Our Creative Process
The most important part of the animation process is the discovery phase. This phase, for us, usually consists of our entire team locked away in a small room that has a TV on the wall, four bottles of wine sitting on top of a long conference table covered in white butcher paper, and a bucket filled with all of our cellphones. We treat it as a safe environment where there is no such thing as a bad idea and even Josh the Intern’s concepts get scribbled and sketched out on the butcher paper. Animation is the meeting of art, design, math/physics, and culture; thus it’s important to foster a free-flowing and supportive environment where all these normally heterogeneous concepts can come together.
In these sessions, we put all of our animation projects through a process which we’ve coined the “Pixel Bakery Funnel”. The Pixel Bakery Funnel is a pretty simple concept: start with grand, sweeping broad strokes and widdle your way towards a detail brush. We start with the problem that the client/project is trying to solve and we work our way backwards. Before we start storyboarding, we draft moodboards and think about things like tone, emotion, pacing, colors, and themes.
The first place we start when we’re discovering what vector of attack we want to take on all those things is with inspiration. We always look and see what other animators have done and if we can springboard off of them to create a fresh idea. We’re all extremely visual creatures and we all are affected by music deeply, and there seems to be a reoccurring pattern in these creative kickoff meetings where we always come back to these ten music videos. They’re always in the back of our mind and we’re constantly looking for a great opportunity to try out these styles.
Also, if you want to hire us to make an animated music video, please do 😉 We’ve been wanting to do one for a really long time, with the closest being this piece we created for Lincoln Calling’s 2018 Lineup Announcement.
Here they are in order, counting down from 10 to 1. This is my personal opinion on their rankings and I’m sure the rest of the team will have a completely different list. All of these music videos manage to punch us right in the feels each time we watch them, and we think they’re great examples of how powerful of a thing animation and music can be when paired together correctly. I’ll also shamelessly plug my Audio Technica ATH-M50x’s to jam out to these videos with.
Note: You won’t find any of Daft Punk’s animated music film Interstella 5555 in this list nor any Gorillaz videos. We really really really love them, but we figured you’ve probably seen them a thousand times and wanted to show you a few lesser-known pieces.
Honorable Mention: Squirrel Nut Zippers – Ghost of Stephen Foster
Okay, this is a selfish entry. I love this song, I love Squirrell Nut Zippers (and Andrew Bird), and I love that classic Betty Boop rotoscope style.
Honorable Mention: Stromae – Carmen
While this video doesn’t necessarily match our artistic style, and the main character looks oddly like President Obama, we still really like it. It’s a little “down your throat” with it’s overtones, but I think the overtones are still important and relevant. The plot devices are incredible, as well.
#10: Nero – Into The Night
Into The Night doesn’t really have that “punch you in the feels” aspect that we generally go for, but you have to admire how gorgeous this animation work is. While the video came out in 2015, they manage to capture the essence of 80’s “Tron” illustration and story arc perfectly.
It makes me nostalgic for Ghost in the Shell. And who doesn’t love the age old “international super-spy and underground glam band guitarist defeats the villain and drives off into a neon-lit urban jungle on his futuristic motorcycle” story?
#9: Blockhead – The Music Scene
Blockhead dropped this video at the perfect time. It’s the perfect nightcap of the Flash animation era. While frame by frame work still is relevant and important today, it’s becoming a lost art (because who has the time for that).
This video sums up animation in the early aughts amazingly: drug-fueled, “gooey”, and full of bright colors. The 2000’s was the first time in history that EVERYONE could afford a decent computer with enough processing power to render out high-quality animation. This opened up a brand-new medium for cartoonists and pen-and-ink artists to explore, and thus sparked the era of sketchy but brilliant pieces like this.
#8: Dan Deacon – When I Was Done Dying
Okay, you caught me. I found this one while watching Off The Air on Adult Swim back in college. I also might have been a little stoned at the time. It’s definitely one of the more obscure videos on this list, but I’m absolutely in love it’s ethereal essence. This is an Exquisite Corpse piece (a creative process I’ve always been obsessed with) which brought nine different animators together in tandem to create this mind-meltingly dope animation.
