Earlier this week, Bonobo released the video to No Reason. Directed by Oscar Hudson, an ex-skater turned filmmaker who last year won the Best New Director award at the UKMVAs and has just signed to Pulse, the video features a “hikikomori” — the Japanese version of an extreme recluse. As the camera travels towards a door, the same room appears, with details tweaked and shrunk, creating an Alice in Wonderland effect. Amazingly, it was all pulled off without CGI.
We spoke to Oscar, who told us about the “immense challenges” behind the video.
Why did you choose to not use any CGI?
It would have been much, much simpler to do this as an animation or with green screen, or even with motion control, but for me the whole appeal of the idea was trying to pull it off physically. I’m convinced that in-camera effects add another layer of interest to a concept because you get people wondering how things are done. These days CGI is so advanced that you can make almost anything happen, but as with any kind of magic trick, it’s not all that impressive if you instantly know how it’s done.
How did that decision impact on the production of the video?
From a technical perspective, the challenges were immense. For starters, the set had to be reproduced 18 times in 18 different scales. All the props in there had to be made from scratch by hand. So when designing the room and the things that would be in it, myself and brilliant art director Luke Moran-Morris had to work very closely in coming up with an aesthetic that would help us with this.
While researching I was told about the Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori, young people who become so overwhelmed by life that they retreat to their bedrooms and don’t leave for years at a time. This felt a perfect embodiment of what the film was trying to say and do conceptually and more than this the Japanese aesthetic worked so well from a practical perspective. Minimalist furniture and straight graphic lines lend themselves really well to model making. Also the low, floor-level furniture helped a lot with our low camera angle and finally the traditional tatami mats with their hard black lines allowed us to dress in the system we came up with to move our camera, which was the other massive challenge.
Which leads us to the fact that the video uses only in-camera physical effects…
The central premise of a camera pushing forward through a long sequence of shrinking rooms was the first piece that fell into place with this idea and, in my mind, it always had to be 100% a physical exercise. I have a long-standing interest in in-camera, set-based FX, which initially started simply because I didn’t know how to do CGI!
Then I got a taste for it and now it’s become a bit of a “thing” for me, especially with my music video work. I usually know if an idea is good because I instantly want to stop writing the treatment and go and try it out physically: making test films, building really shoddy little contraptions… For this film I straight away built six little shrinking cardboard rooms complete with mini plasticine furniture, put my Go Pro on the end of a long bit of wood and pushed through the corridor. At first, I spent a long time researching drain cameras, the ones they use to look inside sewer pipes, I thought these would be the only cameras small enough to get through the little doors that could also self-propel themselves. But after a bit more thinking and talking with other folks, better ideas started to emerge.
We firstly had to rig a tiny camera so it was no taller than 20cm and no wider than 7cm so it could fit through our smallest doorways. We shot on the codex action cam, which gave a great picture and really was so, so small. Then we had to get this camera to track at floor level through a 90-foot long set moving into spaces so small and inaccessible that there was no way to simply push the camera by hand.
It was such an unusual challenge that most grips — the guys on set whose job it is to coordinate the physical camera moves — just weren’t interested in helping us because it was beyond the remit of what normal grip equipment can achieve: they just don’t make dollies that small! So between me and director of photography Ruben Woodin Dechamps we had to design something entirely new.
We basically rigged our little camera to a narrow plank of wood, covered the base in carpet facing down and laid down smooth lino flooring to drag it across. To keep it in a straight line and to hide the tow wire we cut a one millimetre-wide groove into the floor all the way down the middle of the set and had two nails coming out the base of our camera unit to keep it sliding in the groove. The wire was then attached to the front nail and the camera could then be mechanically wound in whilst the wire could remain hidden. Complicated but very satisfying.