How Art Camp made a 2,200 hand-painted frame video for Bright Eyes’ return
After releasing its ambitious animation in June of this year, the creative studio today releases a making of video to reveal its collectively painstaking process.
- 17 December 2020
- Lucy Bourton
Back in April experimental creative studio Art Camp received a brief which appeared to encapsulate the whirlwind of emotions we were all feeling. Asked to create an animated video for Bright Eyes’ Mariana Trench (the band’s first single after almost ten years of anticipation), the track features layered apocalyptic undertones, both on a personal and global scale. “What makes it so good,” Art Camp’s team tells It’s Nice That, “is that it points to our own self-destructiveness – greed, cowardice, selfishness – as well as the structures that govern us, like the financial markets and the police state, as the causes.”
This seemingly timely tone struck Art Camp personally, with a core team based in New York “stunned and lost when everything stopped,” says the studio’s Santiago Carrasquilla. Visually the studio saw an opportunity to utilise creativity to describe this terrifying moment, looking inward to discuss feelings of confusion, fear, and a longing for community. Responding to the brief with the overarching concept of “a collective dream for the future,” the team designed a relatable dreamscape “that is both happy and sad, scary and reassuring, embracing the tension between light and dark, hope and despair, and life and death.” In typical Art Camp style – which has previously created celebrated pieces for Mitski and Thom Yorke – the team ran with the idea to create an overly ambitious animation to bring these layers to life. The result, released in June of this year, features 2,200 hand illustrated frames. Ten of these make just one second of the animation, and took anywhere from five to 25 minutes to create, each. Already regarded as one of the greatest music videos of this year, both for its ambitious craft and reflectivity of a turbulent 2020, today Art Camp releases a making of film for this astonishing achievement.
The concept of an apocalyptic reality is one regularly visualised, and possibly overly so. This was a key note given to Art Camp by Bright Eyes’ label Dead Oceans, keen to create a video that wouldn’t just pull upon tropes of “the end of the world as we know it” that we regularly see in music and cinema. In turn, Art Camp’s rendition of Mariana Trench does describe “a collective nightmare”, but one that ends in revolutionary hope. “To put it plainly, we wanted this video to answer: What if the ‘end of the world’ is a good thing?” adds Jos Diaz Contreras from the team. “What if after a collective breakdown we all quit, got out, gave up, started over, built anew and got born? The mantra was always: Everything can and must and will change.”
Not only holding onto this mantra as a visual approach, Mariana Trench’s making of documentary displays the Art Camp team channelling the feel of the video in their collectivism as a studio. Traditionally the studio approaches an animation from a 3D perspective first, rendering an animatic to then be printed, drawn over by hand, before being photographed and scanned back in – an approach Danae Gosset, the video’s animation director and art director, developed as a student at the School of Visual Arts. However in this instance, “we wanted to come up with a technique that was more self-contained, and gave each person their own frames,” handy given the piece would be created in isolation too. “We have always been very interested in the seemingly endless possibilities that 2D software can offer, and the doors it can unlock when it comes to storytelling,” continues Jos. “This time, we were very curious to see how we could use 2D only as a rough guideline to watercolour paintings,” and as a result adopted the approach of tracing over the 3D outline “giving much more room for the hand and spirit of each illustrator to shine through.”
Given the layered technicality of the short, the team additionally decided to limit the colour palette featured “in order to create a cohesive look throughout and to simplify our decision making,” says Santiago. Assigning the animators on the project a palette of mostly red, yellow, green and blue, this limited approach makes way for personality across the animation due to the brushstrokes of each hand painted frame, chosen to be purposefully imperfect. With this decided, each animator on the project tackled between 20-30 seconds each, in turn creating between 200-300 paintings. Catching up over hangouts online across the making of film, the troubles the team run into are joyfully absurd: paint brushes breaking from over use, having to hold down the frames with piles of books to stop the paper warping, or just the trouble of transporting stacks and stacks of paper from the supply store home again.
Usually, Art Camp’s team would all be hustling together physically to create a short such as this. But, obviously, due to the pandemic Mariana Trench also sees the studio adopt a new approach to working in silos. When projects are as ambitious as this, team camaraderie is key to literally keep going. The studio, as displayed in the film, ensured regular check-ins and conversations to create some simulation of normalcy. “In a way, being forced to work remotely had an interesting effect on the process and the outcome,” explains executive producer Fern Diaz. “We opened up metaphorical doors to our studio and worked with people in a way we would have never, just based on space constraints and location. Suddenly the whole world became the studio.” This opportunity is clearly met with excitement by the team, working hard to utilise video chats “to translate very subtle human emotions, approximating that of being in the same room,” adds Fern. “Obviously far from being the same, but an absolute miracle nonetheless.”
Deciding to produce a making of style video for this piece developed out of the studio’s overall love for process. “We like to say: process needs to be enjoyable – how we spend our time is how we spend our lives,” points out Jos. Following the immense reaction to Bright Eyes’ comeback visualised by the team, fans were also repeatedly asking for a glimpse behind the scenes and, since it featured so many unchartered directions, the timing felt just right. Directed by Cash Studios and led by Ivan Cash, the short zooms in on the people who have achieved this mammoth short, setting up a way for the team to keep “a running log of the highs and lows, and miraculously edited months of footage into the essence of the process,” adds Jos. “We’re so happy that we have an archive of what it really felt like to try to make something together.”
For both animation and Bright Eyes fans, Santiago adds that he hopes Mariana Trench, and its making of, displays the power of resources available to artists “from inspiration to execution and dissemination,” he says. “We were able to make this extraordinary fantasy come to life with nothing but dedication and cheap – or free – tools. This has, to our minds, both lowered the barriers and raised the stakes for art-making.” The Art Camp team also took this one step further by selling each of the paintings making up the video, raising $48,759 for the NAACP Legal Defence Fund. “Our friends at Art Camp are some of the most prolific creators on the planet, but what people don’t know is how unique (and insane!) their process is,” concludes director Ivan Cash. “I hope audiences are inspired by the audacity and softened by the humanity of this project, and finally, humbled by what decent, passionate people working together are capable of.”
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.