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  • Loving Is Easy. Photo courtesy of Chris Ullens

Loving is Easy

by Sara Khan

In anticipation of Real to Reel we spoke with Director and Producer Chris Ullens about his inspirations behind the music video for Loving is Easy by Rex Orange County.

This video contains strong language.

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How did you end up making the music video?

I was approached by Chris Abitbol, a music video commissioner and a friend of mine. Rex Orange County (Alex O'Connor), his manager Charlie, and Chris were looking for a playful and fun stop motion animated music video, so Chris contacted me straight away. He sent me the track and although the budget was tight, I loved the track so much I wanted to do it. We all met up over a coffee and clicked straightaway.

Loving Is Easy. Photo courtesy of Chris Ullens

Where did the idea for the video from?

The initial idea came from Alex who liked the idea of himself and featuring artist Benny performing in a living room in stop motion. The other sources of inspiration he had were a series of drawings that he liked and wanted to use as a starting point for the room they were going to perform in.

That’s the seed he planted in my mind and I really liked it! I started to listen to the track on repeat and I found it so uplifting and catchy that it made me feel like it’s the sort of track that carries you into a very happy place, somewhere warm and light. I looked at the references Alex gave me and one of the drawings had all these crazy patterns and colours in the room. This is when I thought it would be a great to have them come into this bright and colourful room, start performing and as the performance goes on, slowly the room and instruments became animated to the music they’re playing. And suddenly the whole video became clear.

Where do you look for inspiration to bring the project to life?

I get inspired by the music itself a lot and the feelings I get from listening to it as the videos I make need to compliment the tracks. So I often listen to the track on loop for a very long time taking in the mood of the track, the lyrics or a rhythm to help steer me in a direction.

There are so many other things that I get inspired by such as images and films that other people have made. This includes videos I watch on Vimeo as well as all the playful GIFs I’ve looked at over the years. There’s so much amazing work coming out all the time in so many disciplines. It’s impossible to follow it all, but I’m inspired by lot of films, shorts, paintings, illustration, sculpture and so on as it’s all definitely very interesting.

And then there’s the people I work with and all the endless discussions we have. After I’ve written up my ideas, we need to convert that into reality so there’s a lot of discussing about how to make things and what things will look like. For instance, for Loving is Easy we met up with the team (Jamie Durand, my director of photography, and art directors Jack Needell and Will Hooper) multiple times throughout the process of making the various parts of the video before the shoot. Lots of great ideas come from these endless discussions. It’s never a one-man job, the team you work with is key and I loved the team on this video.

Loving Is Easy. Photo courtesy of Chris Ullens

What excited you most about the project?

I really love the direct representation of music into animation. This included representing the various parts of the track with the moving art and objects of the room. And the same goes for the animated performance, I loved animating the characters jamming in stop-motion and moving on the rhythm of the track. I therefore had to decompose the track’s different sounds into its various tempos and animate according to those rhythms. The first time I saw these inanimate characters and objects come to life and move according to the track gave me a real rush of joyous excitement!

How were the characters made?

We were incredibly lucky to have Alex Williams accepting to make the characters for our video. Little did I know that she had one week off from working on Wes Anderson’s latest stop motion feature Isle of Dogs and took that week to make our characters.

I sent her two photos of Alex and Benny for the characters to look like them, we discussed how they needed to look and move and off she went making them. She used a bendy wire armature to make the skeleton and then made the body around that skeleton of hardened sculpting clay. The same applied for the head, hands and shoes. They were all made with hard clay that she sculpted and then hand painted. She made bespoke clothing from scratch and a then once completed, a week later, they were on set looking incredible and ready to animate.

Loving Is Easy. Photo courtesy of Chris Ullens

What were some of the challenges in making the film?

I often face similar challenges of time and budget constraints when making stop motion videos. But on this one it was all really tight!

We only had five weeks to complete the whole project. We had to decide what everything would look like, how to make it, and make it all look cool and animated before we even got to the planning stage. Once we had this foundation were able to make the set and characters from scratch and shoot it all with all the random surprises that entails. I had to start editing it all myself whilst still shooting at the same time in order to leave enough time to do the post-production animation of the eyes and mouths movements and finally the grade. That’s quite a lot to fit in five weeks.

To meet the deadlines, I pushed each step of the process as far as I could by working longer hours to create more time for myself. But in the end I do still always end up thinking “Ohlalala, is this really going to work?” That’s when I try and remind myself of something David Bowie said in a documentary I saw that went along the lines of “I find it more interesting to not feel in total control, to feel unbalanced, as that creates instinctive decisions and thus more interesting work.” So I often try to just go with the flow, accept all the surprises along the way and trust my instincts with all these quick last minute decisions. So far it’s generally worked out, touch wood it continues.

Loving Is Easy. Photo courtesy of Chris Ullens

Has this experience inspired you to make more stop motion performance videos?

Definitely! I really loved making Loving is Easy. Like all the projects I do in stop motion, at the end of the day when you press play I can’t help but still feel amazed and excited like a child when I see all these inanimate materials all come to life on the track. Animation is magical and I’ll always want to make more.

See Loving is Easy at Real to Reel: The Craft Film Festival at Picturehouse Central during London Craft Week at 6.30 - 8pm on 9 May 2018. Tickets £13.50 (concessions available)

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