Ian Cooke has always been known for his stunning lyrical imagery, and while he's dropped a handful of interesting video accompaniments in the past, he's never attempted anything like this before. In a project spanning two years, Cooke collaborated with local artist Adam Singer and bandmate Ian O'Dougherty to produce a heartbreaking video for his song "Cassowary and Fruit Bat." Following the relationship of a bird who cannot fly and a mammal who can, the epic story touches on themes of suicide, existentialism and a trans-species friendship.
The video itself mixes computer animation, stop-motion animation, film footage of hand-crafted sets and a few other media, delivering a stunning aesthetic to match the grand emotional scale of the story. Ian Cooke will be premiering this video tomorrow night at the Sie Film Center, along with an illustrated book for sale that's loaded to the gills with DVD and CD extras of behind the scenes footage and dozens of new live tracks. We recently spoke with "Cassowary" video animator Adam Singer, and Ian Cooke band member and video/book producer Ian O'Dougherty about the long road traveled to make this project a reality.
Westword: For those unfamiliar with the song, can you tell us the story of "Cassowary & Fruitbat?"
Adam Singer: It's a love story. Cassowary is a large, essentially wingless bird who's most precious dream is to fly. The fruit bat is in love with the cassowary and comes up with a plan to make her dream come true and win her heart.
In an age when album sales aren't driving the music business as much, has it become necessary to diversify with extra packaging?
Ian O'Doughterty: Well, I grew up admiring Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick and it's accompanying newspaper. I really like albums that you can hold, read the liner notes, smell the paper, all of it. From the first cassette and 7-inch records that Uphollow released in the early '90s, I've always tried to do something interesting with the packaging. It provides an interesting challenge and a new way to experience the music.
Where did the idea to create such an ambitious video accompany for "Cassowary" come from?
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IO: The story of the song took a while to develop, but right from the beginning, it always seemed like the natural next step for the song would be illustrated or animated in some way. Once I had done rough mixes of the song, I approached Adam Singer, having seen his animation demo reel, and knowing he is a fan of Cooke's music. He agreed, and we spent the next two years making it happen.
Did the plot or characters change at all from the song to this video?
AS: Not very much. The action follows the lyrics throughout the song. At first, I played with the idea of having a video that contrasted the music in some way, or played along side it with a parallel idea. In the end, it felt right to me to make a video that would be complementary. The only differences between the lyrics and the action of the video is that there are added secondary actions and events in the video.
It became clear early on that if I only animated the action that was sung in the lyrics, there would be long sections of the video where not much action was happening. In the song, this time is filled nicely with instrumental moments. But I needed to fill those extra spaces visually, so I took it as an opportunity to try to add some more moments for the characters to show their personalities.
I've only seen the trailer so far, but the video looks just stunning. It doesn't feel like CGI, but also has too much of a digital aesthetic to be straight animation. What was the technology you used to create this?
AS: The sources of the imagery in the video span a pretty wide range of techniques: stop motion animation, traditional hand-drawn animation, 3D animation, photography, painting, physical model-making and more. There were two goals: I wanted it to feel as organic as possible, almost like a diorama made of drawings and found elements, and within that style, I also needed to find the fastest way possible for me to produce all the thousands of required elements and animations.
How long did that take?
AS: I spent roughly 1600 hours on the video over the course of two years. I estimate that I received about 200 hours of additional help from collaborators.
What role did Ian Cooke play in the making of the video?
AS: Ian had a huge part in setting the tone of the video, because he conceptualized and built all the trees and the cliff. He also made a large background painting of mountains and a river. One or more of those elements was essential to nearly every shot in the video. Once those elements were made, he helped me shoot all of them on blue screen over two days. He also painted a hilarious flying fish.
Adam, have you done music videos for other bands before? What other animated projects have you worked on?
AS: I'd say this is the first "official" music video I've done. Most of the work I've been doing over the last decade or so has been a mix of graphics for TV and various character animation projects.
I understand what is being sold is more than just a your everyday box-set, but a book?
AS: Yeah, Cooke and the band have brought in the help of a really talented layout artist, Michael King, to put together a book that contains stills from the video with the lyrics printed on top. A DVD with a lot of other great stuff and even some more unreleased recordings will be wrapped up with it.
IO: The package is essentially a forty-four page book with a seventy minute CD and a two hour DVD. I was especially excited about becoming partners with VHX on this project. They are the same people who distributed Dave Grohl's movie, Sound City.
Continue on for a rundown of what's in store for those interested in purchasing the "Cassowary and Fruit Bat" book collection.
Cassowary & Fruit Bat short film and making-of documentary
• "A Reasonable Life" music video • "Rover" with 303 Choir documentary • "The Kingdom" live in-studio • "Havoc" music video • The Towering Prince live in studio • "American Girl" music video • "Fortitude" live mix • "Scaffolding" / "Rover" live
Bonus video content:
• "Cassowary & Fruit Bat" live in-studio • "Havoc" live • "Fortitude" music video • "Music" live • "Kingdom" live at UMS • "Rover" music video • "Bones" live • "Vasoon" / "The Rot" live • "Flood" live • "Havoc" live at UMS • Music solo
"Flight of Cassowary" "Scaffolding" live "Music" live "The Kingdom" live "Fortitude" live "Rover" live (featuring 303 Choir) "Flood" live "Cassowary & Fruit Bat" live "Darkening" live (solo) "Criminal" "Havoc" cello demo "Havoc" live "The Towering Prince" live "Vasoon" / "The Rot" live "The Race" "Cassowary & Fruit Bat" (album version)
Ian Cooke performance, Q&A and video screening, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 10, Sie Film Center, 2510 East Colfax. $30 VIP tickets (includes book/DVD/CD set) and $10 general admission. Check out the event Facebook page for more information.
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