Apache music video animates papercut art

We speak to animation director Ned Wenlock about his innovative 'papercut' music video for Danger Beach's Apache, and about how working without deadlines helped it to shine.

Ned Wenlock’s ‘day job’ is as animation director at New Zealand commercials firm Hoverlion -- but he also created short films in his spare time. The latest of these is Apache, a self-generated music video for a song by underground surf guitar act Danger Beach that isn’t directly related to The Shadows’ classic track of the same name -- but shares its sound.

The promo follows a Native American character as he travels from the Plains into a city. An innovative spin on the popular 3D paper collage style, the action scrolls from left to right on a series of ‘infinite’ rostrums that revolve revealing the journey. We sat down with Ned to find out how it came to be.

DA: What's your background?  

NW: "I was a graphic designer for a number of years both here in New Zealand and in the UK. My design work was very much informed by illustration; any chance I could get I would include characters in my work. At some point I decided that the characters were more important to me than dressing information so I switched to animation.

For the past eight years, I have called myself an animation director and have been learning to be one on the job. My early work could be described as cutting from one illustration to the next without much movement and as I’ve gotten better -- or been able to use skilled animators -- my work has become more fluid."

DA: Why did you decide to create Apache? What was it about the song and Danger Beach's music in general that made you want to do it?

NW: "I did some doodles of an Apache last year which I liked. For several months I tried to think of a way I could use the character, whether it be a short film or a game or something but nothing seemed to fit. Then early this year I found the track Apache on a compilation called New Weird Australia.

The track itself was perfect in that it has a very clear build up, with different guitars leading to an epic middle part, and then a return to the opening bars. Paced kind of how a short film should play. The sound of the music had character too, which I think is important in a music video -- I could see the humour in it. The theme for the video was very evident in the music, nostalgia."

DA: Tell us about the concept? 

NW: "The music made me think of movement, of travelling, of being on the road. The video was to be like a road movie, but I’d seen so many animated videos use this concept with panning backgrounds. I felt there must be another way to do it. The carousel effect came about because I thought it would be good if you could see more of where you’ve come from and more of where you’re going both at the same time.

"The design of the three loops, one inside the other, came from the idea that a multi plane background is more interesting to watch than a plain panning background. A multi plane carousel also creates interesting overlapping action, I played with this in the train section.

DA: Take us through the character design and animation process.  

NW: "I have a mix-and-match approach to character design. I start with simple shapes that define their personality, then I pepper them with eyes, noses, mouths. I like my characters to be obviously unreal, almost like design elements. I think that’s where animation creates a bit of magic, [as] by animating an unreal object you're creating something that doesn’t exist in the world, [and] it doesn’t have to move like a real thing.

"I was lucky to have an animator, Rodney Selby, working in our studio while I was making this video. He animated the majority of the characters, my brief was that they be elastic and move snappily in keeping with the music. I think he did a great job, especially on the buffalo."

DA: Did your use of the continuous loop create any problems when animating the piece?

NW: "The process was surprisingly simple. All three loops had their own timelines. They were flat comps to start with, which makes the animation process straightforward. I animated everything in 2D on a panning background, then all three comps were folded into the 3D carousel."

DA: What tools did you use and why did you use them?

NW: "I use After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop. I always use these programs. I like After Effects as an animation tool -- rather than using a 3D program -- because you can always see what you’re doing. I work intuitively; I find it hard to plan then execute something. I prefer to let the process influence the outcome, and After Effects is a great program for this way of working.  

DA: What did the band make of the video?

NW: "When I originally contacted the band saying I wanted to make a music video for a track they released half a year ago, I think they were bemused. When they saw the finished video, they were happy. Since the video and their great music has now got a bit of attention, it’s fair to say they are very happy.

DA: What do you get from a personal project like this that you'd don't from commercial projects?

NW: "With a personal project, I get time to work it out. I work on a lot of commercial projects and there is often an economy of thought that goes into a commercial, a shorthand for visual language that we all understand. My personal projects are still commercial to look at but -- having had more time to create and think about them -- my hope is that the result is less generic and maybe more interesting.

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