How To: Make the “Peacebone” Video

September 12, 2007

"Peacebone" video dir. by Timothy Saccenti

Animal Collective's ridiculously awesome and inspiring Strawberry Jam came out yesterday, and we strongly encourage you (once again) to go buy it. Once you do, and its songs take over your heart, you might want to translate your love into video, especially after seeing what Timothy Saccenti did with "Peacebone." In order to help you, we asked Timothy to guide us through the making of the video, and after the jump you can read his insightful commentary along with production stills, storyboards and other behind-the-scenes goodies you will find nowhere else but here. Get shooting!

How did you develop the treatment?

When we made the “Peacebone” video we had recently finished the “Atlas” video for Battles. “Atlas” was a very masculine video, and in creating “Peacebone” we wanted to tap into the female energy, and have a strong female character in it, to balance out the Battles video.

The only initial input from the label and band was that the band could not be in it, and that the pace should feel quick. I heard the track and was very moved: it was optimistic, but not in a naive way. It had a perfect tension of grotesqueness and beauty. [The treatment] started the same way all projects start: Ryan McKenna—who is the editor and wrote the treatment with me—and I listened, over and over, to “Peacebone” and wrote down all the ideas that came to mind: carnival lights, dizzying images, and references to ’70s horror films came up, and for some reason it felt very suburban. It also seemed to need to be shot almost documentary style, not very slick, and to keep a “homemade” feel—to do this we planned to use smaller format cameras, handheld, and shot very specific film stocks.

The story developed from there. We wanted to keep it simple, and sparing you the subconscious symbolism, make it a love story. The situations that we worked out were based on childhood experiences I had in the suburbs on New Jersey growing up, but we chose episodes that we felt could transcend themselves.

The “facey face” scene [where the monster pops out of her throat] developed out of the need to show how the female character “Sara” revealed her nature to the monster. Dopepope, our frequent collaborator, had designed some interesting concept art that worked perfectly.

The most difficult part of the process was figuring out what not to do, removing distracting tricks or techniques that, though they might have looked exciting for a moment, would have lowered the overall character of the piece. I think with the amount of techniques and plug-ins and such available now it’s often much more about what you chose NOT to do rather than what you chose TO do that helps to retain a unique character. We chose to make many scenes and compositions purposely discordant—rather than beautiful—in order to communicate some of the chaos and raw energy of the song.

Was the band heavily involved?

Due to the band being spread out around the world during the production they were as involved as they could be, but there wasn't much face-to-face time. But since they have such a strong identity, it informed every part of the process—we were very concerned about making sure it worked with their aesthetic. They were involved mainly in the pre-production and the final edit of the video, but during the course they would send reference images or video clips via email or speak on the phone about ideas and concerns.

Where did you shoot the video? (Windmills are hard to find around here).

Parts of the video were shot in New York City, Coney Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The bulk of it was shot over two days in Middlesex County, at and around my parents’ house. My family helped location scout the shoot, and my mother made chicken noodle soup for the alien. Since the energy of the piece was “Suburban love story” it made sense to shoot in the location where I grew up. We also chose locations that wouldn't be too specific—we had a vaguely futurist feeling in mind— and there were additional enhancements [the windmills] to the footage by digital artist Doug Purver to help transmit this idea.

How long did it take to shoot?

Ryan and I spent every weekend (and many weekdays) for nine weeks during the summer shooting the time lapse material. It was a labor of love. We then shot with the crew for two days, one in a studio in NYC and one on location in New Jersey on the hottest days of the summer, with an actor in a very heavy and hot monster suit. The crew was battle scarred from poison ivy, scratched by thorns, sunburned and covered with a layer of slime by the time we were done.

Were the people on the boardwalk totally freaked out by a giant monster dude walking around?

It was on Coney Island—we had no permits, so we had to run though it from spot to spot ducking the security and police, all the kids were chasing after him yelling “Yo Monsta!!”

Who designed the creature effects?

Creature concept design was by DopePope, he developed the effects sequences in story board with us, then he developed the full sized monster and helped character design the girl (with stylist Alice Bertay). The monsters were then designed and fabricated by Monster in the Closet, a special effects company. The 3D effects for the “FaceyFace” scene were done by Click3X.

Click here to enlarge

Sarah looks like she's having a hard time keeping the prosthetic teeth in her mouth, which also adds to the gross-out factor of the whole thing. Was that on purpose?

Yes, we wanted to make the overall feeling vaguely unsettling. We used many techniques during the project to create this atmosphere, from mixing film stocks and frame rates, unbalanced compositions, to purposely jarring editing.

How did you get the throat monster to pop out of her mouth?

Click3x created the “Facey” character in 3D but managed to keep the homemade/puppety feeling we were going for, and keep the teeth and braces photo-realistic, which is much more difficult than creating a perfect looking 3D creature—they did an incredible job. This was augmented by a combination of a prosthetic face for the girl, a puppet of the creature, and great acting on her part.

Slideshow of “Facey” Face creation

How did you cast for the video?

It took a long time. We tried out many different actresses to see who would bring the best energy to the project. Sarah, our pick, was perfect, and her father was a racecar driver so we knew she'd be able to handle the sports car!

I'm noticing an ’80s era License to Drive vibe in the video: the Corvette, the TPing of the house, the smashing of the mailboxes. Was that intentional?

Is that the one with both Coreys in it? The events that happen in the video were taken from my and various friends’ lives in the suburbs, which was in the ’80s, and the feeling was somewhat of an ’80s montage film mixed with ’70s horror films. So it might not have been a direct reference to any specific ’80s film, but it was intentional, yes. We wanted to keep some humor in the piece—there's not enough of that in music videos.

How did the Corvette come into the picture?

We were originally going to have the girl ride on a bike, but we wanted to keep away from the “innocence lost” idea, so we moved to car. After viewing many uninspiring choices we came upon friend with a corvette. Having the convertible top was a bonus, as the monster could stick his head out like a dog driving down the highway. Fortunately the owner didn't complain when we returned it covered in the mysterious goo, either.

What do you have coming up in the near future?

I'm in preproduction on a few new music video projects, as well as some personal experimental films.

Does it involve monsters and/or slime?

I can't get through a day without either one so...yes, definitely.

Posted: September 12, 2007
How To: Make the “Peacebone” Video