The making of Chet Faker’s 1998

Published:  May 20, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Chet Faker’s new single ’1998′ has a simple, progressive video, one which takes its form directly from its layered sound. The hand-drawn, beat-driven narrative is the result of a 2-week actualisation of the 21:19 and Jacky Winter Group partnership, Flutter. Headed up by 21:19′s Dom Bartolo, a team of animators, with Jacky Winter artist Grace Lee, realised the video in such a short time using their collaborative energy and a sincere love for the job, which Dom shares with us step by step:


How were you introduced to the project? What was the brief?

We were approached by Chet Faker’s manager, Evet Jean. The original brief pointed out that the track was an ode to old house music, and that there was a desire to create something with a simple animated Keith Haring vibe. That and the fact they needed the clip to be ready in 2 weeks to coincide with the worldwide release of the track!

Subsequent conversations followed in the following days, as Evet spoke about the style of early animation that was used for rave music, which was repetitive and simple in nature. In his own words, “We want to evoke that spirit without it being boring, of course!”

So our take away from that was:

  • Looping animation
  • Simple Line Drawings (Keith Haring)
  • Repetition
  • Pattern
  • Abstract Shapes
  • Simplicity

What were your/the team’s initial responses or thoughts on the track?

The first time I listened to the track I liked it. The second time I listened to it I loved it.
The prominent steady tempo of the track immediately grabbed my attention and I felt that it was critical to the visual storytelling.

It is a very consistent, steady rhythm piece — was the concept centred on visualising the sound? What was the heart of this project?

Initially yes, our ideas centred around visualising the music. One my first references was Patatap — essentially a music/animation toy. What I loved about this — and what was relevant to the project — was the notion of simple abstract shapes timed and synced to audio.

A screenshot of the interactive/sound software, Patatap

The concept for the video really grew once I had a chance to get over the initial panic and really sit with the song and listen to it’s deeper intent. We interpreted the narrative of the track as one which tells the story of someone reconciling a relationship. Questioning not only where they have been, and who they were, but also where they are now, who they are now, and indeed where they are going and who they might become. In many ways, the answers to those questions are a matter of perspective.

The idea of an individual walking came to mind. I was drawn to the idea of staging a walking sequence and how it could be used as a powerful transformative device for stages of the song and scenes within the video. And how the audience’s perspective of character could alter as the character’s own journey and reconciliation evolved. It was important for me that the audience could experience different moods through viewing the subject in an alternate way.

When you take a journey — any journey — you are altered by time, you’re delivered to a new point. It’s a kind of universal truth. Time can ease any emotional journey. I felt that by staging the character this way, we could experience more intrinsically the nature of time delivering our character to a place of new understanding. This was the core of the idea.

Then it was a matter of playing with the perspectives. At the start of the video we discover the subject. Our point of view travels towards this distant figure who is stationary. Once our camera arrives to frame the person and the beat of the music kicks in, the figure begins to walk. It’s all about moving forward. Moving on from the relationship. Our perspective views the walker from front perspective. It’s like we are with them. We see their face. It’s inclusive. They walk confidently and constantly towards us.

Timeline breakdown for the animation

Initial sketches

Then we find a musical cue and we animate 180 degrees around the walker so we are suddenly behind them. And suddenly it’s like we are the one that they’ve turned their back on. They are walking away from us now. It feels distinctly different to have the figure walking with their back to us. It’s more cold.

We don’t stop there — we then shift perspective again, repositioning above the walker to frame a bird’s-eye perspective and then again underneath. Again, it was about changing our audiences perspective. We wanted to see a different side to the character.

Then we returned to our thinking about visualising music, and we began to explore how in each perspective we could reveal different things around the walker, different abstract shapes that not only could visualise the music, but that could become symbols of mood and abstractions of emotions. Practically these shapes could be made up of simple loops and patterns which of course would help when we were under such intense deadline pressure.

Studies of shapes

Studies of shapes

Once you had your idea, what was the process of pulling the piece together? How did the team work together?

The Team: Logistically, the first step in our process for the project involved setting up our team. Choosing the right team members for a project with such an aggressive deadline was vital. Everyone involved needed to be able to work at extreme pace, and utilise processes that enabled maximum flexibility.

Our team included: Domenico Bartolo (director), Grace Lee (artist), Stephen Elliget, Glenn Hatton, Domenico Bartolo and Neil Sanders (animation), and Li Liang Johnson (producer).

Everyone was excited. No one talks about the quality of optimism when designing – but it’s such a critical ingredient. The ability to see a way forward without fear or trepidation. That’s something the entire team had on this project, a joyful eyes wide and a sense of playful hard work.

The artist on our team was the wonderful Grace Lee – she was based in Tokyo – so all of our interaction occurred remotely. Grace and I had a phone call at the start, we’d never worked together before so it was very much a case of getting to know one another fast. Fortunately neither of us were shy with ideas and it was clear immediately to me that I’d found someone who had a great deal to offer the project.

