Song: “Follow The Signs”
Album: The Discovery
Director: Andrew Pulaski of Abstrakt Pictures
When it comes to metal music videos, I tend to prevent myself from getting my hopes up. More often than not, I am tragically disappointed when my favorite bands release a music video. Lately, I seem to be drowning in boring, mediocre, and cookie cutter videos that wouldn’t dare push the boundaries of a cliché but rather just pump the video out, get paid, and move on to the next half-assed gig. It’s rare to find a director or crew that are passionate enough about the music that they are motivated to actually produce something unique, powerful, and fitting for a song. Basically, there needs to be more directors like Andrew Pulaski at Abstrakt pictures, who put the work and artistic vision of his videos above all aspects like money, time, and risk. His latest piece for Born of Osiris is a perfect example of the bars he is aiming to raise.
The video opens with a gorgeous high-speed ascendance into space, (of which I’ve watched countless times because it fits absolutely perfectly to Born of Osiris’ ambient interlude ‘The Omniscient’), to a dimension beyond ours where we get to see the amazingly talented Cameron Gray’s artwork explode into life. Turn it on 1080p and keep your third eye wide open, because this video is quite the trip, and one of my longest reviews yet.
I have Andrew’s own words to explain the concept and story in greater detail, which will appeal greatly to those fascinated by dimensions, extra-terrestrial races, and other more controversial theories from authors such as David Icke, so I will focus more on the technical aspects of the video.
Even though I knew the whole performance was going to be green screen before I watched the video, as ‘Follow the Signs‘ kicked in, I was still slightly disappointed to see the set I was in for.
I’m not a huge fan of full green screen performance sets. Well, that’s an understatement. I actually really hate them. It never looks believable and really detaches me from the entire video. I have to say, though, this green screen set was the least annoying of any I’ve seen in a metal video. It was very well composited compared to others I’ve seen and actually had a definitive background. Most productions replace their green screen with an attempt to break the world record in redundant After Effects and particle layers. In this case, the particles were minimal and done quite realistically when combined with the fan/wind they used on set.
You have to put this sort of thing into perspective, though. We are used to seeing films with million dollar budgets pull this sort of thing off in theaters and even then it doesn’t look entirely believable, but rather just more acceptable. Abstrakt Pictures had a vision for where they wanted BOO to perform and with the budget they had, they decided a green screen set was the most practical route to take over set design. Understandable.
I truly admire Pulaski, and everyone at Abstrakt, for taking on a project of this magnitude. Not only was their choice to rely heavily on 3D risky, but every aspect of the whole production had to be thought out in a different way, and planned accordingly. The general audience does not know the kind of pre-production and hard work that is required before, during, and after such feats. The average viewer, spoiled by such 3D animation as the multi-million dollar Transformers films and Pixar, would rather spout off on the animation being cheesy and bad as I’ve seen in some comments.
I think the 3D models were absolutely beautiful. I have been a fan of Gray’s work since I first saw The Discovery’s album art. Just put the video in full 1080p and pause it during any shot containing the entities — absolutely stunning.
I can agree, though, that the animation wasn’t as fluent and precise as a Disney movie. Not just in the models, but sometimes the After Effects camera movements seemed slightly robotic around the composite. Some keyframe interpolation may have smoothed that out. Although, when put into scale of how much money was involved, how many people worked on it, and how long it took them, what they managed to accomplish with ‘Follow the Signs’ is beyond commendable. A lot of the visuals reminded me of old Tool videos when they collaborated with, another one of my favorite artists, Alex Grey.
The connection between the two seems very strong, and oddly enough, both of the artists’ last names are Grey/Gray. Granted, they spell them differently, but those are some signs worth following. Sounds like something you’d see on a conspiracy Keanu meme.
Sorry, but it’s just such a Kodak derp moment.
