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Behind the Psychedelic Trip to the ‘70s for 50 Years of The Doors’ Riders on the Storm


Great Guns director duo Brendo+Gonfiantini speak with LBB’s Ben Conway about using virtual production, VFX and Unreal Engine to produce a psychedelic road trip for the iconic track’s 50th anniversary

Behind the Psychedelic Trip to the ‘70s for 50 Years of The Doors’ Riders on the Storm

After more than half a century, the cultural and musical impact of The Doors and their captivating brand of psychedelic rock can still be felt. Despite legendary frontman Jim Morrison’s tragically early passing in 1971, the music, fashion and spirit of the California rock stars have unquestionably lived on to cement the band as a cornerstone of ‘60s-’70s psychedelia and music. 

Beloved for its brooding rainfall sound effects - mixed with the hypnotic electric piano of Ray Manzarek, Krieger’s sinister tremolo guitar playing and the hushed whispering and vocals of Morrison - Riders on the Storm is considered one of The Doors’ greatest, and sadly their last single released before Jim Morrison’s passing. The lyrics include references to existentialist philosophy and a murdering hitchhiker, resulting in a dream-like, psychedelic tale that lends itself to directors Brendo+Gonfiantini abstract visual style.

To celebrate 50 years since the release of Riders on the Storm, the Great Guns directors have used new and innovative virtual production and game engine techniques to transport the audience back to the ‘70s in a music video that blends a genuine story of oppression and resistance with psychedelic and imaginative imagery derived from Morrison’s surreal lyrics. The protagonist, played by transgender actor Gabe Joie, can be seen breaking through her physical and metaphorical barriers on a motorcycle ride through an illusion-filled desert. The retro VFX and ‘70s-inspired virtual production backgrounds combine with the menacing song to result in a music video that embraces The Doors’ legacy in a modern and captivating way.

To go behind the scenes on the music video, LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with directors Brendo+Gonfiantini to discuss being fans of and being influenced by The Doors, using virtual production and Unreal Engine to create a ‘modern psychedelic’ look and the challenge of creating a modern video for a 50-year-old song that stands out in the market.

LBB> Firstly, what an amazing project to work on! Were you fans of The Doors to start with? And what were your initial reactions to being approached about doing this?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> It's the kind of project we could never imagine ourselves doing due to its magnitude and importance to music history. As fans since our childhood, the possibility of - in some way - being part of one of the biggest songs of the last century is unbelievable. The band was a significant influence on our personality, and we saw an opportunity to give back to the band's legacy and all the good times we had while listening to Riders on the Storm.

LBB> What was the first creative spark you had when you started the project? What immediately jumped out when you were listening to the song and beginning to plan?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> From the beginning of the brief, we thought of creating an homage, with all the glory and contemporaneity that ‘Riders on the Storm’ deserves. Connecting all generations, bringing modernity, technology and an intense narrative. A question that echoed many times in our heads was: “How do we create a new psychedelic look in a world immersed in games - a territory of magic and unthinkable possibilities?” With that in mind, we decided to work with a game engine to translate all this psychedelia into a gaming language, which was suitable for production, post-production and the narrative. 

LBB> How did you plan the shot-list and narrative for the video? How much of it was inspired directly from the song’s lyrics and The Doors?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> The song speaks about a personal journey in a battle against ego and the oppressions which we will find on the way. ​​The inspiration for our vision crosses several references and symbologies that have mentioned Riders On The Storm over the years. 

The first scene is a reproduction of the inner sleeve of the LP album L.A. Woman (where the song was originally released), which has a woman crucified on a pole. Also, Riders on the Storm evoked many speculations about its inspiration. One of them was a film which we love - the experimental film HWY: An American Pastoral, directed by and starring Jim Morrison, which is considered the beginning of the indie films movement in the USA. In this short, Morrison is a hitchhiker who crosses the Mojave desert in California going to L.A, in a trip to reconnect himself to the world, filled with darkness and mystery, as shared in his poetry. 

In our research, we found a picture of Jim Morrison as a child, balancing himself on a bicycle. We got stuck to this image, and we started to develop the metaphor of a transgressor character who will fight a battle of self-knowledge and an internal struggle against the ego. Our protagonist’s journey begins when she puts her fear to the test and challenges the indomitable ego, represented by her motorcycle, that she needs to control.

LBB> How was the production process? 

Brendo+Gonfiantini> It was not a long process considering it’s a long music video. We ran against time to deliver everything in six weeks, and the decision to shoot in a game aesthetic and work with the game engine and virtual production was vital to delivering on time. It was our first time working with virtual production for long-form content and we experienced some challenges in terms of processing and technology. For example, she was riding along the road, and all her surroundings were being processed in real-time throughout her trajectory inside the virtual road, and all of that in UHD for the LED environment.

