We speak with the directing duo Us on using 3D motion capture rendering in the Foals' video for "My Number"
by Sabine Zetteler
Christoper Barrett and Luke Taylor, more commonly known as Us, are the powerhouse directorial duo behind the latest music video for Foals, released this week by Warner Bros UK. Far from newcomers to video direction—Us directed an award-winning video for Thom Yorke while still attending Kingston University—the two designers take a tired music video idea and bring it up to speed with 3D motion capture renderings for the track "My Number," off the British band's third full length album, Holy Fire.
We recently caught up with the guys for an exclusive interview to find out more about what makes them tick and more specifically, to connect the dots in the lengthy process that was required to make this stunning and epic piece of musical motion capture.
Was your dot-to-dot concept an idea you'd been waiting for the perfect project for?
Luke Taylor: Taking the "My Number" theme of the track quite literally we quickly came up with the dot-to-dot concept, we got very excited by this as we had never seen this executed before. The daunting challenge came when we started to think about how we make the concept sustain for the full four minutes of the track, there is only so long one person can look at a line connecting dots.
Chris Barrett: We wanted to take people places they might not have expected from the first frame.
How long did the video take to create in its entirety?
CB: From start to finish it was about three long months. We wrote our idea back in October. Then we had our motion capture session with the band in late November. We then spent a week creating a pre-edit to work out timings etc. Then we were straight into the VFX/3D stage to create the whole video.
Were you ever intimidated by the scale of the project once it had started?
LT: Yes! Not gonna lie; from the minute we had the idea. It was a hugely ambitious task, but we love to push ourselves, if we are not intimidated by an idea or project it normally means it's not worth doing. What made the whole process so much easier was the amazing team that we had behind us, from our producer Medb Riordan to our production company A+, using The Imaginarium for their motion capture studio (that's Andy "Golem" Serkis' studio), Electric Theatre Collective for their VFX/3D wizardry and Ed Cheeseman for the edit.
What was the most challenging part of creating the band, the cities and the universe in dot-to-dot?
LT: The biggest problem was how could we apply the dot-to-dot concept to a moving image. We knew that standard animation techniques were out of reach. We spoke with Electric Theatre Collective and they said the most sensible way would be to have motion capture of the band. We had been to The Imaginarium for an open day but only really thought motion capture was for Hollywood movies. Once we had all the data from the band we then had to re-create the band members and their instruments in 3D to apply the MoCap data to it, we then converted this into dot-to-dot. The process was massively time-consuming with gargantuan renders, but the guys at ETC really pulled out all the stops. On the other hand creating the city, landscape and universes elements compared to the band was not so complex as we just build them in-house which gave us complete control and manipulation.
Did you work with Foals directly?
CB: We spoke with the band about our idea and worked with them on the day of the motion capture shoot, it was a really interesting as we did not have to worry about lighting, camera moves, lenses—this was all decided in after the fact—it was just all about getting the best performance from the band we could get. It was a refreshing shooting process.
Do you have separate roles in your creative process?
CB: We kind of have the ethos of two heads are better than one. It speeds up the creative process as we can bounce idea off each other instantly.
As a working duo, do you ever feel the need to compromise with projects the other is particularly passionate about?
CB: We tend to only work on projects we feel equally passionate about, this is a sign that we are usually onto a good thing when both of us get excited about a project.
You're always pushing new boundaries with your work, what's next on the horizon?
LT: Yeah we love jumping around from project to project, trying out new techniques and processes. At the moment we are writing a script for our first short film, we dabbled with a bit of narrative and dialogue in our "Feed Me" promo last year and want to explore this more. We are very excited about the year ahead, and pitching on some amazing music tracks at the moment so fingers crossed we get to make another promo very soon.
For more information on Us and their digital design visit Us online.
Images by Christopher Barrett