Plus, a behind-the-scenes Q&A with director GMUNK on hacking cameras, 3D-printed props, and the difficulties of using colored smoke.
Over the last ten years, Scott Hansen has been making (sound) waves under the moniker Tycho. But with the release of his second LP, Awake—out now on Ghostly International—the project has evolved both in scale and scope: now performing as a trio, Tycho boasts an evolved sound more akin to post-rock and ambient than to the hip hop-influenced instrumentals of yore.
Today, The Creators Project premieres the video for "See," directed by Bradley "GMUNK" Munkowitz, who appeared in our behind-the-scenes features as the design director of Bot&Dolly's "Box" and the making of the CGI in the film Oblivion.
"See" is a mystic vignette that follows a single heroine's journey through a series of stunning environments and parallel universes. Rife with shamanic rituals, hypnotic runes, and an elusive, enigmatic stranger who appears to have spawned from nature itself, her journey is presented through full-spectrum as well as infrared photography, aided by the expert shooting of DP, Joe Picard.
Featuring an unmistakably unique palette that enhances the idea of how we "see" things that are otherwise invisible—be it colors, textures, or hidden universes—watch the video above, and continue reading for an interview with GMUNK about his inspirations, how he modified a RED EPIC camera to capture the full light spectrum, and the challenges presented by working with colored smoke (hint: it's really hard to get out of your hair).
The Creators Project: Would you describe this video as your interpretation of the song, or is it an extension or complement to it?
Bradley GMUNK Munkowitz: This video is no doubt our interpretation of the song as we wrote the narrative arc entirely based on the flow of the music. In the treatment, we defined the story points in an insanely detailed fashion, essentially breaking it down to each second, allowing the track to dictate each moment, where the story is building, where it’s at climax and so on. Since the track didn’t have any vocals or an intentionally defined message, we wanted to present our interpretation of the song in a visually compelling fashion with a narrative binding it together.
It was our intention from the outset to respect Tycho’s palette, his aesthetic and also his history; the fact that he is from Northern California certainly influenced our location choices. We feel a music video is the most successful when it reflects the sensibilities of the musician, so the diehard Tycho fans will instantly feel in a familiar place watching this video because it is very much informed by the beautiful aesthetics of the artist.
Were there any particular spiritual or parallel universe-related touchpoints or references you used as inspiration? Did Tycho influence the narrative or give you any prompts?
When Scott chose the track "See" for the music video project, we were immediately drawn to the topic of perspective and what it means to have sight. We wanted to explore the difference between the perceived and the actual that constantly exist within each of us. We wanted to push the defined limits of vision both naturally and through technological enhancements. So in essence, we were very excited about this world of full-spectrum photography and the idea of being able to ‘see’ things that were otherwise invisible.
In terms of the process of developing the narrative with Scott, we supplied him with a treatment outlining to the second what the edit was going to be, and of course the usual barrage of concept references and location studies... He immediately loved the concept and narrative, found it very relevant to his song and only really gave input on the casting and wardrobe, as that was something he wanted to make sure was reflective of his intended audience.
You use some pretty innovative camera techniques. How was the infrared implemented—it was all in-camera? Furthermore, how would you describe the color palette?
The infrared cinematography was possible because we had a RED EPIC modified to allow the full spectrum of light to reach the sensor. In front of any normal digital camera sensor there is a filter that is called a hot-mirror. Hot-mirrors are designed to block the non-visible parts of the color spectrum yielding cleaner color rendition in normal situations. This is a big part of what gives each camera model it’s unique color sensitivity. We we had that hot-mirror removed so that the RED EPIC sensor could react to the full spectrum of light.
A camera without a hot-mirror won’t necessarily produce the vivid color fields that you see in our film. We had the guys at Keslow Camera dig out all their old filters from the black and white film days. We used some of the most saturated ones we could find to shift the visible part of the spectrum in a different direction from the infrared colors to create more color contrast emphasizing the surreal nature of our character’s vivid trip. We switched out the filters depending on the colors in the location and the lighting conditions. At times we used combinations of orange, yellow and greens.
Then in post, while color grading, some of the color channels were swapped. For instanc, at times the vegetation looked blue and the sky may have been red in-camera. We had the information in the red channel assigned to produce blue and blue assigned to produce red, which allowed us to easily manipulate each element in the frame to our desired aesthetic.
Can you tell me a bit more about the technology you used? How did you make the alien-esque controller the protagonist holds, for example, and how did you make it light up and release smoke? Word on the street is that a 3D-printer was involved.
The props were designed in 3D and then manufactured in a wood shop. For the protagonist's POV shots, we wanted the props to become more surrealist, so we fabricated them to have LED’s floating between layers of wood—which we had our friend Marek Michalowski assemble some circuitry that allowed them pulse and come to life.
The flares were hollow geometric props with smoke grenades embedded inside of them. The colored dye from the smoke plumes didn’t come out of our actress’s hair for a week after we wrapped.
What about the SFX visuals?
We tried to do most of the ‘special effects’ in camera, through a practical element shoot and illuminated props. All of the practical components were designed by Conor Grebel and Mike Williams, who were a part of the core team from the beginning of the project.
We experimented with a lot of different practical effects to make the triangle and circular tunnels. What you see in the video is basically a video projector pointed at the camera with some lasercut acrylic and smoke, and the light being informed by animated graphic patterns.
What upcoming projects do you and Tycho have in the works?
We have a variety of projects, included a practical LED light-and-laser installation that will result in a short brand film, a practical typography-focused title sequence for a design conference, and, of course, another music video proposal. Since the Tycho "See" video didn’t have a ton of levity in the narrative, we’re very excited for the next music video project to have that perverse and dance-infused flavor we’ve been missing. The next one is going to feature a couple of dancing primates, furious cutting, and of course a myriad of experimental cinematography techniques—gonna be fun.
INSTAGRAM: @ISO50 | @gmunk