How an old animation technique proved to be a fresh approach
Directing duo Lamar+Nik employed a more than century-old technique called scanimation for their most recent promo for Husbands. Here they explain the labour-intensive, but highly effective, processes while asking the band their thoughts on the video.
If you’ve seen the videos by directing duo Lamar+Nik before then you’ll know they like strong visual hooks and in-camera effects.
In their latest video, for Husbands' Manhorse, they settled on an animation technique that dates back to the 1890s; scanimation. Multiple still-frames of video are combined into a single interlaced base-image then printed onto card stock.
When we heard Manhorse the first idea that came to mind for us was scanimation.
To make the animation work, though, a ‘bar mask’ is printed on transparency and laid on top of the base-image. The spaces between the black bars only reveal enough of the underlying image to show a single frame from the animation. As the transparency is moved, the subsequent frames are revealed, creating motion.
Below, Lamar+Nik talk about the making of this video while the band’s Danny Davis gives his view of the project to the pair.
Above: The finished Manhorse promo.
L+N: The music scene here in Oklahoma is pretty tight-knit, so when something great comes out, everyone knows about it. Husbands is a band that we’ve had our eye on for a while, so we were thrilled when they reached out and asked us to make a video for them.
We printed off a couple of scanimations we found online to test out our theory and we were blown away by how the looping animation worked so perfectly with the beat.
When we heard Manhorse the first idea that came to mind for us was scanimation. We thought it would be cool to essentially play the song through this unusual method of animation. We printed off a couple of scanimations we found online to test out our theory and we were blown away by how the looping animation worked so perfectly with the beat.
Once we knew the idea was going to work we went through the song and listened closely to the lyrics. We wanted to highlight what was being said, but didn’t want to go too literal. Eventually a happy-medium was found by using objects that were closely related to the lyrics but were not exactly what was being said. For example: We used a Polaroid camera for “Magnet your photo to the fridge...”.
What did you think of the concept pitched for Manhorse initially and what was your reaction to it?
DD: In a word: confused. You might as well have been speaking another language when you were first describing the technique of scanimation to us. Add to that the notion of legless tables with head-shaped holes cut into them where you film yourselves scooting stacked transparencies along designated tracks while we’re supposed to be laying on the floor performing and getting drug around.
You might as well have been speaking another language when you were first describing the technique of scanimation to us.
Luckily, we were familiar with your work so we knew it was going to be cool regardless of our ability to conceptualize it. Once you sent us examples of scanimation, we were stoked. What’s nice is that despite the technique being over 100-years-old and having a DIY feel, it has this futuristic, magical effect.
Above: Images from the video and during the production.
L+N: For this particular video there were two shoots. In the first one we needed to capture the footage that we would turn into scanimations. We captured the band’s performance on a white backdrop at their house. The ones that used different objects were shot using stop-motion on a similar white backdrop. Afterwards we prepared and tested the base-images on the computer. There was a bit of trial and error, but eventually we got the scanimations to a point that they were working and the camera could see the animations.
It was super-frustrating getting to the end of a table only to find one or more of the scanimations didn’t look the way we wanted it to.
At this point we had already storyboarded and choreographed everything, but we still needed to build the tabletops that you see throughout the video. We enlisted our friend Mason Drumm to help us build the contraption, which we think turned out pretty awesome.
For the second and final shoot we used the band’s house as the location. That was kind of funny because they consider themselves a ‘bedroom pop’ band, so the setting made a ton of sense. The hardest part about the shoot by far was the choreography we had to master. The black ‘guides’ we put on the table tops were there to aid us in aligning the bar mask with the base-image. If those two things aren’t straight, the animation doesn’t work.
The hardest part about the shoot by far was the choreography we had to master.
It was super-frustrating getting to the end of a table only to find one or more of the scanimations didn’t look the way we wanted it to. We persevered and got through it though, ending the day with the live-action performance at the end. This was a welcome relief from the rest of the day and was our DP Spenser Sakurai’s favorite part because he was able to shoot something other than white table-top.
What was it like working with us and was your reaction when you saw the scanimations for the first time?
DD: Working on the video was a blast, largely because we didn’t have to do the vast majority of the work. We could sit back and watch you guys discussing lighting and filming logistics while we ate pizza and hung out.
It was nostalgic having that overhead projector around. Made me want to solve some basic algebra problems.
I think I can speak for Wil [Norton, band member] in saying we’re both inspired when hanging around highly capable creative people who have a strong vision and an ability to execute. It’s edifying and motivating for going out and making something ourselves after watching people work like that. My favorite scanimation was the ‘Do Not Interrupt. It’s a Process’, projected on the wall behind us while the band performed. That was a double whammy of a cool idea, and on top of that, it was nostalgic having that overhead projector around. Made me want to solve some basic algebra problems.
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Above: Lamar+Nik's promo for The Shins' Half a Million.
L+N: As we were finishing up the video everything in the US began to go on lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were very lucky to have shot the video when we did because we had no idea how much crazier things would get.
The best part of making something for us is getting the chance to share it with other people and hopefully provide them with a little bit of entertainment.
There wasn’t that much that actually needed to be edited in the video, but with the pandemic in full swing, motivation was in short supply. We debated about when would be the best time to release a video when everyone is locked down; is it better to wait, or release ASAP? In the end, we decided to release the video as fast as we could. The best part of making something for us is getting the chance to share it with other people and hopefully provide them with a little bit of entertainment. It just seemed like a no-brainer to put something positive out during this time.
How did the final video compare to what you thought it would look like?
DD: By the time the video was finished, I think we had a relatively good idea of what it would look like. Especially considering it was filmed in sequence and meant to come across as this one-shot type of thing.
It’s crazy how much a difference putting a lot of TLC into every single facet of the project can affect the final product.
That being said, we were still blown away by the quality of everything. It’s crazy how much a difference putting a lot of TLC into every single facet of the project can affect the final product. That’s evident watching the video and it’s always inspiring to see.