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I sit here writing this less than 24 hours after watching the final-cut of the newest Mastodon video that I had the privilege of creating along side some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and which I will say more about soon. Watching this project come to fruition has been an incredible experience during which time I learned the true nature of real creative collaboration. Like most artists I know, I’ve spent most my life being a control freak about my work; needing things to be a "certain" way to match my very specific vision of a creative project. Asking for outside opinions or interpretations of my work has never really occurred to me, which understandably, has made me a pretty tough dude to collaborate with.
That is, until a few years ago when I started to let go.
I don't know if the shift was brought on by overwhelm, or because it was just time to see things differently and transform from an uptight control freak to more of a free moving collaborative, but once I was open I became a kind of magnet for attracting awesome freak energy that could be added mine. Like sometimes I'll have someone sculpt some crazy ass figure for me, and they're interpretation isn't really too much like the drawing I did for it, but I end up loving it. I don't know man, maybe age has squished my ego, or maybe I just don't care about getting recognition for my distinct style as much as I like to see what happens when I let myself work collaboratively with others.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that my art is not going to disappear if I compromise. I still make it with my hands, but I like to see what happens now more than ever when my art goes through the filter of what others bring to it. It's so much fun seeing what someone can do. And to be honest, I’m finding that people are getting into these projects as much as I am, if not more!! It's absolutely incredible to put yourself out there into the universe, openly, and get people that are into it and have faith that it's going to be, not just ok, but fucking amazing! People are really good at what they do and sometimes it's just best to let them do that.
With so many creative cooks in the kitchen, the video I did for Mastodon could have very easily turned into a train wreck. But I guess most everything I do feels like it's bordering on train wrecking while I am wildly trying to build track before it flies off the rails. I don't know if that's good or not, but it just is that way for me. The truth is, I think if you put yourself out there in a big way (with a pretty big amount of risk) you will attract the kinds of things that it will take to make it great, or you'll learn from it not ending up the way you would have liked. Either way you actually win. Sorry if I'm being annoying and positive but having faith in things has been kind of my weakest trait. I have had no faith in anything most of my life. Maybe it's some banal childhood darkness that has trained me to be that way, but that shit needs to go to bed when there's a chance to do something great! You have to reach out there and see what could happen. Sometimes the right people reach back and the Mastodon video is a great example of the perfect storm of creative, freaky cats coming together to make something epic! Looking back at it, I couldn’t be happier with how the video came to be, or how it turned out!
People have been asking me how I got the chance to art direct a video for Mastodon. Well here’s how it happened: One morning I asked Brann, "What do you think your cat does at night when it goes out the cat door? (Brann has an incredible one-eyed giant cat named Don). Do you think he goes on some insane cat adventure?" This is how my brain works when I'm getting that coffee buzz going in the morning. Plus, I've long been suspicious of secret cat adventures for years. Since I was little I’ve thought," What the fuck are they doing out there all night?" Anyways, Brann said," That’s a cool idea. Why don't you write a treatment for a video?" AND THUS IT SHALL BE!
I took the next day off to stay at home, smoke pot, chill with my cats and listen to King Crimson records while I wrote out the story for the video. Somehow this strange idea just started wriggling its way out of my brain and there was not a moment that it felt like a struggle to put together. It came out fast as I could write it, which is rare for me. I think it’s rare for most creative, except maybe Jack Kirby, RIP. Anyway, I wrote this sumbitch' out like crazy, all free-hand, and then I typed it up, drew out the storyboard, and sent it over to Brann! Months and months went by and I kind of forget about it, because stuff takes time and you never know what will happen, and Mastodon tours all the time, and you just never know what will stick and what won't in this world. Besides, I figured Warner Bros might read the treatment and think ,"Cool! People love cats! We can work with this," but then read the whole expansive subterranean psychedelic hero cat journey universe and think something like," Wait, what the fuck is all this other stuff? This will cost us millions! Shut it down!" Like I said, life’s a crapshoot. So time goes by. Then one day Brann hits me up and says," We should make that video." AND SO IT BEGAN! We reached out to Shane Morton from Silver Screm FX lab, the greatest practical effects guy ever, and an inexhaustible wealth of creative knowledge of horror films, comic books, the occult, and all things wrestling. Shane is an unending art tornado, a juggernaut. Trust me, I thought I was a juggernaut, but no, this guy puts me to shame. Shane quickly put together a budget based on the treatment I wrote, we turn it into Warner Bros, and with some coercion from Brann, and some advocacy from the Mastodon team we were able to convince Warner Bros that we knew what we were doing. After a month or two of them deliberating (no we didn't have to blow anyone...this time) the project was approved! Now the only thing we had to do was start, and make it awesome.
