it’s been a while since we updated this blog thing. it occurred to us that we really need to make a record of our gradual move into the world of film title sequences. unfortunately the way this website is constructed means that it’s hard to highlight this kind of work, and so we hope this article gives you an inkling of what we’ve done and hope yet to do in this field.
over the last few years we’ve been asked to do an increasing amount of motion graphics work for films, and whilst the work is often relatively rudimentary in terms of graphic design, the projects have certainly been respectable. in this regard it’s worth noting what kind of films we’ve worked on and observing the more subtle compliment a thing as simple as a typeface choice or type placement can offer a film. which isn’t to say we wouldn’t rather do something more explosive graphically, but more often than not a film doesn’t need that. not at all.
anyway, after a while in this business you realize that you need to just let the work speak for itself, rather than doing a whole lot of talking about your process or whatever. so here are a series of title cards and stills from various film productions, where you can see our motion graphic design work at play.
light up the night co-directed by matt sundin and caspar newbolt. featuring drawings by john delucca and animation by josiah newbolt.
entertainment directed by rick alverson.
dark night directed by tim sutton. featuring in-film poster design and ‘google maps sequence’ compositing.
take what you can carry directed by matthew porterfield.
live cargo directed by logan sandler.
memphis directed by tim sutton.
the convention directed by jessica dimmock.
pavilion directed by tim sutton.
muito romântico directed by distruktur.
stay tuned for more work from us for jonas carpignano’s a ciambra, matthew porterfield’s sollers point and ari gold’s the song of sway lake.
the video above is for ‘thanks for calling,’ the new single by our friend and long-standing collaborator, alessandro cortini. a man of many side projects, we have been fortunate to be most closely involved with sonoio, arguably his most lyrical outlet to date. it’s no secret that the dialogue between us is a constant thing, but it was around the time?memphis?was being shot that our discussions regarding a video for the?song really started to bear fruit. the treatment matt sundin and i put together was a personal one that we felt tied strongly to the lyrical themes of the record and also?harked back to the european filmmakers that had featured so heavily in all of our upbringings, for one reason or another.
that summer we found ourselves on the ground in los angeles. our producer,?friend and hero?katharine o’brien had already introduced us to the?fantastic?director of photography,?monika lenczewska, and we were scouting locations, machetes in hand, in the creeks of the santa monica mountains. monika’s enthusiasm and humour as we hacked through the undergrowth planning each shot breathed new life into the project, to say the least.
soon enough emails were flying back and forth with various crew members and our crazed?psycho-drama?was beginning to look like a reality.
casting, always the rogue element in any film, certainly took us to the brink. we’d crawl out of building sets deep in the forest and find ourselves sitting in a coffee shop or in front of a computer picking gunk?from beneath our fingernails,?looking at actors and actresses. the trick of course with this?film was that we had to find someone willing to play not just the swanky?LA party goer, but also the sunbaked, blood-soaked, creek fiend.
with an entire nation of poison oak cleared away,?half the garbage in the surrounding 2 mile radius dragged into one spot and a crew of 20-30 people making a home somewhere long a trail through the forest, we hit the first day and watched marshall allman awake from his fall???delirious, smashed and looking for little more than a sip of water.
naturally things got out of control and as marshall was dragged away by some curious ‘locals,’ we got into our fair share of technical scraps too. as he pretended to piece together the reasons for why his world had been turned upside down, we?hauled machinery around rocks, through undergrowth and in and out of ponds.
as the day went on we threw everything?we had at marshall to try to keep him down. including a?specter of his wife, played by a rather radical looking daveigh chase. pretty soon he was telling us?exactly how he planned?to kill everyone in sight.
technically speaking one of the highlights of the shoot was hugh bell bringing a prototype of his incredible?MOVI rig to the set. when the ground is basically all big rocks, this thing kept the shots looking and feeling like we were floating like a feather across the landscape. naturally it also allowed us a few evil dead style movements through the forest, which?was?cool. having hugh on set meant he could take apart the rig in a split-second to make any necessary adjustments as we moved forward and tried new shots ? an advantage we never took for granted.
all the while we just tried to keep track of things.
the next day and night we were in a convoy of cars racing around corners on one-way roads throughout the forest canyons. first we did a few runs with monika?and hugh?sitting in the back seat of the mustang, then,?with an?enormous camera strapped to the back of another truck like the outboard motor on a boat, we set them off by themselves. we then?coaxed marshall and daveigh deeper and deeper into a screaming match via?a walkie-talkie?hidden in their car, as we swept back and forth across dark canyon roads ??our lights out, unaware what might come from the mist at us with each new bend.
