Handmade Characters, Horrifying Carnage image

Handmade Characters, Horrifying Carnage How Oliver Jones and Brandon Kahn Used Red Giant Tools to Make Hilariously Brutal Claymation for Australian psych-rockers.

Australian psych-rockers Psychedelic Porn Crumpets launched their recent album, Shyga! The Sunlight Mound with three music videos animated by Director Oliver Jones and edited and composited by Brandon Kahn. Taken together, the clips comprise an action-packed, darkly comic sci-fi trilogy about a murderously voracious anti-heroine and the slovenly interstellar bounty hunter aiming to end her reign of terror.

Jones and Kahn made the videos at breakneck speed. Jones animated plasticine figures frame by frame and sent completed shots to Kahn for comping in After Effects. After the first video was created on a near-impossible three-week production schedule, the duo got even more ambitious, with Kahn expanding his skillset with Red Giant tools that made the finished visuals even more lurid and hallucinatory.

Jones, of Better Feeling Films, had collaborated previously with the band on several music videos before they approached him last year about creating a 30-second animated segment as part of a new live-action video for their song “Mr. Prism.” But after seeing his storyboards, they scrapped the original idea and commissioned a full-length animated video instead. There was one catch—they needed it in a little more than three weeks.

“A stop-motion claymation video in three weeks is insane, but I'm insane,” Jones says, reflecting on the deadline pressure. “I phoned up Brandon and said, ‘Are you willing to be insane with me and composite this music video for me?’ He was like, ‘Yeah sure.’ I probably almost killed him.”

In “Mr. Prism,” an Alice in Wonderland-inspired character who eats a magic donut is transported to Sweetsville, a Willy Wonka-esque fairytale world made entirely of candy. It’s all storybook whimsy until Alice realizes the citizens of Sweetsville are also made of candy—and that they’re delicious.

Oliver Jones and Brandon Kahn made Mr. Prism in just three weeks.

Jones says the whole bizarre spectacle was inspired by the relatively wholesome output of Bristol, U.K.’s Aardman Animations and the outrageously violent work of British stop-motion specialist Lee Hardcastle. “My idea was I’d mash this cutesy Aardman kind of animation together with real horror violence,” Jones says. He knew the combination was effective when Kahn showed him the first completely assembled scene from the video. “We were wetting ourselves watching it, so we knew it was actually going to work.”

When the band came back asking for another video, Jones couldn’t resist pitching two more to make a trilogy. The video for “Tally-Ho,” he explained, would be even more ambitious, introducing a bounty hunter named T-Bone in a chaotic, blood-spattered universe inspired by classic action figures and Rick and Morty. And in the third video, “Pukebox,” T-Bone would fly to Sweetsville for a one-on-one showdown with Alice herself. (Stay tuned for the twist ending.)

Workflow for “Tally-Ho” and “Pukebox” built on the success of “Mr. Prism,” as Jones and Kahn doubled down on the practices that helped them crank out quality work in record time. Kahn knew the science-fiction setting would make Red Giant’s effects packages indispensable, so he installed the full suite and watched a few tutorials to help figure out which ones would save him the most time.

The process started with detailed storyboards that showed Kahn how the animated shots were to be assembled. Kahn added scene numbers (in yellow) to make each shot easily identifiable, then he cropped each image to an individual panel that he dropped onto a timeline in Premiere Pro. The result was an animatic sequence dictating the timing for each shot.

For the scenes featuring the T-Bonertron character, Jones created the foreground hills, clouds and sun as separate elements. Kahn made the background terrain and used Trapcode Mir to incorporate a bumpier texture. Trapcode Shine was used to create the light rays coming from the sun.

Jones’ stop-motion T-Bonertron, before and after Kahn’s compositing.

Universe Spectralicious helped Kahn generate a color gradient overlay that increased color saturation and intensity throughout both videos. Finally, Universe Chromatic Glow and Chromatic Aberration helped him dial in the look of every shot.

The effect stack, combining Spectralicious, Chromatic Glow and Chromatic Aberration, was the most important influence on the look of both “Tally-Ho” and “Pukebox,” Kahn says. “I just turned the saturation and opacity of that Spectralicious gradient layer up, to add even more insane color, making that layer a sharp tool. We could tone it down for the more post-apocalyptic scenes or really crank it up for the more anime-inspired bits.”

T-Bone on Jones’ stop-motion stage (left) and in the finished video.

T-Bone was inspired by Brock Sampson from The Venture Brothers, Ron Perlman (Clay) from Sons of Anarchy and Dog the Bounty Hunter. His vehicle in the shots above is an actual vintage Action Man sledge. “I roughed up all the edges, sprayed it black and put skulls on it and stuff like that to make it a bit more metal,” Jones says. The idea to give T-Bone a robotic arm was Kahn’s contribution.

Because each animated figure in the shot below, including the little orange creatures running toward the camera, was comped in from a separate shot, the finished After Effects composition had hundreds of layers. Fortunately, the green grid-like element following the curve of the left binocular eyepiece was animated quickly using Universe HUD Components, saving Kahn the trouble of working up an animation himself.

This shot from “Tally-Ho” combines multiple animations and a Red Giant HUD effect.

Whenever possible, Jones and Kahn tried to use real physical items rather than digital elements. That’s why, the scene where a spaceship touches down on a Mir-generated landscape features clouds that are actually flat pieces of plasticine photographed by Jones. Adding a few frames of side-to-side motion kept them from looking static. The same goes for the planets, Kahn says.

The colorful particle effects around the lollipop sword from the final showdown in “Pukebox” were generated by Trapcode Particular. “I used Particular to make snow on the snow planet,” Kahn explains. That’s classic. Everybody does that, but not everybody does yellow and pink lollipop-energy particles exploding through the air.”

Though he relied heavily on Red Giant tools. But Kahn took care not to obscure the fact that most everything on screen was custom-built and animated by hand. “My goal was to take all the fun, crazy and creative stuff we came up with and make it feel both ridiculously fantastic and real,” Kahn says.

For Jones, the results speak for themselves. “The fact that we made 12 minutes worth of Claymation in less than six months is incredible. The band let us run wild with our imaginations. That’s just cool, and it was nice to know they were extremely happy with what we did.”


Bryant Frazer Writer/Editor – Colorado