Music Video's Expanding Palette, Influence

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, music videos have been transformed from simple promotional perks into a powerful industry unto themselves. In the early years of video production, a clip would generally consist of a band miming to its new single. As the format gradually became more artistic and expansive, cinematography took on added importance. Eye-catching visuals became the name of the game. Imaginative directors of photography willing to experiment flourished.

Performers who embraced the new art form soon found their fortunes rising. During the formative years of music video, the most successful video-oriented artists included pop group Duran Duran, whose use of James Bond-like storylines and imagery gave them sex-symbol status and record sales in the millions; Michael Jackson, whose breakthrough performance in the clip "Billie Jean" and long-form fol lowup for the song "Thru 1er" (directed by John Landis) helped propel him to international stardom; Peter Gabriel, whose "Sledgehammer" clip, with its highly creative use of stop-motion animation, won a slew of awards and boosted his album So to the top of the charts; and, of course, Madonna, whose savvy partnership with MTV has made her a household name the world over.

Video has helped alternative bands like Talking Heads and R.E.M. achieve mainstream success, while reviving the careers of older performers like Rod Stewart and Robert Palmer. Simply put, musical acts which understand the format's potential have seen their stock soar, while indifferent or camera-shy artists often find their output relegated to the bargain bins.

Music videos have also been a boon to aspiring directors and cinematographers looking to make a name for themselves, although the format now attracts even top-name filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme.

In this issue of AC, we've provided a look into the world of music video by covering the creation of a hit clip (Metallica's "Enter Sandman") and offering a brief historical overview of the art form (see The Last Page). In keeping with that theme, this month's What's New column offers a glimpse at three of the more interesting recent video projects, as well as a list of winners from the Music Video Producers Association Awards, held recently in Los Angeles.

PDI's FX Enhance

Jackson's "Black or White"

As expected, Michael Jackson's video for his new single, "Black or White," ascended quickly to number one on MWs Video Countdown, a poll of the country's most popular video clips. Not coincidentally, his long-awaited recent album, Dangerous, vaulted into the top spot on Billboard's national music chart.

The video, which combines Jackson's frenetic performance style, a troupe of multinational dancers, exotic animals and state-of-the-art special effects, has drawn accolades from fans and critics for an eye-popping sequence in which the song's plea for racial harmony is visually represented via computer morphing. As the song winds to a close, faces of all nationalities blend into one another with spectacular smoothness, rivaling the seamless effects in Terminator2: Judgment Day.

The effect was created by Pacific Data Images, a Los Angeles-based company which has also contributed computer metamorphoses to commercials for Plymouth, Exxon, Ford and Schick. PDI is currently working on a morphing sequence for the upcoming Stephen King film Sleepwalkers.

PDI special effects director Jamie Dixon, who supervised the sequence, is well aware that morphing has become something of a ubiquitous trend. "Morphing is a small part of what we're typically involved in, but it seems to have caught a lot of people's attention all of a sudden," he says. "In the last year it's gotten to be a kind of trick thing to do."

Indeed, it seems only a matter of time before someone uses the technology for a remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or fora werewolf film. As Dixon relates, "John Landis, who directed this video, spent most of the time cursing us for not having invented it ten years earlier for An American Werewolf in London. …