“Goodbye at the End of the World” Process Blog

The music video for “Goodbye at the End of the World” was a pretty major undertaking for me. It is a four-plus minute, computer animated music video about an alien invasion and a couple whose relationship is on the rocks, but who try to save the world. It was written, designed, animated, and rendered by me alone. I had never done anything like it before, so I wanted to run down the process behind the video and tip my hat to the individuals and sites that helped me eventually get the thing across the finish line.

When I set out, what I wanted to do was tell a story that allowed me to pay homage to the sci-fi, classic horror, and cult films that I love, and that have been a front-and-center influence on the band’s music. Initially, I had the notion that I might actually hand-draw a video in an attempt at something like the UPA style of animation that defines the look of 1950s animation for me. I figured it was contemporary with the great 50s sci-fi films, and it would feel like a natural fit.

I went away to a cabin in the mountains to watch old movies, drink beer in a styrofoam cup, and write the script

I went away to a cabin in the mountains to watch old movies, drink beer in a styrofoam cup, and write the script

Thing is, I’m a terrible draftsman, and I wasn’t able to even design characters that I liked. There was certainly no way I’d be able to hand-draw the thing. I have experience in motion graphics and a little bit of experience in 3D modeling programs, although never really with anything much more ambitious than flying text. I was able to design a pair of characters and some alien vehicles that I could live with, and then set to work trying to model them.

Concept Sketches

Concept sketches for the two characters and the alien walker

The modeling and animation were done in Cinema 4D. I had the help of Josh Johnson when it came to rigging the humans, because my first attempts at that were so disastrous that I knew I’d never get there in the time I had. I relied heavily on C4D Cafe for tutorials and insights available in their message boards. I watched a ton of videos on Vimeo (many from Greyscale Gorilla and EJ Hassenfratz) to learn about rigging, toon shading, and more.

The characters, aliens, some of the buildings, the streets, a number of props, and the interiors I mostly built from scratch. For the rest, I used some of the models that came in Cinema 4D, as well as models available at Turbosquid and Archive 3D, to which I usually made some kind of changes. I don’t feel too bad about using canned models, since I was working on my own and simply did not have the time to model everything from scratch.

I cannot thank the artists who made tutorial videos and contributed to these sites enough. I simply never would have been able to do this without their generosity.

Once all the sets and rigs were completed, I just got to animating. The entire project start-to-finish took about three months of late nights, usually starting work about 10 pm and wrapping up between 1 and 3 am. And then up again at 7 to go to work.

The finished video has over a dozen references to films and writers hidden (mostly) throughout. I think the video rewards careful viewing for that reason, and also because, particularly inside the museum, there are some set-dressing elements that help fill in the backstory to the aliens and why all of these events are happening in the first place.

Museum Kane Shot_0087

A still from inside the museum. Notice the crashed flying saucer on display. Keen-eyed viewers will notice a number of other things hidden in this shot, as well.

I’m quite proud of the finished video. Its technical shortcomings are certainly evident, but for a one-person production, I think that all-in-all, I punched well above my weight. I’m proud of it as a piece of storytelling, and for the fact that somehow, I feel like the characters came out empathetically.

Goodbye at the End Script

I had two of the walkers 3D printed at Shapeways. Because.

I had two of the walkers 3D printed at Shapeways. Because.

The Morning Breaks: My Life in Music

I just released a new video from our album The Ghost of John Henry, for the song “The Morning Breaks.” It goes like this:


This an intensely personal video for me, and I have to be honest it feels a little weird putting it out into the world. The earliest footage in here dates back to 1993, when I was a kid. That’s twenty years of my life in about three minutes, from the first show I ever played (performing Metallica and Pantera songs on a flatbed trailer at a church carnival, right after I started playing drums), through four bands (there have been more, but I don’t have footage of them all), five or six relocations, my transitions from drums to guitar and heavy metal to folk music, and the John Henry recording sessions earlier this year. I was reluctant to tackle this video, too, because I figured it would either come out really honest and evocative…or totally fail and feel wildly self-indulgent. Hopefully it’s more of the former.

This video takes the song in a different direction from its context on the album, but that’s ok. I realized maybe a month ago while visiting my parents that I had all this VHS performance footage dating back to before I could drive a car, and as I dug through old boxes and drawers and rediscovered more footage, I realized that there was a pretty solid chronology hidden away in there that drew a bright line across most of my life. I think the video still fits the theme of the song quite well. We know who we are, but not who we’ll be.

I wish I could speak intelligently about how it felt to go back through all of this footage, but the only thing I consistently felt…was lucky, really.

So, there you go. Now you can watch me grow up. Like the Harry Potter kids.

