Song: Tool

Footage: Various

How do I describe this video? Not easily, that much is certain. After having produced the somewhat cliched "End of the World as We Know it," and showing it at AWA III, we, or at least I, was a bit cowed by the quality of our opposition. You have to understand that, while we did win best technical, we were fully expecting to win the best overall category, and perhaps a few others besides (our egos running away with us a bit during the production process). When we didn't win, we were a bit disappointed, but even more surprised to find that we fully agreed that we didn't deserve to win, the other entries being vastly superior in subject matter and execution. I took this as a personal challenge to improve myself.

Hil and I started a few little abortive projects in the following months, none of which really went anywhere before Hil packed up and left for Japan. The dividing of Artificial Suns was on the best of terms, he even selling me the editing parts from his computer when he left (at a major discount). One of the projects he started independently I eventually picked up in my next video for the "She's an Angel."

However, first, I had an ax to grind and a point to prove. Our first video had achieved something of minor celebrity, but I was determined that Artificial Suns should not become known as only a comedic AMV maker. There were, at the time, several groups I knew of which had fallen into predesignated ruts. You could tell at a glance if and AMV was from individual X because of the style of drama, or the concentration on action, or the predominant use of a particular style of music. Make no mistake, many of these groups produced excellent videos, many much better than our first attempt, but I never wanted my work to become redundant or "typical" for our group. I wanted each video to be something new and unique, in a new genre or style or school of music. Thus, where the first video had been silly and humorous to the point of absurdity, I wanted this video to be painfully, intensely serious. To this end, I chose a song from my current favorite band, Tool. I was initially inspired to do the video by Tool's own videos, masterpieces of stop-motion animation in a strange abstract and organic world such as Kafka only dreamed of. The original video for this particular song inspired me enough to actually seek out the albums and listen to all of their work, as well as look up the other videos of theirs which I only partially remembered. My impressions of this particular song, however, remained the most starkly nihilistic in my mind, and so I selected it for the second video.

I attempted to select footage from equally nihilistic anime series to properly match the mood. To this end I selected four core series. [At this time I was still having trouble believing that a single series or a single movie could provide sufficient footage to do an entire video properly. Now I have trouble conceiving of how I could have ever found the time to watch all the anime necessary to do a "various" video.] The four shows selected were "Angel's Egg," "Akira," "X," and "Ghost In The Shell." Brief additions from other series were made where appropriate, most notably some selections from the "Memories" film, the sections "Magnetic Rose" and "Cannon Fodder." I love "Angel's Egg" and GITS for reasons too complicated to go into here, Akira for it's complexity and weird ending (and classic nature), and at the time I loved X as well. Now I can see that X is little more than beautiful people dying....but damn is it well animated. Unfortunately, in the case of "Angel's Egg" I had only a third or fourth generation copy, (similarly for Memories) and it shows in the footage.

The final result is by far my favorite video of the ones I've made. It really is rather impressive when blown up on a projection screen, and I think I achieved the proper level of fatalistic nihilism for the proper effect. The idea for it rattled around in my head constantly for months before I actually began to assemble it, creating several key points of lyrics matched to footage in the video that were fully realized in my head before I even began to work on it. I expanded outward from these points rather than construct it linearly. All in all it took about seven months of work to construct. Considering that the computer was taken apart and reassembled three times in that period, that's a fairly reasonable number for me. It was premiered at AWA IV and won an honorable mention (although I am assured by the judge that, in retrospect, he wishes he had given it an award). To drive home the wide range of styles I planned to explore, it was premiered with the "She's an Angel" video. In addition to these accolades, I was given the pleasure at AWA VI of what is considered by many the ultimate compliment for an AMV maker. A girl came up to me and told me that she had never heard of Tool before, but upon seeing my video the previous year, she "went out and bought the album." This would put me, I like to think, in the company of such luminaries as Mark Hairston, whose "Nadia Trilogy" videos, we are all convinced, cause periodic sales spikes in Sara Brightman's sales of her album "Dive."

