Category Archives: Spotlight

Catching Up With Music Video Director Nzingha Stewart

Music Video Director Nzingha Stewart (Bilal, Erykah Badu, Common, 50 Cent) spoke with mvwire to talk about her extensive body of work, including the videos for Joss Stone’s “Fell In Love With A Boy,” Dashboard Confessional’s “Handsdown,” and Eve’s “Satisfaction.” Her video “Sunshine” for Twista was named Pick of the Week on MTV in June 2004.

MVWire: So it’s been a couple of years since you moved to DNA, how has the transition been for you?

Nzingha Stewart: I absolutely love everyone at DNA. Working there has been a growing process for me. When I was at Propaganda I was just surrounded by so many extraordinary and creative people, like Mark Romanek, Michel Gondry. I felt everything I did while I was there had to be super artsy and innovative. I’m very proud of the work I did there. Some of my favorite videos came while I was at Propaganda Films. But at that time I didn’t really understand that it wasn’t about one upping everyone. It’s mainly about being commissioned to help sell an artist, not to do things that are different just for the sake of being different. DNA has really driven that home for me, it’s more like a commercial rather than an art piece. It’s taken me a while to realize that I can make art and market the artist at the same time.

MVWire: It’s interesting to see the variety of artist you have directed.

NS: I still get excited about my work and the genres don’t limit me. And I think you can see if someone’s not interested in what they’re doing through the work. I’ve just been lucky in having worked with bands I’m a huge fan of.

MVWire: The Joss Stone video really looks great, how was it working with her?

NS: It was fantastic! Her being only 16 years old brought up teenage jitters and lots of insecurities like “Am I doing this right?” or “How am I going to look?” But as the day progressed she fell into stride and her confidence kicked in. She was so exciting once she fell into the music. And she was super nice, there were no high demands for things to be super flossy. She wanted the darkness and edgy feel, which was very exciting, and different from anything else you’d see on MTV from a teenage artist.

MVWire: Yeah, it was refreshing to see something new! The scenes were real raw, where did you shoot it?

NS: We shot for a day in Brooklyn, NY at a little club in Redhook.

MVWire: Were there any specifics you had in mind to shoot that day?

NS: I wanted a little bit of a retro feel, like an old Janis Joplin concert footage look with that style of stage lighting. And when we did the transfer we added a monochromatic effect with all yellow. The effect only made the final edit in two shots but just that, with all the back lighting gave me the look I wanted.

MVWire: You can see the influence of fashion photography, especially when you are shooting the female figure.

NS: I’ve always been attracted to fashion photography. I used to collect photos and at 14 years old I knew who all the big fashion photographers were. So I think that has something to do with it. And being a woman, I see myself in every single shot that I do. I ask myself if it were my music video what would I want people to see? Or if it’s a video for a guy, I ask what kind of woman would they want to be with. Then I try to bring that out.

MVWire: What was your approach with the Eve video?

NS: Mostly as a fan. Since she has been shown as a fashion diva in her prior work I wanted to show her on her day off. I wanted a sense of how she is just hanging out in her neighborhood and plays a basketball game, maybe goes to a party. And after all that, the next day she’s back out on the block. So I went for something more relaxed and didn’t have anything to do with “money.” Just a great vibe and no huge fashion pieces or cars. She has such unbelievable drive that she would do one more take to get it right. Most artists I’ve worked with (especially those with no staying power) would have just stayed in their trailer.

But it was still an incredibly hard job. I underestimated how famous she is. Without the two days to shoot we would have been killed, because when she came out of her trailer it was like the Beatles. The block was just packed, people were being crushed, and the police had to shut us down at one point. We were literally pressed from all sides. It was so crazy I wanted to leave. There were at least 1000 people on one corner, and we only had four security guards.

MVWire: Before you directed the Dashboard Confessional “Handsdown” video, were you a fan of their music?

NS: After that job I became a huge fan. I had never heard of them prior to that, but once I heard the music I just fell in love with them. They are the only group I have gone out and bought their album after I working on their video. No label freebees, I wanted to actually support the band.

MVWire: Could you tell us the process of how the video was made?

NS: They wanted something different and more performance driven. And I wanted to have the feeling that you were inside the music with lines and colors coming to life, which would enhance the music you were listening to. To build it like it was part of a memory, sort of like déja vu where you remember something for a second then you aren’t sure where it came from, but a certain place or smell triggered that particular memory. And you feel like you’ ve been there before.

