Hello humans in Temple of Art land! This update is brought to by Temple of Art Co-Creator Olga Nunes:
One of the things we’ve focused on in the crafting of the Temple of Art documentary is experimenting with low-budget ways to make the film more visually arresting. We’ve been playing with ways to take art from our wonderful subjects and, with a little effort, turn them into animations.
You may have seen in our last update the test animation we did with David Mack— on one of his visits to the Good Bully Collective in downtown Los Angeles, we asked David if he wouldn’t mind doing a few drawings to illustrate a story for the film.
When David saw the rough animation we cooked up from his drawings, he approached me to help him do a similar thing for another project he was working on: a music video with rockstar-extraordinaire (and Temple of Art favorite) Amanda Palmer.He was knee-deep in the creation of what would eventually amount to over 250 stunning watercolor paintings for the project, but needed help turning those paintings into an actual video set to music. (Over 250 stunning watercolor paintings which, incidentally, are available for sale here.)
We are insanely lucky to be working with such talented artists for Temple of Art, and David Mack in particular has been a tremendous friend and partner on this film. His ability to render just about anything in a thousand different styles just boggles the mind. I was super happy to jump into the trenches to build something amazing with him– and since it’s David, it was bound to be amazing and then some.
THE POWER OF DEADLINES
David sent me a small pile of paintings and Amanda’s beautiful song to listen to– which you should really go check out, by the way, it’s gorgeous. (If you haven’t wandered over into Amanda Palmer’s palatial caverns of art-music wonder, I highly recommend it. You can listen to the song and check out the rest of her album she did with her dad here.)
I started playing around with sequencing the panoply of paintings to music, and playing with frame rate– how many frames (or paintings) we should show in a second, and still get the idea across. For big-budget stop-motion films, the frame rate lands between 24 and 30 frames per second.
Amanda’s song is 272 seconds long. To get enough paintings to reach 30 frames per second, David would have had to create eight thousand, one hundred and sixty paintings.
And we had two weeks.
HOW TO CREATE A MUSIC VIDEO FROM 250 PAINTINGS
In order to turn David’s beautiful watercolor paintings into 272 seconds worth of music video, we had to get a little creative.
First, the images were color-corrected, blurred along the edges and vignetted, so all the different pieces looked like they were in the same world.
Then, we started playing with time stretching– in order to get the titles to fit before the first bars were sung, I took David’s videos of his stunning typography and turned them into a sped-up time lapse.
STOP MOTION BY THE SECOND
We settled on showing five paintings per second, to make sure David wouldn’t break his hands from the sheer power of art-exertion, and we started exploring.
David texted me that he was listening to the song over and over while painting, trying to capture imagery that would carry into the video. It was important to both of us that the art was a reflection of the music, and trying to time out how the art played against the music proved slightly tricky.
We tried to time how long sequences would be, and began thinking in terms of filling minutes. We actually counted paintings and said, well, this gets us to 30 seconds into the song, and then these paintings here will get us to 55 seconds into the song. Talking it out, it made sense.
But once I started laying out the images it became clear that treating the paintings as blocks of time was not a useful way to measure it out. The paintings would land awkwardly between lines of the lyrics, or at worst, seem totally unrelated to the song.
Since this was a super-quick turnaround, I suggested to David we loop sets of paintings, to allow us some play in terms of timing.
It totally worked– which meant I could time moments in David’s paintings exactly to moments in Amanda’s song. This allowed us to fill time— and more importantly, allowed us control over how the paintings synchronized to lyrical emotional beats.
(My favorite moment is when Amanda’s dad, Jack Palmer, sings “I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,” and from the swathes of paint, on cue, an angel materializes from the ether, swelling to match the abandon in the song.)
Looping sections also allowed a neat trick. I took this set of paintings, above, and repeated them during the moment in the song James lay dying. While the face forms and re-forms in stop motion, an echo of tears falls over and over, streaming down Red Molly’s cheek.
ADDING MOTION WITHOUT ADDING ART
Looping sections seemed like it would buy us some time, but I wanted to explore other avenues of building animation with the existing paintings.
I took these four paintings of James and Red Molly on the Vincent, and attempted to loop them.
Looping just the four images started to feel repetitive. Since we were only using five paintings a second, we had to figure out another way to get them to feel alive.
I added a displacement warp effect (above) to one of the paintings, which ends up making it look animated. Not entirely convincing, but when you run the filter on all four paintings and sequence them in a row, you get the below:
I animated the motorcycle moving back and forth, and added random watercolor clouds and grass I found online as an experiment, to more convincingly make it appear that the motorcycle actually is careening through the world.
A simpler version of this animation ended up in the finished product, and we ended up using a slight wiggle effect on ALL the paintings, which helped combat the fact we were only displaying five frames per second.
TRANSITIONS & CAMERA MOVEMENT
In addition to doing a towering mountain of paintings, David also took some wonderful collage pieces and photographed stop motion silhouettes of James and Red Molly on the Vincent.
We also looped these photographs at five frames a second, and added an animated paper texture to imply speed, but this introduced an additional problem: cutting directly between the paintings and the photographs was a little jarring.
Instead, transitions were added and we zoomed in and out of the pieces to make it feel like the camera was following a single motorcycle racing through a paper world.
KEEPING THE MOMENTUM
Lastly, in the pile of scans of paintings and digital photographs David sent me, he included a video of a painting he intended not to use.
The current music video begins with one long time lapse of a David painting the Vincent motorbike– so the reasoning was, it seemed too repetitive to add in a second time lapse of a painting. It would break up the momentum.
He suggested we skip it and add visuals some other way.
The unused painting illustrated the moment in the song when Red Molly finds out James has been shot, and is about to die.
Rather than leave it out, I sped up the video in time lapse in two parts– the initial shock of red as you hear that James has been shot, and then a faster second piece, so the video can end at the right moment in the lyrics. All of this played backwards, so as the song sings of James passing away, he slowly vanishes before your eyes.
David loved it.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
So what does 250 paintings, 430 photographs, five videos and two weeks of animating and editing get you?
You can see the final result below (bonus points for hitting the full-screen button):
Temple of Art Co-Creator
P.S. This song and the album it’s from is available here from Amanda Palmer and her dad, Jack Palmer.
P.S.S. Original paintings from this music video are available for sale here from David Mack.
P.S.S. Want to find out more about the song & David Mack’s artwork? Check out Amanda’s Patreon post about this project.