Frank Kadillac and Adrian Morris of the alt-pop duo Neon Dreams, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, have a message for the world: positivity breeds creativity. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought many industries to a screeching halt, but creativity doesn’t seem to be one of them. The duo was stuck in isolation like the rest of the world and not able to make a “normal” music video for their new single Sick of Feeling Useless, so they came up with something even better. Using just their phones, some creative juices, 2,474 photos and a hefty printing bill, it’s safe to say quarantine has brought out the best in them…and all of us as a result.
According to Kadillac, “Adrian is the genius behind this video. He’s always been that one friend that can play any instrument and fix every tech problem I’ve had… now he can make a full-on animated stop motion video. Proud of my brother for this one.” The project took about 10 8-hour days to complete. “It was a ton of work but so worth the satisfaction of completing it in the end,” adds Morris.
The video is so well done that you can imagine that the budget and experience of the team behind this project was matched by the likes of OK Go. And that’s where you’d be wrong. This was Morris’ first time shooting and editing anything, much less a stop-motion project of this magnitude. From a technical perspective, they started with what they knew how to do which was record themselves playing music.
Morris explains, “First we shot a performance video and edited it on a Sony Handycam in our bedrooms and friend’s backyard. Knocked the frame rate down to 12 FPS and exported it as JPG. So THIS video is 100% stop motion but the shots that were printed was not stop motion. It’s roughly 1,800 frames as we knew we’d reuse some shots and wanted to do some B-roll stuff. Made it into a PDF and started printing. I attempted to do it myself with a laser printer and ended up going through all the toner at 400 pages. That toner was $500. So I gave up and got it done by a print shop for $800. But I had to get more toner for all the side stuff! I ended up using about half that toner so in total I spent about $1500 Canadian Dollars. No color grading on this because we knew it would get graded on the final shot even if it wasn’t perfect. In hindsight, I might’ve brightened it a bit because the photos didn’t come out as bright.”
Once the heavy lifting was done, they could lay the groundwork for the rest of the project. “Then we started taking photos with Stop Motion Studio. Each second is 12 photos so we did it in sections. We used bluetooth headphones and the volume button and set up the phone on a $30 iPhone tripod that we taped on top of a speaker above the desk. From there, we exported the video in 4K, AirDrop to a Mac and imported it to Adobe Premiere. We scrubbed every frame to make sure we didn’t have any duplicates or unneeded frames.”
The details of the transitions and extracurriculars are what really set this video apart. They could have easily gone with a basic frame, but when you notice some of the behind-the-scenes work going on in the bell and some of the other creative elements like Frank dodging a paper airplane, you can really appreciate the work that these guys have done. “We made up all the transitions and interactions on the fly. Trying to top ourselves with each one as we went along,” says Morris. “For example, the sheet exploding was me starting a tear in the paper and ripping it towards the outside from the middle to several small pieces and then blowing a vape all over the paper.” And again, sticking with what they knew how to do, Morris continues to explain, “The B-roll we printed on the laser printer. Characters, stage shots, the ball and paper airplane scenes, etc. We did the paper airplane effect by chopping down the paper airplane as it lowered to the desk. We used fishing line and a pin to suspend it.”
There are several methods that could’ve been used to create this video with all of the graphic engines available in modern software, but it arguably would have lost some of its authenticity. The most advanced it ever really got was in the color grading process. “We put it all together. Color graded it,” says Morris. “I didn’t really know what I was doing for that stuff but I just used my eyes to get to feel and vibe I wanted. I was referencing 90’s films and found a LUT that was that sort of vibe. I added a bit of motion here and there just to make it a bit more exciting. It was a fairly simple and easy editing job just a lot of scrubbing each individual frame. No crazy FX or anything like that cause I have no clue how to do any of that.”
The timing was fairly intuitive for Kadillac and Morris with them being both musicians and creators of their own video. “Because we printed out the song at 12 FPS I was able to keep it as a reference to the song!” says Morris. “Transitions I’d usually start 12 frames before I saw the next scene coming in my stack of paper. The stop motion bits were a bit of do-it-on-the-fly and hope it works out. I got lucky I think a few times where things line up perfectly like the airplane hitting our singer Frank right on a snare hit or the like Pac-Man parts I actually counted out exactly how many frames I had to pull it off.”
The duo did use a few tricks and shortcuts for some of the redundant segments, even though it doesn’t really feel like it initially. Morris adds, “For things like the performance shots on the stages those are actually 2-second loops and I utilized zoom effects to give it motion and make it not feel like a loop.”
We’re actually giving away the sheets to our fans! So it’s not a total waste and recycling anything left over !
See a special live performance version of Sick of Feeling Useless here. Oh, by the way Neon Dreams is also the 2020 JUNO winners for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Check out more of there music below!
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