Stephen McNally teams up with Jon Hopkins to create a flowing animation for a song with no beat
For Jon’s latest track, Music for Psychedelic Therapy, the Blinkink director and animator produces a trippy video using artworks by Eileen Hall.
- 18 January 2022
- Ayla Angelos
You’ve been briefed to animate a music video and the first thing you do is listen to the rhythm and start thinking about your compositions, right? Well, in the case of Blinkink’s Stephen McNally, who’s teamed up with British musician Jon Hopkins to create the film for his release Music for Psychedelic Therapy, it was quite the opposite. The song has no beat. However, instead of limiting Stephen and his directing and animating skills, this inspired him to take things further. “Not working to the beat was quite liberating, it made the process more about trying to follow and visually complement the shifting flows of the sound,” he tells It’s Nice That. Featuring artwork by Eileen Hall, the video features a continuously flowing image as it uses a perfect balance of 2D and 3D animation. In other words, it’s spellbinding.
“The abstraction of both the sound and Hall’s artwork allowed me to follow how the sound made me feel, sketching reams of mandalas, clouds and forms that Jon’s music elicited as I listened,” Stephen explains. “I sent Jon some rough still frames of how different parts might look, and a noted-over waveform of the full track with arcane scribbled thoughts for how one section flows into another.” By doing this, the pair were able to combine heads and bounce ideas off one another, back and forth until the final structure was devised. “When I had a rough cut of draft renders in place, Jon and I could get properly granular, adjusting how the visuals respond to chords, and even individual moog notes [i.e. the sounds of a synthesiser], retiming and reframing to get the alignments right. The steady forward push of the camera lets the different worlds wash over us in mesmerising waves, giving the piece a consistent structure, without responding to a distinct beat.”
Before this, Stephen and Jon had previously worked together in producing the album artwork and trailer for Singularity, his previous album. Describing Jon as a “lovely, conscientious and very collaborative” person to work with, when he approached Stephen with an initial edit of the track – alongside Eileen’s watercolour artworks – Stephen knew it was a project worth taking. The two work together harmoniously, and often, Stephen will approach the collab in the most open manner possible in response to the “sensations the music creates”. Yet equally, Eileen’s paintings were of similar importance when it came to animating the video. The handcrafted aesthetic of her paintings was an apt pairing to the psychedelic undertones of the track and finished film; they’re almost dripping in paint, bleeding from the splash of a brush and into the rest of the frame. “It feels both small, physical and tactile, hand-crafted but with a sense of something vast and cosmic in scope within it,” says Stephen. “I was very keen to explore a shifting sense of scale, flowing from a scene that feels microscopic to something that feels like a vast cosmos fireworks exploding in impossibly slow-motion, schools of iridescent fish fluttering by.”
To achieve a final outcome like this, of course takes time and skill. Or, as Stephen puts it, a mix of “the physical and the technical”. For instance, the opening sequence is composed using rostrum filmed elements of ink, “expanding and soaking into wet watercolour paper, or flowing in pools and swirls”. Then, as the music changes, the more computer-generated 3D world opens up. “I created loosely sketched forms as three-dimensional structures to travel through, emitting motes of colour that advect through simulations of swirling fluid and smoke movement,” he explains. “The flow of colourful specks reflect the seeping of the watercolours in the earlier sections, but now moving in depth as well.”
GalleryStephen McNally x Jon Hopkins: Music for Psychedelic Therapy. Artwork by Eileen Hall (Copyright © Stephen McNally x Jon Hopkins x Eileen Hall, 2021)
Stephen McNally x Jon Hopkins: Music for Psychedelic Therapy. Artwork by Eileen Hall (Copyright © Stephen McNally x Jon Hopkins x Eileen Hall, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.