Creative ecosystem
Solutions

Meet the animators who crafted the incredible world of WALK THE MOON's new music video.

Interviews • Written by Ellie Cameron-Krepp

For the release of their new track, rock band WALK THE MOON and RCA Records asked Genero to help them bring the new song to life, sourcing treatments from our creative community for an animated music video. The result is a visually striking, other-worldly stop motion/2D animation hybrid, created by Heather Colbert and Roos Mattaar.

With the brief for new single ‘DNA (The Keys)’ asking for a wildly creative and trippy approach, Heather and Roos proposed an intricate fantasy tale, contrasting psychedelic visions with the earthly elements of a character fighting her way out of a labyrinth cave.

Along with their talented production team, Heather and Roos utilised their extensive experience in puppetry, set fabrication, practical and visual FX to produce this beautiful exploration of finding the power within yourself.

We spoke to the animators to go behind their work, exploring the creative process from ideation through to production.

Official music video for 'DNA (The Keys)' by WALK THE MOON

Firstly, could you introduce yourselves and the project?

Heather Colbert: Heather Colbert, I’m co director, puppet designer/fabricator and 2D animator on the film.

Roos Mattaar: Roos Mattaar, I am the other co-director, technical puppet fabricator and stop motion animator on the film. We also both were involved with the miniature set building, with help from two other model makers.

Both: We worked together on the story and visual development of the film all throughout the process. The project was ambitious, with multiple forms of animation combined as well as practical effects. We worked with a very small but very skilful team where everyone brought in their expertise, which really allowed us to try things we could not have achieved on our own.

How did you originally get involved with (and then continue to pursue!) animation?

HC: My degree was in illustration, with animation as an option to explore, so I went in fully expecting to come out as just an illustrator, but I got so captivated by the world building of animation. I directed my first music video as a result of painting murals for an escape room in Cambridge, so it’s been those sort of chance encounters that have lead me to this industry.

RM: I have been making up stories as long as I can remember. As a teenager I got more interested in visual storytelling, through live action filmmaking first. I always loved fantasy stories and was captivated with how these imaginative worlds could be created through sets, miniatures, props, costumes, etc. When I first discovered stop motion animation that provided a way to scale things down so I could create these worlds in my bedroom. When I finished high school I moved from the Netherlands to the UK to study animation in Bristol. Since graduating I have just continued to keep learning and pursuing animation and model making in every way possible and was a co-founder of the stop motion studio space we made this production in.

The WALK THE MOON band members sat down with Heather and Roos to discuss their creative process.

We’re so excited to finally be able to share the WALK THE MOON music video, which started as a pitch on Genero. Talk us through the ideation process for a video like this – What was your inspiration and how do you develop the idea?

HC: The directives from the brief were very broad, they just knew they wanted it to be psychedelic and a bit trippy, but we found the percussion in the track to be really emotive and gave us the idea of a prehistoric character in a cave. Then the lyrics pointed us in the direction of a journey of self discovery, the key to her freedom being inside her etc, which led to the journey she goes on, fighting the shadows, and eventually breaking out into the light.

RM: Yes, the band listed some of the main themes they wanted to explore in the initial brief, such as facing hopelessness, a journey of self-realization and ultimately finding freedom. We always kept those themes at the heart of the story and the animation.

The stop motion cave world came to represent this darkness in a literal and metaphorical way, and all the demons and danger lurking in the dark, feeling trapped, etc. Whereas also, the primal element of a character in a cave reflects how universal these experiences are, and inherent to being human.

The idea to incorporate 2D animation as well as stop motion, gave us the opportunity to distinguish between an inner and outer ‘real’ world, showing all the colours, power and potential inside through the more abstract 2D sequences, and eventually bringing these two together. We recognized that it would be very important to tell the entire story without any major secondary characters, the whole story is the experience of this one character and her own path to finding the power within herself.

The idea to incorporate 2D animation as well as stop motion gave us the opportunity to distinguish between an inner and outer ‘real’ world.

There are so many incredible elements to your animation style for the video, from the puppetry and stop motion shoot to the 2D animation and visual effects. Can you talk us through the process?

Both: Yes a lot of different elements were combined. We start out with the stop motion world which introduces the main character, a stop motion puppet which was animated frame by frame. All the cave environments were built as miniature sets. We also made use of a lot of practical lighting, such as the fire and torch which were created with small LEDs and mulberry paper.

Then there is 2D animation created on top of some of the stop motion shots for the shadow creatures on the wall and the ghost figure in the next cave. The eyes in the dark were a combination of stop motion, still image effects and 2D animation.

The 2D animated vision sequences were combined with live action footage of ‘liquid light art’, a technique using clock glass, paints, dyes, oil, water and alcohol to create crazy moving colour patterns, which was used back in the 60’s and 70’s to accompany live performances of psychedelic music. We experimented with this and used the filmed footage to add another layer of textures to the animation.