Details and Technical

As this was my first attempt at the computer end of video editing, and as my primary source of editing and all-around computer video knowledge (Hil) was currently across a continent and an ocean, it was, perhaps, inevitable that I would make some technical blunders. Fortunately, I only managed to make one major blunder. Unfortunately, it was a really important one. After putting the finishing touches on every aspect of the video and finally hooking up a television to the computer so I could see the output quality, I made the rather horrifying discovery that I had been capturing nearly all of my footage in 8-bit color resolution because of a default I accidentally messed with early on in the capture process. The result is really horrific. Never do this. Anyway, I had to then go back and replace about 2/3s of the footage captured for the video. It is definitely possible that there are still a few 8-bit clips in the more static pieces that didn't show it as badly. I hadn't quite learned my lesson about excessive transition effects either. I attempted to refine their use here, matching the transitions with images on the screen (as when the SOL system laser cuts the screen in half for the next image) or the movement of footage in the two scenes (as when the Angel's Egg girl dives forward to retrieve her egg from the soldier, the footage is moving onto the screen at the same rate), but I still find their use a touch excessive, especially in the build/unbuild brick sequence before Tetsuo falls apart, and the panel-fly-apart sequence that follows. Still, I think the overall effect was fairly successful.

Footage commentary:

The initial "intro" clip is from a scene in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet." The reasoning behind it is a little elaborate. The film itself is about the world of perversity and horror lurking just beneath the surface of an idealistic "Andy Griffith" type town, with an obvious metaphors for the appearance vs. reality in society. Lynch brought about some phenomenal effects, both visually and thematically, to bring this idea forward without ever really stating it outright, including over saturation of various images, and the strangely non-sequitur finding of a human ear in a vacant lot by the protagonist. "Blue Velvet" is probably the single weirdest film that ever has or ever will win an Oscar (we don't tend to tolerate such experimentalism in the academy any more). This portrayal of "hidden putrefaction" seemed a natural match to Tool's music in my warped little brain, especially as Tool's own videos seem merely an hyperbolic abstraction of similar concepts. The scene chosen appears to be rather inoffensive, if a bit tense, but is actually a key turning point in the film, and the atmospheric buildup, when in context, is truly extraordinary. The scenes that follow, and especially the dialog, are anything but inoffensive. I wanted to use it as a kind of thematic target to aim for. Further, I enjoy the kind of humor or effect that feeds on people's own individual knowledge in a sort of synergistic combination, so it strikes each person who "gets it" on a personal level. It's like when someone cracks a deadpan joke in the form of a quote from an obscure movie. If you get it, you feel special. I used "Blue Velvet" at least partially because of a short parody a local group had done several years before called "Blue Peanuts" where lines from the film were set to various Peanuts characters. (Snoopy: Heineken??? FUCK THAT SHIT!! PABST BLUE RIBBON!!) I thought it was hilarious even before I'd seen the movie (made a lot more sense afterwards) so I liked the idea of referencing back to it. Finally, and most importantly, both the source of the clip and the quote said quite definitively that "this ain't what you expected from the guy who done the last video." For anyone who missed the reference, I stuck the little text runner "From the darker side of the sun" across the top. The use of a live action clip is also memorable enough of an occurrence in AMVs to get the audience's attention, so I adopted it for a few other videos as well.

The ending clip is exceedingly simple by comparison. The clip is from the very ending of Darkside Blues. The strange mutant child with the crystal I decided to cast in the role of creator of this particular mess, and that final grin before fading to negative looked perfect for the sort of emotive impact I was looking for. After you finish watching this strange abstracted work and you sit back to applaud (or boo) this strange little piece of art removed from your own personal world, that grin seems to tell you that there is more to this than you suspect....as though the work wasn't so far abstracted from reality...or it had only begun. (Woooo. Spooky.)

