Luke Tierney has been Head of Music Videos at FRIEND in London for just over five years - which feels like a good time to take stock, look back, and hear more about the projects that have defined …
I ❤️ Music Videos - Blinkink x Jon Hopkins
On the release of his new album and just ahead of a landmark show at the Royal Albert Hall, we look at the remarkable body of work that Jon Hopkins has created with London animation studio Blinkink over the past decade.
Techno maestro Jon Hopkins performs at the Royal Albert Hall in London tonight (November 23rd), the showpiece live show to follow the release of his acclaimed new album Music For Psychedelic Therapy last week.
The album was trailed by a hypnotic animated video directed by Stephen McNally (above), released last month - just the latest in a number of works created by directors at London-based animation house Blinkink for Hopkins tracks over the past decade.
So in the latest in our playlist series I ❤️ Music Videos, here are all eight of the Jon Hopkins videos created at Blinkink in the past decade, with comments from Elliot Dear - who has directed or co-directed four of them - and McNally about how their videos were made.
As they explain, Hopkins has been a great collaborator, not only as the creator of evocative and atmospheric soundscapes that lend themselves to visuals, but with strong ideas himself which serve as a jumping-off point for the visual artists to express themselves in various ways.
Jon is really collaborative in his approach to visuals.
Director: Elliot Dear
Jon Hopkins' first video with Blinkink came for a track from the 2011 album Diamond Mine - a collaboration with Scottish alt-folk artist King Creosote. It was also Elliot Dear's first project as a director at the company, and it is a remarkable achievement. He combined his miniature modelmaking skills with 2D rotoscoped animation to create a magical version of a Scottish harbour town.
The seamless execution creates an otherworldiness in keeping with the song - and particularly Hopkins's production. It was an auspicious start to Dear's career, and he describes here how he did it - all for about two hundred and fifty quid!
Bubble sounded deep and dark, like the water in a harbour.
Elliot Dear: "This was my first chance at working with Blinkink over ten years ago, when I was twenty five or six. I obviously wanted the video to be excellent, so I was very particular about my approach. My feeling was (and still is) that you only get to hear a song for the first time once. Sounds obvious, but that first listen is quite a precious thing, because your reaction to it is as pure as it will be.
"I made an effort to be in a dark room with no distractions and to really get into it. The images I found were not so much a reaction to the lyrics, but more to the sound and the way the track is recorded. Bubble sounded deep and dark, like the water in a harbour. The rhythms got me thinking about paddling, but not the paddling of a human, which is where the dog came into it. There's also a magical progression in the track, with the instrumentation starting to sparkle and shimmer, which is where the light source elements came into it.
We built some of the models together from scratch as well as adapting model railway buildings.
"I seem to remember the budget for this video was video was £2K. But I was so poor at the time that I needed a lot of that for rent etc. So I actually only spent about £250 on the video. This money was mainly spent on materials and a nominal fee for a friend of mine who is a model maker. We built some of the models together from scratch as well as adapting model railway buildings and diecast model vehicles. The lampposts are made of card with painted ping pong balls on top, which I wired with a bulb, and many of the bits of moss and twigs were gathered in gardens and off the street.
"I shot the miniatures in the basement of Clapham Road studios over the course of two weeks - my first of many projects to happen down there. I had built a turntable out of an upturned office chair and a square of plywood. This was used for the orbital shots of the environment. The atmospheric underwater look was achieved by shooting particles and milk in a fishtank and shining a lamp though it.
"The 2D elements were made in Flash (now Adobe Animate) by rotoscoping videos of dogs diving for toys at the bottom of people's swimming pools. I composited the whole thing myself in about a week (maybe two) using After Effects. The entire video came together organically, without any storyboards but lots of reference images and notes. Because I made it on my own, I just held the idea in my head and added bits as I went along."
THIRD SWAN (2012)
Dir: Elliot Dear
A few months later, Dear made his second video for the Diamond Mine album. This also combined animal life with modelmaking, but in a completely different way from Bubble. The video for Third Swan placed actual swans within a carefully constructed miniature countryside set, for an entirely live-action shoot. Which was a fairly stressful affair, by the sounds of it - but with some spectacular results.
ED: "The song talks about being self-destructive, so I wanted to find a way to show an accidental, unwitting and almost innocent-feeling destruction. I had an idea previously that involved filming an animal in slow motion on a miniature set. I thought this would work well with a swan.
"We built a twelve-foot miniature countryside set in a small photography studio in Hackney. We hired a pair of swans - one female and one male (in fact, the son of the swan from Hot Fuzz).
The swans felt like giants... the male swan flapped its wings and tore a giant hole in the sky background.
"The swans would only cooperate for a limited time, so we needed a backup. The male swan would only travel across the set to visit the female, so we had to keep her in a carry crate and move her around to get the male to do anything at all.
"When shot at 200 frames per second, the swans felt like giants on the miniature sets. Their natural clumsiness on land meant that they ended up destroying the model windmill, fences and barns we had built. There was a funny/scary moment when the male swan flapped its wings and tore a giant hole in the sky background behind the set. I had to paint this out in post production myself."
