In Nuha Ruby Ra’s music video Run Run, a digital avatar of the London-based singer makes a journey through a world best described as digital gothic. The character dances as cryptic 3D models of shattering artefacts and shifting fluids populate the screen. The performance by the digital avatar, unclothed throughout the entire video and bathed in red and blue lighting, accompanies the experimental track. Nuha Ruby Ra's drawling vocals soaring over the harsh guitar strums and epic church organs.
The music video was created by fellow London-based Ben Dawson, an artist who picked up animation outside of his formal education. Growing up in Swansea, he constantly felt the difference between the culture of his hometown and east London, identifying this clash as an important aspect in his work. “Being a working class queer artist from south Wales, living and working in London has always been a massive dream of mine and now that I'm doing it, it's semi-surreal,” Ben tells It’s Nice That. “My background in animation is purely out of me experimenting with animation in university. I have no formal training in that sense , my skills as an animator have been found through learning through open-source resources and just trying and failing.”
“What attracted me to animation is the limitless potential of the medium. I am mostly interested in digital work existing in multiple iterations and forms. Animation can exist as several forms and file formats and for me, is a tool to navigate world building. Within that world, I can build scenes and environment that reproduce real feelings through a digital narrative,” Ben says. “I like to animate in a method that questions the narrative of digital production. My lack of formal training makes me feel more powerful to mess up and carve out my own pathway and define my own style as an artist. I'm not interested in following one style in animating ever, I want to explore as many ways as possible in crafting visual storytelling.”
He describes his visual language as something that constantly changes. At one point, for an entire year, he was only producing work about cowboys and queer culture, a project yo do with transforming the potential of images. “Now, my work has entered this new phase of a certain ethereal, glossy and uncanny quality. I got really bored of my previous visual language and decided to lean into the thing that I previously disliked. Now I'm obsessed with uncanny textures, glossy shading and iridescent colours,” he says, with these elements being present in the music video for Run Run. “I am currently investigating the symbiosis of language and alchemy as a tool of transmutation, discovering its literal limits and its conceptual ones through creation. The current characters are these genderless bodies exploring magic and alchemy through hyper-glossy and reflective magic textures that propose certain truths and lies around magic.”
Ben’s collaboration with Nuha Ruby Ra was fast-paced. Over two video calls, the singer explained her vision for the video: a short film that takes you through a spiritual journey mirroring the one she went through while writing the record. “She told me stories of her experiences and trusted me to visualise them. The video has a digital avatar of Nuha that experiences a spiritual journey through an ever-changing landscape where she confronts herself in moments of magic and self-exploration. We wanted to craft a visually rich and complex universe for this to exist within. The use of pyramids is a nod to her Egyptian heritage, the staff and snake are tarot card references that I wanted to play up throughout the video,” Ben says. “I really wanted the scenes in space to feel epic and impressive. One of the major feelings we wanted to achieve was an epic storytelling through powerful bold and emotional visuals and I think we achieved that.”
The singer gave Ben specific visual references to include, such as the constant red and blue lighting that mirrors the album cover and other subtle references that operate in the background of the piece, encouraging viewers to find them in the world created in the video. “Nuha was an absolute incredible collaborator in terms of giving me the space to turn her stories into the epic surreal universe which is the video," concludes Ben. “We developed a mutual trust throughout this process and that's why i believe the outcome is so special.”
Ben Dawson: Run Run for Nuha Ruby Ra (Copyright © Ben Dawson 2021).
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.