“Voices” Music Video: Process Blog

For “Voices,” the first single off of our latest album, I worked with multi-hyphenate artist Mark Landry to create this video:

Here’s the process we took to get there:

For the song “Goodbye at the End of the World” on the last album, Dust Among the Stars, I created an animated music video. I loved how it turned out, but as not-a-professional-animator, it was a colossal undertaking. So when it came time to think about music videos for Dreamers & Runaways, I knew I wanted to do something that was similarly unique, but I also knew that I couldn’t take a bite from the same apple.

The ideation process for the “Voices” music video literally began in the dark, with me thinking through the lyrics of the song, and allowing whatever images they might conjure to come. It was about the same time that the U.S. had decided to separate families — literally ripping children from their mothers’ arms — at the southern border. As an American, and a parent, this was simply too much to bear, and it’s no surprise that those images crept into my darkened little mental theater, and a story began to take shape from there. But a scenario that starts with militaristic thugs in masks yanking a baby from a mother’s grasp and that ends with a rally full of thousands of followers started to feel like an animated project again, and one that I would simply not hold up under.

That’s when the idea of doing this story as a comic came to me. I am very fortunate to have a friend in Mark Landry, who created the comic Bloodthirsty: One Nation Under Water. I reached out to him, to bounce ideas off of and see if he might have any interest in drawing the comic. So Mark came on board.

Step one was the script. I’d never done a comic script before, but there are some great resources out there. I relied on Dark Horse Comics’ sample pages that they make available.

Mark had a ton of great insight on my first pass of the script. After we talked it through and I made the necessary changes, Mark moved on to thumbnails.

We massaged those a bit, and he went to pencils, working backward through the book. The final pages were the most difficult and time-consuming, with all the detail and crowd work, so he started there.

Thumbnails through layout through ink

As Mark did all the pages by hand, scanned them in, and sent me inked pages, I started lettering and coloring them. For lettering, I bought fonts from Blambot, which were an absolute joy to get to use. Please never use Comic Sans. Please support these great craftspeople.

To get the aged comic look, I relied on a set of tools called DEBASER from True Grit Texture Supplies.  It’s an amazing bunch of tools, and I thought the results they created were outstanding.

As a matter of fact, in order to learn DEBASER, I colored a black-and-white version of the first page of EC Comics’ legendary story Judgment Day and tried to make it look like the original. You can see the results here:

Original (L), Fantagraphics Key Art (C), After DEBASER (R)

But during the coloring process, Mark and I hit a snag in terms of scheduling after his light table broke. The song premiered online while I was literally driving to San Jose for WorldCon 76, so we needed to get the video done quickly. With Mark about to start another project with a hard deadline, and his light table out of commission until a replacement could arrive, we discussed me creating the cover of the book. I don’t draw well, and this seemed like an impossible task…but I took a couple of reference photos in the hotel at WorldCon, and started doing pencils for the cover on my iPad.

I created the finished cover in Illustrator.

I started putting the actual printed book together, and pulled in some vintage ads from real 1940s comics. These public domain sources are available from the Digital Comic Museum, a site I simply cannot recommend highly enough if you have any interest in vintage comics.

One painful, explanation-heavy trip to FedEx Office later, and I had an actual, printed comic in my hand. I put it on my kitchen table, and filmed it to create the finished video, shooting in 4K so I could push in for greater detail, since the video was mastered to 1080.

That’s about it. If you buy Dreamers & Runaways on Bandcamp, a digital download of the comic is included as a PDF. If you want to check out Mark’s other work (and you totally should), you can see much of his brilliant painting output at LandryImages.com.

And finally, if you are an eligible nominating member of WorldCon 77, the “Voices” video is eligible to be nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category. Help spread the word!

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“Fields” Music Video

My folks were both raised in small, rural towns in Texas, but moved to Houston in the 1970s, where I was born. I spent my childhood, then, living in the suburbs and for holidays, summers, different events, shuttling back and forth out to farm and ranchland and towns too small for grocery stores. I spent a lot of time there.

A few years ago, my grandmother started experiencing rapidly declining health. I had moved to Los Angeles by then, an even bigger city even farther away, and felt tremendous remorse at not being around. I spent a lot of time thinking about the days and weeks I’d spent as a kid with my grandmother — and the self-sufficiency that kids were just expected to have. The here’s-a-dollar-walk-into-town-and-buy-some-candy-or-something-be-back-for-dinner laissez-faire approach to childcare that was so empowering and fun and formative and now has almost been literally outlawed. It’s a shame. The song “Fields” came out of those memories.

As I was working on this album, my grandmother passed on. While I was packing for the trip to go back to Texas, it dawned on me that while the emotional ties I have to that area will always be there, the literal and physical ties were now almost gone. Even now, I could no longer navigate the roads with no names that I drove so many times to get to her house. So I took a camera with me, because I didn’t want to forget those scenes and images that to be honest I took for granted for too much of my childhood.

