You’re going to want to stop blinking for the next several minutes as you watch the latest project from LEGS director Andrew Thomas Huang. Huang has spent the last five months putting together the brand new music video for Before Your Very Eyes… by Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms for Peace.
It took almost three years for Yorke to produce Amok, the debut album of his “side-project,” so it’s only fitting that Huang and Colonel Blimp were able to take the time to get the music video right. The 6-minute special effects masterpiece turns Yorke’s haunting track into a mesmerizing vision of shifting deserts and Yorke’s own crumbling face, and it all began with a poem.
“I was inspired by this poem called Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley,” Huang told me. “It was a poem I read as a kid and it’s from the point of view of a statue that had crumbled and the poem was reading off the plaque of that statue, which were bombastic claims by this fallen king about how great his empire was but really he’s just this pile of rubble in the middle of nowhere.”
Though “Before Your Very Eyes” centers on the fate of Los Angeles, Huang and Yorke decided that the video could take on a larger view of an approaching apocalypse. “Thom is very politically active when it comes to global warming politics,” Huang said. “Thinking about all of that, this quite literal image of Los Angeles being swept away, I based the video on this idea of collapse of empire and unsustainability.”
It was actually Yorke’s idea to have shifting sands that moved with a hypnotic rhythm in tune with the track’s beat, which proved to be a difficult technical hurdle. “When he said that, I was like, holy fuck, that’s going to require some animation work that I don’t even know how to do,” Huang recalled with a laugh.
About 25 people were eventually called in to work on post-processing and give the film the stop-motion, “B movie” quality that Yorke wanted. Artists had to hand-draw the mountains countless times for CG replicas to be created, for example, and even Thom Yorke didn’t escape the exhausting workload. The Radiohead frontman was only available for one of the three days of filming, which meant that he had to be on set for 16 hours, including six hours set aside just to get into and out of the heavy makeup designed to make him look like a crumbling statue.
To complete his otherworldly look, York sang the 6-minute track slowed down to 12 minutes. By filming the extended take at half-speed, the film could then be sped up to get a twitchy, stop-motion quality that fit in with the rest of the video. He also had his eyes digitally replaced to get that final unnatural touch.
The team was able to get a major assist from Milk and award-winning multimedia studio LEGS. “LEGS and Milk were kind enough to let us use their studio and that was really a huge contribution,” Huang said.
For Huang, this video continues a streak of imaginative collaborations with artists such as Björk and Sigur Rós, who have allowed him several months to complete their vision: “In the past it’s usually 3 weeks to a month and a half to work on it and that’s typical, but I’ve had the privilege of working with some really great artists who want to do it right.”
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