Work / Animation

Tessa Chong and Lee Arkapaw’s dream-like video is a “mash-up of banal things”

Melbourne-based animator Tessa Chong has created a music video for Australian artist Super Magic Hats’ track Sleepless with fellow director Lee Arkapaw. “The film is about that moment between sleep and wakefulness, which we only recently realised had a name – hypnogogia. It’s a weird transitional state where you feel like you are in two realities at the same time,” explains Tessa. To communicate this weightless, ethereal feeling, the video portrays a series of “mash-ups of fairly banal things” with random objects, people and place morphing into each other.

“The ideas were first developed during a meeting we had with the musician, Rob Masterton; we discussed dreams, sleep and things we like. Rob has a fondness for Japan, which influences his music so there’s a bit of that in there,” says the animator. Looking to Japanese illustrators including Noritake and Shigeo Fukuda for inspiration, the animation adopts a clean, minimal aesthetic incorporating surreal and playful elements to keep the viewer hooked. “We also took cues from the music which has a very distinct phrasing so we thought it would be interesting to have things changing on each bar of music,” says Tessa. “The constant driving beat led to the idea of a figure running through an abstract landscape as something that could tie it all together.”

For Tessa, working with Lee on the project gave her motivation and drive to keep going. “I found making decisions much easier when you can bounce ideas off each other. Sometimes you just need someone to say ‘let’s move on now’ as it’s easy to get stuck on one scene. I really love the ideas process and seeing how we both interpret things differently.” The pair didn’t storyboard the animation as it didn’t follow a traditional narrative structure, rather Tessa and Lee counted how many bars were in the song and that informed how many small scenes they needed to create.

“We divided the workload and both set out making a series of short animations and for some scenes we rotoscoped stock footage. Once we had a bunch of these scenes, I then decided on the structure and flow,” explains Tessa. “Lee completed all the coloured sections and a lot of the frame-by-frame work, while I pieced scenes together in After Effects and directed the look and feel”.

While their “loose process” resulted in hypnotic, dream-like visuals, it wasn’t without its challenges. “It was difficult to know how the film would turn out until towards the very end of the project! In hindsight, we probably should’ve stuck to the normal process of storyboarding, just because there were a few scenes that didn’t make the final cut, which meant we wasted time.”

The lively and humorous elements featured throughout the film complement the energy within the track and Tessa hopes to bring a bit of positivity with the video. “It’s just nice to be able to watch something devoid of any deep meaning and just appreciate it on an aesthetic, sensory level,” she says. “I think that’s why people like watching funny dog videos – we all need a bit of lightness and humour in our daily lives.”


Tessa Chong and Lee Arkapaw: Sleepless (still)


Tessa Chong and Lee Arkapaw: Sleepless (still)


Tessa Chong and Lee Arkapaw: Sleepless (still)


Tessa Chong and Lee Arkapaw: Sleepless (still)