ASLEEP VERSIONS (2014)
Dir: Robert Hunter
In 2014, Hopkins released Asleep Versions, an EP of four ambient compositions - this arrived with a short visual trailer designed and directed by Robert Hunter, which was based on imagery in his own graphic novella The New Ghost.
EMERALD RUSH (2018)
Dirs: Elliot Dear & Robert Hunter
More than three years on, and Elliot Dear and Rob Hunter then collaborated on the first video from Hopkins's 2018 album Singularity - and first full engagement with Hopkins's signature sound.
They created a mysterious, comic book-style fantasy for Emerald Rush, incorporating 2D and 3D elements, where a teen boy appears in a forest and on encountering a mysterious beetle-like insect, embarks on a voyage of discovery and transformation...
EVERYTHING CONNECTED (2018)
Director: Alex Grigg
Alex Grigg created this mesmerizing visualizer for the pulsating Everything Connected - which also complements the visual aesthetic of other Blinkink work for Hopkins.
FEEL FIRST LIFE (2018)
Director: Elliot Dear
Elliot Dear revisited the miniature modelmaking of his first King Creosote/Jon Hopkins videos for this one. He creates a puppet animation where the protagonist - a human seed-pod hybrid - roams a world devastated by an apocalyptic event, helping to prompt the start of renewed life.
The idea of a seed pod that becomes sentient... gave it a science-fiction tint.
ED: "Jon initially had an idea about a kind of child-god that wanders the earth sowing seeds to regrow life following some kind of apocalypse. I liked the nature of the idea, but felt that the protagonist should be a more faceless, anonymous being, that was less human.
"The idea of a seed pod that becomes sentient and travels the land in order to scatter its seeds, is in line with Jon's idea but felt somehow more melancholy and gave it a science-fiction tint.
"This was another one shot in the basement of Clapham Road studios. Alex Halley was producing, so it was in safe hands. We had a small team of model makers led by Emma-Rose Dade, and I had a great director of photography to work with in Max Halstead, who also handled all the pyrotechnics and motion control.
The conditions felt pretty similar to working in a mine. Not that I'd know.
"The process was very similar to Bubble and Third Swan, in that we used miniatures, practical effects and high-speed photography. The handmade quality gave the video a tangibility that suited the sound of the track, and the puppet had a natural pathos to it. The video was shot during a heatwave in London, so it was 35 degrees outside.
"The basement has no windows and we were filming with several big lights and using Fuller's Earth on the sets (a type of fine dust used for special effects) so the conditions felt pretty similar to working in a mine. Not that I'd know. The video for Feel First Life was really fun to make, even if we did sweat away half our body weights."
LUMINOUS BEINGS (2019)
Director: Stephen McNally
Stephen McNally's visual for Luminous Beings utilizes a recurrent aspect of Hopkins's videos with Blinkink - the floating star-like lights - and makes them (ahem) the stars of the show. It's a choreographed display of lights in the real-world night sky, their interplay created a constellation-like figure in the sky.
The idea sprang from the album artwork I made for Singularity.
Stephen McNally: "The idea for the video sprang from the album artwork I made for Jon for Singularity. It started with Jon showing me a whiteboard marker drawing of psilocybin, and we talked about how it seemed like a constellation.
"Jon is really collaborative in his approach to visuals. My approach was to respond to the music and the sensations it creates. We talked about how the beginning of the track feels rough and scratchy, like pushing through brambles in the dark, only to come to a clearing where the claustrophobia gives way to a wide open space.
[They] begin to connect to one another, like neural connections firing.
"The timelapse landscape we created frames the ‘luminous beings’ as they emerge - as clear notes in the open sky. They begin to connect to one another, like neural connections firing. As the form begins to stabilise, the scape shifts, from tiny motes of light to a vast and distant constellation. The more generative, stochastic brambles in the dark gives way to a cosmic moment of order."
MUSIC FOR PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY (2021)
Dir: Stephen McNally
As with Luminous Beings, McNally's latest visual for Hopkins (and his most recent Blinkink-produced video) was inspired by the record sleeve for the album. Appropriately enough it's a very psychedelic experience - and properly cinematic too.
It's an impressionistic version of both the cosmic and the microscopic, perfectly in keeping with Hopkins' new musical direction. In other words, it's seriously trippy.
The mandalas emerge and flow over us... as the music flows gradually over us.
SMcN: "Our jumping off point was Eileen Hall’s gorgeous watercolour artwork for the album, which is tactile and textural, and cosmic and hallucinatory.
"Jon knew he wanted to start with a slow push in on the album artwork, and I thought that would make a good organising principle, steadily pushing through worlds forming and dissolving around us. It was an exploration from there of the microscopic and stellar worlds we would find within the painting.
"The way Hall lets the watercolours bleed together delicately is reflected in how the motes of colour later flow in three dimensions through the ether-like ink spreading through water. The mandalas emerge and flow over us, their shapes ephemeral, as the music flows gradually over us."
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