Moving on to editing. This, to me, is the most valuable aspect of any video’s presentation. It can make or break a video. It can turn coal into diamonds or gold into steaming piles of wasted potential. No matter how well it’s shot or how gorgeous it looks, the flow of the video and its connection between the audio, video, and viewer’s absorption of these two sensory is vital. Luckily, Abstrakt has always delivered in this department. Ever since I saw the 10-minute masterpiece that is Painted in Exile’s ‘Revitalized’ video, I knew these guys had a knack for flow (specifically 1:22-1:45 in the PIE video). The flow of ‘Follow the Signs’ is no different. I have practically no complaints when it comes to the cuts in this video. Every clip was exactly where I would imagine them to be. The shots of each instrument shining at the exact moment the song exaggerates them made this video very easy to absorb. That’s how you know a video’s been edited well — it will practically flow into your eyes and you enjoy it effortlessly. Every time I watch this video, it flies by even though it clocks in at around 4:30. I’ve watched videos for 3-minute songs that felt like an eternity because of horrible pacing. It’s just visually unpleasing, and for the most part people don’t understand that their displeasure of something comes from this aspect of the video, as it is practically subconscious.
Some notable moments in editing pacing were without a doubt the entire section between 2:00-3:00 when the entity was being absorbed by the shadowy-figures’ ritual. The flow of cuts and complimentary action/music made this one of my favorite parts of the video.
Aside from the cuts, the storyline’s actions partner with the music perfectly. You can tell the concept was well executed in this sense. The entity’s high speed-descend leading up to his landing inside of the Empire State Building fit perfectly. The only two complaints I have in this department start with the actual look/color correction, specifically of the performance. Can’t say I’m a fan of the constant grungy/vignetting texture that accompanied almost every shot, but I do understand its purpose. It’s there to somewhat hide and hold together all the layers of the actual composite. If it’s all too clear and sharp, the composite could tend to look extremely fake. Lastly, I want to touch on the shot of the reptilian priest’s transformation. As much as I like how bold and unique the concept is, this particular moment seemed out of place. I like the idea of having such a shot, but its execution was unpleasing. The shot hanged on the priest for about 6 seconds altogether and was extremely static. At the least, I would have added a post creep zoom towards the priest and maybe some cuts around his transformation. As it stands, it’s very blunt and its shortcomings were exaggerated in comparison to the beauty of the rest of the video.
For more information regarding the process and story of the whole video, I got a chance to talk with director Andrew Pulaski:
CC: So tell us what you did on the whole production.
AP: Directed, shot, edited, and composited.
CC: Tell us about the concept.
AP: Let me start off by saying Born Of Osiris was and always will be one of my favorite acts. Ever since Rosecrance, I immediately fell in love with the sound. The New Reign is still one of my favorite albums. I feel like they have a lot of influence to offer for upcoming acts and still hold a solid name in this disgustingly over replicated scene as they stay true to their sound.
Essentially, we travel from Earth to space and reveal an unknown dimension. One that is dynamic and free of gravity. I thought that it would be grand to use the instrumental interlude ‘The Omniscient‘ to open up the video. We reveal these beings, which I like to refer to as “Entities”. I wanted to leave the idea of them being possibly the creators of our own existence. Maybe Metatron. Maybe Shiva. Whatever the viewer wants to believe, these “Entities” hold the key to why and what our entire meaning of existence is.
As we travel back to earth we reveal a dark sanctuary with cloaked figures under the empire state building. It seems as if there is a leader of the group and they are triggering the activation of an ancient crest. As they do, we see a light beam retract from the center of it. The beam shoots up through the building into space and breaks the crystal seal located directly in the center of the dimension. It starts turning the dimension inside out. All the information and power the dimension holds drains into the dark sanctuary.
The Entities hold onto what they can as the force of the beam becomes more powerful and larger. Eventually one of the “Entities” looses grip and gets sucked in. Knowingly at this point that there is no turning back, the Entity gathers himself and thrusts down towards the sanctuary. As the Entity breaches the building, he disengages the crest. Even though this stops the dimension from being turned inside out, the cloaked figures have gained much of the power that they desired. The Entity realizes the only way to save the dimension is to sacrifice himself and reverse the crest.
The leader of the sanctuary steps forward and reveals his face. The power gathered from the dimension has turned him into something unspeakable. He morphs into his true self: a reptilian. He orders his minions to attack the being before he attempts to reverse the crest. As they dog pile on him, the crest restarts and sends the beam back up only this time giving back what has been taken. The reptilian’s lose the power they gathered from the dimension and the entity is raised back up to the heavens as if he was resurrected.
CC: Was it collaboration between you and the band or did you take the album artwork and run with it?