PS. Thank you to everybody I played with in these bands – Black Spiral (Chris, Ryan), De Profundis (Matthew, Rob, Chris, Robyn), Mission 13 (Chris, Matthew, Karen), and Sci-Fi Romance, today (thanks, Kurt and Jody).

Road Stories: The Bombed-Out Whorehouse

Maybe the best sustained musical experience I’ve ever had was playing drums in the band Black Spiral from about 1995-1999.  I was in and just out of high school, and the band started as Chris Crowson, Ryan Dawe, and I were just starting to learn our instruments.  The first songs I was ever involved in writing, and the first lyrics I wrote all went into that band, and we ultimately felt like we were making compelling music that honestly brought something new to the table.

So of course it couldn’t last.  But it did give us the opportunity to shoot a music video in the ruins of a semi-famous brothel.  There is that.

A section of the ruins. Credit: Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s Chicken Ranch Central, http://www.jaymeblaschke.com/ChickenRanchImage15.html  


Crowson and I stayed in Texas after high school, but Dawe moved to Georgia for college, and that was the de facto end of the band, though we (still) never officially broke up.  We pooled our money the following summer to make our album Defeat (recorded in a single day) and, later, the music video for the last song on it, “Twilight.”  The multi-talented Don Swaynos and I began scouting locations for the shoot in the vast openness between Houston and Austin, Texas.  We knew of a place in Sealy, Texas, that looked like a bomb had been dropped on it.  About six buildings, real low, maybe two of them still had a roof on it.   Don and I had driven past this place a hundred times going between Houston and the University of Texas.  This time, we stopped in for a look.

Place was nuts.  We figured it had been a hotel, and we walked the buildings, which seemed to have once consisted of two or three tiny little rooms arranged around a single, shared toilet.  But who would build a hotel like this? It wasn’t just cramped, it was oppressive, even with no walls intact.  But the entire place was all crumbling, with lots of broken glass, and the biggest freaking corn spiders you ever want to see in your life.  Great for a death metal video.

There were a couple of mobile homes parked just on the other side of a cyclone fence, so we knocked on a door to ask about the place.  If the person living there knew what it had been or anything about it (no), or who owned it.  The answer was surprising — Omar, the owner/operator of two Mexican restaurants (named Omar’s, one in Sealy, one in Katy, Texas) — was thought to own the place.

So we drove to the Omar’s in Sealy, just hoping he’d be there.  He was.  This is my conversation with him, as best I can remember, and keep in mind, Omar has a super-heavy accent:

Me: Hi, we’re film school students from UT, and we were told you might own the old hotel or whatever it was out on I-10 outside of town.
Omar: Sure. The whorehouse.
Me: The…wha?
Omar: Yeah, yeah.
Me: The, did you say…”storehouse”?
Omar: No, whorehouse. With ladies. Girls.  The chicken ranch. (The eponymous “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” of Broadway, film, and ZZ Top song fame – vk.)
Me: The…I thought that was in La Grange.
Omar: Sure, but there was another. There in Sealy.
Me: And you own that?
Omar: Yeah, sure.
Me: Ok. We were wondering if it would be possible to shoot a music video. There. In the whorehouse.
Omar: Sure. What do you need?
Me: We would need a location release, saying it’s ok for us to shoot there.
Omar: Ok.

He then took an order pad off the hostess stand, and wrote out that it was ok for us to shoot there, and handed me the torn order ticket.  Um…Perfect?

Turns out, the place was called The Wagon Wheel, the little sister of the Chicken Ranch, which was in La Grange, until a huge scandal shut them both down and propelled a TV reporter named Marvin Zindler to a local stardom that would last until he died many, many years later.  I wound up in school with Marvin’s granddaughter, eventually.

We shot the video a few weeks later in some of the crumbling rooms and back behind the building, and it was a grueling-as-hell shoot in 110-degree heat, with no shade or cover.  There were one or two rooms that still had roofs on them, albeit sagging and threatening to collapse at any moment.  They since have.  But the big reason why we didn’t want to just kick it in one of those rooms was because they were utterly, utterly terrifying.

They smelled like trash and sex.  There was a big, torn up couch in one, with the words “KILL ME” scrawled above it in red paint or possibly animal blood.  And *so many* empty beer bottles and used condoms.  It had become a love nest, I guess, for local teenagers.

It’s interesting. In The Shining, the murder hotel just has murder in its soul, and that spirit infests Jack Torrance.  I have to wonder if sex is the same.  Nobody knew what this place was, apart from local history buffs, and Omar.  The people living next door to it didn’t know.  I wonder if sex was just in the building’s —  the land’s — aura, and it called to people.  It’s possible.

It’s also possible, though, that when you’re a teenager and horny, no place is too terrifying or too disgusting to distract from the magic of touching and being touched.  There is that.