Viewfinder: Revolution and Witches – Imagining Alternate Worlds through Stop Motion Animation

Atwood Magazine is excited to announce our newest column, Viewfinder, a column revolving around music videos, and how a piece of music is synergistically enhanced by well-produced visuals.
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Stop motion animation is a style of animation where the position of physical objects is captured one frame at a time, before being stitched together to produce movement; think famous movies such as Wallace & Gromit, Corpse Bride, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Stop motion animation is an intensely laborious and time consuming process. In order to ensure a relatively seamless flow of movement, the minutiae of the props, sets, and backdrops have to be planned strategically to ensure nothing is out of place. It gives a distinctive look to videos, and like most animated works, the only limit to the characters and stories is the imagination.

Pure Comedy - Father John Misty album art

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

A handful of stop motion music videos have been released in the past two years, and three of note have been directed by Chris Hopewell and produced by his team at Jacknife Films. Chris Hopewell was tapped to helm the videos for Radiohead’s “Burn The Witch,” Run The Jewels’ “Don’t Get Captured,” and Father John Misty’s “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before The Revolution.”

Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before The Revolution” is the latest single off Father John Misty’s acclaimed album Pure Comedy. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and effort went into the visuals accompanying his recent releases. Everything from the beautifully detailed album artwork, to the intricate design of the sleeves on his deluxe vinyl packaging is in line with the concept of the album, so it’s no surprise that Father John Misty’s latest music video lives up to the same standard.

The “…Revolution” music video opens with a long shot of a desolate stretch of land strewn with abandoned protest signs depicting the song lyrics. We follow the protagonist for a day in this post-apocalyptic world, as she scavenges for parts and smartphones, and wanders through the ruins of an abandoned town taken over by anthropomorphized rats and cockroaches. The scenes throughout the video bring the lyrics of the track to life without ever feeling repetitive. As the sun sets, a layer of frost begins to cover every surface, complementing the lyrics “The temperature, it started dropping/ The ice floes began to freeze.”

My social life is now quite a bit less hectic
The nightlife and the protests are pretty scarce
Now I mostly spend the long days walking through the city
Empty as a tomb

Burn The Witch” was the first single released from Radiohead’s 2016 LP A Moon Shaped Pool. Having previously worked with director Chris Hopewell on the unsettling video for their single “There There” off 2003’s Hail To The Thief, Radiohead’s decision to team up with Hopewell again seemed like a natural fit.

In an interview with Billboard, animator Virpi Kettu detailed the exhausting work and sleepless nights that went into the “Burn The Witch” shoot, revealing that it took a team of 12 people only 14 days to build the sets, shoot, and edit everything. Kettu noted that the team managed to compile around 30 seconds of footage per day, whereas a normal shoot for a stop motion project usually ranges from 4 to 12 seconds of footage a day.

The music video starts off idyllic as we follow the protagonist on an inspection of a quaint village, in an animation style seemingly inspired by the 1960s UK children’s television series Trumpton. However, things aren’t quite as they seem. The inspector soon notices the villagers engaging in strange rituals, and as the first chorus hits and the strings rise to a fever pitch, the entire plot of the video descends into madness akin to the 1973 horror movie The Wicker Man. Much like the “…Revolution” video, the props and storyline of the “Burn The Witch” video reference the song lyrics, depicting red crosses on wooden doors, gallows, and burning a wooden effigy.

The creative decision to use stop motion animation lent both videos a childlike quality, cleverly subverted by the subject matters of the songs. The unrelenting march of climate change and its effect on society have been the subject of many apocalyptic books and movies, and the “…Revolution” video provides a bleak look at one possible outcome, only made palatable due to the animation style. Similarly, the “Burn The Witch” video, although unnerving, avoided the gore and theatrics of horror movies through employing stop motion animation.

Both videos are essentially mini-movies with a beginning, climax, and end, taking the viewer on a journey through an alternate world for several minutes. The ever-growing number of views that these videos have garnered is testament to the incredible versatility and popularity of the animation style, and it’s clear that many people enjoy and appreciate these videos. Hopefully, Jacknife Films has more exciting projects underway and continues to produce thought-provoking music videos.

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