Category Archives: Music Video

Ross Cooper joins Golden’s roster of directors

LA’s Golden, which is made up of live-action directors and a collective of designers and visual effects artists, has added director Ross Cooper to its roster. Formerly known as OneInThree, Cooper’s resume is chock full of commercial and music video work.

Cooper studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins in London, but his interest in original visual ideas evolved while pursuing a Master’s degree from London’s Royal College of Art. After winning two Silver D&ADs in interaction design and architecture for the live video installation The Last Clock, Cooper began shooting videos for bands like Two Door Cinema Club, Wild Beasts and The Teenagers. He went on to receive a number of nominations as an up-and-coming filmmaker at the Music Video Awards, including Best New Director, Best Art Direction and Best Budget Video.

Cooper stepped into the commercial world with a recreation of his VV Brown video for the song “Leave!” made for French bank BNP Paribas. The spot featured a rotating cardboard box that revealed a different stylized diorama with every spin. Since that time, Cooper has continued to hone his in-camera perspective to visual effects and trompe l’oeil, crafting ads for brands including Ford, O2, Trident and Betway.

Dog in the Night director/DP Fletcher Wolfe

By Cory Choy

Silver Sound Showdown Music + Video Festival is unique in two ways. First, it is both a music video festival and battle of the bands at the same time. Second, every year we pair up the Grand Prize-winners, director and band, and produce a music video with them. The budget is determined by the festival’s ticket sales.

I conceived of the festival, which is held each year at Brooklyn Bowl, as a way to both celebrate and promote artistic collaboration between the film and music communities — two crowds that just don’t seem to intersect often enough. One of the most exciting things for me is then working with extremely talented filmmakers and musicians who have more often than not met for the first time at our festival.

Dog in the Night (song written by winning band Side Saddle) was one of our most ambitious videos to date — using a combination of practical and post effects. It was meticulously planned and executed by director/cinematographer Fletcher Wolfe, who was not only a pleasure to work with, but was gracious enough to sit down with me for a discussion about her process and the experience of collaborating.

What was your favorite part of making Dog in the Night?
As a music video director I consider it my first responsibility to get to know the song and its meaning very intimately. This was a great opportunity to stretch that muscle, as it was the first time I was collaborating with musicians who weren’t already close friends. In fact, I hadn’t even met them before the Showdown. I found it to be a very rewarding experience.

What is Dog in the Night about?
The song Dog in the Night is, quite simply, about a time when the singer Ian (a.k.a. Angler Boy) is enamored with a good friend, but that friend doesn’t share his romantic feelings. Of course, anyone who has been in that position (all of us?) knows that it’s never that simple. You can hear him holding out hope, choosing to float between friendship and possibly dating, and torturing himself in the process.

I decided to use dusk in the city to convey that liminal space between relationship labels. I also wanted to play on the nervous and lonely tenor of the track with images of Angler Boy surrounded by darkness, isolated in the pool of light coming from the lure on his head. I had the notion of an anglerfish roaming aimlessly in an abyss, hoping that another angler would find his light and end his loneliness. The ghastly head also shows that he doesn’t feel like he has anything in common with anybody around him except the girl he’s pining after, who he envisions having the same unusual head.

What did you shoot on?
I am a DP by trade, and always shoot the music videos I direct. It’s all one visual storytelling job to me. I shot on my Alexa Mini with a set of Zeiss Standard Speed lenses. We used the 16mm lens on the Snorricam in order to see the darkness around him and to distort him to accentuate his frantic wanderings. Every lens in the set weighed in at just 1.25lbs, which is amazing.

The camera and lenses were an ideal pairing, as I love the look of both, and their light weight allowed me to get the rig down to 11lbs in order to get the Snorricam shots. We didn’t have time to build our own custom Snorricam vest, so I found one that was ready to rent at Du-All Camera. The only caveats were that it could only handle up to 11lbs, and the vest was quite large, meaning we needed to find a way to hide the shoulders of the vest under Ian’s wardrobe. So, I took a cue from Requiem for a Dream and used winter clothing to hide the bulky vest. We chose a green and brown puffy vest that held its own shape over the rig-vest, and also suited the character.