Again, however, as cool as the effect may be, it still robs me of an impressive showing on the applause meter. Bleh.

I'll only comment on a handful of individual clips to keep this from getting too much longer than it already is.

The first clip is from "Memories" in the little-celebrated "Cannon Fodder" section. The story is a wonderful intersection somewhere between Kafka and George Orwell. The figure in the scene dropped a powder keg for one of the enormous artillery pieces in the moving city, and as punishment he has to remain outside of the blast shields when the gun is fired. Again, I just thought the theme and the dark grey, sort of expressionistic style fit the mood I was going for. I spent more effort in this vid than we had in the previous one to cut around subtitles, but they are still plainly evident across the bottom of some scenes, most noticeably in the clip of the girl being wheeled away in Genocyber. The first handful of clips I did on Hil's old system, and I somehow managed to time the spastic jerking of the girl from X being electrocuted to the guitar riffs at that point, as well as a better timed version of the first clip. Wasn't able to duplicate it when I moved to the new system, though.

One of the things I truly like about Tool is that they know how to use silence. In each verse, the singer's voice is barely audible in comparison to the driving guitar and percussion. I tried to mirror that in the first clips from Akira. The slow pans out from the burning TV and the staggering lurch of the dying revolutionary seem to speak of a quiet but desperate voice trying to be heard above the cacophony of the world around them. (I knew those composition classes would pay off someday.) The transitions in that segment move a little too quickly now that I go back and look at them. One further note..."Armageddon" is not actually an event, it is a place, the place where the forces of good and evil will hold their final battle at the end times. As such, when the lyrics read "...see Armageddon soon..." I decided it would be most appropriate to depict soldiers or revolutionaries, etc. rushing as though towards the field of battle rather than at an actual battle. The middle segment looking out of the alley at the people rushing by was just too short to fit in it's designated slot. The staggering effect of their movement I tried to get rid of for months, but never really succeeded. The final collapse of the revolutionary was one of the "key sequences" I mentioned earlier.

"Three-ring circus sideshow..." This sequence comes from "Labyrinth" and is a wonderful abstracted depiction of the Potempkin structures (all image, no substance...cardboard cutouts of people) that are the faces we present to each other every day. I originally wanted each of the cutouts to strike each other or the ground in time with the beats, but that cut up and staggered the motion to a noticeable degree that I just kept the fluid falling motion the way it was.

Confession time...always look up the lyrics to your song before you settle on it. It wasn't until I got into the video for several weeks that I discovered that the song was not speaking about the world in general, but specifically about L.A. "...sideshow of FREAKS in this pompous fucking hole they call LA..." as that part of the tune is more than a little hard to understand. (Similarly with the lines "learn to swim, see you down in Arizona bay" which I always thought read "learn to swim, see you doubting, something something way."). Fortunately, this didn't change the feeling of the song much, which is what I was aiming for anyway.

For such an explosive transition from quiet desperation to nihilist violence, what could be more appropriate than the expanding Akira sphere?

The "staring sequence" from GITS for the instrumental was one of the last bits I did. In the end, I aimed for an effect similar to the final clip, as though the characters on the screen were looking for an answer among the audience, as though they expect something from the audience.

The "fret" sequence I really like. It was another key scene that came to me when I realized that the lyrics really do sound like someone having a heart attack. That sequence from Akira always struck me as one of the more vicious pieces of irony in the film. In addition, I like the tension buildup from remaining on a single scene throughout a whole string of lyrics.

The next "three ring" sequence was constructed similarly, although with more concentration on Bateau's attitude. He really does look like some nutcase about to snap, confirmed when he starts firing into the crowd. Similarly, the explosive nature of the chorus entrance again, and the "circus sideshow" as the mass of humanity.

The "eyeshot" from Genocyber is a leftover from when I still thought the line was "see you doubting."

