How to animate your own music video
Musician George Moir, who spends hundreds of hours animating his own music videos in a papery collage-style inspired by childhood toys, shares six steps to help animators find their story and execute their ideas... no matter how much planning it might take.
Step One: Have a good idea
You’re never gonna have a great music video if you don’t come up with a good idea first. Thankfully, a lot of the ‘ideas’ work is done for you already—the best place to start is always lyrics.
I use an iterative ideas process; I make a list of all the key themes of the song in different sections; visuals, emotions, and key narrative moments.
Bit by bit, you chip away at a mountain of work, until it starts to vaguely resemble something interesting.
I then branch out from each section and come up with a few ideas of my own about how I want to represent them visually. For example, some of my songs feature stress and anxiety as a key subject, and I use bees as a visual shorthand to represent it—I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a swarm of bees, but it’s kinda stressful. It could be anything though; as long as there’s a justification for it (not just because of cool colours and shapes), then it’s going to come across well.
Step Two: Do some planning
Planning is the very boring, not fun, sort of sucky bit of making music videos. And there’s a significant amount more of it involved in animated ones.
This usually means a shotlist, storyboard, or animatic... or... all three... darn. You’ve got to have a pretty good idea of what you want the finished piece to look like. The time spent figuring out what you want on-screen, and when, will save you many hours of animating the wrong scenes. On some videos, I manage to figure out exactly how many frames I need for a particular shot, so I end up animating exactly that number and no more. Very satisfying.
Step Three: Some more planning, I guess
One downfall of my very handy guide here is that it’s not super-specific. There are so many different animation styles and techniques, and some of them require a lot of specific skills that I have no clue about. It just so happens that the most important thing to decide (second only to your very good idea from Step One) is what animation techniques to use. I usually pick by building on my list from earlier. I take the theme and visual subheadings I made, and pick out some reference media.
Strap in, you’re about to disappear into a horrendous world of fascinating, satisfying, and mind-numbingly repetitive work.
For my latest video Baked Beans, I referenced Thunderbirds, Voyage Dans la Lune, and Wallace & Gromit, to name a few. Those sorts of films and shows captured the feeling I wanted to have in my video, so I ended up relying on miniatures, stop motion, and composited keyframe animation to achieve that. There were lots of extra planning steps that went on here too; sourcing a set, puppets, a studio, and figuring out scale-matched camera settings, but these steps are gonna be different on every project.
Step Four: Animating, finally
Strap in, you’re about to disappear into a horrendous world of fascinating, satisfying, and mind-numbingly repetitive work. This is a trait that all animated videos share, regardless of style or technique. They just take a really long time to make. Hopefully you’ll have a neat to-do list of all your shots, but if you’re like me and just want to get on with it, then you can start without one I suppose.
For my latest video Baked Beans, I referenced Thunderbirds, Voyage Dans la Lune, and Wallace & Gromit, to name a few.
Bit by bit, you chip away at a mountain of work, until it starts to vaguely resemble something interesting. The more ticks you have on your lovely long list of shots, the more exciting it all becomes. It’s not a mountain of work anymore, it’s a small set of problems to solve. How should I do this scene? I’ll composite some smoke texture in afterward. Or no, perhaps I’ll stop-frame animate some cotton wool? Nope, too much work, crumply paper it is.
Part Five: Chop chop
You’ve now got a great big pile of nice-looking scenes, all full of character and movement, and looking really really good. Now comes the time to edit them all together. This process will feel like an absolute breeze and is one of the most satisfying bits of the whole project. In contrast to the previous step, it shouldn’t take you long, you can use your storyboard or animatic as a rough guide. It helps to mark out key moments in the song where the cuts should match the beat of the song, and from there it’s just dropping in your clips until the editing timeline is all full up. You’ll only have to trim out a few precious frames if all goes well. Bish bash bosh.
Step Six: I’ve had enough now
Nearly finished - don’t worry. Colour grading: even the pros don’t really know what they’re doing, but it’s an important part of the process. It ties up the look, and hopefully takes it from a home video to an actual proper piece of art. After lots of fiddling, you’ll have found all the lovely colour tones you want. I like to add a bit of jitter, and some texture on top of my grade to finish. Add in the title and credits, and you finally have a music video.
Honestly, great job. Only a few people will ever truly appreciate how hard you worked on this, so soak up all the nice compliments, and start planning again. The next one will be great, it’ll have pyrotechnics and everything.