A live performance of a song of mine. Head built and Video by Jordan Wayne Long.
Making Fifty-Five Fires
A few months back, Leonard and Laura of Imperial Mammoth approached me about doing a music video for a song on their upcoming album. They had seen my Citadel short film and didn’t want to hit me or lock me up, so we were off to a good start. They wanted me to do a music video using my puppets. The song they had in mind was called “Fifty-Five Fires” and was based on an arsonist in Los Angeles. They wrote up a story outline, and I gave them a budget and we were off to the races.
It had been almost two years since I made the puppets for Citadel so I was a bit rusty. “What is a puppet?” I asked myself in front of the mirror one night. The mirror didn’t reply. I returned it to Target the next day. “Where’s my talking mirror?” I yelled at the cashier.
Anyway, for the majority of the puppets, I used my own face. If having your photo taken means having your soul sucked out of your body, I am now souless. My roommates Emily Sara and Jordan Long provided the faces for the rest. I photographed our faces and manipulated/caricatured them in Photoshop. Each face was printed from my cheap inkjet printer on regular 8.5 x 11 inch paper. The “Skulls” underneath the faces were made out of old cereal boxes (mostly Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms) and a lot of glue.
While I was making the puppets, Emily was hard at work on the costumes. The idea was for each costume to be the most generic idea of what a “police” uniform is or what a “Fireman’s” uniform was. We pulled inspiration from old photographs. It felt like were were on a research team for a Ken Burns documentary, but instead of educational documentarys, paper puppet people. Emily drew up some examples and then began making the costumes.
Jordan made all of the buildings in the video. He made 5-6 buildings approximately the same height to line the sides of the streets. He also built a giant skyscraper for the Villain to live in. The buildings were made out of cardboard and foam. Jordan cut each brick by hand. We lined up the buildings and let Bill the cat run through them like Godzilla. It was a success. It gave him the confidence he needs to get through each day with a smile.
All the puppets were filmed in my bedroom. I covered my closet door with green paper. The filming was done over a two month period. My room was so cramped. There were many stubbed toes.
The shots were all storyboarded … badly, but it was a good roadmap. A scribbley nonsensical roadmap.
The majority of the buildings were inserted into the video digitally, but a handful were done practically. The crane shot of the large skyscraper, for example, was done in my bedroom in front of a green screen. The silhouetted burning background was added in post.
In another shot, we filmed in the kitchen using a small flashlight to emulate a police light.
When it came time to film the band, we rented out a big green screen studio in downtown Los Angeles. Each band member was filmed separately as well as a handful of shots of the full band. It was quite a bit of fun.
Once Jordan was finished with the buildings, I photographed them from all angles and rebuilt them in the computer. This made it easier to move the camera around smoothly and start fires without burning down my apartment building. I also built a few vehicles for the video in After Effects. I didn’t want them to be too detailed so they’d match the abstract puppet world.
It took quite a bit of time to key out the green screen for each shot considering the lighting wasn’t perfect and I was working in such a small space, but it got done. I built up all the cityscapes and streets and placed the keyed green screen shots into the 3D environment and bam … Dino DNA … I mean, a puppet video.