I have worked for many, many weeks and here it is - my animated music video for the track 'Le Palais de Cristal' from The Hot Club of Jupiter's new album, 'Vs. London'!
Let me tell you a little bit about the process...
I had already designed the album cover and took my first cue from there:
The Hot Club of Jupiter play gypsy jazz (also known as 'hot club jazz'), lots of tunes by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, as well as original compositions in that tradition. In this album they collect tunes about London - from old standards like A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and Chelsea Bridge reimagined for the hot club style, to their own songs about their experience of London. It's a cracking listen, they're a fantastically tight band and the music is irresistibly joyous and lovely - you can buy it here to combat those late-lockdown blues!
Inspired by the title, I thought of a favourite poster of mine - which happens to be a Soviet propaganda poster - which you can see below. I played with that idea until I had a composition and tone I was really pleased with. A bit tense and atmospheric but with a jaunty cartooniness too.
When it came to the animation, the image and the story it gave the title was the obvious starting point. But I had to work out how to expand upon the single image in ways that would fill nearly four minutes of screen time. That doesn't sound like a lot, but you need a surprising about of variety to make a few minutes pass without getting boring!
I needed a protagonist for the other half of the 'versus' story; a little guy for the monster to chase. I decided on a parakeet for a couple of reasons. One is that I love seeing the parakeets that now live wild in London's parks, their neon green incongruously exotic amongst the native birds. Secondly, a bird made for a very manoeuvrable hero, one that could dart around in all sorts of directions so I could keep the directions and landscape changing constantly.
I would also need to move through a variety or progression of 'looks' to keep the story feeling like it was developing. The track is called 'Le Palais de Cristal', a fun Franglish play on the area of London called Crystal Palace. So it was obvious where my little bird was going to end up.
I ended up with three particular influences on the styling:
It was the rainbow sun which appears with pleasingly incongruous jollity in Moor's poster 'Death to World Imperialsm' which made me think of Mc Knight Kauffer's poster and they seemed like great reference points for the start and end of the story. The former poster gave me the 'dark and dangerous' part of the story. The latter gave me a place to take the shapes and palette from for the 'happy ending' section.
Meanwhile there was no pause between thinking 'bird character' and 'Charley Harper bird character'. If you're in a graphic style and you're doing a bird, it has to be a Charley Harper-esque bird.
As for the rest... this was an interesting exercise in trusting to my own instincts without fussing too much about the logical cohesion as I went on. That's something I feel I've made a lot of progress in lately, trusting that I'll get things to a coherent and attractive place without having to torture myself about the whys and wherefores of each choice. I'm not used to working fairly abstract and I'm really pleased that I see to have more imagination than I give myself credit for!
It's tallied interestingly with my thoughts and feelings abut writing lately, some of which I talked about in my last blog post. Once you have a firm sense of the basic narrative tension, you can feel pretty free and confident in individual choices, and also know how to improve them when they're not quite working as hard as you feel they might.
As I said in that post, the narrative tension itself won't be anything complex or original (rather it's a solid basic foundation upon which one may found complexity and freshness). And of course that's never more true than in a story form like a four-minute music video. I have a simple chase narrative - will the bird escape? Will he traverse treacherous London and find safety?
But even in a short form a simple tension needs certain things to keep it going, a couple of new complications or boosts or twists keeping the story fresh as it cuts along.
For instance, there was a stage in my development that things were becoming a bit flat in the mid-section. I'd established the monster and his threat, given him a second appearance that showed he could pop up in all sorts of places, and then a third (aboard the train) which had a bit of humours kind of punchline. The rule of three! But meanwhile there wasn't any progression for the parakeet. Even in a small, simple story like this you need to give people a little more reason to root for a character than 'he's small and under threat'. That'll do you for a time, then you need to add something else.
I needed a point in the middle where its story goes from just being about fleeing an unpredictable threat to the parakeet having a goal in mind. So I had the bird see a poster for the final destination, Crystal Palace, that promised peace and greenery, and determine to go there. That gives renewed punch to the second half. It gives a new impetus to the basic narrative tension - we've had a hint of how this parakeet might win the day and we want to see if he can.
So this was a great exercise in story, a lesson in how as long as you have a strong sense of what your basic tension is, you can work on something with the confidence that it will at some point become good - which is really necessary because things rarely start out good.