LBB> Did you cast Gabe Joie yourselves? What was she like to direct, and why was she a good fit?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> Gabe Joie is a friend of ours - she is a great actress and a powerful woman who has starred in some telenovelas in Brazil.  She was perfect for the role, not just for her talent and beauty but also for her background. We were looking for a personality who could translate the daily fight against oppression. And as a transgender woman in a world that constantly turns its back to LGBTQIA+ people, having her leading the music video for a rock band is an inspiration for our whole community and a way to prove our value for the industry still. 

LBB> How closely did you work with the VFX team? Could you talk us through the process of bringing some of the CG elements to life? How did you design and create such psychedelic visuals and transitions?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> As the project is based in VFX, we worked with the team from day one and very closely. Brendo is also a production designer, and Adriano is a DoP, so creating a digital universe based on our traditional skills helped us. All the environments were created on Unreal Engine, and having experience with the engine and other 3D software helped us know the limits of the technology and helped the communication with the VFX team.


LBB> The music video, like the song, is very psychedelic. What techniques did you use to create this effect? Could you talk us through how you used CG and in-camera effects?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> We decided to translate the psychedelic look in a way that’s more 2021, and definitely, the most appropriate technique was Virtual Production. The film is entirely made with the help of CGI and working with different workflows. For 75% of the scenes we worked in a pre-production VFX process for 3D real-time. Both deserts were created in Unreal Engine and powered by Pixotope to bring alive 80 square metres of LED walls and the camera track was made with nCam Virtual Camera. Those technologies made it possible to reduce the compositions and green screens drastically. The use of dynamic lighting for a more integrated look also helped the cast a lot to act accordingly to their surroundings.

The record label was constantly encouraging us to mix techniques from the ‘70s and not be super sharp. Our vision of lysergic was modern, contemporary and gaming-influenced - but as a faithful Doors music video, with a memory and a legacy to be honored. After brainstorming to understand how to add elements that could resemble the style of a TV show or a movie from that decade, we incorporated visually fake elements that transported us to a movie crafted in the last century.  


LBB> The psychedelic and distorted CG and visual effects, along with the woman protagonist, remind me of your ‘All the Pink of the World’ and ‘Christmas of all Colours’ films. Do you see the similarities yourselves? Do the films share any elements, techniques or inspirations with this music video?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> We are queer Latin kids from the ‘90s, so we had to have some escape to our minds - somewhere to go to feel safe even if that place wasn't real. When we had the chance to see the magical worlds created in cinema, they solidified in our minds and hearts as a safe place to be - a dream. We lived in a reality where access to the theatres wasn't usual or cheap, so we grew up impacted by the boom of CGI in movies, and today those memories come back as inspiration to our work. We try to translate those affective memories into narratives, and we disconnect from the audience for some minutes to dive into a dream, like those that we dreamed in our childhoods. 

LBB> The song is quite calm but also menacing, especially with the rain sound - did this inspire how you shot the video? How did you reflect this feeling?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> The sound was the primordial guide to our feelings. Like the music itself, we tried to create a beautiful yet dark and gritty environment. We are in a restful atmosphere but in imminent danger and we can feel this in the tranquil and empty landscapes.  We feel the tension, but we can also feel the wind on her face. We think this contrast in the music is shown in the images throughout the music video.

LBB> There is some very powerful imagery in the video - could you talk about the flower that becomes a butterfly? And the burning cross at the end? What do these symbolise, and how did you create the imagery in production?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> She was fighting with her conscience, but as in a world with oppression, we often lose the battle, and the flower represents her funeral, her death. The butterfly symbolises her revival because losing a battle doesn’t mean you will lose the war, and after that, she becomes stronger than ever and in total control of her life. This spiritual process prepares her for the final scenes where she burns the pole where she was crucified, an object representing daily judgment and oppression.   

LBB> What directions did you give to the editor?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> The editor of our music video was Nathalia Kamura, and from the beginning, we had a very clear story in our mind to tell, with the sequence of the events pretty much established. Since we had come from an intensive process of pre-production and pre-vis, we had thought a lot about our shot list. Working together with her, we adjusted the timing, the clarity in the narrative, chose the best shots to fit our intentions and changed a little bit of the overall pacing. Working with in-camera VFX and virtual production is also a valuable card on the edit because we can see the whole picture in almost its final form. It's so much easier to feel and think without all the green screen that is going to go through a long post-production process and might not even end the way you intended. 

LBB> What were the most interesting creative opportunities and challenges you encountered on this project?

Brendo+Gonfiantini> The opportunity to create a music video for a legendary song released 50 years ago, amongst an ocean with such fantastic music videos and new songs being released every day in 2021.

We think the most challenging part of this project was finding the right world for our music video. The Doors and Riders on the Storm are so emblematic and an important part of the music culture that we had to have the exact world for them to live in harmony. We listened to the music over and over (even more than we already had listened to in our life haha) and let it grow inside us, bringing its feeling.

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Great Guns London, Tue, 07 Dec 2021 13:28:00 GMT