AP: The concept was thought out carefully by myself and my amazing team. The ultimate idea started out with myself and partner, Theodore Zagaro. I got my good friend Brian Nowakowski involved who is a good editor and really shined up the concept nicely. We knew that going in it was going to be a tedious process but we love a good challenge. After sending off the first version of the treatment we were awarded and commissioned from Sumerian.
CC: What kind of pre production did you have to go through to prepare for this kind of shoot?
AP: The preproduction of the video was probably the one single most important thing. The caliber of a shoot like this needed the utmost attention. Every frame needed to be planned out before we dove into the band performance shots. The Storyboarding/Script process took about 3 months to complete. The durations of each scene and the actions inside them needed to be synced visually and audibly to make it have that much more impact. There was a lot to consider but for the most part we planned everything to a T before even turning on the camera. Since I wanted to put BOO on an alien planet, I thought green screen would be the best choice. I also like to have a good amount of motion in my shots so we needed to take camera tracking into consideration, as it would be a critical step in the compositing work to complete the performance scenes.
CC: Where’d you shoot and how long did the process take?
AP: We shot in two master locations. The band performance took place at a green screen studio in Chicago and the storyline was shot here in NYC at mad.house. The postproduction company I edit for full-time. We had a good amount of fun but we shot a straight 28 hours on the performance day. We just kept going until we got every shot necessary for the video. The shoot for the storyline, all in all, I’d say took about 2 weeks. My good buddy, Scott Hansen, shot the aerial Empire state building shots from a helicopter with the RED. All of the editing, 3D animation, and compositing was done here in NYC. Another 3D artist in DC did the space shots coming back and forth from Earth. So as you can see there were quite a few people involved. All in all, the whole project from beginning to end almost took an entire year.
CC: You had mentioned some pretty intense 3D animation and post effects on the video, tell us about those and the process.
AP: The 3D scenes were pretty intense. The process of just getting the animation right was long and painful. Even though Cameron Grey created the original artwork It still needed to be broken down and recreated in 3D space. The Entities needed to be manually rigged with gestures and moves that were required by the storyline which where almost every kind of emotion and movement a human could possibly make. Since the 3D scenes have all of the information embedded in a virtual 3D camera for X,Y, and Z depth, when creating the scenes all of that information could be transferred over easily to after effects for compositing. On the other hand the band performance shots where much harder. When the rough edit was complete, the computer needed to track the movement of the camera in order to replace the green screen with the alien environment. Even though we were shooting with the RED camera @ 4k my creative wants of having the camera move in certain ways called for manual camera tracking. This was a tedious process and was necessary to make the environment appear to be as real is it aught to be. Then we had the Entity in real live action scenes. Those scenes needed to be tracked manually and then a lot of rotoscoping needed to happen in order to get him in the right positions. We also needed to record lighting references of the real scenes during production so that we could relight the 3D model for the live action scenes.
CC: You’ve done a lot of awesome work, and a number of videos for Sumerian. What kind of projects do you have lined up for the future?
AP: Currently I’m looking forward to working with Ever Forthright. They have an amazing sound and a lot of great ideas that I think can be effective in creating an epic music video. At this stage in my career, I honestly am trying to do quality work over quantity. To me it’s not really worth doing it at all unless you’re going to give it your all. There’s also this band called Being. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them but they really are something else. I love what they’re about and their sound. Maybe I can work with them and make something that could represent their message visually. Setting music aside, I’m writing a feature; a Sci-Fi. Hopefully I can pursue that and it would be good enough to actually go into production. Time will tell.
Wrapping up this reel, you really have to admire what has been accomplished here. In the scheme of all the other videos out there, this one shines out with how personal the relationship between the band’s music, their beliefs, and the video all came together. Pulaski and everyone over at Abstrakt deserve a pat on the back for producing something of this stature with the cards they were dealt. So far, with the bands they’ve shot, Abstrakt’s taste and mine are very similar, and I am much looking forward to his work with Ever Forthwright.
– Amazing 3D visuals.
– Perfectly paced editing.
– A concept that is as bold and unique as Born of Osiris.
– Occasional slight shortcomings in animation/tracking.
– Full green screen performance set.
• NOTABLE MOMENTS
– :00-:45 – The entire space traveling intro.
– 1:50 – Dirty freaking head bang.
– 2:11 – Awesome effect on bassist.
– 2:00-3:00 – The editing during the entity’s descend leading to his landing.
– 4:00 – The entity’s burst into the ascend/resurrection.