I wanted flashes that would trigger those kinds of memories. He says things in the video that trigger this and things that give you a visual reaction to the song like, ” I will always remember the scent of your hair” or ” that time on the clock.” We created a lot of the graphics from those images. And I gave him references to the colors we were going to use. Other parts would feel like a 70’s laser show and other areas would seem like Fantasia and yet others would be like Jeremy Blake’s artwork in Punchdrunk Love. It’s a weird treatment so that’s why I gave him so many references. Exactly how does being inside the music look? [ Laughing ]

MVWire: The video has a unique graphic sense, how did you work with the post production facility?

NS: The facility we used was Brand New School and they were fantastic with it all. Throughout the editing process I would check in every now and then and give minor tweaks, but they were so off and running from the references they didn’t need much help. If anything I had to protect it from the record label because they don’t always understand what the video’s going to be so they might make changes too early based on not knowing enough. So I would run interference and say here’s what they’re going to do and please be patient with the process. We shot the band in green screen and did everything else in post. Then there was a tiny bit more where I just grabbed a camera and shot outside my Jetta while driving over the Staten Island Bridge. It was all streetlights and beach shots, like one I did was of a girl’s hair blowing.

NS: It helps when you have a great artist, it would’ve been so much harder if they couldn’t perform. But Chris is such a natural and he got it every single time. Without that I could have never done this video. Only the graphics would have stood out and the person would have looked horrible. So with only graphics and performance and no big story, you have to have great performers.

MVWire: Were there any specific reasons for the color combinations you chose?

NS: I wanted it to have a punk edge and to me punk is fuchsia and black like an old Blondie or the Clash poster, just that neon and black tone. Like Sex Pistol posters always have Sid and Johnny in black and white with colors all around them, so we did that with Dashboard where the band is never in color in the video.

MVWire: For up and coming directors, what suggestions do you have on how to pursue this career?

NS: Send the work or demo to every single production company or label you can think of, especially the labels that do the lower budget jobs. I would try as much as possible to get in at one of those places. Go to the shows of your favorite artists, take your reel with you or your card and promote yourself. Practice and get better, you never know who’s going to see your stuff or where it’ll take you. That’s kind of what happened to me, just shooting jobs for $1000 or $2000 and people finding out what I was doing, building a reel, then sending it out to reps and then eventually one of them signed me.

Interview With at Radical Media Directors Mariah Garnett And Molly Schiot

The directing duo that is Mariah Garnett and Molly Schiot formed in the most serendipitous way. After both girls met while recovering from spinal surgery, they decided to make some films together for their own amusement. These films soon caught the eye of @ Radical Media, and the next thing they knew, they were being cultivated as the next big thing in music videos. We talked with them about the challenges of making videos for Sleater-Kinney (SubPop) and Instruction (Geffen).

MVW: Did you know each other at Brown?

Molly: Yeah, we knew each other, but we didn’t hang out… It’s a pretty small school. But, we ended up deciding to do a video on scars and scar fetish, and did this little quirky film; half stop-motion, half live action at a park in Rhode Island. It involves raw pieces of meat, and trying to recreate a horror- kind of feeling. We had fun doing that and did a lot of little stuff on the side, little music videos that were all kind of specs- without the intension of them being specs, because we didn’t even really know what that meant. It was more for like, “Oh let’s do…here’s a really cool spark song- let’s buy 1200 peeps and do a little video.” So it was never done with the intention of us becoming music video directors.

Mariah: It was kind of a hobby that turned into something after college…

Sleater-Kinney “Entertain”
Watch the Sleater-Kinney “Entertain” music video

MVW: Could you take us through the process of how this latest video came about?

Mariah: Jen (@ Radical Media) gave us the track to write on, and we (wrote on) several SubPop tracks… they have some great bands, so we were really excited! They came to us with a band we really liked a lot (Sleater-Kinney) and they’ve been around forever. We got the track, sat down and listened to it a bunch of times- Molly found an article online about this new album, which is called “The Woods.” One of the women in the band had been talking about the Pacific Northwestern Woods, this place that puts in anxiety and fear, because there are always serial killers and grizzly bears and… the “unknown thing” in the woods. So we wrote our treatment with that in mind.

