Anyone who has had their ears switched on over the past couple of weeks will have heard a song so catchy, it’s probably starting to drive you mad by now. The tune is Hunnybee by Unknown Mortal Orchestra with a melody as sweet and as its title. Just as we thought we were sick of it, Greg Sharp’s come along and made the loveliest animated video for it that we can’t stop watching now either. For God’s sake.
Hunnybee is the fourth video Greg’s created around the album campaign for the band’s fifth record, Sex & Food. “People might recognise that there’s a theme developing,” Greg admits to It’s Nice That, as each of the videos he’s created (so far) are “designed to be viewed as a collection.” Each short is illustrated in a style which is slightly fuzzy in movement, in a way that reminds us of the eerily calming quality of Studio Ghibli films.
But for the Hunnybee video, in particular, Greg and Ruban Nielson, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s frontman, talked at length “about his general approach to music making, lyrics and the meaning of ‘meaning’ in the context of popular music,” Greg explains. “For instance, I’ve heard him say that he makes stupid pop songs, but I think he’s misdirecting us on purpose. I think in my animation career one of the highlights has to be Ruban revealing the secrets of what his songs are actually about.”
This conversation led Greg to make his own opinion about Sex & Food, the record’s title, believing it to refer to “a worldview stripped back to its bare necessities for life; fucking and eating,” he tells us. “But, this can be interpreted in positive and negative ways. Unknown Mortal Orchestra lyrics are very coded. For me, Sex & Food presents the conflicted co-existence of the cynical and romantic, in the same way, the band itself seems to be an uncomfortable compromise between acute sadness and hedonistic dance music.”
In turn, each of Greg’s videos “are about things that are both a success and abject failure simultaneously,” the animator and director explains. “They will be about things that have achieved success but failed anyway, or achieved their life purpose, but then that purpose changed. However, they have elements of hope and romanticism.”
Backstory told, Greg’s written narrative and directorial view for Hunnybee moulded into a short about a train journey, with a female passenger sitting, holding a book but never reading it, staring out the window instead. Repetitive shots hint at the personality of the protagonist and where the animated short may be set. She has a backpack and a camera sitting firm on the table which hints at travelling, a suitcase sits above her head with an attached airport tag stating AUS, but the green landscape setting out the window leads you to believe it’s New Zealand, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s home.
The holding image of the short is the window of the train looking outwards, a concept that “uses the moving train window to eat up a lot of screen time, and then all the animation is compressed into a dramatic crisis at the end,” Greg explains. This dramatic crisis gradually builds in momentum through repetitive shots, particularly of the nuts and bolts of the train becoming looser and looser, to a branch falling on the track, but the ending is for you to find out yourself. “As a director, this approach takes some courage – you have to really commit to that cause and hold your nerve, trusting that the artwork will hold up, and the crescendo won’t fall flat.”
Where other Unknown Mortal Orchestra animated videos have been delicately illustrated but little in movement (“from a production perspective, producing three videos in three months necessitated a stripped back approach — compelling concepts, sparsely animated”), Hunnybee provides more narrative movement. “Thankfully, we have had a bit more time for Hunnybee and had a crew of all-stars!”
This strong crew, made through Greg and producer Nina Knežević’s company Truba animation, makes up all the particular details of the animated short with a specific carefulness. “Animating the female protagonist fell on Sean Buckelew and he went balls-out Richard Williams on it, so those shots really hold up,” Greg explains. “The large background vistas were tackled by Fabio Besse and Josselin Facon and were incredible. The video was also animated by Vuk Palibrk and Greg, while “Johnathon Djob Nkondo, Bonnie Forsyth and Vincent Tsui took a lot of the hero shots, while I filled in all the gaps.”
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