French duo Zeugl, aka Lolita Do Peso Diogo and Gabriel Wéber, had been dabbling with the creative potential of emojis for a while when this project came about. Having carved a niche for themselves in the music industry, the Paris-based Central Saint Martins grads will turn their hand to everything from record covers and flyers to videos and visualisations for bands. In 2016, they used pixel art for Caandides’ debut album; and a couple of years ago Lolita designed a poster made from emojis. But when it came to the identity and videos for indie band Iñigo Montoya, an emoji takeover seemed fitting.
“The band puts forward quite a dark vision of the contemporary technological society, its social connections and relation to time and nature,” explains Lolita. “We used emojis as the raw material because they are a very convenient tool: flexible, rich, and offering many alternatives depending on the font. Moreover, emojis are one of the most universally used digital communication tools and therefore are a mirror of society’s beliefs and subjects of interest. They also act as a simplifying and taming censoring tool over the events they comment on and the messages they translate.”
The band hadn’t released anything for over a year, so to celebrate their comeback Zeugl created a new identity for the band as well as creating videos for three new tracks. Having collaborated with the band since around 2014, creating most of their artworks and videos, the duo were given carte blanche. The emoji idea began as an Instagram filter called InigSelfie02 that covers your face with an emoji face contradicting your expression. “The smiley reacts in opposition to the expression you are actually making,” explains Gabriel. “If you smile you will get a crying smiley made out of winking emojis… It’s very confusing and makes you question where the truth lies.”
The video takes all the above ideas a stage further. Zeugl used several techniques to physically make the video, all based on pixel art. Some sequences are directly extracted from a video they simplified into a 64x36 square grid, then separated into different coloured zones. When that didn’t create a clear enough base image, Lolita and Gabriel traced each frame square by square, which took most of the making time. Some background, patterns and loops were made from scratch.
Once the images were all translated into colour-coded pixelated artworks, the duo covered every coloured zone with a repeat pattern of emojis. “The main challenge was to find emojis that would allow the image to be readable, being the right colour for example, while also being interesting in regards to what the image it was depicting,” says Lolita. So they had to find a balance between legibility and concept, choosing emojis that communicate the actual image as well as its message. For example, in one sequence they create a dog from poodle, wolf, paw print and tooth emojis, and the background from cats faces “to create a nice contrast semantically and visually,” she says.
Sometimes emojis are used to subvert and confuse the meaning of the sequence, and other times “a tooth is just a tooth” because “the emoji is itself a cute and light version of what it depicts,” says Gabriel, “thus generating an irony we were looking for”. The emojis also link to the song’s lyrics, again either literally or subversively, and imagery alludes to some of the messages behind the band’s work. A military drone is made from joysticks and bombs; the skull is made from coffins, angels, funeral urns, dead smileys, pirate flags, foot prints and skulls; and in a scene showing a policeman throwing a grenade, the gory element is replaced with heart emojis, thereby censoring the image.
Overall Zeugl used 450 different emojis, all from the Apple set, though Lolita points out that this is “only a tiny fraction of all 3,521 existing emojis,” and took the duo two months to make. Poignantly, the video is more readable when watched on a smartphone “as if it was almost tailored for it,” she concludes.
GalleryZeugl: Chasseur Chassé video for Iñigo Montoya (Copyright © Iñigo Montoya, 2021)
Zeugl: Chasseur Chassé video for Iñigo Montoya (Copyright © Iñigo Montoya, 2021)