Tuesday, February 24, 2009
A Conversation with Paul Griswold
At MGFest09 Chicago, Michele Yamazaki of Toolfarm sat in on Paul Griswold's case study of the music video for the group N.A.S.A. called Money. The video used the artwork of Shepherd Fairey, who is probably best known for his Obama Hope poster, probably the most recognizeable image of the last presidential campaign. The Money video combines Fairey's posters with 2D and 3D animation. It's so visually striking and the creative use of 3D space with the 2D elements is incredibly synchronized. Paul talks to Michele in depth about the video.
Michele Yamazaki: Hi Paul. How did you get involved with N.A.S.A.'s 'Money' music video and with musicians David Byrne and Chuck D and graphic artist Shepherd Fairey?
Paul Griswold: Syd Garon and I have known each other since film school back in the late 80's / early 90's. He had directed an animated hip-hop film called Wave Twisters a few years ago that I had done some animation work on. Squeak E. Clean (aka Sam Speigel) was a huge fan of Wave Twisters and asked Syd to direct all of the N.A.S.A. videos. He ended up directing several of them, while creative directing others. Syd came to me to do some animation on the video "Way Down" and it worked really well. When "Money" came around he told me Shepard Fairey was on board for the artwork and asked if I'd be interested in co-directing with him.
Your co-director, Syd Garon, lives in LA, if I remember correctly. How did you two collaborate so well over so many miles? Can you talk a bit about the software you use to transfer files back and forth?
We use Drop Box for transferring files. Back when I worked on Wave Twisters everything was done by FTP and it was a real pain. Drop Box really makes it easy for us to collaborate over long distances. I use it with a lot of the ad agencies I work with since I don't have to go through the trouble of setting up a password protected FTP site or pay someone to develop a private client section on my web site. Basically it's just a folder on your computer that is "magically" connected to another person running Drop Box. When you put a file in the folder it immediately shows up on the computer of the person you share the Drop Box with. And since each of my clients gets their own folder, none of them can access any files but their own, yet I have access to all of them.
Drop Box sounds really useful. I think I will look into that for myself. Thanks! The video is loosely based on the Bible verse "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil"? How did you work that in with the posters?
Shepard's work is very focused on both the good and evil uses of money, so it was a perfect fit for the video. The hardest part was creating a narrative without injecting too much of our own work. The video was supposed to be a Shepard Fairey video, not a "Syd and Paul make a Shepard Fairey look-a-like" video. We spent a lot of time going through all of his work picking out elements that would convey the overall theme and fit together in a storyline.
Well we had a great song, an enthusiastic music producer who had his own ideas and then Shepard's work to inspire us. It didn't take much for us to go down a road where we were coming up with ideas that would have required us to make totally original Syd & Paul artwork. It would have completely destroyed the concept of bringing Shepard's work to life had we continued down that road.
Sure. When you spoke at MGFest Chicago about the case study of the Money video, you mentioned that one of the problems that you encountered was that Shepherd Fairey's iconic poster artwork was created vertically and video is, of course, a horizontal format. Can you talk a bit about how you overcame that issue?
That was quite a problem. Most of his designs were in a poster or book format, not the horizontal aspect ratio of HDTV. Since Shepard spends a ton of time composing his work to convey a very specific message, the last thing we wanted to do was destroy his composition. We really worked hard and Syd consulted with Shepard to make sure he didn't feel we did anything to alter the main theme of the artwork.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered while working with artwork that is meant to be posters?
Well, Shepard never designed these pieces of art to be animated, so none of the files were built with animation in mind. Many times we would get an Adobe Illustrator file and could see where the artwork was very much drawn as he was inspired. So there would be a mess of strokes going everywhere. That's fine when you're making a print, but not so great when you want to animate it.
I've encountered the same stray points with client work. I can imagine it would be a thousand times worse with such intricate posters. Can you talk a bit about your technique for bring flat, still artwork to life? You used both 2D and 3D animation.
Syd works in After Effects and he assembled the finished video. I work in Softimage XSI and Eyeon Fusion. We would discuss each piece of artwork and then decide if it needed a 3D move or could be done in 2D. If the shot needed to be 3D, then it meant possibly trying to recreate Shepard's artwork from scratch in a 3D environment. All of the 3D work had to fit the style of the artwork as well, so I had to do quite a few test renders for each piece to make sure the shading and look was correct.
What all does your company Fusion Digital Productions do?
Fusion Digital Productions is a small 3D animation, visual effects and compositing shop. We do everything from 3D product illustrations to effects for feature films. Being in the midwest means we're very cost competitive, but it also means we're not in the Los Angeles mix.
So, you're in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It must be difficult to get high profile work like living and working outside of LA, NY and other large cities.
Absolutely. There's no doubt that living in LA makes a huge difference in day-to-day sales opportunities. However, I also believe talent gets noticed and the web makes all the difference in the world these days. So if you're an artist living in the midwest I don't think you have to worry as much about where you live as you would have a few years ago.
I saw your Tweet that you've got another project in the pipeline with Shepherd Fairey. Is it top secret or can you give us a few details?
Syd Garon is directing it and I'm on board as animation director. It's for the World Wildlife Federation and it's called Earth Hour. We just wrapped up production and it should be airing soon. Shepard worked as creative director for all the artwork for the project and the agency is Leo Burnett. It's very different than the Money video, but still very much is a Shepard Fairey animation.
Sounds very cool. I look forward to seeing it. You do amazing work and I know that people were blown away by the N.A.S.A. video at the CMGF Screening. I know you're really busy, and I want to thank you for your time.
Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. The project was a blast to work on and I really owe it all to Syd Garon. He's an incredibly talented director and animator as well as a great friend.
More on N.A.S.A.
N.A.S.A. behind the scenes from Paul Griswold on Vimeo.
See "Money" Co-director discuss the project at the Chicago Motion Design Conference.
Director/animators Syd Garon and Paul Griswold, recently co-directed a music video for the band NASA (North America South America). The song, titled Money, features Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe winning singer/songwriter David Byrne and Chuck D, leader of the rap group Public Enemy. The music video features artwork by contemporary artist and designer Shepard Fairey, who recently gained national notoriety for his design of the Barack Obama “Hope” campaign poster.
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