Because I'm an ambitious nerd and because Brann is one of my best dudes, I wanted to something absolutely insane-- better than all the Star Wars movies and Dark Crystals combined! I’d have had to rise to the challenge, but luckily I love a challenge! When I got to Atlanta where the filming would take place, Shane had already started work on the sets. I'm talking whole rooms transformed-- big ones. Everyday we added more and more and more. All the people I got to work with on this project were incredible. I made so many friends and got to be around this incredible rebel art spirit everyday. It felt like some kind of bohemian apocalypse puppet art school! I learned so much from everyone there. Thinking of them now makes me miss them all over again. But for almost three weeks straight we worked together building sets, crafting puppets, painting totems, carving mushrooms and sewing costumes. It was absolutely crazy and I loved it! I met Chris brown (not that Chris Brown) who is this wild puppet making genius who trained in Europe and did all this prestigious puppet Illuminati shit that I can't really talk about. I was completely enveloped and the project eclipsed everything else in my life for those weeks. I met video Rahim (director) and Ashley Simpson (assistant director who kept all of us on point person) and they brought an amazing working knowledge of how it could and should be! Together, they've done a ton of amazing videos and are killing it in Atlanta. This amazing crew of young dudes came in to do lights and camera work and it was awesome to see them do their thing, especially since the shoots ended up being over 15 hours a day. The last day we shot for a full 24 hours! It was bat shit crazy, but we needed to do it to get the shots in the time we had.
Rahim directed the shit out of us, and let Shane and I do some directing too! You should have seen me with my long cigarette and beret hat! I fired and rehired everyone like 6 times-- it was awesome! The first cat we tried out for the video was having a hard time not being distracted so we got this other cat! Her name was Skye! She's so beautiful! You can see in the video how cute her face is. She was a natural! The only problem was we had planned on making the cat puppet look like the first cat so we needed to change the fur over to look like Skye (puppet drama).
Luckily it all got figured it out because Shane is the only person I know that actually does better when he's screwed in the moment because somehow some other magical shit happens and he figures it out and then he walks away all smug like he just solved the Rubik's cube of your life and he knows it. It's pretty great to watch. And he does it like 5 times a day. Anyways, while I was painting this ancient one eye cat totem (an homage to Brann's one eyed cat, Don) I got a message on Facebook from Hey Beautiful Jerk who wanted to know if we needed any help with Digital FX. I thought it couldn't hurt to watch their reel, so I stopped and checked it out and Holy shit man! It was absolutely wild, and you have definitely all seen stuff they have worked on! Katy Perry, Rhianna, a bunch of commercials, Adult Swim stuff, Run The Jewels and much more. They were looking to do something really creative and collaborate with us since seeing my ridiculous posts of us in Shane's spooky shop. I immediately replied YES and they said they were going to be in Atlanta in the next day for a wedding and we should meet. Now tell me that isn't some insane synchronicity. Shane and I talked very openly before I flew out to Atlanta about the only way this project would work, and that would be if we came at it like Alejandro Jodorowsky. We would attract spiritual warriors, just like in Jodorowsky's Dune. (Of course his version of Dune never got made but let's not focus on that for now). We needed spiritual warriors, baby!! And they were flying in from NY and they had no fucking idea how insane we were! So Mark and Gina from Hey Beautiful Jerk became a new element of the video. Mark cruised in with an Electric Wizard shirt on so I knew I wasn't gonna have to translate much. They understood exactly the vision for the video. Rahim had made a sick animatic trailer out of my horrible drawings and it was on! Things were poppin'!
