess-like game and follow the rules. Two suns were placed in the sky to symbolize the actual players of the game, acting as gods over the game pieces. It wasn’t difficult to decide who would play for the black team.”

The director took design inspiration from Kentaro Miura’s “Berserk” manga, which he’d just read after hearing of the author’s sudden death. “I was totally amazed by the artwork and mood of the series,” he shares. “I decided to incorporate elements from ‘Berserk’ into my new work, such as the ongoing eclipse throughout the whole video. The surrealistic full metal horse rider - the white king - was heavenly inspired by the manga as well.”

“The rest of the design process took inspiration from Japanese history and metal aesthetics in general,” he adds. “This was actually the first time I drew a skeleton. After this project, I know every bone in both the human and horse body. There are a lot!”

For the first two weeks of production, Holtenäs hand painted all the background images, roughly three per day. “They were airbrushed on paper and colored in Photoshop,” he says, adding that “2D-animation was executed by a fantastic team of animators using Photoshop as well. Simultaneously, the 3D elements were taking shape in Z-brush, then rigged and animated into the 2D scenes. We also had a brilliant VFX guy using Houdini for all the simulation of dragons and skulls being split. Then it was just putting it all together with long days of compositing in After Effects.”

As the most challenging and high-profile video Holtenäs has ever worked on, he paid close attention to every detail “to reach a level that I was happy with and at the same time deliver something that die-hard Maiden fans would be happy with.” He concludes, “But I’m always up for a challenge and I’m more than happy what our team achieved in this video!”

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.