I chose a non-standard 1.5:1 aspect ratio, because I felt it suited framing for the anglerfish head. To maximize resolution and minimize data, I shot 3.2K at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and cropped the sides. It’s easy to build custom framelines in the Alexa Mini for accurate framing on set. On the Mini, you can also dial in any frame rate between 0.75-60fps (at 3.2K). Thanks to digital cinema cameras, it’s standard these days to over-crank and have the ability to ramp to slow motion in post. We did do some of that; each time Angler Boy sees Angler Girl, his world turns into slow motion.

In contrast, I wanted his walking around alone to be more frantic, so I did something much less common and undercranked to get a jittery effect. The opening shot was shot at 6fps with a 45-degree shutter, and Ian walked in slow motion to a recording of the track slowed down to quarter-time, so his steps are on the beat. There are some Snorricam shots that were shot at 6fps with a standard 180-degree shutter. I then had Ian spin around to get long motion blur trails of lights around him. I knew exactly what frame rate I wanted for each shot, and we wound up shooting at 6fps, 12fps, 24fps, 48fps and 60fps, each for a different emotion that Angler Boy is having.

Why practical vs. CG for the head?
Even though the fish head is a metaphor for Angler Boy’s emotional state, and is not supposed to be real, I wanted it to absolutely feel real to both the actor and the audience. A practical, and slightly unwieldy, helmet/mask helped Ian find his character. His isolation needed to be tangible, and how much he is drawn to Angler Girl as a kindred spirit needed to be moving. It’s a very endearing and relatable song, and there’s something about homemade, practical effects that checks both those boxes. The lonely pool of light coming from the lure was also an important part of the visuals, and it needed to play naturally on their faces and the fish mask. I wired Lite Gear LEDs into the head, which was the easy part. Our incredibly talented fabricator, Lauren Genutis, had the tough job — fabricating the mask from scratch!

The remaining VFX hurdle then was duplicating the head. We only had the time and money to make one and fit it to both actors with foam inserts. I planned the shots so that you almost never see both actors in the same shot at the same time, which kept the number of composited shots to a minimum. It also served to maintain the emotional disconnect between his reality and hers. When you do see them in the same shot, it’s to punctuate when he almost tells her how he feels. To achieve this I did simple split screens, using the Pen Tool in Premiere to cut the mask around their actions, including when she touches his knee. To be safe, I shot takes where she doesn’t touch his knee, but none of them conveyed what she was trying to tell him. So, I did a little smooshing around of the two shots and some patching of the background to make it so the characters could connect.

Where did you do post?
We were on a very tight budget, so I edited at home, and I always use Adobe Premiere. I went to my usual colorist, Vladimir Kucherov, for the grade. He used Blackmagic Resolve, and I love working with him. He can always see how a frame could be strengthened by a little shaping with vignettes. I’ll finally figure out what nuance is missing, and when I tell him, he’s already started working on that exact thing. That kind of shaping was especially helpful on the day exteriors, since I had hoped for a strong sunset, but instead got two flat, overcast days.

The only place we didn’t see eye to eye on this project was saturation — I asked him to push saturation farther than he normally would advise. I wanted a cartoon-like heightening of Angler Boy’s world and emotions. He’s going through a period in which he’s feeling very deeply, but by the time of writing the song he is able to look back on it and see the humor in how dramatic he was being. I think we’ve all been there.

What did you use VFX for?
Besides having to composite shots of the two actors together, there were just a few other VFX shots, including dolly moves that I stabilized with the Warp Stabilizer plug-in within Premiere. We couldn’t afford a real dolly, so we put a two-foot riser on a Dana Dolly to achieve wide push-ins on Ian singing. We were rushing to catch dusk between rainstorms, and it was tough to level the track on grass.

The final shot is a cartoon night sky composited with a live shot. My very good friend, Julie Gratz of Kaleida Vision, made the sky and animated it. She worked in Adobe After Effects, which communicates seamlessly with Premiere. Julie and I share similar tastes for how unrealistic elements can coexist with a realistic world. She also helped me in prep, giving feedback on storyboards.

Do you like the post process?
I never used to like post. I’ve always loved being on set, in a new place every day, moving physical objects with my hands. But, with each video I direct and edit I get faster and improve my post working style. Now I can say that I really do enjoy spending time alone with my footage, finding all the ways it can convey my ideas. I have fun combining real people and practical effects with the powerful post tools we can access even at home these days. It’s wonderful when people connect with the story, and then ask where I got two anglerfish heads. That makes me feel like a wizard, and who doesn’t like that?! A love of movie magic is why we choose this medium to tell our tales.


