A deep dive into the Gizzverse: How King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard created ten videos for its recent record
Unable to connect with fans in person over the past year, band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard set off on an ambitious adventure to create a music video for every song on their new album, offering a unique freedom to creatives around the world in the process.
It’s fair to say that Australian band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have always been outliers. A rare gem of a group with an intense productivity since they formed in 2010, King Gizzard’s prolific creative output has evoked an obsessive loyalty in a global fanbase, yet they still seem to evoke surprise with each release.
Releasing no less than 20 records over the past decade – including five whole albums in just 2017 alone – their fans, as lead singer Stu Mackenzie tells It’s Nice That, “are the people who we’ve always catered to”. Just like the variety of genres and lyrical concepts each album encapsulates, the care King Gizzard have provided for their audience has varied in format over the years; from releasing one album completely for free, to vibrant live shows, full length feature films and, most recently, investing in creating a music video for every single song on their newest record, Butterfly 3000.
Creating a variety of visualisers is a regular occurrence for album campaigns nowadays, but the sheer amount King Gizzard have provided in the past 12 weeks or so, showcases an insane level of work. As a band who now self release their records, there is no marketing boardroom team balancing the books on such a project, but instead a group of enthusiastic members keen to collaborate with as many creatives as possible. They have been the individuals on the end of the line to the eight directors commissioned, offering freedom, support and inspiration on this ambitious adventure.
The reasoning behind creating the Butterfly 3000 series developed from a number of factors. Traditionally a band consistently releasing and touring each year, the initial spark came from a want to fill the void of interaction with fans due to lockdowns. It was also, as Stu describes, an opportunity to collaborate with a bunch of new creatives, those “with incredible skills who maybe aren’t getting to use them as much as normal”. The record itself was also an influence, as a particularly “special record to make,” continues Stu. Where previous albums have dived deep into the climate crisis or leant on heavier textures musically, Butterfly 3000 saw the band “try to make something that was rainbow-coloured and visual, as well as musically bright,” he says. “I think for that reason it did really feel right to have a broad spectrum of visual components to it as well. I think everyone has done such an amazing job of enhancing the music.”
The band invited a mix of artists, animators and directors to collaborate, and from speaking to each contributor in detail below, it’s clear the process of creating the series over the past year has boosted the creativity of all parties involved. For example, the only instruction given to each director was that the film had to include a butterfly – a dream brief for talented creatives to be left the room to do what they do best. As a result, some directors speak of the project as an opportunity to fall back in love with their medium during the difficulties of creating during Covid. Or even, as one contributor Amanda Bonaiuto describes, just knowing a group would invest in creating such a series off of their own backs offered a comforting faith in the industry. “It created a really nice tone for the work,” she says, “and made me feel like I was part of something bigger.”
As with many of the progressive projects King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have released over the years, the reaction to each video has been welcomed by its keen fanbase but with a certain level of surprise and confusion too. “Everyone is like, what the fuck is this?” laughs Stu. “Why would you make ten music videos!?” but as the ten following films will attest, why not?
The first video release for the opening track, Yours, follows the band dotted around locations in Melbourne, from one of the city’s highest buildings, Eureka, down to an aquarium and the corners of nightclubs. And although they’re just wandering around, the camera work created by PHC Films’ director John Angus Stewart and producer Max Coles, jolts their movements to appear at high speed. Or, as Stu puts it: “Like a butterfly.”
This butterfly filming effect is created by shooting the video on 16mm film which allows John to ramp the film manually within shots. As a result, each second of filming is made up of 15 frames of exposure, rather than the traditional 24. “Yes, I know, very confusing,” John tells It’s Nice That. It’s a technique Stu himself hadn’t actually seen before – a regular occurrence, it turns out, of working with the director: “John is so clever and so talented. He doesn’t do many music videos anymore, but I always try and get him to do one for us because I just like working with him. I feel like if he’s got some way to experiment with film, especially 16mm, you can usually get him on board.”
