This Sunday, March 29, the third annual Prism Prize will be awarded for best Canadian music video of the year. Over 100 jurors from the music and film industry, as well as web and print journalists, were given a set of criteria - originality, creativity, style, innovation and effective execution - and used it to select a shortlist of ten videos.
Last year, we gathered all of the nominated Canadian music video directors for a roundtable on what it means to be a music video director in Canada in the age of the internet. It was an illuminating discussion that gave us a lens through which to view this year's shortlist. But, while watching (and voting on) the videos, we noticed a change: many of the most exceptional Canadian clips of the year are animated.
Four of them made the shortlist: "Order In The Court" by Odonis Odonis (director: Lee Stringle), "Yelling In Sleep" by Rich Aucoin (director: Joel Mackenzie) , "Monster" by Chad VanGaalen and "Beat The Drum Slowly" by Timber Timbre (the latter two directed by Chad VanGaalen). There were also at least a couple more deserving nominees that didn't.
You can't deny it: it's a good time for animated music videos in Canada. So this year, we decided to focus in specifically on those videos. We gathered all three nominated directors working in animation for a new roundtable on what specifically it means to work within that unique medium, the challenges and freedoms it offers, their favourite masters of the form, and asked them the same question: is this a golden age for animated videos? Then, we got each director to walk us through the concept and process of their nominated videos. Read on.
Why is animation an especially good art form for telling stories?
Joel Mackenzie: My favourite part about animation is that you are only limited by your imagination. It’s highly collaborative, but also very solitary, and I like that. The Yin and the Yang of animation.
Lee Stringle: You can pretty much visualize anything you want. It's a very versatile thing.
The world of animation and drawing directly taps into a part of my subconscious. It gives me freedom of color and form. I really want them to smell.
It differs a lot from other forms of storytelling in that you can create environments out of nothing. For me the world of animation and drawing directly taps into a part of my subconscious. It exposes things that I really didn’t know existed. It gives me freedom of color and form. I really want them to smell.
What makes the music video a perfect platform for animation?
Joel Mackenzie: I love getting inspired by a song and trying to carve out a narrative based on the music. Usually music videos are around the 3 or 4 minute mark, so it is a great opportunity to try out a really weird/cool/sexy style on a smaller scale. With animation you can fine tune the timing of any of the performances, in order to work with the beat. I like that.
Lee Stringle: To me, animation is a visual experience that marries well with music because both art forms are more open to abstraction than, say, live action.
How else does directing an animated video differ from working in live action?
All you need is time, an idea and a computer, and then — boom — you YouTube it.
Chad VanGaalen: I have never directed a live action vid, and I probably never will. If I want a spaceship made of mucus to crash land on a giant ice cream cone, it’s easier for me to draw that biz.
Where did your interest in animation begin?
Chad VanGaalen: I started making flip books in my duo-tang when I was small. That was the pinnacle of my animating experience, now that I think of it. A lot of satisfaction came out of flipping those drawings. Pages got dirty from so many flips.
Lee Stringle: I guess it goes back to when I was a kid and the interest just carried on into adulthood. I like the freedom of animating. I don't need a crew or really much money. I just need time.
Joel Mackenzie: I always loved drawing, but I also loved making money, so I tried to find a way to combine my two passions. I equipped myself with degrees in Classical Animation and Film in order to try and combat poverty. So far it is going okay, and gives me the chance to work on personal projects like the Rich Aucoin video in my off-time.
What is your holy grail of animated music videos?
Lee Stringle: I have to go with my two favourite animated videos, Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" and Tool's "Sober." I am a fan of stop motion. "Sledgehammer" is a feast of creativity, the amount of work that went into it is a sight to behold. And "Sober" I love because of the mood and the deranged characters. The visuals illustrate the music perfectly.
Chad VanGaalen: The Holy Grail? Well, I watched Akira too many times as a kid. And read the Incal too many times as a kid. So those really set the bar for me. Underground comix, Mad Magazine, Heavy Metal, Pushead, skateboarding.
There seem to be more animated music videos than ever before (nearly half the Prism Prize finalists). Have we reached a golden age?
Chad VanGaalen: The golden age of animated video will happen when we can instantly manifest the images in our brains into whatever medium might be the norm at the time. Like a holographic hovering avatar that surrounds us, constantly morphing and mixing the conscious and subconscious worlds. For now it's just going to be a bunch of nerds hacking away at clunky software and sheets of paper hoping to capture a fingernail on the hand of that massive world. Maybe not though, maybe this is the golden age. Although we don't have the work ethic or inspiration that they did in the '50s and '60s. I don't know.
Joel Mackenzie: I think that there a lot more of EVERY kind of video. We are bombarded with videos. I think lots of people are DRAWN to animation and telling fantastical stories, which is why it makes some cool music videos.
Lee Stringle: I think it's because it is so affordable to make them. Again, all you need is time, an idea and a computer, and then — boom — you YouTube it.
Rich Aucoin, "Yelling In Sleep"
Joel Mackenzie: A reformed lumberjack must harness the POWER OF NATURE in order to fight an 8-BIT MUTANT WASP MONSTER that is destroying his friends and his home. I wanted to make something that was distinctly Canadian. I wanted it to be equal parts BraveStarr, Power Rangers and Log Driver’s Waltz. Aside from the “Don’t Destroy Nature” theme, I really wanted to work in a fun Canadian mythology that included 8-bit video game graphics.
I had the idea loosely figured out, had a few beers with Rich and pitched it to him. He liked it, and fired me his unreleased album. I chose the song "Yelling In Sleep" because i really liked its high energy. In the video I had a bunch of 8-bit Wasps that were terrorizing the wilderness. In his song, there was a great computery-digital sound that i wanted to symbolize those wasps.
Odonis Odonis, "Order In The Court"
Lee Stringle: This song called for Bosch. His chaotic, yet thoroughly ordered compositions fit with the title and tone of the song. I also wanted there to be a linear narrative to the video, with a kind of three act structure so it played out more like a story where each chunk had a progression and made sense. I didn't want it to be arbitrary.
The process was long. First, I cut out the characters and buildings from their backgrounds in Photoshop, then I imported it all into After Effects and started animating with emphasis on syncing the moving parts with the music as best as I could. Some sections worked better than others, but overall I was happy with it.
And for the collaboration, it was very easygoing. I asked my friend Dean [Tzenos] if I could do a video for his band and he was game. I pretty much just picked away at it on my own until it was done.
Timber Timbre, "Beat The Drum Slowly"
Chad VanGaalen: For the Timber Timbre vid I proposed an idea that I kind of stuck with. For me sitting in front of a screen or on a light table can get really fucking boring if I know what is going to happen. It takes foreeeeeeeever to make an animation by your lonesome. So most of my process is free interpretation and improvisation. Then it becomes exciting if I have no idea what is coming next, but it can sacrifice a linear story sometimes and alienate your audience. But I figure there are enough people making straight shit in the world, I prefer to let my mind wander. Taylor [Kirk] was totally cool with that, and he got a really good vid because he didn't force me into the forbidden zone. Also I love the song.
Chad VanGaalen, "Monster"
Chad VanGaalen: With my video for the “Monster” song I was just trying to rip something out fast so I could start work on the Shabazz Palaces vid, because I’m a huge Shabazz fan. Although I really had fun making that woodpecker knock a hole though that bald headbanger's head satchel.
- Written and Compiled by Richard Trapunski and Chris Hampton