Cory Choy, Silver Sound Showdown festival director and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios, produced the video.

Dell 6.15

Smile wins Grand Prize for best music video at Showdown 8

By Randi Altman

Silver Sound’s Showdown 8 Music Video Festival took place this week at the Brooklyn Bowl, highlighting bands, showcasing music videos and naming the winner of their Best Music Video contest.

I’m proud to say that this was my fourth year as a judge of the contest and happy to report that my number one pick took home the top prize. Joe Staehly’s Smile, for artist Jay Pray, features an older woman revisiting places from her past, bringing with her a film projector that plays images of herself and friends — including one special boy — when they were young. Finally, in present day, she visits an older man in a medical facility. He clearly doesn’t recognize her and is visibly uncomfortable. The woman then turns off the lights and turns on projectors that fill the room with images of their past.

For this effort, Staehly took home the Grand Prize for the video he shot on Red Epic Dragon and Super 8 film. Smile brought the audience, and this judge, to tears. That’s right, a music video did that.

Twenty-three-year-old Staehly is a Philadelphia-based cinematographer and director at Set in Motion. Staehly, who also edited the piece, is the youngest grand prize winner in Showdown history.

Each year 21 music videos and four bands compete for the Grand Prize — Silver Sound will produce a music video with them — worth over $10,000. Staehly will be collaborating on this music video with artist Gabrielle Sterbenz.

Created eight years ago by the talents behind NYC audio post house Silver Sound, Showdown shows no sign of slowing down. “Music videos are an oft-overlooked medium that I personally find very exciting,” reports Silver Sound partner/festival director Cory Choy. “Music video directors take risks, both narratively and technically, that other filmmakers, who have to worry about dialogue, aren’t willing to take. It’s a challenge, but it’s also incredibly freeing and exciting to experience two stories simultaneously — the story that the music is telling, and the story that the movie is telling. The way these stories interact and resonate with each other… that’s what music videos are about.”


Super Hero music video gets Aardman Nathan Love treatment

The Aardman Nathan Love animation studio recently finished design and animation work on director Kris Merc’s music video for Super Hero, the leadoff single from Kool Keith’s new album Feature Magnetic that is a collaboration with MF Doom.

The video starts with a variety of hypnotic imagery, from eye charts to kaleidoscopic wheels, with Doom’s iconic, ever-rotating mask as its centerpiece.

“Being a huge fan of both Kool Keith and MF Doom for years, and knowing our studio had capacity to help Kris out, we couldn’t not get involved,” recalls Aardman Nathan Love (ANL) founder/executive creative director Joe Burrascano. “Kris was able to let his imagination run wild. ANL’s team of designers, 3D artists and technical directors gave him the support he needed to help shape his vision and make the final piece as strong and unique as possible.”

According to Merc, who’s helmed notable projects from music videos for hip-hop pioneers De La Soul to spots for HTC during his lengthy career, the Super Hero production afforded him the space to realize his vision of bending and manipulating pop aesthetics to create something altogether mysterious and otherworldly. “I wanted to capture something that felt like a visual pop travesty,” explains the director. “I wanted it to visually speak to the legacy of the artists, and Afrofuturism mixed with comic book concepts. I’m a fan of the unseen, and I was obsessed with the idea of using Doom’s mask and the iconography as a centralized point – as if time and space converged around these strange, sometimes magical tableaus and we were witnessing an ascension.”

To help develop his concepts, Merc worked closely with Aardman Nathan Love in several key stages of production from the idea and design stage to technical aspects like compositing and rendering. “Our specialty lies mainly in CG character animation work, which typically involves a lot of careful planning and development work up front,” adds ANL CG director Eric Cunha. “Kris has a very organic process, and is constantly finding inspiration for new and exciting ideas. The biggest challenge we faced was being able to respond to this constant flow of new ideas, and facilitate the growth of the piece. In the end, it was an exciting new challenge that pushed us to develop a new way of working that resulted in an amazing, visually fresh and creative piece of work.”

Zbrush was used to create some of the assets, and Autodesk Maya was Aardman Nathan Love’s main animation tool. Most of the rendering was done in Maxwell, aside of two or so shots that were done in Arnold.