“It was fun, but it was also fucking hell. Which in my opinion all shoots should be.”John Angus Stewart
The narrative of Yours then combines elements of dark and light, which so regularly merge together across Butterfly 3000. “I wanted to make something that on the surface felt bright and hopeful, but at its core had an inherent darkness,” John explains. “Like a rotten apple with a shiny skin.” Yours in turn presents this idea of a “manufactured reality”, where viewers are thrown at full speed through its locations and in this “crazy, blown-out look,” as Stu describes, impacted by the amount of light exposing on the film as it is ramped (where footage is sped up).
The variety of locations adds to this effect, a reflection of the director’s interpretation of the song to be vast, “while retaining some tightness,” he says. “The melody to me feels tight and close and Stu’s vocals seem endless. We wanted the locations to reflect a similar feeling to the audience.” Even John’s outfit choices place the viewer’s sense of reality on a slight tilt as he “wanted it to feel like it was the future and, somehow, filthy rave fashion culture had circled back into the upper class,” says the director. “Hence them looking like filthy goon-sack-drinking day-trippers surrounded by idealistic, lush non-prosaic environments.”
This narrative was also influenced by the pandemic as behind the scenes filming was directly impacted by restrictions. Filmed in a window on the eve of another lockdown in Melbourne – “our last shot was at 11:45 pm on a rooftop in the city, and we went into a statewide lockdown at midnight” –Yours was miraculously wrangled together by PHC producer, Max. Hours before the shoot crew were dealing with cancellations left, right and centre and “in some ways, it’s thrown together and rushed, but it added to the excitement,” reflects Stu. This energy is perfectly summed up by John: “It was like eight locations in one day. So yeah, it was fun, but it was also fucking hell. Which in my opinion all shoots should be. One shot of fun topped with anxiety, and a few beers at the end. There isn’t really a bad time you can have with your best mates though.”
Switching then to animation, the following track Shanghai sees animator Amanda Bonaiuto step into the director role. Not a previous King Gizzard collaborator, Amanda’s work was first discovered by band member Ambrose when “we had been scrolling through some insanely rad Instagram feeds,” recalls Stu. On the other side of the world in California, Amanda had coincidentally found herself in “a major wormhole” of listening to the band last year. “When they asked me to make a video for them I shrieked!”
Amanda was sent the track with only the strict instruction of including butterflies, and was first attracted “to the repetitive, playful quirkiness of the song,” she tells It’s Nice That. Following an exploration of its themes, Amanda’s narrative of Shanghai developed to discuss topics such as codependency and demons or shadows of ourselves, influenced by the lyrical context of “transformation, cycles and repetition,” she points out.
“When they asked me to make a video for them I shrieked!”Amanda Bonaiuto
These elements are then brought to life through the physical appearance and life cycle of Amanda’s characters. As she describes, these characters – which are a regular fixture in much of her animated work – “are often parts of myself that I’m battling with or trying to understand.” Therefore Shanghai centres on two characters in tandem with each other, “entangled in this stressful strut, where they nearly step on each other over and over again as they move forward,” describes the director. “Kind of like ‘shooting yourself in the foot’ or tripping over your words, and the strut doesn’t get interrupted or changed until we see the butterflies for the first time.”
The introduction of the butterflies then relates to many of the themes of the record, including change and metamorphosis. The ending, for instance, is Amanda’s own interpretation of the lyric, “I’ve become a butterfly, born-again overnight”, where the director wanted to show two characters becoming mummified by a swarm of butterflies. “[It’s] almost like a bad joke about overdoing it,” she says. “Like, if they get swarmed and covered head-to-toe in butterflies (creating something like an exoskeleton) maybe all of their problems will go away.”
Shanghai then drifts into Dreams which, in another sweet coincidence, is created by Amanda’s dear friend, Jamie Wolfe. It was actually one of the first videos to be created, Stu explains, detailing a love for Jamie’s work for the same reasons as Amanda’s: “It was like I’d never seen aspects of their work before and it didn’t remind me of anything,” he says. “It’s just cool and bizarre and different.”
