When you spend a good chunk of your working life glued to Vimeo, it’s rare that a film properly stops you in your tracks. But Stevie Gee and Essy May’s video for new James BKS track New Breed is one such occasion. Featuring a combination of joyful 2D characters and mindblowingly intricate 3D sets, the film follows producer James BKS and featured vocalists Q-Tip, Little Simz and Idris Elba (yep, that Idris Elba) as they venture through their neighbourhoods, up into the mountains and eventually into space. Not only is the feel good hit about black empowerment a banger of a tune, the level of thought and detail in the film is absolutely engrossing.
From the first few seconds, when the camera pans down the side of a meticulous model of an apartment block to the barbers below, we know that we’re in for a treat. The observation and detail in the sets is incredible – from the hair style posters on the side of the salon, the graffiti and fading paste-ups on perfectly textured bricks, to the black rubbish sacks pilled up at the side of the streets.
Speaking to It’s Nice That, Stevie and Essy say of the concept behind the film: “James BKS travels the galaxy in search of like-minded souls and finds Q-Tip, Idris Elba and Little Simz and sends a signal. They see the call and meet together, as James beams them onto his cosmic ship for the gathering of the “New Breed”. The chorus is sung in Swahili and means Wolves of Africa, describing a new breed that has recently been discovered.”
Each of the environments were designed by Stevie and Essy, inspired by the personalities and heritage of the artists. While we first meet Q-Tip on the streets of 80s New York, James BKS voyages through space in a ship featuring a Thunderbirds-like mixing desk. Elba starts off in a recording studio, before dangling from a helicopter and morphing into a wolf to climb the rocky landscapes of Cameroon. Meanwhile, Little Simz raps to the track on the London Underground (featuring vintage trains), where UV flashes turn the seat’s macquette into patterned Dutch wax – a favourite moment for the pair. “Her character seems so defiant and badass in this scene,” they say.
“We referenced a lot of old New York imagery to create this set, but ultimately it’s a fun stylised world that has a lot of symbolic references hidden in there. It was also a great excuse to buy some cool toy cars,” say Stevie and Essy. The spaceship was in part inspired by The P-Funk mothership that is on the cover of Parliaments’ 1975 album Mothership Connection. “We had read that it represented ‘what could be’ which is such a cool idea. We love sci-fi anyway, and thought this idea of journey and searching the galaxy would be cool if it had a kind of cosmic ‘higher consciousness’-vibe. We designed the ship controls in the style of a studio production desk with African colours.”
While the pair worked together to design the sets, the adverts and the art within them – including the logos, posters, adverts, miniature record covers and shop fronts – Stevie designed all the 2D animated characters and Essy created the skies and backgrounds. “Both our styles are very different but can go hand-in-hand when we approach it right,” the duo tell It’s Nice That. “We have worked with a miniature set before but have wanted to try 2D animated characters in one for a while now, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
Building the sets in just a week and a half, time restraints also meant that the process of 2D animation had to start long before the 3D environments were ready. “As much as we wanted to, we weren’t able to create every single part of every set in model miniature due to time and money constraints so we had the very talented CG team at Blink create some model miniature looking parts. We won’t say which parts though… as the magic is that you hopefully can’t tell.”
New Breed by James BKS, ft. Q-Tip, Little Simz and Idris Elba is out today on Elba’s 7Wallace label.