The final scene was the most complex and ambitious. Here we are fully incorporating 2D animation with the stop motion, as well as UV glowing effects.

For the stop motion shoot we had to create three different still images for each frame, using DMX dimming to control the lighting. One for the main lighting and the 2nd for UV lighting, which we used for the glowing ‘tattoos’ on the puppet’s body. These were painted on with invisible UV paint, so it’s all a practical effect that was later combined in the edit. Other elements such as the crystals were also made to glow through the UV lighting pass. They are actually carved pieces of glue stick.

Finally we had another lighting pass with a bright coloured light, this was used underneath the animation of the 2D beams and splashes, as the character is spreading her colourful power in the cave. Our DOP Jon Davey did a great job with this complex lighting challenge, and the VFX compositor Ferriol Tugues did incredible work to put it all together.

There are a lot of magical moments in the video. What is your favourite?

HC: We spent a while trying to figure out how to achieve her ‘fall and drop’ moment right.  It was the clearest motion I saw in my head while listening to the track on repeat, to start the narrative with a bang! So I would say that transition from her slow-mo fall to the harsh landing is my favourite. And then also Roos’ beautiful animation of the character looking up from where she came from, so we can really see her face for the first time and see the emotion in her eyes, that part is beautiful.

RM: I really like that moment too, as well as shortly after that when she looks at the wall and sees the 2D shadow creatures animated by Heather merging beautifully with the flickering of the fire.
 But I think as a favourite moment the first that comes to mind is when the character first uses her newfound power, smashing her fist into the ground. There is a lot going on in that shot with the 2D animation, stop motion, pull out camera move, practical dust clouds and crack and the light sweeping towards the foreground and the 2D creatures backing off. But I think it all came together really well here.

With all the complexities of the project, what was the biggest challenge?

HC: There were quite a few with this project! Because this was our moment to be ambitious and try things we’d not attempted before. But I would say the scale of the sets was a big challenge. We wanted each cave to have a slightly different feel, so we worked hard on finding different construction techniques and lighting, to make it feel like the character is travelling through all these different parts of this underground world.

RM: Yeah I really loved how Heather came up with the different designs and shapes of the rocks, and we tried to take colour and scale to our advantage to reflect the emotional state of the character.

The final scene was a massive challenge, to plan how to go about this in the first place. I think in our pitch we wrote something like ‘the cave is exploding with colour and light, as she leaps and fires light around her, the walls start to crack, rocks begin to fall, etc’. The next step was to figure out how we were actually going to pull this off!

This sequence also really challenged me as an animator. I think there might have been some strange looks whilst I was spinning and jumping and throwing invisible light beams in the yard outside our studio late at night, listening to a section of the song over and over to try and get the timing right.

What’s your favourite part of being an animator?

HC: There is a lot of freedom in 2D animation, the possibilities are so vast and so I really took advantage of that in the ‘vision’ parts of this narrative. It would take a lot more organising to get a stop motion puppet to fly around curtains of  liquid light!

RM: My favourite thing perhaps is the endless possibilities… With animation you have to create an entire world from scratch. There isn’t a location, or an actor or anything to start with. To see something evolving from an idea on paper into a new world with a little person or creature coming to life is quite magical. And that can take any shape or form we want it to be, there is always something new to explore and to try.

To see something evolving from an idea on paper into a new world with a little person or creature coming to life is quite magical.

What do you want to focus on for the rest of the year, and what are you working on next?

HC: I’ve been working more in 2D as it was much easier to create films at home in that format, and I hope to continue working with brilliant people and have a few more adventures.

RM: I have been working on more stop motion projects, I am now running our stop motion studio and making plans for the future of the space. Early 2022 I will be lead animator on a short film in Greece. I would like to focus on more collaborative projects, but also have several of my own short film ideas I’m hoping to get back to.

Thank you so much to Heather & Roos for speaking with us.

Credits:

Written and directed by: Roos Mattaar & Heather Colbert
Designs: Heather Colbert
Cinematography: Jon Davey
Puppet fabrication: Heather Colbert & Roos Mattaar
Creature fabrication: Katrina Hood
Set building: Heather Colbert, Roos Mattaar, Almü Cuesta & Marie Lechevallier
Stop motion animation: Roos Mattaar
2D animation: Heather Colbert, Lamia Diaab & Hend Esmat
VFX compositing: Ferriol Tugues
Colour grading: Martí Somoza
Intro sound design: Lloyd Starr
Motion control rig provided by: Simon Tytherleigh
Video produced by: Nicholas Robespierre & Mark Roemer
Special thanks: The music team at Genero, Mick Entwisle, Andrew Lane, Ellie Cameron-Krepp & Kenny Parmelee


Explore our music video and creative opportunities

Join Genero