A regular fixture creating animated music videos for the likes of King Krule, Sneaks and The Rolling Stones, Jamie’s surreal wobbling characters have appeared in many forms and can always be found exploring in-depth narratives. As for King Gizzard, however, “in many ways, it was a perfect fit!” writes the director from her home in Los Angeles. “There are a lot of similarities in the type of work we make, specifically in the ways we embrace repetition, loops and patterns. There’s also an innate playfulness and love of experimentation that I think their music embodies that I also try to embrace. The entire collaboration felt really natural.”
“It was like I’d never seen aspects of their work before and it didn’t remind me of anything.”Stu Mackenzie
Following threads of emails sharing links and an exploration into the subject of the song’s title, Jamie took influence from one of her favourite Popeye episodes, A Dream Walking. Wanting to create an ode to Olive Oyl’s experience of sleepwalking into “a series of precarious situations” the director began to collate her own collection of dreams. “At some point, I definitely leafed through Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams,” she says, while also mining ideas “from both my own and everyone around me’s dreams.”
As Jamie wandered down this corridor of dreams, the idea to create a video for each track on Butterfly 3000 was quickly coming together by King Gizzard. In turn, as the following track Blue Morpho is musically linked to the former “it became obvious to get Jamie on board, especially as Dreams is so awesome,” explains Stu, with Jamie noting how she was “so stoked to jump right into that one.”
Given their musical connection, Jamie continued to develop the dream-like narrative arc of the video, this time illustrating “moments existing right at the tip of your tongue but that never quite manifest,” she says. “Similar to the Dreams video, the point of each individual shot is more about the energy behind the action, as opposed to the action itself… I think my literal pitch was ‘The dreams of the dreamers in the Dreams video’.”
Butterflies become introduced again more obviously in Blue Morpho, as characters begin to cocoon inward, developed from Jamie’s interest “in that collision of specific and non-specific,” she describes. Jamie was also driven to create work using techniques she simply enjoys. The timing of the Blue Morpho commission hit just as the pandemic was reaching its second peak in the US, and, “like everyone else, I was depressed and spending a lot of time in my head,” says the director. Yet Jamie decided to use this project as “a vehicle for generating serotonin,” she notes, “or I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off.”
Blue Morpho takes on a new life when you realise it is motivated by Jamie’s own “distinct, conscious choice to centre joy in all of my decisions,” as she tells us. “I forced myself to really lean into the pleasure of putting brush to paper, the pleasure of visual gags, the pleasure of moving bodies with limitless boundaries and anything else that got me back to why I fell in love with this stuff in the first place.”
The next track, Interior People, continues the animation thread although in a totally different direction stylistically. This time inviting Australian animation director Ivan Dixon of Studio Showoff to join, animation first made sense due to the lockdown restrictions at the time. Yet, the band were keen to work with a practitioner with “a different feel and style to Jamie or Amanda, who could bring something different to the table, while complimenting the track,” explains Stu. Plus, in yet another coincidence, it turned out Stu and Ivan are actually neighbours just one kilometre away from each other – they even shop at the same supermarket.
Recommended as an animator who, as Ivan himself describes “could match their psychedelic vibe,” for Stu, the director immediately appeared “very in tune with the fantasy aspect of Gizz.” To kick off proceedings Ivan shared bundles of references to create a video which would act as a “sci-fi/fantasy tribute to Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, Moebius and heavy metal magazine comics,” which in turn, “weirdly fused together in a way that looked like Dr.Seuss on acid,” says Ivan.