After getting the sets done and the puppets ready and the cat all set up, we started filming. It was total chaos and I both loved it and didn't know fully what was happening. Brann insisted I be the stoner guy on the couch at the beginning and end of the video. I'll be honest and say that I secretly wanted to be that guy, but I was open to anyone who looked better for the role. Luckily for me, I got chosen for it (I'm ready for my close up!). Over the course of 3 days we did scene after scene. I got to puppeteer and help direct. Rahim kept it all going with the help of Ashley's schedule. It was clear to me that some magical shit was going on and I was really sleepy! Ha!
Gina from Hey Beautiful Jerk flew in for the last two days of shooting so that she could consult us on what they were able to do with effects while we made the shots. It was good to know what was and wasn't possible because we needed way more time than 3 days to shoot this thing but we didn't have it. It was completely insane to start the shoot at 10:00 am and end it at 9:00 am the next day. The camera and light guys were definitely spiritual warriors at that point because I don't know a person alive that could have kept going like that. I felt so much appreciation for everyone that was there. They stayed up late each stressful night, not knowing if this was going to be the best thing ever or not. They all kept it going and I am eternally grateful. I wrote this insane story and they were bringing it to life. When we wrapped on the last the morning, I hugged everyone and got on a plane. I had to get to LA for a film festival (I had a mini film debuting at the Lovecraft Film Festival). When I got home, Mark and Gina were in the editing process, adding even more animation and FX elements with my art infused in them! They encouraged me to get more wild with a medium I was familiar with, so I paint and illustrated a few sick ghosts that they thought would take the finished product even further. Well, I more like drugged out smoke hallucinations, but they look like ghosts. I did some font changes and title cards and some cat transformation sequence illustrations. It felt like doing two totally different styles of creation for one video and I loved it! First was going to puppet school, then I got to do what I normally do (painting and illustrating) as well! It was incredible! It felt so freeing!
Then I worked with Gina and Mark to add the last insane effects, the flow and the sequence. They were super attentive to what I thought would honor the original story I wrote as well as adding their strengths to make it something bigger. The timeline to get this beast into the cage and delivered to Warner Bros wasn't leaving us much time, so I put my faith into what Gina and Mark could do. Besides, I really wanted to see what the spirit of collaboration pulled out of them. I was blown away at what was pulled out after going above and beyond to bring what started as an afternoon writing down a cool cat hero story, into this 6 minute long epic of cosmic proportions! Everyone involved went above and beyond! This whole thing was limited to budget and time and the people involved did what they had to do in the time allowed and they all did more then they had to go beyond what any budget would allow. With love and vision and involvement this project became everyone's baby. It's beautiful and its what happens when you don't play by the rules. It's what happens when you treat a project as a process of learning and collaborating with others. When you see what happens when you don't limit yourself. When you do your best and pass it on to the next person to theirs. You watch it grow through the filter of the next person…it's almost spiritual. I had have faith in it, in the people I was working with. I had to believe in it in a way that left no room for doubt. I know that sounds ridiculous but watching something happen in this perfectly strange, perfectly beautiful way that can't be quantified by what a demographic likes or what the kids think is cool or what an executive wants to go viral. It’s rare and special to me that this beautiful collaboration happened, it was a gift. The experience, the friendships, the struggles, the times waking up tired and having to do it all over again. It was the best gift I could have received because I learned more about myself and what I'm capable of than I thought was possible. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I do. I get a little emotional watching it cuz I know what went into it’s creation and I'm an emo baby. If you get the chance please check out the links I've provided for the people involved! I think you'll love them as much as I do!