Exploring the 80s animation references in The Strokes’ At The Door video

Drawing inspiration from Heavy Metal, Watership Down and The NeverEnding Story, Mike Burakoff and Benjy Brooke’s epic film plays with nostalgia and reality.

17 February 2020


After a premiere at Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire rally and millions of online views during its single week in the world, the video for The Strokes’ At The Door has already made an impact deserving of its epic stature. But what’s going on in this intergalactic tale, with its cohort of bunnies and skeletal processions? And why does it all feel a little familiar? Director and writer Mike Burakoff and producer Benjy Brooke explains.

“The references to Heavy Metal, Watership Down and The Neverending Story are fairly obvious,” Mike says of its early 80s animation references, “but in the process of making this video, Benjy turned me on to some other animated masterpieces of the era: Angel's Egg, Time Masters, Gandahar, the Neo Tokyo anthology, the Memories anthology, Fantastic Planet. It’s no mistake that this video reminds people of so many classic animated movies. We wanted to recreate scenes and characters that could have actually appeared in those films. But they aren’t quite the same, they seem a little off and that gives you this feeling of nostalgic unease… Is this memory real?”

When Mike was 15, he saw the band’s Hard to Explain video and was “hypnotised by the feeling of nostalgia I suddenly had for the 70s, a decade I had never lived through (I was born in ‘85),” he says. “One of the things I love about the Strokes’ music is how they convey a string of complex emotions without being overly explicit about context. You can project yourself into the song, and when you hear it a second time it feels like a memory. For this project, we wanted to use the emotional language of a 70s/80s animation to project the viewer into the story Julian tells in At The Door.”

To create the narrative, Mike looked at the song’s structure, and listened to the demo a lot. “A B C A B C D E F G… It’s like the musical equivalent of an Aranofsky movie,” the director says. “Establish a baseline reality in the first act, then transcend above it (or below it) aggressively until the credits… There’s a point at which a choice is made and everything afterward proceeds more or less on autopilot, like an inevitability. After listening to it probably like 20-30 times, I saw a similar narrative emerging where all the main characters are hopelessly drawn to oblivion.”


Mike Burakoff and Benjy Brooke: The Strokes, At The Door

Mike goes onto describe his typical creative process, which also plays out here, beginning with one image – one scene that aligns perfectly with the music – and writes backwards from there. For At The Door it was the last scene, where the protagonist returns to his childhood home to find it abandoned, as if a long time has gone by. “It’s a little backwards,” he admits, “but I think a lot of lyrics actually get written this way, and it helps keep the initial feeling front and centre.”

“There’s a feeling when you are growing up that you are just leaving for a second to go get something, that you’ll be right back. But reality is not the same as a memory, you can’t go back. Something or some time that feels so close to you can be impenetrably far away. It’s a feeling of loss that I get when I think about certain memories from my past. That notion is at the heart of this video… How do these different characters deal with loss? What does it feel like to face the future?”

Based on Mike’s script and shortlist for the video, Benjy then set to work pulling together a huge team of international collaborators, in a process also inspired by Heavy Metal. “Since it’s based on the anthology, we knew we could break the production up into five mini crews, each focusing on a separate section,” says Benjy. Adam Henderson led the design of the Rabbits section; Adam Sillard on the Celestial Procession section; Pablo Gostanian and his Buenos Aires-based studio 2Veinte took on the “gargantuan task” of leading the Megastructure sequence, based on exploratory designs by Pete Sharp; Ugo Bienvenu and his Paris-based studio Remembers Productions led the Cosmonaut 1982 section; and Benjy led the Boy section. Each section had an extended team, which is too long to list here, but can be explored on Benjy’s website. “Dozens of amazing artists put an incredible amount of work into this film, and Mike and I are eternally grateful,” Benjy concludes. “Also, Camille Guillot, Adam Sillard, Maxime Jouniot and Tamerlan Bekmurzayev are all still students... and way more talented and professional than me. The future is bright for traditional animation” he finally ends with.

GalleryMike Burakoff and Benjy Brooke: The Strokes, At The Door

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Mike Burakoff and Benjy Brooke: The Strokes, At The Door

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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