Molly: Also, when we listened to it we didn’t understand the lyrics at all, we just could not decipher them whatsoever, so it was kind of more just pulling a few words out. The treatment was pretty much based on the vibe of the song; like a feeling on the guitar and voice and the drum beat.

Mariah: Yeah, to me it sort of sounded like horror movie with people screaming. It was hard to decipher what she is saying, but it is definitely a pretty powerful song with feeling behind it.

MVW: Who was your director of photography?

Molly: Matt Uhry , who is, like, a genius. We first met Matt on the PETA job and really respected his kind of intuition and work.

MVW: What were the challenges unique to shooting this performance?

Molly: It was definitely really stressful when we were up there, because as you know, Portland is known for just rain all the time. So, we were pretty much under the assumption that we were going to be shooting in a shack or in a school or something like that… We were really lucky, and I don’t know how it worked out like it did, but the weather was just beautiful the whole time we were up there.

Mariah: Yeah, there were a lot of factors working against us, but we lucked out on a lot of them: It was a small budget video, and it was supposed to rain.. But it didn’t rain a single day that we were up there. We had way less film than we had hoped, but pretty much every foot of it was usable and that was the main thing. The band was amazing; they only had to practice like once or twice, and they just got right into it.

Molly: Every single person in Portland was so incredibly supportive, like the guy that lent us his truck; we found him on Craig’s List, and he wanted to drive it at 3 in the morning to the location (which was 2 hours away). The only compensation he wanted was his picture with the band. It is an understatement to say that they were supportive. Everyone just helped out for nothing.

Mariah: There was a pizza delivery guy in Portland that went around looking for pine cones that were used in some of the still images. They just found people and friends of friends that really helped out and were really excited about it.

MVW: What was the editing process like?

Molly: We basically hired a friend, Rob Auten from Sunset editorial to edit the video, and he kind of is one of those quirky guys that listens to the song a couple of times and just clicks with the music and the visuals simultaneously. It wasn’t like one and then the other; he just listened to it and got it right away. He’s really, really great.

MVW: It’s a great looking performance!

Molly: Matt Uhry our DP captured something that I think was pretty unexplainable, like the lens flairs, Carrie’s breath coming out of the woods or Janet’s… I mean, there are all these little interesting moments that could have very easily gone unaccounted for, but he was just so helpful. We just compliment each other just really well.

MVW: There was definitely something there just the whole scene of the band playing in the woods and just the feel and look, it really added a new dimension to the video.

Mariah: We definitely did a lot of research when we were coming up with our shot list. We watched like every horror movie between 1970 and 1980 and like every episode of Twin Peaks so there are a lot more of subtle references or inspiration from those kind of movies.

Instruction “Breakdown”
Watch the Instruction “Breakdown” music video

MVW: So you’ve got some stop motion at the very beginning of it and the sets… did you develop all the sets yourselves?

Mariah: We had an art director: Dani Tull . He worked with us on the PETA spot as well. But we shot all the animation and everything on our own. We developed the idea for the set with Danny, like the location of it and everything. He built the little village and all props and stuff.

MVW: What do you enjoy about shooting stop motion?

Mariah: I mean for me it’s sort of an instant gratification just watching inanimate objects suddenly move around so it’s kind of like a simple pleasure.

Molly: And for me, we can just work by ourselves and no one else has to be there, so we completely have control over everything. You can get a Miller Highlife and the music and just kind of like
zone out.

MVW: How was the transition from doing your own projects to learning about production, has this been an easy transition for you?

Mariah: The Instruction video pretty much broke us in…

Molly: In a hard way

Mariah: I remember thinking, “This is so amazing doing this” during the shoot. It’s sort of like being blown away by being a bona fide director with a monitor and a crew. There is a lot of stuff I feel like we learned from that video. I think that initially I was so blown away by learning and just by the whole process of it.

Molly: Radical signed us with the intention of developing us. Jen (their rep) and Dave Meyers would be on set first thing in the morning and was there to ask, “Do you feel good, does this make sense the way that it looks?” Just raising questions, not like telling, but more like teaching us as we went along without making us claustrophobic. They gave us time to do what we wanted, but also they were there to really give us good advice. It was one of those things that was completely gratifying.

