What I Learned From Making Two Animated Music Videos in Less Than a Year

Preston Gibson

Between Spring of 2014 and Spring of 2015, I helped design and direct two fully-animated music videos: Beth Bombara – In the Water, and Run the Jewels – Early. I was lucky to work with some crazy talented dudes, who also happen to be some of my best friends: Parker Gibson (www.helloparkergibson.com), Kurt Simpson (90DW), and Alex Deaton (90DW). Over the course of a year I garnered a ton of knowledge about making music videos, but I find that it really applies to most design/creative pursuits so I thought I’d lay some of it out for y’all.

1. Telling a story is great…
Creative folks generally want to make beautiful things, and to leave their own personal mark on them. I subscribe to the theory that, often, art is a way of leaving bread crumbs for the world– a way of saying “I was here”, but in a way that many others can appreciate. For that reason, I approached both videos by trying to tell a story, to craft a narrative even when there wasn’t one explicitly in the song. For In the Water, I forced myself to listen to the lyrics in a more vague, symbolic sense and then extrapolate philosophical, mythical themes. My exploration of water and stars imagery from the lyrics led me to some really interesting stories, like that of the Greek goddess of stars, Asteria who, in order to escape the advances of Zeus, flung herself into the Aegean Sea in the form of a quail which then became a desert island. Weird, right? Also super interesting (visually, and narratively!), and totally removed from the inherent imagery of the song. Notions of rebirth, escape, and doom– as well as animal transformation– were born out of these explorations.

2. But don’t let it get in the way of the song…
It’s easy to let these explorations and abstractions run wild until your narrative no longer even remotely resembles what the song is about. Directing music videos requires you to know when to pull back and keep your narrative relevant to the song. In many cases, visuals can simply promote the vibe of the song, rather than trying to tell some kind of explicit story. In my opinion, that often turns out to look like animated wallpaper. However, I kept that in mind, because I didn’t want the music videos to take viewers out of the musical experience, or distract from what the artists had initially created. Lucky for us, the Run the Jewels song already had an almost step-by-step story in it, so we already had a rough narrative guide.

3. Bite off more than you can chew…
…when you can get away with it. A huge aspect of both videos was character rigging. Before In the Water, I’d never even modeled, let alone rigged, an entire character from scratch. It was a fascinating challenge for me, something I’d really wanted to dip my toes into. Often when I take on personal/passion projects, I try to steer them in a direction that will force me to learn new techniques. In this case, it paid off immediately. After struggling for several months (and in many ways, failing) to master the character design/rigging process on In the Water, I had to get it right for Run the Jewels, and for roughly a dozen characters! Luckily, my experience had already grown exponentially, and I felt 1000% more confident. I still had a TON of trouble-shooting along the way, but this time I knew most of the answers when the problems occurred. It was really rewarding to watch Alex animate the hell out of some characters I designed and rigged.

SmokeSim

4. If you don’t have any deadlines, make some…
This one actually applies to any creative endeavor, and really most areas of life. In the Water really didn’t have any specific deadlines, so it was easy for me to take my precious time with all my conceptual explorations, trying to learn new, complicated techniques, and even just talking about it. Some people are detail-oriented. I am detail obsessed. If left to my own devices, I can focus in on very specific aspects of the creative process, and the next thing I know I’ve grown a full beard and a substantial aroma. For that reason, I mapped out milestones along the way to make sure I was going to finish at some point in our lifetimes.

5. Working with great artists has its pitfalls…
Collaborating with artists from different media can be incredibly rewarding. I’m a huge music lover, so music videos meld my two major hobbies/interests. Helping out a local artist I really enjoy and respect was a great experience. Working with your favorite hip hop group (and one of the hottest acts on Planet Earth!) is one of those times you think to yourself “holy shit, have I made it?”. It’s also a really enlightening experience. I feel like I now understand how songwriters feel when they write and record an album, only to have their record label say “ok, we’ll let you know when we’re putting it out.” That was my experience with both videos. Hurry up and wait. And that can be incredibly frustrating when you’ve dumped your heart, soul, and a nauseating amount of free time into a project. In this situation, you have to remind yourself that these music videos aren’t so much yours, as they are the artists’. And that the artists often deal with this sort of frustration themselves. Yada yada, waah waah. I got to make two killer videos, and they’re both out. No more complaining.

6. Throw yourself a party…
Trust me, you deserve it. Also, make sure your mom knows that Rolling Stone talked about your video.

Video_release_party_for_In_the_Water

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