Iron Maiden returns with an overtly political animated epic by Nicos Livesey
The cinematic six-minute film for new track The Writing On The Wall pulls references from sci-fi and heavy metal, and inspiration from Peter Jones, Roger Dean and Mike Ploog.
- 15 July 2021
- Jenny Brewer
British heavy metal icons Iron Maiden have worked with some of the leading names in animation to create a truly epic video for new track The Writing On The Wall. Directed by lifelong Maiden fan Nicos Livesey, produced by Blinkink, and creative directed by veteran Pixar artist and director Mark Andrews, the film mixes 2D cel animation and CG elements to create a visual feast fitting of the song’s big messages. It brings to life a story written by Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson, inspired by the biblical stories of Belshazzar's feast and Daniel, “mashed up” with Adam and Eve and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Livesey explains to It’s Nice That, “all wrapped up in a lot of messages about greed and the destruction of the planet, with the top one-percenters sitting in their shiny castles, leaving everyone else outside to rot on a dying planet. It’s meant to be pretty on the nose about the current planetary situation”.
The film takes viewers through a dystopian world ruined by pollution and drought, ruled by the elite class as they prepare for a party. Meanwhile, a mysterious cloaked figure summons the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse to the desert, where a vampire is feasting off the souls of the young. Livesey describes how he wanted the film to feel “epic and cinematic, vast and rich, but drenched in Maiden’s aesthetic,” looking to sci-fi and heavy metal for inspiration, as well as the band’s established visual heritage. “I wanted to harness the old Derek Riggs album artworks as much as possible and infuse it with some old school cartoon vibes,” says the director, pointing out the film’s hard lighting, swirling skies and flames burning in the desert. He also cites the work of sci-fi illustrator Peter Jones, comic book artist Mike Ploog, and legendary artist Roger Dean, particularly Dean’s use of light – “his paintings definitely have a Maiden feel about them” – plus films Heavy Metal and Rene Llaloux's Gandahar.
Creative director Mark Andrews adds that they were heavily influenced by Maiden’s cover art, going for “a highly graphic, almost comic book design sense,” with a lot of input on character design from Dickinson himself. “Especially our Daniel character and the four horsemen were all Bruce. He described them as Nazgul on Harleys.” He describes also drawing references from Mad Max: Road Warrior and the original Planet of the Apes, plus “throw in a little of Terry Gilliam’s 12 monkeys for the interiors and Boom! We are on our way!”
While most of the film is 2D, exception was made for “arguably the most important scene of the video,” according to Maiden’s manager Rod Smallwood: the re-birth of Eddie for 2021. Eddie is Iron Maiden’s longtime mascot, who’s appeared on all the band’s album artwork and some videos, but a new incarnation of Eddie has never been launched in a video. So, the cloaked hero turns out to be Eddie, and to highlight this moment, he is the only 3D entity. “We needed him to stand out yet be embedded into this this inherently classic 2D animation style,” Livesey says. To do so, the director describes how he wanted the character to have a hand-made feel, with visible brush strokes, and turned to “wizard of CG Balázs Simon,” to create digital paintovers, using AI to generate a painted surface aesthetic. Smallwood adds that he and the band wanted the character “looking as viscerally threatening as possible,” which has definitely been achieved, and as a result, as Andrews describes, “Eddie’s reveal is bitchin as hell”.
While entertaining for anyone who loves a good dystopian sci-fi, this video was made by fans, for fans. It is packed with Easter eggs, an intricate chronicle of all that Maiden is about, and a labour of love, taking a crew of 60 people around eight months to create. Also, the ending is suitably dramatic. “Like all Maiden videos we don’t want to tell our fans everything, they like to figure it out,” Smallwood concludes. “The ending is, well, open ended – is it victory for the good guys and a new future or do the shockwaves catch up to the Cadillac and we’re all fried?”
See for yourself: The Writing On The Wall premieres today on YouTube.
GalleryNicos Livesey, Mark Andrews, Blinkink: video for The Writing On The Wall for Iron Maiden (Copyright © Iron Maiden, 2021)
Nicos Livesey, Mark Andrews, Blinkink: video for The Writing On The Wall for Iron Maiden (Copyright © Iron Maiden, 2021)