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Ivan Dixon: Interior People by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (Copyright © Ivan Dixon, Studio Showoff, 2021)
Away from the more experimental interpretations of Jamie and Amanda, Ivan’s follows an almost episodic narrative. There’s a meticulous level of detail to Ivan’s storyline, which stems from his decision to write a backstory for the world in which Interior People would dive into. This narrative, as the director relays, first explores a world in which humans created “these huge purple towers which accidentally attracted caterpillar beasts who infested them, using the monoliths as hives for their cocoons,” with a war between humans and insects soon following. Interior People joins this narrative in the aftermath where the hero – the only surviving human, along with their partner – becomes fatally injured only to be saved when his partner places him in a cocoon that turns “him into a butterfly”. The opening scene of the video, therefore, spots his partner searching for the cocoon, “and that’s where we join them in the clip,” says Ivan. “It’s a lot and not necessary to enjoy, but it helped me navigate the narrative.”
Ivan’s thoughtful character design also ended up inspiring the following video in Butterfly 3000’s chain, Catching Smoke, directed by Danny Cohen. A previous collaborator of the band on videos People-Vultures and Gamma Knife, a regular fixture in Danny’s direction of King Gizzard is to involve ambitious costume design. Where previous music videos have seen the band’s then seven members as one giant roaming bird, Catching Smoke sees each band member adorn their own characterful costumes, actually beginning with a cocoon inspired by Ivan’s drawings from Interior People.
“Finding new worlds like this is what makes collaboration so special in filmmaking.”Danny Cohen
Initially, Catching Smoke appears like any normal performative music video, with the band gathered together enthusiastically miming along to the track. Yet, there is a sense that something is not quite right and just watching King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard act in a kind of pop performance feels a little off. Even before you spot Stu playing the piano in a giant cocoon, smaller details (like the fact no band members have any eyebrows) lead the viewer to feel on edge. Still, with a purposefully plain colour palette dominating this first half of the video, Danny sets viewers up with a juxtaposition of the mundane and uncanny. “I wanted to lure people in for the first half, keep it neutral and beige, make it feel like a somewhat regular performance clip to help contrast the shift halfway through this song.”
This shift breaks into a whole new world at around four minutes in where Stu has his own transformation from cocoon to giant butterfly, with fellow band transforming into spiders, ladybirds, snails and dragonflies. The idea to merge these two vastly different worlds in one video first came from production designer Imo Walsh, who worked with Danny alongside fashion stylist Vy Nguyen who “helped to bring the overall tone to the costumes,” says Danny. “Her influences are strange and futuristic, in a good way.” Costume designer Emily Crosato then joined to create pieces like the butterfly’s wings or a snail backpack. “Everyone took it to a place I’d never imagined, I loved it,” the director tells us. “Finding new worlds like this is what makes collaboration so special in filmmaking.”
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Danny Cohen: Catching Smoke by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, photography Tim Fenby
(Copyright © Tim Fenby, 2021)
For the band themselves, Catching Smoke was also an opportunity to perform like never before as “it was definitely, in some ways, the biggest production and traditional music video we’ve ever done,” says Stu. “But in another way, it’s one of the most far-out things we’ve done.” With widened smiles plastered on their faces throughout, “I feel like you can watch Catching Smoke and feel like we’re taking the piss, or think it’s somehow ironic, but we actually wanted it to be genuine,” he adds. After all, Gizzard often lean on darker textures for their releases but Catching Smoke’s visualiser, instead, presents “probably who I am as a person in some ways – it’s just not the kind of music or art that I am drawn to,” says Stu. “That was the beauty in that one for me, just embracing that. It’s been nice that people have enjoyed it because we were just like what… are we doing… what have we become?”
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Danny Cohen: Catching Smoke by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, photography King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (Copyright © King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard 2021)
“It’s also finessed and deliberate, but it’s mad as well. Not many artists can do that combo. Sophie is so sick.”Stu Mackenzie
Returning back to animation for the next video, King Gizzard welcomed the weird world of animation director Sophie Koko Gate for 2.02 Killer Year. “I think we just fell in love with how mad it is,” Stu describes on discovering Sophie’s practice. “Her work feels really fearless, you know? It’s also finessed and deliberate, but it’s mad as well. Not many artists can do that combo. Sophie is so sick.”
