Motion Theory, a directing collective and production house based in Venice Beach, CA, was co-founded in 2000 by Executive Producer Javier Jimenez and Creative Director Mathew Cullen. Utilizing design, live-action, and editorial techniques, the company directs, designs, and produces music videos, commercials, and short-form related works. The directing team has produced videos for other artists such as R.E.M., Papa Roach, Less Than Jake, and The Used.
The Motion Theory directing team explain how they used a mixture of animation and live action footage for Velvet Revolver’s new music video for “Dirty Little Thing” from the RCA release Contraband .
MVW: Could you describe the pre-production of the video from writing the treatment and being awarded the video?
Motion Theory: It started off with an idea that Velvet Revolver had seen on an album cover by Rockin’ Jellybean (the illustrator). He had already created a few of the designs for their tour and drum kit. The band had just come back from a world tour and asked a number of people for their take on an idea that they had for Sucker Train Blues and a train in the Rockin’ Jellybean style. We really liked the world of Rockin’ Jellybean, which has a very playful sexuality and the feel of underground rock posters from the 70’s. We wanted to integrate animation and live action styles as close as possible to his style. We sold the band on the concept of a hybrid train that is half steam engine and half muscle car using mock-ups of what the train would look like in an extensive presentation of how we saw this world and the whole concept coming together, which is big testosterone rock n roll and just really having fun with it!
MVW: How did you create the train set up?
MT: There is a town called Fillmore (an hour outside of L.A.) with a working train yard. We took a gutted train car and completely built the whole shot from scratch, which was really important for the sense of light and movement. It was an art direction challenge to make it feel very rock n roll but at the same time have a bit of a Wild Wild West burlesque feel to it. Another challenge with shooting inside the train was the width that made it difficult to set up a performance space. We also set the entire train on hydraulics so that while we were shooting it was rocking back and forth which enhanced the technical difficulty of the shoot.
MVW: In such tight quarters, was it difficult for the band to perform?
MT: They just give you gems moment after moment. For instance, Scott (Weiland) would take off his jacket at a very specific point in the song in every take making sure we would have continuity. It was just gold every single time and that really helped out in taking advantage of such a small space. We were very worried because the train was only nine feet across but they managed to make it work.
MVW: How did you go about choreographing in the small space? Did you have specific ideas in mind or did you just let it go to see what happened?
MT: Our creative focus was answering the question, What can we do in here in spite of the limitations? On different takes we went for different shots, for example getting all the people in the train car so we could see all the women or the crowd interacting with the band. Sometimes we’d have to move the crowd over a little bit to get them out of the way so the Steadicam guy could shoot the scene. We also went for the widest possible shot with the amazing light that our dp Claudio Miranda created.
MVW: How did you work on the animation with Jellybean?
MT: Jellybean was more of an illustrator. We had meetings with him where we would talk about style, the look, and the sort of things that we wanted him to draw.
In a tight schedule like this we had to be clear from the beginning exactly what was going to be accomplished in the animation process. With almost a minute and a half of animation inside of about a month there was no time to have the story board and conception phase. We created a 3-D pre-vid of all the movement outside of the train, the characters so there was a clear vision of what had to captured going into the shoot.
While we were editing we continued to revise the sequences in the computer and worked with Jelly to help illustrate some of the look and feel we wanted. Everything was animated in 3-D including the train, background and environment. Then it was given to Chris Prynoski our 2-D animator. Chris and his team were just incredible in getting the 2-D animation done in time. The number of frames they managed to kick out in that amount of time was superhuman. On our site here at Motion Theory we work as a team and have an extensive amount of internal resources. At one point we there were a total of fifteen 3-D and 2-D animators developing the video.
MVW: What were the steps involved in creating the animation?
MT: There were multiple steps, the first step was animating a scene in 3-D. We would create the train, the movement of the train, camera move, train moving through the environment, then animate some of the characters in a rougher form. He would take the train and the girl on the train, for example, and would draw over what we animated and add really cool details to make it feel like it was an underground comic book.
MVW: What was the editing process in making the animation and the live action work together?
MT: Once we had shot the material we edited it with David Blackburn at King-cut. We brought him animated sequences to fill the spaces in the video where the animation should go. As every day of editing went by there would be more 3-D and pre-vid shots of what the animation was going to look like so each day we got closer and closer to what the story was going to be. We probably created about five minutes of animation and out of that five minutes of really rough animation a minute and a half would sort of stick. He works just about a mile away and we were over there all the time. It started to look like we were a part of the staff!
MVW: So you worked closely together on the edit rather that just saying, okay, here it is.
MT: Especially with a job like this where everything is so integrated we had to be there and think through all the parts of the process. The real challenge was making it feel so integrated that there isn’t any change in terms of feeling or mood as you move from one thing to the other.
MVW: How did you incorporate what you shot on film versus the animation during the telecine process?
MT: Clark Mueller from Riot Colors telecined the footage and during the process we compared it to our favorite Rockin’ Jellybean illustrations. There were particular images that really captured the essence of what we wanted for the video so we actively tried to make the telecine match those illustrations. So once we had the footage telecined and we were editing we knew the direction that we wanted to take the animation as well. All the live action stemmed from the look of the illustrations.
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Record Label: RCA Records
Artist: Velvet Revolver
Music Video Commissioner: Lorin Finkelstein
Production Company: Motion Theory
Director: Motion Theory
Director of Photography: Claudio Miranda
Executive Producer: Javier Jimenez
Producers: Laura Heflin, Scott Gemmell
Production Designer: Julie Berghoff
Hair/Make-Up: Anny Kim
Wardrobe Stylist: Carol Beadle
Editorial Company: King Cut
Editor: David Blackburn
Telecine: Riot Colors
Colorist: Clark Mueller
Design/Compositing Company: Motion Theory
Creative Director: Mathew Cullen, Grady Hall
Visual Effects Supervisor: John Clark, Linas Jodwalis
Designers/Animators: Mathew Cullen, Kaan Atilla, Tom Bruno, Earl Burnley, Don Campbell, John Clark, Jesus de Francisco, Jesse Franklin, Juston Hsu, Christopher Janney, Linas Jodwalis, Mark Kudsi, Mark Lai, Chris Leone, Vi Nguyen, Irene Park, Robyn Resella, Kirk Shintani, Mike Slane, Shihlin Wu
Pre-Visualization Development: Chris Leone
Post Production Coordinator: James Taylor
Illustrator Company: Rockin’ Jellybean Graphics
Animation: Motion Theory/Kachew
Art Director: Mathew Cullen, Chris Prynoski
Producer: David Busch