MVW: What was the inspiration behind the “Breakdown” music video?

Molly: That was inspired by George Melies. He did something like moving posters, on the wall that came to life. We put each band member in one of these poster like cubicles. It was funny because each cubicle fit the personality of each band member unconsciously, but it was pretty much inspired by that.

Mariah: A lot of people think it’s a split screen, but Danny built that set and there were two levels with 5 different compartments.

MVW: What was the editing process on this say verses the Entertain video?

Mariah: This one was a lot harder to tackle. We had a lot of different elements, and we were trying to edit it ourselves initially, which was kind of a disaster, but we wound up hiring an editor named Miguel Aguilar (The New York Office) and he just totally pulled it together for us.

MVW: How did you work with him?

Molly: He read the treatment four times and then did his thing. The stop motion is so formulaic and mathematical, whereas this was really hard to tell a story, with the tons of footage that was shot on DV. One thing that we learned pretty quickly was that the treatment has to reflect the video and visa versa. There were a couple of elements that we had missed, and we had to go back and replace it with the animation.

Mariah: With that being said, Radical was totally 100% keeping us above water. They never let us step outside the lines.

Sleater-Kinney “Entertain”


Producer: Gina Bevilacqua
DP: Matt Uhry
Colorist: Beau Leon/Syndicate
Editor: Rob Auten

Instruction “Breakdown”


Producer: Chris Kraft
Prod. Designer: Dani Tull
DP: Dave Rudd
Colorist: Beau Leon/Syndicate
Editor: Miguel Aguilar

Lex Halaby Directs Mudvayne “Happy” Music Video

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

Links of Interest:
Lex Halaby

Joseph Kahn Directs Joss Stone “Spoiled” Music Video

The “Spoiled” music video begins as a simple story of a couple breaking up and then unexpectedly leads us to a new level of visual wonder with what Joseph calls “5 dimensional editing”. Mr. Kahn talks about this new concept, working with Joss and his approach to directing.

*See the Joss Stone “Spoiled” Music Video @

MVW: It was a great artist and a great song to work with not to mention that she is very attractive. Can you tell me from hearing that song how you developed the concept when you listened to it through writing the treatment for it?

Joseph Kahn: I knew that Joss wanted to push the boundaries a bit and was not afraid to go in new places. I’ve been sort of playing around with 5 dimension editing. It’s just a little thing that I’ve been thinking about lately. I decided to make a video about the story that felt completely real and then place it within a framework where it became a metaphor. I wanted it to be so gritty like real that by the time I started doing all of my effects and stuff like that, you had this sort of emotional context that was grounded. That’s the reason I shot this video documentary style in the beginning. What happens in the video is that they have an argument, she runs out to the car and they drive away. Then they essentially get into a car crash and the whole thing loops and they go back to the diner. Basically the video is one giant loop giving the impression that the whole thing is going to start over again like one of those relationships that don’t end. It’s a visual metaphor, one of those things you can’t get out off or having the same argument over and over again.

MVW: It was an interesting twist to see a fatal car crash without anyone getting hurt. I am really interested to hear more about the 5 dimensional editing!

JK: To be honest with you, it’s something I’ve been keeping to myself and I haven’t really explained in detail but the basic premise is that it’s like an etcher that does paintings making solutions that can’t fit into our normal world. Like if you have a staircase that loops into itself then folds. You don’t know where the fold happens because you can’t calculate it in your head and it doesn’t make sense in terms of how you perceive its space. Similarly, in Blink182 there are a lot of solutions happening within that video. If you took it on a linier level the whole video theoretically happened in one shot.

MVW: Where was all this shot?

JK: It was shot in New York, the beginning of January. Two days run, one day on sound stage and one day Up State during some of the coldest weather possible!

MVW: As far as the actual car crash itself, how were you able to create the impact?

JK: It’s mostly created in CG. It’s an interesting process because I started with a company that was royally screwed up and just did not know what they were doing then I brought it over to Kroma. Literally within a couple of days they did something that was so completely radical to fix the video it was like 3-4 days worth of work compared to the other guys that was like 3 weeks.

MVW: Is this the first time you’ve worked with Joss Stone? What was she like to work with?

