In producing this ground breaking music video, the band Modest Mouse got the royal treatment from Bent Image Lab and director Nando Costa. A dark and expressive piece of filmmaking, this 6-minute video includes intense moments of live-action, stop motion, visual effects, and motion graphics techniques, all brought to life within the studio’s walls.
Concept: After entering his personal sanctuary, an artist is presented with a hand-crafted drawing tool that assists him in materializing his mental impressions. The machine discharges his thoughts as an endless web of yarn that guides him through his physical thoughts. The story progresses to reveal that he is divided between two worlds, one of dull reality and the second of warped memories. In the process of finding a way out of his consciousness, he is trapped between the two competing spaces, which eventually inflict lethal damage, acting as metaphors to self-destruction.
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This lyrical and moving piece was conceived by Nando Costa working closely with lead singer/guitarist Isaac Brock to polish some of the film’s intricacies. Featuring a seamless combination of live-action and stop motion that alternates between stage shots of Modest Mouse and a spiraling dream-like world of ever-shifting landscapes, Whale Song is a stunning representation of the combined capabilities of Nando and Bent. The variety and execution of the VFX portions of the video – from yarn reeling into complex patterns to a guitar that plays with no musician attached – strongly evoke the confused and surreal patterns of one’s warped memories. Additional creative touches such as animated and intricate photographic collages and giant CG snails sliding across the band’s stage – add variety and depth to the surreal world.
One of the challenges in Whale Song was to recreate the contours of an ever changing, disorienting and intriguing series of landscapes. Costa shot the majority of the piece with Bent’s RED cameras. In order to create the feeling that lead singer/guitarist Isaac Brock was being split up between two competing scenarios of pure reality and his imagination, for example, Costa mounted two of the RED cameras side by side on a custom plate, each with identical lenses set at an angle to simulate a stereoscopic effect.
In another instance, band members that appeared to be standing on the ground were actually hoisted aloft and secured to a fake ground plane, which meant that the stage floor was perpendicular to the ground. This situation intentionally restrained their flexibility and shifted the gravity, adding oddness to their movements.
Costa used a variety of frame rates, ranging from time-lapses at 6 frames per second, to 1000 fps shots from a Phantom camera to give the feeling of variety of speed in the character’s memories. Blue screen stages were used extensively to place Isaac against the varying landscapes of mountains, dense forest valleys, and deserts. Bent’s CG department was also responsible for creating significant portions of the video’s landscapes and scenic elements.
During production, Nando and his team relied solely on a very detailed script containing technical and creative notes, live-action and animation guidelines, with specifications for composting and stop motion, which were all previously defined and polished by the director.