It has been said that "God is in the details." That sentiment is strikingly rendered in a series of new station identification spots for MTV HD, co-directed by Psyop's Marco Spier and Marie Hyon. The revolutionary network will feature exclusively HD work and 5.1 surround sound from MTV, VH1 and CMT. Psyop designed six 15-second station IDs which are extracts from a strikingly detailed 90-second film, also to be aired in its entirety on MTV HD.
"This was a great opportunity," says Justin Booth Clibborn, Psyop's executive producer. "MTV asked us to "do our thing" and create a spot that would really push the limits of the format. They gave us their complete trust and support to come up with something very different and unexpected. What we gave them can best be described as a 'visual haiku,' a spot that is all the more detailed and effective because of its seeming minimalism."
"MTV gave us complete creative license," agrees Hyon. "The only creative rule we had to follow was that it was about music. Our creative exploration focused on the intersection of visual art and sound, and we were determined to create something stark in color and organic in motion. Our task was ultimately to translate the purity of the music into a moving picture. Following that, we approached this project as if it was a video installation, rather than on-air packaging-HD would allow us to create a more powerful and more fully immersive experience. We wanted to create a truly epic piece."
Opening with a stark white background, three jet-black birds fly smoothly across the scene emitting a branching black energy. A spare yet profoundly resonant musical score plays in the background. As a single bird alights on a solitary tree branch it multiplies into a thick, yet leafless tree. A huge flock of birds form a dense mass swirling in the sky, only to suddenly freeze against their desolate landscape and smudge into the bark of a birch tree. The birch is quickly blended into an increasingly dense forest of black and white trees, which is overrun by an even denser flock of the black birds. As the screen turns almost entirely to ebony, a few stray spots of white form a reflective gloss on the many-feathered wing of a single bird. The piece ends with the bird spreading its wings as it drops a single feather.
"We were fascinated by the particulars of this project," says Spier. "We've done HD work before, but always with the knowledge that the work would also be viewed in NTSC. This time, viewers will only be seeing this in HD. We had the unique opportunity to take advantage of the technology and include detailed elements that would be very problematic to accomplish in NTSC. That's how this spot ended up with so many thin, high-contrast lines that would buzz like crazy on regular television. We were able to actively work with those kinds of elements, knowing the resolution would support it."
Interestingly, the luxury that allowed such intense detail proved to be the project's biggest challenge:
"When working with HD, every frame becomes insanely big," explains Hyon. "That makes for increased render times and much slower processing, especially when you're creating some 120 forest scenes, as we did for this. In many ways, it felt like the way we worked in NTSC five or six years ago. And more than that, HD won't let you hide little errors the way you can in NTSC. With this level of detail, it has got to be flawless."
If one listens closely, the spot's music as composed by Q Department-founder Drazen Bosnjak can be interpreted as a distinctly modernized version of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," an immortal piece known for its myriad layers.
"It was great working with Drazen," says Spier. "We were very much in sync about how the project would evolve. Throughout the project, we were interested in walking the line between abstraction and realism, all while experimenting with different forms and shapes. Listening to the music, birds came to mind, because they have this incredible range of form. They can be very still and smooth, then suddenly become frenetic and full of energy, much like music. We wanted to convey this sense of extreme density, yet also focus on the minute detail that makes up that density."
The subtle yet visceral imagery of the spot was created using a combination of SOFTIMAGE|XSI and Autodesk Maya for 3D, together with Adobe Photoshop and Discreet Flame for effects and finishing.