The story behind the new animated music video for Stormzy’s Superheroes
Speaking to both the director and the animation studio involved in the project, we take an in-depth look at how the video was made.
- 11 September 2020
- Matt Alagiah
- Reading Time
- 4 minutes
The first people in the public domain to see the new animated music video for Stormzy’s track Superheroes were children in classrooms up and down the UK. In a short recorded speech, which introduced the broadcast across dozens of schools, Stormzy himself explained: “I wanted to show it to you guys first. Being students at school, I think it’s important that you guys understand how powerful you are.”
Watch the three-minute video and it’s clear why the Heavy is the Head artist and his label felt this would be the most fitting way to launch the video. One of the key messages behind the song is letting young people know that they have their own superpowers. The video follows two main protagonists – Stormzy himself and a young Black boy, to whom Stormzy reveals his powers.
“I always wanted this to be about ordinary people – but the word ‘ordinary’ is completely wrong – amazing people really, the people who make up our communities, our families, the people who actually make the world go round,” says Taz Tron Delix, who directed the Superheroes video. “I wanted to home in on those qualities that make us all superheroes.”
That’s why the final video also introduces an entire cast of other secondary characters. In rapid succession, we see a woman carrying her groceries home and making dinner for her grandmother; a woman letting her hair down in front of her bedroom mirror; a kid in a classroom solving maths problems; a father braiding his daughter’s hair; and many others. We also see a few well-known cultural figures, including the rapper Dave and footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford.
The film wasn’t originally meant to be that choppy, though. “The script was originally quite linear and narrative, following a protagonist and very dense, very Disney,” says Taz, who had previously worked with Stormzy on the music video for Audacity. After a few conversations, this dense and sequential structure gave way to something more fluid. “We decided to lean back into more of a traditional music video, where we could use the song to narrate things and didn’t need to have such a linear story and show so much of the world. We could let the lyrics tell the story and trust the audience to get it. We could jump around a little bit more.”
GalleryTaz Tron Delix and 2Veinte: Style frames from Superheroes music video, 2020
Between Taz sending his first pitch and hearing back from Stormzy’s team, however, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement resurged. A new scene was added after that, showing Stormzy surrounded by Black Lives Matter protesters. However, as Taz points out, an entire overhaul wasn’t necessary. “The message and the key moments were already there, it just made the message even stronger, more important than ever,” he says. “We just really wanted to include the protesters and bring it to the minds of young people, saying, the protesters going out there in a pandemic and putting their lives at risk – that is a superhero.”
The animation style is a sort of cross between what you’d expect from traditional superhero comic books and from Disney cartoons, clearly directed with a younger audience in mind. Landing on this style was the culmination of an interesting discussion between Stormzy and Taz. “Originally, Stormzy said he wanted something like a Pixar film,” Taz says. “We were quite quickly like, ‘We probably can’t deliver that, but we can do something else that’s really ambitious.’”
While this discussion was happening, Taz and his team at production company Compulsory were looking for animation studios. “We were talking with quite a lot of studios,” recalls Taz. “The pandemic has meant the biggest boom in animation in a long time, because everyone who couldn’t shoot decided to do animation instead.” So, despite the huge name attached and the ambition of the project, plenty of UK-based studios turned it down.
That’s when Taz’s producer came across 2Veinte, a design and animation studio based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, founded by Agustin Valcarenghi and Pablo Gostanian. “They’d done some great work for Adidas and the NBA and I really enjoyed the colours and characters,” says Taz. “It wasn’t the exact style we were looking for, but we were very confident in their skillset and ability.”
GalleryTaz Tron Delix and 2Veinte: Character explorations from Superheroes, 2020
2Veinte’s lead animator and character designer had a style that was, according to Taz, a bit more adult, more from the graphic-novel world. “We needed them to make everyone softer and rounder, a bit more ‘Disney-fied’, more palatable to a younger audience,” Taz explains. “But most importantly, we clicked – and sometimes that’s even more important than a collaborator’s skillset.”
The final video is a testament to the working relationships and open communication between a London-based director and an animation studio working remotely with a team of freelancers halfway round the world. For 2Veinte, clarity was really important. “The client had a very clear idea about the direction they wanted in terms of look and feel,” says Augustin Valcarenghi, the company’s executive director. “Fortunately, we could find a style that looks amazing and works really well with the song’s mood.”
Producing three and a half minutes of animation in as many months is no mean feat, even without a global pandemic to contend with. As creative director Pablo Gostanian puts it, “For us as a team, we found it particularly challenging producing three minutes of animation in such tight schedule. The task of putting together a pretty big team wasn’t easy at all. Adding to that the fact that all had to work smoothly as a team remotely.” It makes the final film all the more impressive.