Video Chats: Ian & Cooper on 'Back To Me' by Joel Compass
Posted by Doug Klinger on April 23, 2013 in Interviews
Since being first invented by visual graphics artist Kevin Burg and photographer Jamie Beck in 2009, cinemagraphs have been seen all over the internet on sites like Imgur, Tumblr, and ReactionGifs.com. They even have their own subreddit, which is where we found the music video "Back To Me" by Joel Compass, directed by Ian & Cooper, which is made almost entirely of cinemagraphs. We talked to Ian & Cooper about how cinemagraphs work, posting the video to Reddit, and leaning how to use After Effects so they could edit this video.
Doug: How did you guys get involved with the project together?
Cooper: Well, we’re related - we’re first cousins - so that’s how we know each other.
Ian: Right, and the video came in through Candice at Prettybird and Dilly Gent, who’s a video commissioner. She’s awesome. She commissioned all the classic Radiohead videos like "Karma Police," and "Street Spirit," and "Lucky." It’s pretty cool to work with her, she’s a legend. The brief was pretty open, except that they wanted to do something that wasn’t literal to the lyrics, which we were excited about. Part of the inspiration for the video was that Dilly kind of threw out La Jetée as something that could be cool for this, just in terms of the series of still images that would make a narrative. When we saw that, I kind of immediately thought of cinemagraphs, which I’d seen before on Reddit and in other places. We combined the structure of La Jetée with the idea of stills that are partially in motion. That’s how the technique idea came about.
Doug: Can you explain a bit more about what cinemagraphs are?
Cooper: Basically it’s a still image with one part in motion. But first and foremost, it’s a still image. Some cinemagraphs, you look at them and you think you’re looking at a photograph, but then one little part of the image will start moving. We like the subtle cinemagraphs, the ones that are trippy, like a person’s hair blowing in the wind but their face is completely frozen. There’s a lot of cinemagraphs on the internet where most of the image is in motion, but it just feels like normal footage, we tried to avoid that.
Doug: What’s the process of shooting the cinemagraph?
Ian: The process is a little bit different depending on what the shot is. The most basic way to explain it is that it’s we’d shoot five to ten seconds of footage, and we would have our actors stand still so we could get a good clean still image. Out of that five to ten seconds, you’d pick a still image that you like, and then in After Effects, it either involved simply masking around the part that you wanted to be still and layering it over the frame that has motion, or sometimes like when the motion was inherently already layered on top of the still part, you’d have to stabilize the entire image so that if you wanted to just isolate the eyes, they weren’t bouncing all around in conjunction with the person’s head who was moving. You’d stabilize the whole image, and then just mask out the eyes and put it on top of the still image.
Cooper: In pre-production we had to be really meticulous. There are 60 shots in the video and we thoroughly shot-listed each one. At first we didn’t know what cinemagraph motions were doable. For instance, if my hand is moving in front of my face and we want our face frozen - can we do that? We’d see some examples on the internet and we’re like, “How the hell did they do that? It seems impossible!" So in general, we tried to separate the stillness and the motion, but for some shots we decided to make it harder on ourselves - like the cigarette shot where the smoke is moving in front of his frozen hand.
Ian: We actually had both never opened After Effects before the project. We were thinking it would be a little easier than it actually was, and then in post, we were just watching tutorials kind of furiously for the first week figuring out what the hell we were doing. I think we learned pretty quickly.
Cooper: Out of necessity.
Ian: Yeah, there was a couple of days where were a little worried we weren’t going to be able to get it done.
Doug: So, you shot everything and then decided to learn After Effects?
Cooper: No, we did a couple of tests beforehand that were kind of discouraging. We had our buddy Rami show us how to do it in After Effects and we just thought, “Wow. That seems way over our heads. We’ll just outsource all the After Effects work," but then we quickly realized we didn’t have enough money for that so, “Fuck. We have to learn After Effects.”
Doug: Now so do you guys have any plans on releasing any of this stuff as gifs or is there any of that stuff out there on Tumblr already?
Ian: We welcome anybody who wants to do that. I made a few gifs actually in the post process. The label and video commissioner wanted to see stills, but I thought it could be cool to send them gifs instead. I have a few of them, but I haven’t really discussed it with the label. It could be a cool idea though.
Doug: We’ve talked a lot about the effect itself, but what about the narrative for the video? At what point did you start to build that?
Ian: Usually, Cooper will throw something out, and then I’ll throw something else out, and we’ll try to merge the two ideas. Or we’ll both experiment and problem solve with our narratives. Cooper threw out the idea of a witch doctor bringing somebody back to life, and I think that was of foundation that we built outward from.
Cooper: Then Ian’s like, “Well, what if a snake goes into this guy’s bullet wound.” I was like, “Hell yes. That’s awesome. We got a story.”
Ian: I don’t remember how the rest of it came about. I knew we wanted to do something that kind of had a time loop.
Cooper: We like loops. Strange narrative loops. Like in Lost Highway, you know that Dick-Laurant-is-dead loop? We’re definitely attracted to these weird generative loops and we threw that element in after we already had the narrative. It took a couple of days to wrap our heads around it, the repercussions of loopy time travel stuff is always a bit of a mind fuck.
Doug: I originally saw the video on Reddit and that's where I first reached out to you guys. What was behind the original decision of posting it to Reddit? Are you guys just basically Redditers so you decided to put it up there?
Ian: I Reddit more than Cooper does. Cooper is somewhat familiar with it. When we were researching, we looked at a lot of cinemagraphs to figure out what sort of motion would be most effective and most striking and what we were into and finding inspiration there. The cinemagraph subreddit was really useful for that. I just looked up page after page after page kind of procrastinating while I looked at a ton of cinemagraphs. I thought that it might be a good environment to show the video in. I just thought that that community would get a kick out of it and it’d be a good place to get some eyes on it.
Cooper: The comments have been entertaining. I love reading all the different theories.
Ian: It’s an intelligent community, and you get better feedback than you might on YouTube or on a lot of other places. It’s cool to just read what people thought about it.
Doug: I was curious about the feedback on Reddit and how it compares to feedback on YouTube - both in their ability to judge the narrative and also their level of support and not just being like dicks like people on YouTube comments can be. Can you compare those two places?
Ian: This is the first time I’ve posted anything that I’ve made myself to Reddit. Our last video that we did, the Boom Bip video, was posted to YouTube. Our friend, who is very fetching, is topless in it, and all of the top comments are like, “Nipple ring!” or “Titssss.”
Cooper: “I love boobs.”
Ian: Which is great and we like that, too. But the level of discourse on Reddit was higher. I think we just got a kick out of reading it. I think if it was a longer post-process, and like a different sort of situation, it might be nice to get feedback kind of along the way from a community like that because I think that they could have cool ideas.
Cooper: Totally, and a lot of them are smarter than us and make the video sound deeper than we intended.
Ian: I think that’s the case with a lot of artwork. There’s all there great theories about the symbolism that we would love to say that we came up with beforehand, but it sounds really nice afterwards.
Cooper: Yes, I liked how one guy linked to some relevant 1920’s Russian film theory.
Doug: Did you guys like let them down easily? Like, “No, sorry, we actually just thought about this thing.”
Ian: For the most part, I try to stay out of it. If people have interpretations, whether it be about the narrative or about the symbolism behind anything, I try to let that conversation happen. I wouldn’t want to dictate anybody’s interpretation of it, because I think that’s cool even if it’s not what we necessarily intended. There’s something valuable inherently if somebody’s getting something out of it, so I would tend to just let that happen.
back to me, ian and cooper, joel compass, video chats
Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.
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