We spoke to Lex about directing the Mudvayne “Happy” music video during a tornado, talk about dedication! All right so it was created in CG, but its hard to tell the difference. This video helped launch “Happy” as one of the most popular metal songs of the year.
Interview with director Lex Halaby…
Music Video Wire: Did you have the concept of the tornado from the start?
Lex Halaby: When I received Mudvayne’s track for “Happy?” they already expressed interest in making a tornado video. Everything from their website to their album art was incorporating the themes of violent weather, so it was a natural fit from the very beginning. The harder part was creating a way in which to make the storm build over the course of the video. If we jumped into a tornado in the first chorus it would lose its effect by the second; so the real challenge was finding storm elements we could use to create anticipation of the much larger tornado sequence at the end.
MVW: What did you have to look for when shooting the performance with post effects in mind?
LH: There was a balancing act throughout the filming process to ensure that we had the necessary effects elements to build the tornado quickly and incorporate it within a fairly fast video edit. I worked with storyboard artist Paul Leri to create boards that would communicate the overall tone and progression of the storm sequence. This helped get everyone on the same page as to when and how we see the storm begin to brew. Also, my cinematographer, Martin Ahlgren, and I had extensive discussions about the best way to approach shooting a storm video in the middle of a bright and sunny field in the California High Desert.
The first effects challenge was tackling the over 100 sky replacement shots. Because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the day of our actual shoot, from day one we planned on creating separate sky elements. In telecine we did separate passes for the band performance and for the sky, to make it easier to pull mattes. Obviously, when hundreds of flowers are crossing the camera in the foreground using every tool available to expedite the process is key.
The second phase was placing motion markers around the band space to help with camera tracking. We arranged twenty-five to thirty markers in a semi-circle around the band to ensure that there would at least two or three markers in every shot from every angle. I knew from very early on that I wanted to keep the performance organic and stay away from a locked off and rigid shot structure. The best solution to that problem was to create a performance environment that would have all the necessary elements to pull from in post-production.
Lastly we shot lots of debris elements such as leaves, grass, and dust against red screen to layer and composite into the final tornado sequence and give it a sense of realism and chaos.
MVW: Describe your post-production process with the video. What challenges did you face?
LH: One of the biggest challenges was the sheer number of shots and the very short post-production schedule. In order to keep up the intensity of the video, Nicholas Wayman-Harris (filmcore) and I decided to keep the edit a little faster than your average effects video. With almost 150 total effects shots the task was very daunting. The original company we contracted to take on the effects work ending up being completely incapable of delivering the quality of effects that were needed and within our tight schedule. Half way through our post schedule we made the decision to pull all our elements from their company and hire two new teams to take on the remainder of the work. It was a difficult decision but one that was absolutely necessary to get the project completed. The decision turned out to be the right one, because the new companies, Origami Digital and Diesel fx, were able to do in three days what the original company couldn’t do in three weeks. I can’t say enough good things about Oliver Hotz and Elliott Jobe; they really came through in the clutch and we worked many long nights to complete the video.
LH: What is the story behind the butterfly?
The concept of the butterfly came from The Butterfly Effect Chaos Theory. The theory pretty much states that a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can cause a tornado in Texas. Basically the idea is that a small and random occurrence can affect larger and larger phenomena. It is not meant to be overtly displayed in the video, but I felt it would create an interesting subtext. Some people have picked up on it and others have not, but it as a catalyst to the weather building, as if forewarning of the impending storm.
MVW: The yellow and green colors in the field really stood out. Who was your colorist?
LH: Bob Curreri and the team at The Syndicate did the final coloring on the video. Besides the butterfly serving as an underlying theme I wanted the video to be bright and colorful, something we rarely see with harder rock bands. Because the color of the video changes as the storm rolls in, we created two different looks that transitioned well together. The combination of the butterfly and the field really helped create an otherworldly environment for Mudvayne to perform within.
MVW: What are your thoughts about the video now that it has been completed?
LH: Well I really want to thank Cathy Pellow and Barbara Benson for all their support and hardwork in making this video a success. Also, I am excited for Mudvayne and video because the song has really struck it big at radio and has remained one of the top active rock radio songs in the country for quite some time. Knowing the challenges we faced when taking on a heavy effects video, it’s great to see it get out there and get played.
Production Co: Refused TV
Executive Producer: Cathy Pellow
Producer: Barbara Benson
Director: Lex Halaby
DP: Martin Ahlgren
Editor: Nicholas Wayman-Harris / Filmcore
Telecine: Bob Curreri / The Syndicate
Visual Effects: Origami Digital and Diesel FX
Label: Epic Records
Commissioner: Piero Giramonti