Directed, edited and composited in After Effects by Eric Epstein, the latest music video for lo-fi act Memory Tapes sees a wealth of VFX techniques employed to capture a man’s isolation.
Watch Memory Tapes Yes I Know above. We sat down with Eric to find out how the promo came to be.
DA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
EE: "I've been interested in movies, animation, and effects as long as anything. I moved to NYC after school to vaguely pursue such things, but I wasn't very specialized. The first job where I managed to build any momentum was making graphics for TV documentaries. That lead into all sorts of animation freelancing. Depending on my mood, it can seem like I've done quite a lot in the past nine years -- or very little. So I've been trying harder to be creatively productive on my own.
DA: How did you come to work on this?
EE: "I've wanted to make a music video for a long time. I was studying film in the late 1990s (the golden age of strange high-concept promos), so that was an obvious ideal to latch onto. I had worked on effects for many music videos, so I had some first-hand experience -- but as I had never directed any, nobody was asking me to. I was quite surprised I managed to contact Memory Tapes, and at how open he was to my ideas."
DA: What feelings and thoughts did the song evoke in you?
EE: "Much of the song feels very quiet and solitary to me. It reminds me of walking around at night when it seems like everything is asleep. The melody of the louder sections immediately brought to mind something in between plummeting uncontrollably and being tossed around by the wind weightlessly. The lyrics describe more specific emotions though, which build on top of that. "
DA: What was your concept and how did you expand on it for the full video?
EE: "To pitch the idea I showed two of the more overtly surreal effects, which worked as style frames. The eroding man seemed like a good way to portray a feeling of persistent isolation in a visceral way. I got away with not having to explain things too specifically; moods and themes more than a plot.
"I wrote down images that came to mind, as well as trying to think if there were ways to incorporate handy techniques or materials I simply wanted to use someday. For instance, I had done some experimenting with the flocking birds months before. And the old photos I found years ago at a second-hand store. But these things all needed to feel cohesive.
"One of the first things I did was time out the different sections of the song and try to figure out how many visual beats each section needed to sustain interest, and how many beats each of these image types could sustain. Once some key pieces were in place, it started becoming clearer what extra pieces were need to make it flow together. It was all pretty well structured on paper before any footage was shot."
DA: How did you turn your actors into abstract humanoid forms?
EE: "As the form becomes more abstract, one sees progressively less and eventually none of the actual footage of the actor. I applied many dots to his skin for tracking, which I used to control shapes subtracting from the footage (and also adding shading to it). We shot clean plates for every shot, to fill in behind the holes. The tracked motion could also be used to add natural motion to the made-up sections of anatomy."
DA: Why did you decide to do the whole thing in AE?
EE: "AE is just really familiar to me. I really should get up to speed on some more tools, but it's hard to turn away from that subconscious ease in simple operations.
"Also, I figured that AE might yield some unusual results here. I was prepared to accept something that seemed much more collage-like, if it didn't turn out smooth.
"There is some camera tracking in the exterior shots not done in AE."
DA: How did AE's Puppet tool help your creative process?
EE: "If that wasn't there, it would not have occurred to me to do the eroded man in AE. The key thing about is that it is numerically accessible, so that you can control it with tracking. It is necessary to use layer-space transformation expressions to make puppet layers controllable by nulls and such, but it vastly increases the usefulness of the tool."
DA: What are your tips for creating photorealistic VFX in AE?
EE: "Since I'm not sure I'd really call this video photorealistic, I guess the expression 'don't let perfect be the enemy of good' applies. I just tried to apply the shading and shadows by eye, and animate small perspective shifts by hand. Sometimes it is a matter of misdirection, making sure some action distracts from more unruly details.
And pay close attention to the color and sharpness of the footage. Even the most accurate CG can look totally wrong if composited poorly."