AEPDX’s Animated Music Video Production

By Max Richards

Dancing rabbits. A worm party. THAT infamous U2 album? The Portland design and animation community came together for an incredible evening packed with fun conversations, industry insight, and new connections. Animated Music Video Production was AEPDX’s first in-person event in 2023, with what seemed like just as many returning members as there were newcomers.

As the new manager of the group, Deep Sky, the Portland-based animation and live action studio, will manage and host the group going forward, leading event programming, partnerships, and community engagement. Autodesk, the global leader in design and make technology, and Toolfarm, the leading reseller and distributor of video software products and plugins, have joined as sponsors.

The event featured a panel of industry-leading directors and producers sharing behind-the-scenes insight into how they created some of their most well-known animated music videos. John Robson (Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, Autre Ne Veut’s “Okay”), Mike Anderson (Meg Myers’ “The Underground”, Junior Jack & Pat BDS’s “Tecky Dream”) and Deep Sky (Big Wild’s “OMGarden”, The Smashing Pumpkins’ In Ashes) bared so much of their process in creating these projects, including both their successes and missteps along the way.

John Robson

A self-described ‘basement mocap enthusiast’, John Robson’s journey from music video director to motion capture R&D lead grabbed everyone’s attention. 

Beginning as a freelance director, John teamed up with some of the most well-known artists of the era, such as Gnarls Barkley and U2. He explained how he was accustomed to feedback from the production team and the artist, but when fans responded so viscerally to the band while in production, it added a whole new dimension of direction and pressure.

As John gained notoriety, he began experimenting with 3D animation styles, exploring things like photo-realistic character design, motion capture, and photogrammetry. This led him to projects like his award-winning short film Safety First and Autre Ne Veut’s “Okay” music video.

John capped off his presentation with the brand new music video for the Portland-based band Eyelids called “They Said So”, which utilized paper mache puppets to create the highly-unique look.

Mike Anderson

With deep experience in creating and developing TV shows, in addition to music videos, Mike brought a broad perspective to the panel.

Mike takes advantage of the freedom and smaller scale of music videos by using them as an opportunity to test concepts, just like he did with Junior Jack & Pat BDS’ “Tecky Dream” and Meg Myers’ “The Underground”

Mike elaborated that music videos are a perfect testing ground to utilize techniques, tools, and pipelines, without needing to follow corporate brand guidelines or receive feedback from many stakeholders. Once he ironed out the issues on the music videos, he scaled each music video’s pipeline to fit the needs of TV.

His perseverance paid off when FXX and Adult Swim each put a show of his into production at the same time. Born from his highly recognizable character puppets and animations style, Mike got to work with his new partners producing FXX’s Good Morning Pickles and Adult Swim’s Hot Future.

Arguably his most exciting project to date is his upcoming self-produced pilot “Worm Party!”. Maintaining the visual style his fans know and love him for, Mike is utilizing the AI performance capture technology Plask to create an even more cost-effective concept.

Deep Sky

Representing Deep Sky as a whole was studio Creative Director Barret Thomson and 2D Animator Adam DiTerlizzi, two leads for the studio’s collaboration with Big Wild on the “OMGarden” music video.

Deep Sky is known for it’s cross-collaborative animation teams, having worked on a wide variety of projects like The Smashing Pumpkins’ In Ashes animated series, System of a Down’s “Genocidal Humanoidz” music video, and Superplastic’s virtual influencer social content for Janky, Guggimon, and Dayzee.

But tonight, they shared one of their most recent music video projects in Big Wild’s “OMGarden”. Big Wild kicked off the presentation by sharing Mopsy’s influence and inspiration for the video. Barret and Adam described how they thought the band’s vision would best align with a 2D/3D mixed media approach.

The Deep Sky team really opened up their production process for the audience, showing initial character concepts, storyboards, animatics, and the color key. Barret highlighted how he uses Gravity Sketch as a 3D pre-visualization tool to set up the forest grove scene in which a majority of the video is set. He sketches the scene in 3D using VR, which allows him to show the team exactly how the scene should be laid out.

Adam then detailed how all elements were brought together, including the 2D animated characters and 3D environments, before compositing and adding the final effects.

Ultimately, the real reward was seeing the video play live at Big Wild’s Portland show in late 2022. Thousands of screaming fans dancing around like a bunch of woodland rabbits was all the Deep Sky team needed to know the video was a success.

A fun night with more to come

The event was 3 years in the making. While many of us stayed connected virtually, this event signaled a new beginning of fostering creative connections within the Portland design and animation community, and welcoming new members into the fold.

Portland is bursting at the seams with innovation, creativity, and production capability. As Deep Sky’s Executive Director and AEPDX group lead Jared Hobbs said in his opening remarks, “This group exists to grow that excellence from the grassroots, which starts with every one of us in this room.” Everyone who attended the event is part of that, and with stronger connections, that will grow even more.