Ideas: The Patatap interactive site was the first reference I shared with Grace. She loved it – and instantly became addicted to playing with it. I spoke with her at length about the idea of abstract shapes representing the music and also the emotions of the song. I also had already formed the idea of the character walking by the time Grace and I first spoke – about the idea of perspectives. Grace immediately got it. And she was excited by it. Which was so meaningful in the scheme of things.

It was actually kind of thrilling. The adrenaline of working at such pace. Grace’s enthusiasm, intelligence and sensitivity to the project was amazing. I don’t know how we would have accomplished the project if we weren’t able to connect.

We also spoke about how we would approach the art direction of the project – and again – logistically what was possible. Grace’s work is well known for it’s astonishing colour through painting but I knew from the initial discussion with Chet’s manager that we wanted to channel something simpler. I also was really conscious of the timeline and I knew that realistically we had to keep things very basic if we were to pull this off.

I’m almost certain that both Grace and I said “simple line drawings’ at the same time when we were on the phone. Again – it was one of those situations where you find yourself alongside a fellow artist and discovering that there’s an unspoken understanding. Working with line drawings meant we could re-create and re-draw everything that Grace could come up with. Our team would literally be hand drawing this piece from start to finish.

Grace sent through an animation reference she’s seen from the COSMOS series – she liked the simplicity of the line work and how things could randomly morph. My emphatic answer was YES!

I put together a very basic mood board for Grace, referencing shapes and the journeying figure. In particular, I rambled on further about the idea of perpetual walking – the notion of an unending shot. I referenced Muybridge’s photographic plates – and I knew there could be a fantastic relationship between the beat of the music and the footsteps of our character walking.

Grace in turn referenced a staggering Shugo Tokumaru music video:

Everyone’s minds were buzzing. Lots of ideas like these started getting passed about and shared. Grace started sketching away at realising some initial shapes and the ‘walker’, and one of her first discoveries was to portray the walker as Chet. It was a wonderful idea and everyone embraced it.

Sketching different ‘Chets’

We in turn immediately began developing a walk cycle, so that we could define the right tempo for Chet’s steps.

It was exciting to see the bones of the project starting to take shape. Grace started experimenting with gif animations which were really wonderful. Playing with views of Chet from alternative points of view and shapes. As the production developed it became clear that whilst there was some much going on around the figure walking – that it made thematic sense to add an additional level of transformation.

The simple idea of the abstract patterns affecting Chet was an obvious one. I spoke with Grace about it and she immediately drew studies of abstract lines replacing Chet’s body. This in turn led me to think of masks – and the idea of personal identity in relation to our existing thoughts about who we are in relation to where we are at any given time in our lives. Grace created an amazing collection of masks which were intern interpreted and animated by hand by Neil.

‘Abstract line study’ of the Chet character

Tribal head studies

The animation involved several techniques — traditional hand drawn cell animation, motion graphic 2d animation and 3d animation. We essentially had a 4 man animation team, with various individuals shouldering and sharing different aspects of the production. Glenn Hatton drew all of Chet’s walk cycle by hand. Every single frame for every single angle. Steve Elliget was the main compositor – glueing everything together, timing everything out, adding clever motion graphic 2d animation and 3d animation. Neil Sanders was brought on to strictly create as many abstract loops as he could, based off Grace’s artwork. He also animated all of the incredible masks that take Chet wears. We all chipped in where we could. Between directing, I found myself hand drawing sequences (the worm sequence viewed from beneath Chet took hours!) and compositing some of the scenes. It was a colossal team effort which required everyone working around the clock! Fortunately there was a lot of love for the project, so it wasn’t too painful despite the long hours.

One of the interesting things on the project was the introduction of colour. Throughout production the video had largely been developed as a black and white piece. And whilst we had internally always spoken about introducing colour towards the end of the film (both in our concept thoughts and in developmental artwork by Grace) we had yet to properly execute this. It wasn’t until the final days of production that we attempted to make this a reality. Of course when you live with something intensely for a period  (as it had been with the b&w work) we found it hard to suddenly introduce the colour. We knew where it could work – but we were unsure. I remember that we rendered two versions of the clip, one without colour and one without – and everyone at the studio debated the merits of each. Of course it became clear that the version with colour was a great deal more meaningful.

Early study with colour

What are your thoughts on the final piece? Did it turn out how you thought it might in the beginning?

Theatre is collaborative and the process of making the video could not have been more satisfying. As I mentioned at the beginning, everybody approached the project with such a wonderful open mind, it made every interaction exciting. That doesn’t happen on every project. That magic. I loved watching all of the artists bounce off one another – they way one person can ignite something within another. That energy. When I think of the final piece I think of the team, I’m tremendously proud of our team. Did the project turn out how we thought? To a large extent, yes. But the thing is, you never really know where something will end up — and that is, I guess, why we create. Part out of a deep desire to communicate that which is inside us and part out of desperate need to bring it to the surface and explore what it means.

One Response

  1. Easily one of my favourite videos from this year to watch

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