A lot of footage I shot on that trip made it into this video. Maybe that could seem morbid to some, or too personal, but to me it’s a celebration. This was a difficult song to sing in the studio, something I tried not to shy away from in the video, and it was a difficult video to put together. But this is all very deeply a part of me, and wrapping it in a few bars and pictures and handing it to the world like that felt like the best way I had of sharing it.

 

 

All the References: Goodbye at the End of the World

We recently gave away a pair of autographed CDs over at the all-purpose geek-themed site Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together to people who correctly identified the most sci-fi and film references hidden in the animated video for our song Goodbye at the End of the World. But nobody was particularly close to getting all of them. There were a lot.

Now that the contest is over, it seemed like a good time to put together all the references in one place for those who might be interested. Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter if one of your favorites made it into the background.

Robby the Robot, Forbidden Planet

Robby actually makes two appearances, one in small scale in the couple’s kitchen, and one in large scale in the museum. You can spot him in the background of each of these shots.

Robby at Home Robby in Museum

And for what it’s worth, in the museum shot you can also see the band’s old logo (itself an homage to the old RKO Studios logo) and the album cover against the wall.

Arthur Dent, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Although only the one shown above made it into the final video, the museum set has two exhibit halls, both named after characters from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur Dent, and Ford Prefect.

Vampira

Vampira, the iconic late-night horror TV show host from the 1950s who was the model for Disney’s Maleficent and was immortalized in one of my favorite movies, Ed Wood, was a persona created by the Norwegian model Maila Nurmi. The “V.” on the character’s museum ID card is for “Vampira.” I have a distant personal connection to Maila Nurmi, in that when she passed away in 2008 I helped buy her a headstone.

ID Card

CRM-114, Dr. Strangelove and Others

Maila’s employee ID number is “CRM-114,” which is a designation that began life as the code device in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Kubrick himself went on to reference this number in several other films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, and since then many, many filmmakers have hidden nods to it in their movies. Like, for instance, Doc Brown’s giant amplifier rig in Back to the Future.

CRM114

Speaking of…

The Time Machine, Back to the Future

Maila, or possibly her boyfriend Roger, drives the time machine, which is parked in the driveway.

Delorean

Tiptree Science Musuem, Alice Bradley Sheldon

Alice Bradley Sheldon was a gifted science fiction writer who had to work under a male pen name in the 1950s because of awful gender stereotypes, and that pen name was James Tiptree, Jr. I thought a sci-fi video with a kick-ass female hero should work at a place named after a real-life sci-fi female hero. You can listen to a great radio story about Alice Sheldon here.

Museum Sign

Gort’s, The Day the Earth Stood Still

In part, this video began with the idea “I wonder if I can make a giant robot step on a gas station?” Seemed a very 50s sci-fi thing to do. Like Robby the Robot, Gort is one of the signature robots of 1950s science fiction films, and appears in maybe the best genre movie of the era.

Gort

Bester Library, Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester wrote The Stars My Destination, which had a tremendous impact on me. As a matter of fact, as soon as I finished it, I put it down, picked up a guitar, and wrote the song “Gulliver Foyle,” the first track on the first Sci-Fi Romance album.

Bester Library

The library sits at the corner of…

Wm. Castle Blvd. and Harryhausen Drive

William Castle produced a number of great, schlocky B-movies, notably those with Vincent Price like The House on Haunted Hill, and maybe surprisingly, Rosemary’s Baby. Ray Harryhausen was a stop-motion animation master who brought hundreds of creatures to life and gave them personalities and soul you wouldn’t expect in films like 20 Million Miles to Earth.

Intersection

Karloff’s at Le Moulin, Frankenstein

At the end of Frankenstein, which inspired the Sci-Fi Romance song “Frankenstein’s Lament,” also from the first album, Boris Karloff’s monster gets torched inside a windmill. Like Le Moulin Rouge, which was a restaurant and named after a windmill, I went for a little obvious symbolism.

Karloffs

Karloff’s performance is particularly meaningful to me, and it also inspired our song “The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935” from our October EP.

Crane Shot, Citizen Kane

These last two are probably the most pretentious, but when am I ever going to get the chance to tip my cap to these films ever again in quite the same way? So when the camera swoops through the domed ceiling of the museum, this is where that came from.

Citizen Kane Shot

Final Shot, The Third Man

Like the stereotypical film school graduate I am, I love Orson Welles. But probably my favorite movie with him is one he didn’t direct, Carol Reed’s masterpiece The Third Man. I love it, and its final shot is, for me, one the most indelible ever.

third man

Third Man Shot

Since I animated this thing myself, I had nobody to tell me I couldn’t be as self-indulgent as I pleased.