Video Chats: Galen Pehrson on 'True Vulture' by Death Grips

Posted by Doug Klinger on October 25, 2012 in Interviews

Staff Post

Death Grips

Back in May of this year, the Museum of Contemporary Arts Los Angeles hosted “Rebel,” an exhibit produced by by James Franco and inspired by the motorcycle culture that James Dean was a part of during the making of Rebel Without a Cause. It focused on a variety of cultural elements, including teenage angst and male and female sexuality. One of the highlights of the exhibit was Galen Pehrson’s hand-drawn animated short “El Gato,” which featured the voices of Franco, Jena Malone, and Devendra Banhart, and used anthropomorphized animals to recreate the film’s chicken scene, all while blurring the lines between gender and sexuality.

A few months later, Galen is back with another hand-drawn video to help launch the museum’s new web video channel MOCATV. This piece, called “True Vulture,” was made in collaboration with the band Death Grips, and also serves as a promotional music video for the band’s new album No Love Deep Web. We talked to Galen about the new project, and the process of hand-drawn animation.

Doug: This video was used to launch the new video content channel from the Museum of Contemporary Arts Los Angeles called MOCATV and comes on the heels of your "El Gato" animated short. I wonder if you could walk us through the origin of this particular “True Vulture” project.

Galen: I'm friends with Zach Hill, who’s the drummer of Death Grips. We're both from Northern California, we both traveled in similar circles, and we've been wanting to work together on a project for at least a year now, since he's has been doing this stuff with Death Grips. We both wanted to do something really unique and we didn’t really want to make it a commercial for a song, not to say that if I did something with them it would be a commercial, but something more that we would have a little more freedom to both go in our own creative directions. After the show I did with MOCA, Rebel, I just started talking with MOCA and presenting different ideas to them, and the collaboration I did with Death Grips came up and they loved it. So, we went forward with it, and from then out it was just a really easy collaboration. It was very natural.

Doug: Are the two projects, El Gato and “True Vulture,” related at all narratively?

Galen: A little bit. They both take place in the some universe, but not the same world, I'll say that.

Doug: The video is billed as a collaboration between you and Death Grips, did they leave the story end up to you, or was that a collaborative effort between you guys?

Galen: They left it up to me. I think both of us are sort of reclusive in our work. I think they did their part and then kind of handed it off, and then they pretty much saw when it was finished, the day of premier. I gave him some drawing ideas, but I think we're both pretty reclusive when it comes to our work.

Death Grips

Doug: The Rebel exhibit that you were part of was curated by James Franco, who people always talk about having his hand in a lot of different areas of art. He's going in and out of different spaces and I think that there's some similarities in the True Vulture video in that it's used to promote an album and it's got the album title No Love Deep Web within the video, but at the same time it's not a song from the album and it's definitely a more narrative piece. Do you see those structures, those walls between art forms, as being so rigid or is it more kind of fluid back and forth?

Galen: I see that as being very fluid. I've been thinking a lot about what makes something art and or makes something commercial, and the line in between that and I see it as very fluid. I don’t see much of a difference.

Doug: Both pieces were produced by The Masses, who are involved heavily in music videos. Do you see that being a place that you'd like to try to explore more of, stuff that’s very music heavy like that?

Galen: Sarah Cline who produced it, and is also at The Masses, has sort of become the person who handles everything, except for the art part, which is good. It allows me to dive into the creative stuff and not deal with anything else. She's been really, really good about that end. I want to give them a shout out for their support during these projects, because it can be two months of me hold up in my apartment, in my house, my studio and they just pretty much deal with everybody around it. I'm really fortunate to have their support. On the creative side Jena Malone has been my biggest collaborator, everything gets bounced off her, she is a huge part of the projects behind the scenes as well as onscreen -- So big shouts out to her.

Death Grips

Doug: So, you're not interested in getting into the whole game of writing treatments and submitting them to artists and stuff, you're more trying to create artistic pieces, collaborative pieces with an artist?

Galen: Right. I did music videos in 2003 to 2005 and it was a horrible experience for me. The work came out terrible. I did videos for Adam Green and then for Devendra Banhart, but there was so much with what the musician wanted, what the label wanted. At that time, it was before everything was dictated more by YouTube and the Internet. It was just a horrible experience and I wasn’t happy with the work. I'm done with that. Now, I feel like I'm allowed to be more collaborative and they're short films. Both of them have followings on them, but they're short films. I see the format of music videos being so unexplored. I'm not trying to do something really wild and crazy, I'm just trying to do something outside of the really, really rigid box that music videos have been set in. 

Doug: You mentioned being locked in your house for two months, and that brings me to the actual technical process of hand-drawing animation. These days, directors are used to being able to try stuff out in the edit, and if it doesn’t work, try it again. That doesn’t seem to be something that’s that big of an option with hand drawn animation. What is your technical process like, a lot of preplanning and then execution afterwards?

Galen: I usually storyboard out the beginning, and I'll have an idea of the end, and that’s how I'll go into it. I’ll get that beginning down, and then I'll sort of try and get as freestyle as I can.  When I say freestyle, it's hard to imagine because you imagine that more in real-time, and this is 15 to 24 drawings per frame. Then, I try in the middle section to storyboard less and let the piece get played. Where I’m able to get it to flow with the end, I try and seal it up. I really storyboard the beginning and the end, and then the middles I'll let be a little more free form. It's a lot of production and a lot of just thinking.

Death Grips

Doug: Are there any sort of aids or tools that you use during your hand drawing process, or is it just you and paper?

Galen: It's me and paper. I also use a Wacom stylus, just because with a lot of these projects time is of the essence. I don’t have the time to scan 3,000 to 5,000 drawings, so I'll do the key frames on paper and the in between frames I'll be doing them on tablets straight into Photoshop.

Doug: And then the coloring is done digitally. Is that stage also broken up into sections?

Galen: Yes, rather than having the whole thing all done and animated and then coloring, I'll finish one section and finish it colored. This lets me see what it's going to look like at the very end, and that actually helps me a little bit when I'm animating another section, I’ll know, “Okay, it's going to look like this” or “Here’s the vibe” or “Here's the feel... after that the story's start to tell themselves."


death grips, galen pehrson, true vulture, 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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