The Reality Of An Animated World

The Music Video For New Release, Eyes Fixed, Will Do Just That

The music video for Mike Vass’ new track Eyes Fixed is atmospheric to say the least: rain fall a plenty seems to foreshadow the lyrics yet to be sung and yet there is a hopeful undertone to the video that creates a cathartic experience rather than one of out-and-out gloom.

The animations of Gavin Robinson are so seamless in their visual portrayal of the song that is hard to believe that the two weren’t born in tandem. However, the fact remains that they weren’t, instead this short animated film was dreamt up by Gavin, with eyes closed and an openness to simply letting the music wash over him and tell it’s own story. Gavin poetically puts this as, “letting the music reveal its visual self to you”, and the rest seems to just flow from a series of notes and sketches.

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The comic book nature of the animations mirrors the depth of the song: they are both multi-faceted, intertwining several emotions at once, almost always one step ahead and one step behind so that we are entirely swept up in the cacophony of notes, voices and images. Yet the real beauty of Gavin’s creation comes from its freedom: the magic that weaves in and out of the mundane at all times. Lanterns float into the air, illuminating snapshots of a life in stark contrast to the present setting: glimpses into intimate scenes, a life flashes before our eyes and we are suddenly unable to distinguish between us and them, past and present.

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There is no doubt that human actors and real settings would pail in comparison to their animated versions and Gavin puts this down to our inability to draw clear boundaries between animation and our own reality, we can project ourselves onto an illustrated character yet an actor is just that, an actor. “I think that audiences connect to that and can, more naturally than with live action, experience music and animation together as cohesive, singular works of art”, he explains and we defy you to disagree after watching.

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We spoke to, a very passionate, Gavin about the creative process, the challenges and the triumphs of this latest project.

The Plus: What was the brief you were given for the music video?
Gavin Robinson:
Well this is the third project that Mike Vass and I have collaborated on. I think that he came to me for this music video because our respective styles have worked well together in the past. Mike was happy for me to respond to the song in my own way so, in fact, there wasn’t a brief as such. I updated Mike on a fairly regular basis, so he knew what I was planning to do from the start and was able to guide me away from anything that he wasn’t so keen on.

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TP: What was your process when creating the animations?
GR:
With no brief, firstly I had to come up with an idea. When it’s a music video you can sit down and let the song, quite naturally, fill your head with imagery. I think that this is also a good way to ensure that what you end up creating will complement the song.
The next task is moulding those pictures and feelings into some sort of narrative for the video. I’d do this by scribbling notes alongside a printout of the song’s lyrics. I did sketch out some concept images at this stage as well but, for someone working in the visual arts, I tend to do quite a lot of writing rather than drawing in the earliest stages of a project.
Once Mike and I were happy with the concept, I made a storyboard. I actually re-visited a technique that I had used for my film, Hart’s Desire, and drew the storyboard in a kind of comic book layout. I find that it helps me to concentrate on the compositional side of things rather than being distracted by the idea that what I’m drawing here will become an animated film.
My process for actually animating was completely digital. As usual I was making use of the immediacy of a graphics tablet. I used Adobe Photoshop to draw scene elements and for some simple frame by frame animation. The silhouette of the character in the video is like a digital ‘puppet’ created with Anime Studio Pro. He’s drawn over a kind of skeleton that I can manipulate and pose however I want, rather than having to draw every frame of the character. So after jumping between Anime Studio and Photoshop I would bring all of the elements of a scene together in Adobe After Effect where I could create camera movement and add effects like the glowing of the lanterns and the aurora borealis inspired sky.

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TP: What was the most challenging part of creating the video?
GR:
I had some difficulty settling on a style for the video, just trying to decide how it was going to look. When first listening to the song it conjured images of wet, rainy landscapes so that was something that I wanted to feature heavily. I’ve always loved how some watercolour artists can so effectively create a moody, stormy sky: there’s something about creating a wet sky with a watery medium that just works I suppose. I was looking at artists like Ken Lochhead and Mairi Hedderwick, whose watercolour paintings and illustrations of the Scottish Highlands and islands I have admired for years. The thought of making something in that washed out, painterly style, move through animation was exciting me. Several concept drawings later, however, I realised that it wasn’t going to be an appropriate style for the narrative that I was developing. I needed someone to be wandering about in the darkness and for there to be a significant contrast between a dark environment and the glowing lanterns. It’s just something that I couldn’t visualise working in a washed out watercolour style.

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TP: How do you balance telling a coherent, emotive story while also correlating with the temp of the song itself? Ie. Storyline vs. song
GR:
I think that this particular video, being so narratively driven, stands somewhere between music video and short film. I was concentrating on the story, albeit the story that the song had “told” me to tell. With a music video I think that you can choose to match your action to the beat and nuances of the song or you can tell a story that is informed by the emotional substance of the song. In a way I’ve done both with Eyes Fixed. The use of multiple panels, splitting up the frame, is a remnant of the comic book storyboard but these are also used to time the animation with the rhythm and structure of the song. I felt that this would allow me to create the actual action of the story more freely, while still having this extra level of adhesion to the song.

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TP: How does it differ from what you normally do?
GR:
In some ways it doesn’t differ very much at all. Since graduating from Edinburgh College of Art in 2013 I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on a few music videos, all of which have had this similar level of creative freedom and all of which have been more or less solo projects from my side of things. My process was also very similar to the way in which I usually work. Actually I’m quite aware of the fact that I’m prone to staying within my comfort zone: I use techniques and software that I’m familiar with and that I know I’ll be able to produce good work with. Often the best work, however, comes from experimentation so I really should take more risks! I suppose that tonally this film was something a bit different. A lot of my work, especially my drawings and illustrations are more light hearted and even down right silly!

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TP: What effect does using animations for a music video instead of people have on the audience, do you think?
GR:
This is a bit of a strange one and kind of counter intuitive. I think that an audience can sometimes find it easier to connect with animated characters rather than with live action actors. Perhaps it’s because a human on screen is definitely that human, and not you. An animated character is more ambiguous, more of an ‘anybody’ that a viewer can more easily relate to, or put themselves in the position of. I always think of the graphic novel ‘Maus’, by Art Spiegelman as a great example of this sort of thing. It deals with his father’s experiences of the Holocaust, but all of the characters are drawn as humanoid animals rather than as the actual humans they represent. I think that if the characters in Maus had been drawn as the real people that they represent the work would be, strangely, much less effective.

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