Ghost Stories, Coldplay's sixth album, has been given a suitably haunting promo in the shape of an animated album cover by Trunk. Rather than just creating a 10-second looping GIF, Trunk directors Alasdair + Jock came up with the idea of an epic 43-minute long animated film that unfolds as the album is played.
Richard Barnett at Trunk Animation had initially been approached by commissioner Sam Seager at Parlophone, bearing an image of the album cover designed by Mila Fürstová. The question then was how to bring the mesmerising, highly detailed etching to life, without losing the ethereal look and character?
The Ghost Stories artwork, a pair of wraith-like wings, had to be meticulously traced by hand, pixel by pixel, in order that Alasdair Brotherston, Jock Mooney and their team at Trunk could work at the 7,000-pixel scale necessary.
The new high-resolution image they created enabled tiny elements within Mila’s etching to be worked on in far more detail, allowing for tiny sections to be animated, and dynamic camera moves added.
Certain areas of the image, which would leave holes when some objects or characters were animated, had to be re-imagined. To do this, Jock had to learn Mila’s style of mark making, noting that, “the painstaking attention to detail in the re-drawing was essential in order to retain the aesthetic of Mila’s artwork, and allow new elements to be added and animated”.
The film used a multitude of animated techniques; a team of ten animators and art workers using 3D, 2D cuts outs, and classical 2D hand drawn came together to create fifty individual sections. Each section had to be animated in such a way that they could be looped, ranging from 30 seconds to an impressive two minutes. Once animated, each section then had to go through a heavy compositing and effects stage in order to pull all the different techniques together, and make sure the line style in the animation was exactly the same as that of the album artwork.
To help build an overall visual narrative, the film slowly reveals more and more detail as the album tracks progress, allowing the viewer to travel in and out of what is in essence a world within a world.
The team also utilised time-lapse photography and other special effects to create the world ‘outside’ the wings. As track 5 ‘Midnight’ plays, time-lapse clouds, sea and mist are mixed with shooting stars and a waxing and waning moon which casts the wings into darkness.
The amount of detail, the length, and the technical processes involved in the project were so vast that Trunk had to utilise a render farm to crunch the raw data. 53,000 unique frames had to be processed in such a way that the process wouldn’t grind to a halt, which meant that some 300,000 smaller pre-renders had to be made over four long and gruelling days. It was not to be without problems either – the studio fuse box suffered two blow outs, wiping out seven hours of work in total.
“It was a massive undertaking but we wanted to create something unique for the album,” said Alasdair. “We loved the idea of bringing this image to life with some really beautiful movement, in a way that matched the intricate and complex look of Mila’s artwork.”
Richard added, “The finished project has to be up there in our top 5 along with the projections for Madness at the Queens Diamond Jubilee, Rok’s lyric vid for The Rolling Stones, our visuals for Keith Urban at the Country Music Awards, and of course Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano visuals.”
The final film was streamed on iTunes on May 12th, prompting a buzz of admiring comments and messages from among Coldplay’s 12 million fans on Twitter.
Trunk has created a making-of video for the project, featuring Alasdair + Jock