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Interview with Art Director Audri Phillips

[ Conducted in July 2010 ]

Audri Phillips - the person responsible for my favorite video clip for my favorite band. What more can I say - this is an absolute pleasure and privilege...

How did you end up getting the role of Art Director for the Shadrach video clip?

At that point in my life I was doing a lot of oil painting and exhibiting them. I lived in one tiny room and basically made my living taking jobs here and there in the world of film and rock videos, art directing, storyboarding, painting and designing. I was working with Adam Yauch to develop the look of the video and I think it became apparent to all involved that I was the natural person to art direct the video. Tim Block the producer made the final decision.

Were you a fan of the band prior to taking on the job? (were you even aware of the band)

I was aware of the band, but not yet a fan.

Animation Frame

Was a proof of concept developed first? Who's idea was it?

It was definitely the idea of Adam Yauch. He came and told me that he wanted a very painted video look.
He gave me the name of the painter, LeRoy Neiman. I was not a particular fan of the painter, but I looked at the work and saw what qualities were in the paintings that we could take and transfer over into the video. They ended up being a good starting point for the discussion between Adam and I. I then started making paintings until Adam liked what I was doing. I remember the first painting I did that he really liked. It became the cornerstone for the rest of the painting in the film. Joe who eventually did the animated paintings of the bear and the ox sequence was with him. I remember Joe got very excited by the paintings I had done. I remember thinking what a generous spirit he had. Don't know where Joe is now, but he was certainly a brilliant artist.

How many people were involved in the project?

Not really sure anymore - the credits must be listed somewhere. I know we had about 7 or 8 painters, all of them very talented. Marlon West is now working for Disney as an animator.
Chris Casady, very talented animator, who was the director of the animation had about 3 animators taking the blurriest of the video we were working from and creating pencil animation from it that we could use as a guide for our paintings. There were probably about 3 people doing that. Often the painters liked to work from the blurry video reference. It gave us more freedom to take liberties with the images we were painting. The project benefited greatly from the fact that most of the video was so out of focus and blurry. A few times I made up the images entirely and did not refer to the reference from the shot video, I just made sure I had enough frames for the section I was doing. I'm sure other artists did the same. We did have to pull back at one point and make sure that there were enough painted frames that looked like the Beastie Boys. One of the artists Stephen Holman, an extremely talented artist who we brought in mid way through the project was particularly good at making likenesses of the band members from the blurry footage.

Would you be able to step us through the process for making the clip.

Footage was shot of the band using very bad bank security cameras, so the footage that came to us was mostly very blurry. Every 4th frame was turned into a photgragh that was registered to animation pegs. Light background washes using acrylic paints were put on the heavy print paper (also registered to animation pegs) we painted on. Carole Cowley was one of the background artists. Then using a light box we put the print paper over the the registered photo and a light pencil tracing was created on the print paper. Then the painters proceeded to paint the painting using acrylic paints. A painter might paint 100 frames then another painter would pick up there. Each painter did multiple sequences. In this way you had the wonderful style changes. We kept switching painters roughly for every lot of license was obviously taken from the original photographic image each frame was based on. Then the painting were shot on a down shooter camera. Chris Casady handled all of the down shooting and editing together of the sequences. The sequences were then edited together.

The animation is not constrained to just live footage, it also features a bear, an ox and what seems to be a manticore. Was there special meaning behind these creatures appearing?

You would have to ask Joe.

Film runs at 24 frames per second, with older Animation generally running at half that. Part of the charm of this clip is the stop motion aspect to it, you said it was 4 fps?

Yes, painting was shot for 4 frames. Then of course there was the pull down when it was changed to video.
Actually we shot each piece of art work for 4 frames, shooting for film at 24 frames per second. Then of course there was the transfer to video in which the 24 frames per second would be stretched to 30 frames per second.
Adam Yauch was very influential when the film was being transferred to video. Garbor Chupo one of the 2 owners of Klatsky Chupo which was the animation studio the project had been brought to wanted to make the paintings look more saturated and bright. Which was surprising because he usually had such amazing taste and artistic instincts. Adam stepped in at the critical moment and said he wanted the art to look like the paintings they were not oversaturated cartoons.

That would make approximately 850-900 frames. So what happened to them all after the clip was completed?

Studio got them.

The frames are not on standard animation acetates, but seem to be on thick card. Why was that?

We wanted the animation to look like an animated fine art painting. So I decided to use the same acrylic paints that artists use. Then I needed a surface that coud handle acrylic paint, absorb the paint and stay flat so it could be shot under the down shooter. I thought about using water color paper but decided on the kind of paper that art prints are done on, thick archival printmaking paper. First each piece of paper was taped down and a background wash of color was put on it. Once it dried the paper would stay flat. Then the tape was removed and the main image was painted onto it. The standard clear acetate frames were not suitable for the kind of acrylic painting we wanted to do.

You also created clips for Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson with Eddie Murphy and had your work included in a Madonna video clip. Was Shadrach your first video clip?

Bon Jovi was the first one. Think I got paid $500 for art directing and building sets. Oh the music biz... I used to do lots of storyboards for videos I hardly remember - there was a cool one for Howard Jones.

Both the album it was taken from (Paul's Boutique) and the single itself were not commercial hits at the time they were released. Did you get much exposure from working on the clip?

Hardly any.

You have been involved with numerous big name films (Batman, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Monster Vs Aliens). How did you start out with computer animation?

I have always been a fan of technology and interested in new ideas. Way back in college I took a course in computer animation from Nelson Max - wanted to get a masters in it - but was told by Carnegie Mellon where I got my under graduate degree that computers did not have anything to do with art.

If you were given the same project now with today's technologies, would you change anything?

Probably do it in a computer paint package. Painter is a great one.

You have worked on varying artistic works (video clips, movies, playstation games, and even an animated ride). What areas interest you the most and is there any areas you would like to get into?

I love doing experimental animation. I call it visual poetry. Would like to do VJ stuff but in a more purposeful and planned out way. Staring out knowing what the trajectory of the performance was. Where I wanted to take the audience. I love to also combine poetry I write with the images.

What are you currently working on? What's in the pipeline?

Freelancing in the digital industry in LA, doing a bit of teaching at Woodbury University. Working on a number of my animations simultaneously including one in stereo, The working title is "Green Beans Gone Wild".

Working on having what I am calling a projection party - covering buildings with the video of lots of artists.

Started putting up some of my work on Vimeo as I like the quality better than that on Youtube: I would love to hear comments back about any of my work.

Also writing a blog and articles for Intel.,

Thank you very much for taking the time out to chat with us.

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