Although previously unfamiliar with the band before this project – “I embarrassingly hadn’t heard of King Gizzard before working with them,” the director admits – the stars aligned for the collaborators as Sophie had coincidentally been drawing “a lot of butterflies at the time and wanted to make something butterfly related,” she tells It’s Nice That. Letting the lyrics then lead her narrative, it was their disturbing nature which Sophie liked in particular, “because the melody seems so bright and positive,” she says. “Sugarcoating some real and tragic truths. It made me think about the fact that you are born into a life without a choice, and that there’s a point when you are old enough to realise that the world is truly evil and you are a part of it.”
In turn, 2.02 Killer Year is about that exact realisation, “but also a slight tingle between your shoulder blades, and the distant memory of a womb with wings,” says Sophie. Running with the idea due to the broadness of Stu’s brief (“It feels natural and easy to make work when you can do whatever you want haha”), as with Jamie’s joy-inducing approach to the brief, Sophie’s short features various characters that the animator simply enjoys depicting. “Business people crack me up, I wanted them to be boneless so they would fall in a nice way, briefcases are funny, lunch is always a laugh,” she says. “Pollination is the sexiest thing on this planet.”
With a tight turnaround for the video, Sophie brought on board collaborators Jack Wedge and Will Freudenheim. Working with the pair in “an attempt to translate my 2D character designs into 3D,” Jack and Will had been recently experimenting with Unreal and motion capture. “Real-time rendering is v v v exciting,” adds Sophie, as this technology also allowed her to take on more of a directing role for the project. “Their interests are new and exciting to me and it gave a lot of life to the project. I gave them an animatic, 2D designs and a really fucked up Z brush file and they converted it all onto Maya and Unreal and animated it to perfection.”
Next in Butterfly 3000’s chain is Black Hot Soup, another video planned to be live-action until a snap lockdown was again announced in Melbourne. This time working with Guy Tyzack – a director who grew up with Gizzard member Ambrose in Ocean Grove, Victoria – the original plan was to develop a narrative around some sort of quest taking place in the Otway rainforest. Following hours of location scouting and planning the trip, within a few short hours Guy had to completely reimagine the idea. “I was really anxious to get it made so after a day of feeling sorry for myself on the couch I came up with some new ideas,” he tells It’s Nice That.
With travel restrictions in place, Guy decided to keep “the same fundamental idea of it being a quest through many different lands,” yet just on a green screen. Building out a narrative with a central character of a wizard controlling the reality of each quest the band ventured on, Black Hot Soup became an at-home DIY operation. “We shot all the guys and the actor playing the wizard in their recording studio on green screen and in a blacked-out room,” explains Guy. Each member spent about 45 minutes in filming, leaving lots of material for Guy to play with, and this footage was then interspersed with imagery from the Otways shot after the lockdown ended. The director then taught himself some animation to tie everything together, “and watched many tutorials on effects mainly used in rap videos,” he adds. “Then, I got the whole clip through a VHS tape to seal the new low-fi quality.”
“Guy’s got a lot of medium’s going on – he really pulled a rabbit out of the hat.”Stu Mackenzie
The result is a video that seems to embrace all of the issues thrown its way and make them appear like purposeful stylistic choices. “Black Hot Soup is worth a few rewatches I reckon,” adds Stu. “Guy’s got a lot of mediums going on – he really pulled a rabbit out of the hat.”
“Jase is the most important extra person in the whole history of the band.”Stu Mackenzie
For the final two Butterfly 3000 films, King Gizzard fans will be pleased to see the name of Jason Galea credited – known as the unofficial extra member of the band, and the key creative behind the multifaceted Gizzverse (the fan-coined term for the band’s visual world). “Jase is the most important extra person in the whole history of the band,” explains Stu, recounting the creative’s relationship to the band. “Every kind of Gizzard visual trope that has ever existed is from his mind.”
