Dance with Zombies in Vincent Morisset's Interactive Music Video for Arcade Fire
On his website, Vincent Morisset describes himself as a "web-friendly director." Combine that with web-friendly band Arcade Fire (they of interactive music video "The Wilderness Downtown" fame) and you just might have 2012's answer to "Thriller."
The track "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" has two music videos, both directed by Morisset. One is a traditional clip featuring zombie-like creatures dancing in the suburbs (a recurring team for the band, whose The Suburbs album won an Album of the Year Grammy in 2011). The second uses the same footage but in a way that lets the user control the movements either with their webcam or mouse. Move slowly and so do the dancers; move faster and everything speeds up; stop altogether and the footage plays in a loop that insures you'll never have the same experience twice when visiting sprawl2.com.
Non-interactive version of "Sprawl II" music video.
Morisset had the idea for an interactive dance piece two years ago, while he was working on new media artwork for The Suburbs along with his studio AATOAA in Montreal. At that point, he was experimenting with a simple Flash-based program that presented colors blinking in correlation with his arms moving in front of a webcam. He pitched the idea to the band's Régine Chassagne who promised a "dancier" song on their next album that would be a good fit for the concept.
"I wanted something super simple," says Morisset. "I wanted something that was free of rules and dancing is about that. Everybody moves their own way."
To start out, Morisset and programmer Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit shot scenes of themselves dancing in the alley behind their offices and then tested out controlling their movements with their laptop's webcam.
"I showed that test to choreographer Dana Gingras to explain that we needed choreography that would keep the gesture 'grammar' simple so that there's not too much going on," explains Morisset. "So that when you move in front of your webcam, you see simple gestures on-screen. There's something quite satisfying in that. And we knew that any movement could be looped at any moment so, in a way, you choreograph inside an existing choreography. Having that in mind influenced the way Régine and the suburbanite zombies moved."
From the backend, the program analyzes the difference between frames captured by the camera to figure out if the user is moving fast or slow. The more differences it registers, the faster the motion will appear within the movie.
The video was shot simultaneously on two RED ONE cameras on what Morisset calls a "ghetto version of a 3D rig."
"What we were doing was putting two cameras side by side and focusing on a specific subject so you have this strange sense of depth," the director says. "Then we were editing the two video tracks together and were sometimes flipping from one frame of one camera to a frame of the other camera. So it gives it this kind of look of an animated gif—flipping from one image to another—but we did it in video."
With books, TV shows and video games galore, zombies may seem like the cool kids on the block these days, but Morisset says that for him the video's creatures was more about the concept of anonymity than about simply finding a trend to jump on. "I wanted to echo the meaning of the lyrics about this alienating environment and this girl who wants to get free of it," he sums up. "[The video] is just a little tale echoing what the lyrics are talking about."