#7: LORN – ANVIL
ANVIL flawlessly demonstrates how impactful black and white can be and also how important textures are. A majority of this is done frame-by-frame, which is the only way you can achieve such a level of mastery like this. The little details from the tide pools to the extremely well-developed futuristic UI all shine through in this video.
Also check out that world development. Every time I watch this, even though it’s black and white, I’m immediately transported to her planet and sucked into the setting. The song itself has no words, but the animation still manages to paint a crystal clear picture of what kind of world this woman lives in. Without it ever being said out loud, we know that she lives in an oppressive dystopia filled with run-away technology.
#6: Stuck In the Sound – Let’s Go
Let’s Go shows us that you don’t need to be a savant to make a powerful animation. This video has almost a MS Paint style that’s layered on top of low resolution collages, yet it still manages to have a huge emotional impact on me. Why? Because the animator knows how to pace their shots and their movements, and the animator is a student of emotions. They study facial expressions, reactions, and body language.
Pay close attention to his eyes. One of my heroes, Richard Williams, tells us that the eyes are the audience’s window into a character’s soul. Humans will always pick up on mood and emotion from looking at another person’s eyes before anything else. You can have an absolutely garbage animation but still make it relatable and convincing if you nail the eye expressions.
#5: Rone – Bye Bye Macadam
Bye Bye Macadam is another personal psychedelic favorite. Again, it’s mostly done using frame-by-frame, which gives us that cool acid-trippy effect. This is another great example of how powerful black, white, and textures can be. I’m also a huge fan of the cyclical nature of this music video.
#4: Caravan Palace – Lone Digger
I’m absolutely obsessed with Caravan Palace. Their animation in Lone Digger is extremely simple, but the well-made color blocking makes this video stylistically unique and memorable. Everything is high contrast and each shot if filled with vibrant and glowing colors. This is the direction I think we’re going to see animation going more and more over the next few years.
#3: DJ Mustard & Nicki Minaj – Don’t Hurt Me
Don’t Hurt Me was animated by an Aussie named Felix Cosgrove. He’s a really weird dude and you can always spot one of his pieces a mile away. If you like this music video, you should check out his other work here. Cosgrove is constantly on my shortlist of “people I want to be when I grow up”. His work is always non-sensical and bizarre on the surface level, but always carries an cyclical undertones that deal with the balance of power/nature/sex/etc (and gurl you know how I like my cyclical undertones).
I love Don’t Hurt Me for a lot of the same reasons I love Lone Digger. It’s memorable, colorful, and simple. This is almost a stripped down version of Lone Digger with even less fluff. Minimal and razor-sharp. We pulled a lot of inspiration from this when we were creating the 2017 ADDY’s intro a few years back.
#2: C2C – Delta
Oh maaaannnnnnnn. This one always gets me. It has the awe-inspiring vibe to it and it’s chalked full of emotions and feelings and other gooey stuff. It takes the textures of Bojack Horseman and mixes it with that sweet grain-shading technique that we’ve been seeing become more prominent over the years. Again, look at the emotion in their eyes. The devil is in the details with this one.
#1: Caravan Palace – Wonderland
Coming in at Number One is Caravan Palace – Wonderland. I know I already did a Caravan Palace video, but this one is just so… different. It’s monochromatic with the occasional variance to blues, which is extremely hard to pull off accurately without loosing visual literacy. Check out those thick outlines and heavy contouring. It almost imitates a comic book. The fluid of motion in Wonderland takes the cake too: the main character walks and acts like the confident, bad-ass feminist man-eater that she is. The animation studio that produced this has a great eye for body language. I usually jam out to this right before I have a big client meeting.
We have weird music tastes. Come at us. If you want to see what else we jive with, check out our Animated Music Videos playlist on the TubeYube. Also, we love finding new ones, so hit us up if you know of anything else deserving of this list.