it was a two and a half?day shoot that ended by the side of the road early on a saturday morning.?all of us, exhausted but content,?stared?down into a fog filled canyon stretching out toward the ocean. as our 1965 mustang’s headlights cast our shadows into the early morning mist, we wondered equally if we’d got every shot we needed and how good bed would no doubt feel when you’d driven yourself into the ground in this way.
editing the film was a tough process, as is always the case. there are many ways to skin a cat as they say, and this one was often?screeching as we did it. we ended up with not just 3-4 different edits of the video, but also two entirely different mixes for the song itself. in the end alessandro made the call as to which combination should be the ‘official’ cut. however we?also agreed that one of the other cuts made a good accompanying piece in terms of the different interpretations of the narrative. edit-wise it doesn’t vary hugely, but the colour grade,?sound design and song mix set it apart in ways that are worth?experiencing ? the song mix in particular couples well with the?new sound design and puts a different emphasis on the percussive elements of the outro.
a couple months back alessandro cortini pushed the button on the sequel to his experimental synth project sonoio. he’d finished a rough version of the album and was keen to get some ideas for the artwork rolling. the first record’s aesthetic had been based around the colour blue, and we’d known for a while that this record was likely to be coloured, and called, red. in fact there was already a version of the album cover from the original design sessions that had been cast in red and he’d been using for his demo mp3s. however once we’d heard the record and fallen under its spell (it is even better than the original), we knew a new cover was needed. something that felt more involved, continued the abstract character based narrative of the first cover and took it into a new realm of introspection, if you will.
we’d also already developed the blue cover in a number of directions for the remix album that came soon after it, and so realized there was space there to keep telling the story in a fashion we felt true to the new material. it took a while to stumble across something that still felt immediately connected to the first cover, whilst offering a fresh angle on things. the resulting piece is of course deliberately open to interpretation, but features our white and black characters again, now in different circumstances and states of repair. we also started to pad out the design with more intricate textures and new colours, as the new album felt like a development and growth musically in such a way that the artwork had to follow suit.
then there’s this music video for enough, as seen at the top of this post.
for a long time my close friend and collaborator, the director / photographer?matt sundin, and i have been talking about making videos, and eventually films, together. in fact it was this desire that made the 65daysofstaticwe were exploding anyway album cover turn out the way it did. so the moment alessandro proposed a video, i gave him a call and said ‘this is our chance’.
alessandro was considering making 2-3 of the new songs into videos and wanted our ideas for each. ultimately he felt that the ‘live performance’ pitch that we included was the one that felt truest to where he was with this project right now. so matt called his crew together and asked that i start to write down a list of ideas for shots for the video. so i took an evening, put the song on repeat and worked on shot ideas that i felt would embellish the music visually and give the production a quality that had some level of character. you know, above and beyond what you usually get with these things.
we then booked a studio in green point, brooklyn and alessandro flew out from LA. the next day we hit the ground running.
matt and his gaffer / assistant craig ward had pulled together some fantastic elements, including a wild array of lighting options and a carpenter to build a small but unusually surfaced stage for alessandro to perform on. we then painted everything else in the room black and setup our dolly / tracking rig. so far everything was going well, heck there were even 2 cats wandering around the studio which proved more than enough to keep alessandro entertained between takes.
the only sad moment was when the two vintage television sets that alessandro had used for his live performances in LA arrived via post all cracked and broken inside their box. we tried our best to make them work, but it wasn’t happening.
pushing on we proceeded to do take after take of alessandro performing the song from every angle we could, taking care to include shots with him not on the stage too for some fun and games later in the editing room. it was a pretty intense process but the footage was clearly looking solid from the outset. plus the more the song got played over the studio speakers the more everyone involved started to dance a bit too, and dancing never hurt anyone.
the shoot ended pretty late into the night and the studio owner offered to keep our stage setup for some cabaret / performance art style shoot he had going on later, involving strippers and wild animals. i could have mis-remembered that though. we then headed back to matt’s apartment for the wrap-party and alessandro headed back to LA the next day.
a week or two later the intense process of editing began. matt went through the footage and started pulling together the best stuff from the vast array of material we had. soon after that he was putting together a great rough cut of things and sent this to me so that i could cut together the teaser clip that went live a couple weeks ago. he then did another cut and passed it over to me again. we agreed that what there was already felt good and exciting, but tended to get a little tiring after a while, as it all had a very similar tone. so we consciously divided the song up into 4-5 parts and attempted to address each section with a different mindset, in terms of editing. i was then left to re-imagine the intro to the video and the electronic breakdown after the verses and choruses – the part with all the ‘oh oh ohs’. sending this back to matt lead us to more talks, further edits and the delivery of the first rough cut to alessandro.