JK: Yes, this was my first video with Joss Stone. Joss is like every other beautiful girl I’ve ever worked with and I think I’ve worked with the best in the world. They don’t know they are beautiful which is really odd, but the most beautiful women in the world do not understand how pretty they are and it’s a tricky thing trying to get women to look beautiful on film too because they can’t be self-conscious. Self-conscious translates as awkward on film so you have to develop their confidence and as the director you have to let them realize they are beautiful so that they are free to be themselves. During the video shoot Joss had gotten a black eye because she had an accident with her Blackberry or something. I could only shoot from a certain angle for the first day and had to actually add another day of shooting, it was only suppose to be two days but that black eye kind of screwed things up. It was a very tricky video to accomplish because as much as I wanted to do my interesting concepts and sell the emotions to the song it was also selling videos on marketing and if your artist doesn’t look good you are kind of screwing it up.

MVW: What was your directing style with her?

JK: I’ve been trying to upgrade my level of actors directing. I tried all the things I’ve been reading in the 50 different books I’ve been checking out lately. I was trying to treat it like a real movie and have her play a character and motivate her through actual reasons as opposed to telling her to be sad here.

MVW: It’s nice to have such a great song and a great artist to be able to make the video that you envision.

JK: Yes, it’s a tricky thing because the song is amazing it’s not on a contemporary level, it’s a very old fashion song. One of the things I sort of thought of was that if I’m going to sell this and when I mean sell I don’t mean “make you pay for it or anything” I’m talking about like making “myself” as an average viewer believe in it’s relevancy of this type of sound and this type of message to my life. I decided I had to take a far left field, I can’t make one of those typical love song videos, and it has to attack you from a different perspective. Makes you look at both the song and the meanings from different perspectives, it has to feel fresh in that way, that’s why I choose such an orthodox approach to the video. I think when you combine a really orthodox video with kind of an old fashion song it comes out to be something worth the sum of its parts.

MVW: Well it definitely comes across, other than car crash it’s “seems” to be a pretty straightforward video. I think the general public is unappreciative a lot of times of what you do because it looks so simple.

JK: Yeah. That’s the danger of what I do. I tend to make videos that never really bring attention to myself. My job is to bury myself in the music and the artist and ultimately if you walk away liking that song and that artist then I’ve done my job. If the overall product has a certain simplicity to it that makes you miss all the little things that I’ve done and it makes my job look invisible… and I’ve done my job quite frankly. I think you shouldn’t be noticing me, you should be noticing Joss.

I think that the thing you have to keep in mind when you look at the Joss Stone video is it looks straight forward but really if you break it down it’s actually quite complex because it’s a time loop. The angles are done very specifically, very simply something that has kind of a geometric feel to it, the opening should almost have like a blasé feel to the film making. That was definitely done on purpose like a “matter of fact ness” about it and if you notice I didn’t do any like crazy 360 degree virtual camera moves or anything like that. It’s just all a type of “matter of fact” happening before you eyes.

If you watch the video from the beginning, in the first verse there is no close up on Joss, her close up doesn’t happen until the second verse. In every record edit they’ll always go “let’s start with the close up”. If you look at it everything is done in a wide far shot, in fact, not only is it done in a wide far shot it’s shot through a window through multi panes of glass and foreground elements so we are looking from the inside to the outside through a window and that’s how the entire first verse is done. That kind of stuff drives record companies batty, it’s the type of stuff that most music video viewers don’t see as a risky thing to do.

MVW: Not that long ago you use to direct, shoot and edit your own work. How did that evolve with just directing now?

JK: I wanted to spend more time with the artist and client relationships because when I was directing, editing and DP ing I just didn’t have time. I still do those things to a certain degree although I filter it through my partners. Now I try to let the DP take care of the lighting, the editor do the first pass and a lot of the client re-edits so I don’t have to go nuts beating my head against the wall every time someone wants to change something. Overall it gives me the proper amount of distance so that I can get perspective and become a nicer human being.


Director: Joseph Kahn
Producer: Maryann Tanedo
Cinematography: Brad Rushing
Editor: David Blackburn
Visual FX: Kroma

Motion Theory Rocks Velvet Revolver’s Dirty Little Thing Music Video

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.

For more information visit –
Velvet Revolver


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
Illustrator: Jellybean

Animation: Motion Theory/Kachew
Art Director: Mathew Cullen, Chris Prynoski
Producer: David Busch