Talking to the Makers of The Weeknd's New Virtual Reality Music Video

Eminem isn't the only part of this remix that's on fire.

The Weeknd's new video for his heavy remix of "The Hills" with Eminem puts the apocalpyse in your pocket, thanks to a handy virtual reality twist. Using your smartphone as a window into the 3D-rendered world, you can follow the “Can’t Feel My Face” artist, also known as Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, out of the venue after a show and into director Nabil Elderkin's fiery vision of nightlife.

This includes a combusted car, a souped-up limo, a stunning aurora borealis, and an onslaught of explosive fire balls, which you calmly observe from your Weeknd's-eye-view. From here, even catastrophe is danceable. "It is less narrative and more of a visual experience," Elderkin tells The Creators Project. "I just thought it would be interesting for him to leave the backstage and come out into a world that is trippy and visually charged. A nightscape collage. Apocalyptic with hints of life."

An atmospheric approach is ideal for VR. Interactive projects like Isaac Cohen's Rainbow Membrane and VRSE's Catatonic show how powerfully the medium can affect your emotions, which is both a blessing and a challenge. "VR requires a different cinematic grammar then traditional 2D movies," VR designer Tino Schaedler adds to the conversation. The Optimist Design founder collaborated with Elderkin, and together they've been developing a whole new language for 360° filmmaking. "The narrative space is way more complex then in 2D. Editing as we know it doesn’t really work in VR. The viewer creates its own subjective cut by his head movement."

Their video for "The Hills" is just half the length of the four-minute song, which you can listen to here, but they pack a full emotional experience into the short period of time. The Weeknd's foray into VR is the latest of a slew of high- and low-profile artists experimenting with the medium, ranging from Squarepusher, to Björk, to Foals, whose video for "Mountain at My Gates" was also produced by Elderkin and Schaedler.

We spoke to Nabil Elderkin and Tino Schaedler about working with The Weeknd, the challenges of making 360-degree film, and the future of the medium.

The Creators Project: How would you describe the narrative of the video?

Nabil Elderkin: I just thought it would be interesting for him to leave the backstage and come out into a world that is trippy and visually charged. A night scape collage. Apocalyptic with hints of life. It is less narrative and more of a visual experience. Juxtapositions of the destruction with the beauty of aurora borealis style nightscape and sound design.

What was your first reaction to the song and idea when you were approached for "The Hills" video? Was it similar to the final product?

NE: The idea actually came first. It was connected to the Apple VMA spot I did a couple months ago. And that concept came from "The Hills" video, so it kind of came 360 after I made the video. Abel hit me up about the Eminem remix which worked perfectly and then we just added the sound design.

Tell me about the tools you used to create the video. Did you have to come up with new ones, or is there a standard kit for VR music videos now?

NE: We use a six camera Go Pro rig on an a body mount coming from Abel.  I don’t think there is any standard in VR at the moment. It seems to be a lot of experimentation. I think this is what is very fascinating at the moment is that I get to be involved in the process when its so free and early in trying new ways of capturing VR.  

Screencaps via

How involved was The Weeknd in the creative process? How did the conversation about the song's meaning in respect to the video go?

NE: He was happy with what I had made so it was very smooth creative process. We have collaborated before and have a great collaborative relationship. He is a very visually creative person himself, so I enjoy collaborating with him. I'm working on the video for one of his next singles too. Larry Jackson at Apple Music was heavily involved in the creative as we worked on the Apple Music spots together.

How did your previous experience making videos that feel like they should be 3D (e.g. Alt-J's "Hunger of the Pine") become useful in this new VR format?

NE: I appreciate you feeling that those other videos could feel 360. That would have definitely been an interesting video to shoot in VR... chasing and being chased with arrows flying at you... deciding whose POV you choose... Wow, I wish I shot that one VR now.

Tino, How did your experience on big blockbuster films like V for Vendetta and Harry Potter help on the set of "The Hills”?

TS: The set design for the VR experience wasn’t really that involving. It was staged by Nabil to camera. We worked together on conceptualizing the idea. So on this one my involvement was more on that level. Having said that, it is interesting to rethink set design for VR. Cause lots of old tricks that we have used in 2D won’t work in VR—like building parts of a building that just covers what can be seen in camera or placing lighting off camera. VR will show it all. So sets for VR will have to be designed and built differently to accommodate these parameters. 

What's the secret to making a good VR movie? How did you develop the growing visual language for VR in this video?

NE: I think the secret to making good VR is to cater the experience to an end goal, mostly whose POV you are, and understanding how to guide them. It’s 360°, so you want the viewer to experience the full 360°, which might need cues in the film to make the viewer move their head and want to look or follow someone/somewhere.  

TS: As Nabil says, VR requires a different cinematic grammar then traditional 2D movies. The narrative space is way more complex then in 2D. Editing as we know it doesn’t really work in VR. The viewer creates its own subjective cut by his head movement.

Therefore cues in lighting, sound, or through character movement is key. The movement of the actors and talent is key. And for some of our work—like The Foals video—we decided to have a static camera position and create movement through choreographing the band around it. 

What's next for VR in your opinion? What other VR projects do you see on your own horizon?

NE: I will let Tino speak for his own opinion, But I am trying to incorporate a VR element into as many shoots as i possibly can to further my practice with it, and also create new films to share as the choices right now of content are limited.

TS: VR is a very dynamic new medium. It is very exciting from an artistic point of view to experiment and explore VR. It is a new language that is shaping. there is no established way on how to tell stories yet. It is like the early days of cinema when a lot was borrowed from theater—no crazy cuts, still camera positions and all b&w. We just tapped a tiny tip of what is to come inthe future; Aside the enhanced visual space VR will also allow us to add new sensory layers that will create experiences close to reality. with our Odyseey installation during london design week we integrated some additional sensory layers. People were emotionally really moved by it as the experience created physical sensations. It is an extremely powerful new experience in its infancy. 

Listen to more of The Weeknd's music here


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