The backstory between Jason and Gizzard stems again from Ambrose who used to skate with the creative way back in the day. After finishing 12 Bar Bruise in 2012, Ambrose suggested Jason, who was then working at a casino, begin to work on the band’s visual direction. “It felt like there was a beautiful synergy between his aesthetic but also modus operandi I guess,” notes Stu. At the time, and to this day, matching the energy of King Gizzard is no easy task due to the vast narrative worlds and concepts that their lyrics and albums present. But they were also, as mentioned, a bit of an outlier on the music scene. “We didn’t really fit into the music industry, especially at that time, at all,” Stu tells us. “We didn’t have a label, we were managing ourselves, booking our own shows. Jason and his art crew existed in this ultra DIY space as well. It just felt like meeting a best friend. A beautiful moment of knowing I was going to make art with this person for a very long time.”
Jason and King Gizzard’s creativity inform each other consistently when piecing together a record. Initially, the group all shared the same space, where Jason could be found creating artworks for albums as the band were writing them next door. Now, it exists more digitally via a secret Soundcloud page with only the six King Gizzard members and Jason vowed access. Almost every single day nuggets of songs are uploaded and as a result, “he’s just always listening to what we’re doing,” explains Stu. “He’s on the journey as well, in his own way. It’s a really nice, two-way thing.”
Aside from creating all album artwork for the band (including, as Stu notes, also naming many of the albums) as well as merchandise, Jason too creates music videos for the Gizzverse, but his own creative drive means they can take a little time. “Jase’s approach to music videos is full tilt,” as Stu puts it. “He goes hard on music videos and it takes up so much of his time, he can only do one or two a year I think because it burns him. He loves it so much, he’s the guy editing pixels, so for him to create two [for Butterfly 3000] is an amazing commitment.”
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Jason Galea: Ya Love by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, photography King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (Copyright © Jason Galea, 2021)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Jason’s first video for the Butterfly 3000 series is one he was working on from March 2020 to August 2021. Taking the time lockdown provided to learn 3D animation for the first time, Ya Love is one of the most ambitious videos we have ever seen. Polished in its 3D approach – especially for a beginner – it is a hyper-real extension of Butterfly 3000, filled with visual nuggets creating suggestive links to previous records; from King Gizzard’s mascot of an alligator transforming into a rollercoaster ride, to a floating Castle In The Air linking back to 2017’s Polygondwanaland. “It was a good experience,” Jason reflects just a few days after completing it, “but incredibly tedious!”
With such an expansive world to pull references from, creating Ya Love is an experience Jason relates to “putting together a jigsaw puzzle that’s scrambled up with other sets.” He adds how “occasionally, a new combination that works will arise and it’s mulled over for some time until it fits with another.” King Gizzard fans have of course picked up on this since the video was released a few weeks back, with Jason noting how it’s “fun to see the theories and sleuthing unfold, there are often visual links that come up which I hadn’t realised myself, and work pretty seamlessly.”
Considering Ya Love took essentially 18 months to create, Jason’s second video, the closing of Butterfly 3000, sees the creative return to 2D. His album cover art for the release leads the video, a mirroring collection of butterflies pieced together carefully to form its own reflective patterns. “I’m always keen to try something new with the album covers and this one felt it should be intense on the eyes, like a rug or Magic Eye,” he explains. Made with typical Jason levels of care, the cover is actually made up of 2999 butterflies in 3D, “to make the 3000th butterfly with auto-stereogram effect.”
Deciding to expand on the cover art in the final video as a fitting ending, Butterfly 3000 sees Jason animate scenes through a series of dancing pixels. Forming shapes of butterflies, locations and their own worlds as they move across the screen, it’s a style Jason developed after “messing with a square animation brush and a psychedelic Tamagotchi butterfly began to surface, which was fitting,” he tells us. Aside from certain motifs and the video’s ending, the majority was then made in After Effects, using stock plugins and shapes and then editing it live via a Tachyons+ unit and Roland V-8.
An atmospheric visual to bring the series to a close, as one YouTube user described in Butterfly 3000’s comment section: “The end of an era, this album is a wonderfully uplifting piece of art from start to finish, I’m sad to see it go but excited for what’s to come 🦋.”
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.