Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Animusic - music video extreme

One of the unexpected things I got for Christmas was a pair of DVDs from Animusic. These are, no question, the most amazing music videos since Peter Gabriel did Sledgehammer back in 1986. (Which was an early work from Aardman Animations, of Wallace and Gromit fame, collaborating with the Brothers Quay, apparently. I never knew that. Wonderful thing, the Internet. But already I digress, after a mere two sentences.)

Resonant Chamber: a truly baroque instrument, which sounds as wonderful as it looks
What the Animusic guys do is to create unbelievable virtual instruments. No, that’s not quite true. The instruments they create are all too believable. They’re so detailed, and they play so right, that you actually start believing in them and forget that what you’re watching is just CG. They’ve been doing this for about fifteen years, so the earliest of their videos are older than the first Toy Story movie. As you might expect, some of them look a little dated now – but only a little. Fair enough, the mid 1990s lighting effects are a little simplistic, and the shadows and reflections aren’t quite as perfect, but that’s about it. After all this time, they’re still jaw-droppingly good. And by the time you get to what they've been doing in the last few years - well, it's easily comparable to anything you'll see from Dreamworks or Pixar.
Whatever Jimmy Page can do, we can do better!
But these videos aren’t just impressive for their computer animation skills. To the musician, they’re quite simply mesmerizing. Animusic use MIDI to drive the animations, so every note is perfectly played – strings vibrate harmonically, cymbals wobble and tremble, and so on. It’s just like watching a real instrument. If you thought the piano animation in The Corpse Bride was good, you ain’t seen nothing. After spending much of the last few months working on the music video packs for Moviestorm, I really, really respect what they’ve done here. They use a proprietary bit of software called ANIMUSIC|studio that enables them to do stuff that nobody else can even come close to. This isn't just your standard music animation. This is artistry and sheer genius of the absolute highest order. This sets the standard that the rest of us should aspire to.
It's like having a musical fish tank - utterly relaxing
The music’s damn good too. It mostly has an 80s prog rock feel to it, very Alan Parsons, ELP, or Yes-ish, and you often get the feel that what they’re trying to do is out-Jarre Jean-Michel – and succeeding! These are the stage shows he’d have liked to have done, if only it were physically possible and he’d had the money. I’d love to see some of these videos on a huge IMAX screen – now that would be quite something. They have a fairly wide musical range: some of the pieces are pure percussion, others are acoustic strings, with styles ranging from jazzy to techno. There’s stuff on there which appeals to everyone from my retired mum to my teenage kids (one Goth, one metalhead) and even my youngest daughter, whose taste mostly runs to Andrew Lloyd Webber and novelty singles in the charts. That alone takes some doing!
Like Jarre in Docklands, but turned up to 11!
I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite from the 15 tracks on the 2 DVDs, but for me, three in particular stand out. (Click for YouTube links.) Resonant Chamber features a stunning multi-stringed guitar thing. This was the first Animusic piece I found, and it made me go and hunt out the rest. Aqua Harp is another beautifully relaxing piece, most notable for the picks which swim lazily around like fish. And Pipe Dream is an Internet classic, featuring bouncing balls and a percussion kit that has to be seen to be believed. (There I go with the believability thing again!) Not only are these so beautifully executed it leaves me open-mouthed with the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, but the wonderfully warped creative vision that goes into each piece is like nothing else I’ve ever seen.
A truly steampunk percussion device
I spent much of 2006 and 2007 evangelising about the HPLHS Call of Cthulhu movie. Now that I’ve told as many people as I can about that (and persuaded several of them to buy it), I’m going to start babbling on about Animusic. I promise not to do this very often, but here comes the plug. Go to their site and buy their DVDs. No, really, do. Whether you’re a musician or an animator, it’s a very, very fine way to spend 35 bucks.


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