Réalisation Paul White @ Me Company
London-based design firm Me Company reveals the story behind Hunter, a pop video of a fantastical struggle featuring the Icelandic singer Björk. Special effects reach a new level of detail in Björk’s Hunter video, in which the singer is pictured close-up experiencing a Jekyll & Hyde transformation into a high-tech polar bear. I.D. Magazine’s Peter Hall interviewed Alistair Beattie of Me Company, which produced and directed the video.
Why a bear ?
We use the bear as a literal symbol of strength, ferocity, self-determination and the North, a pioneering roaming spirit. Hunter is a song about two different states, that of the hunter and the gatherer. The polar bear is the perfect symbol of the hunter state, it polarizes (ahem !) the difference between the two into something really extreme and magical. The choice of a techno-bear, though, has more to do with the idea of the beating heart of technology. Björk’s music often has a dialogue between organic forms and techno forms, and we share this interest. It’s not photoreal ; it’s able to collapse itself and rebuild itself at will. We had no desire to make it naturalistic.
Why is it so stark ?
The video is something like a koan or a haiku — it tries to ask the question in the most interesting manner possible. We wanted the effects to be done right in front of your eyes ; we didn’t want things to be hidden or faked or obscured. The magic and illusion are all the more powerful when it doesn’t feel like it’s being performed behind a veil of smoke and mirrors.
Is it easy to do this kind of morphing on computers ?
The technical skills required to do this kind of work are found only in a very few places, and we were lucky to land ourselves with a team of incredibly talented people at Digital Domain. What’s more interesting to us is that so much technology was used in such an invisible way. We never wanted the process to obscure the result. The nature of the special effects experience is that you don’t know how it was done ; the illusion is "sold" to you and you either buy it or you don’t. The heart and soul of the piece was Björk’s performance ; we shot 12 takes and then selected the best. The mantra throughout the production was that the performance must drive the computer graphics.
How much did it cost to make ?
This is not a question that we feel comfortable answering. Can we ask you a question ? What relevance does the bear have to good modern product design ?
I don’t know.
Transformative products are exciting, but robo-pets are even more exciting. We were interested in making the technology very visible, but also playing with translucency and transparency, soft boundaries. The irony of the digital age is that, as technology gets more invisible, people are more interested in being able to see it again, as in Apple Computer’s iMac, with its translucent blues and milky plastics that simultaneously tease and reveal.
What does Björk think of the video ?
She thinks it is "techno," one of her favorite words.
What attracts you, as designers, to the music video format ?
We often imagine that our print work is like a series of frames from a film. We usually work by first developing a narrative structure from which everything hangs. The opportunity to make films is a natural extension of that way of working. Of course, they are totally different disciplines, but they both have boundless possibilities and enough similarities for us to feel comfortable with a foot in each world.
Seven Steps to Transformation
Live-action video was shot in 12 takes in a London studio, with Björk performing in front of a green screen (wearing makeup to give the illusion of baldness). Tracking markers were applied to her head and face for subsequent 3-D computer graphics work.
A second performance was shot with Björk’s face marked up with infrared dots as a reference for animators to create convincing facial contortions.
A clay-fiber polar bear head was scanned next to Björk’s head for modeling guidelines.
All data was shipped to Digital Domain in California for composition.
Using SoftImage and proprietary software, the Digital Domain team tracked the singer’s face and head movements from the two marker sets.
Modeling and key-frame animation began, using Alias/Wavefront Maya software and SoftImage. Patch deformation and shape interpolation were combined to create the emerging bear head, comprised of 100 maneuverable platelets that rise up through the skin.
Rendering was completed using Pixar’s Renderman software. A proprietary holographic shader was used to make the bear skin colors shift. All computer graphics elements were integrated with the live-action footage.
"Bear With Me" I.D. Magazine (Novembre 1997) via bjork.com