alessandro was very excited by what we gave him and made a series of notes regarding various tonal changes he was after and what he felt, due to the nature of where his head was at with the song, needed adjusting in terms of shots used for certain lyrics. in this way several cuts were sent back and forth between new york and los angeles and then just last sunday we got a thumbs up from alessandro. matt then sat down and worked his magic on the footage, grading it to give it the warm, grainy, contrasty feel you see in the final cut. it was that final lick of varnish that properly started to give us the shivers. the thing was done, we were flat out of time and there was nothing we could do but send it off.
none of us could be happier with the response to the video. you just never know if you’re going insane in that editing suite. many days in the dark with breaks at strange hours for food or beer, and then back into the darkness. hearing the song a thousand times over to the point where it’s just noises and everything in your head is tied to its ebb and flow. it gets a bit bewildering. so much so that at one point we did an edit of the video laced with eerie footage of cats that we’d shot at matt’s girlfriend’s apartment nearby. inspired as we were by the cats that had been on set throughout the shoot, and often leapt onto the stage right into the shot. of course the ‘cat cut’ really didn’t work but we felt we had to try everything just to be sure, haha. ?so yeah, thanks and thanks again.
the sonoio project is going from strength to strength at this point and we’re very fortunate and grateful to be a part of it.
if you’ve ever heard their cover of cheap trick’s song he’s a whore, you’ll know that both big black delta and war widow are bands to keep an eye on. both new, both from LA and both with singers called jon. now whilst we’ve been working with big black delta for some time now, war widow are pretty new to us. both bands share the same record label – coming home records – who have handled not just releases from a large amount of nine inch nails alumni, but of course also the magnificent mellowdrone. it was through coming home records that we got wind of some of the new tracks by war widow. the label’s boss erik andrews posted a couple of tracks on soundcloud one morning and i joined the others on twitter who follow the label’s feed, and gave them a listen over a hot cup of coffee.
tear it up (above) is the track that immediately grabbed me. the first thing that struck me was the dirgey feel of it. then when the dark + seedy lyrics filled my ears i started getting a range of very particular images dancing around in my brain. so i immediately looked to see if any artwork had been announced for this release. sure enough they had a record cover on their website. it was of a cat snarling. rich colours. very vibrant. it was tough, but it didn’t seem to mesh with the music i was hearing. so i quickly fired off an email to erik and asked if the artwork had been printed yet. he said it hadn’t. i then started ripping through various photographs i had lying around on hard drives and bookmarked on various sites, trying to find things that seemed to fit the music. i then put together a few designs using the bands logo and some of these images, and fired it off as quick as i could to erik. he amazingly passed them right onto the band and just moments later i got news that they were into trying a new cover and wanted to know what else we had up our sleeves.
i then emailed two people. first my friend?matt sundin, who took the photographs for the 65daysofstatic album cover,?we were exploding anyway. i briefed him quickly on the sorta images i was after and asked him if he had anything lying around. i then reached out across oceans into distant lands i’d never set foot in and contacted a ukrainian photographer who’s flickr account i’d been obsessed with for some time now. i felt his photos were utterly perfect for this and had in fact used some of them in the initial comps i sent to the band. this guy’s name is alex alekseenko, and you can see more of his work here.
knowing both would need some time i then told the band i’d need a day or so to pull things together and if they could hold off the printing presses for a moment, it’d be worth their while. they were cool with this.
the next morning i was elated to find an email from alex in my inbox. turns out he was 100% down with us using one of his photos for a record cover, particularly for a rock band. he himself was a collector of many records and was very excited at the prospect of having some of his work used in such a fashion. similarly matt also got back to me with a few shots of his own that he felt stepped into the murky conceptual arena i was after with this.
the images then started to speak for themselves. certain images coupled very well with others and those that didn’t lead me to ask if they could delve deeper – send me anything. i wanted them to send me the stuff they might even be scared to send through, because of the content of them. needless to say but we were all excited and definitely beginning to get that feeling again. that feeling that made you remember why you do this damn thing for a living.
pretty soon it was done. round 2 was off to the band and we were checking our emails regularly for anything back from them.
the band got back to us after a few days. they’d made a decision. they wanted the image you see above for the cover, and the image you see below for the backcover. we then started about ‘finishing up’ the design, which of course involved making it feel like you’d find the record in the damp corner of someone’s basement in the middle of nowhere.
if you’re into hearing the record, needless to say we highly recommend it. it will be out on 12 inch vinyl and was produced by none other than jonathan bates of big black delta. you can grab another song from the record from the band’s site here, or from the label’s site here.
we hope you enjoy it and that the artwork in some way helps you get deeper into the music.