The "angel" sequence was a nice little way to draw all four primary films together. First the angel being "born" (X), the "living and ascending" angel (GITS), the "pressed into service as a symbol" (Akira) and the "skeletal" (Angel's Egg).

The second "heavy breathing" sequence was the second most important key sequence in the video for me. There's a bit of a screw up in that I forgot to apply a specific filter (for clearing up some damage from the multi-generation tape) to the entire sequence. There's a bit of a flash at the beginning of the clip where you can see the filter kick in. I like to think that this sequence is self-explanatory. The footage is from "Memories: Magnetic Rose."

I love the little fire burst in time with the entering drumbeat at "Some say the end is near." I also like the lyric matching for all of the Akira footage here.

"Certainly hope we will" again, someone pointed out that the fishermen are running in time with the beat. Again, it was unintentional. I was just trying to get the scene to stretch out for the length of the music. I still didn't manage it (motion started breaking up), and had to stretch three or four frames out at the end of it to properly fill the transition space. (Everyone freezes in mid-step.)

"Learn to Swim" Black Jack, episode 1. I love the scene, but I had to repeatedly filter it because the color on my capture card was slightly off and made everything look orange instead of purple. That flash at the end is to the old man having the dream of drowning. Hate the transition I used to intro it, though.

"Mom's gonna fix it all soon." One of the most starkly terrifying scenes ever animated. I wish I could have found a way to include the girl's scream that followed that scene, but it just would have cluttered things up.

The "mom" sequence from X has limited legitimacy for being here....but I had nothing better to put there and the reds contrasted nicely with the muted whites and blues of Angel's Egg. Followed by a scene getting a little less subtle in its depiction of the end of the world...

Considering the "water" theme of the song and the original video, I felt that the water transition was an appropriate one to use. Gave me the effect I wanted, and didn't look too cheesy doing it, either.

"Fuck L. Ron Hubbard." One of the few things well known about Tool besides their music is that they HATE L. Ron Hubbard. (Footage from Darkside Blues...I have no idea what L Ron Hubbard looks like.)

"Fuck retro anything" The single hardest match in the whole song. I couldn't come up with anything without it being a joke. Used this clip out of desperation.

"Learn to swim" sequence. If you listen to this song with headphones on, it sounds like the voices from this part are coming from inside your head. The footage naturally followed. I liked the shatter transition sequence as well.

"Insecure actresses" Black Jack episode 2. She's not an actress, but it struck me as appropriate anyway.

"Swim" sequence. The metaphorical levels in the footage alone would take a while to plough through...I like to think I added another level with the song lyrics.

"See the ground give way..." This enormous sequence was the one that prompted me to do the video in the first place. For a while there I was thinking of doing it entirely to Angel's Egg before I looked up all the lyrics. Again, too many metaphorical levels to go into here...The final crushing of the egg on the downbeat was just too perfect to leave out. (Some say I got it mis-timed, though...)

The next series of sequences I tried to design to build tension to an unbearable level through the slow motions in carefully selected scenes done to terribly violent backbeats, all building up to a phenomenal outburst of violence when the music finally, really takes off, in the finale.

"...welcome any change, my friend.." The bullet-riddling of the fossils and the generational tree of hominids seems to crystalize the nihilistic feel of the song.

"Flashing" sequence. Buncha single frame edits here, all made up of clips from earlier in the video, plus a handful that never made it in and a few captured for that purpose alone. Unfortunately, some of the 8-bit clips are still lurking in here. I wasn't about to go back and recapture something that would be on the screen for only 1/29.95 of a second. It was hard enough getting them the first time! Of course, the purpose was to try and match visually the violent explosion of music in the finale. I think it worked pretty well.

The final three beats also matched nicely with Black Jack attempting to "wake himself up" out of a drug-induced stupor at the end of episode 2.

That last noise? That's what happens when you take a "silence" clip and slow it down to 10%. There was a pop-crackle that occurred when the audio-track ended, so I was trying to eliminate it. I liked the sound enough to keep it.