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Behind the Work: Making the First Ever Music Video ‘Played’ on a Bespoke Unreal Engine Game



Music video and animation director Andrew van der Westhuyzen on creating the visuals for Luke Steele and Jarrad Rogers’ H3000 project ‘Running’

Behind the Work: Making the First Ever Music Video ‘Played’ on a Bespoke Unreal Engine Game
Hear the words ‘Unreal Engine’ and you’re bound to think of Epic Games, animation and innovative design - you are not often going to think of a music video. So when artists Luke Steele and Jarrad Rogers approached Collider to make the video for their first project, Running, the team knew they were in for a creative adventure. 

The man assigned to direct the film was Andrew van der Westhuyzen who used his creative powers to produce a music video that is so much more than normal. Utilising Unreal Engine to its full potential, Andrew’s video is part video game, part sci-fi short and part music video all packaged together with stunning visuals and set to the backdrop of Luke and Jarrad’s track Running.

To hear more about this world first and how it felt to direct a film using software originally for video games, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Andrew.

LBB> Was there an initial brief for this project? If so, what was it?

Andrew> The band were really interested in using animation and exploring a sci-fi themed universe given what they’re doing with H3000. They were also happy not to physically appear in the clips and instead were open to using avatars or other ways to represent themselves.

LBB> How did you land upon using Unreal Engine for this project?

Andrew> We’ve been using Unreal Engine for a little while now for different things. This seemed like the perfect vehicle to try some ideas I’ve been wanting to explore for quite some time but hadn’t found the right project fit. The duo’s separation and Covid also played a large role in the concept, which originally was going to have Luke and Jarrad play the game themselves from different parts of the world.

LBB> Where did the inspiration for the scenes come from?

Andrew> Mostly the inspiration from the world came from the music, in that it felt right to have epic vistas and lonely landscapes to set the story of the two in. It was a big, emotional piece, so it needed some absurdity to counteract the pathos of the music and the giant toys and odd conglomerations of the red hunters aimed to do that. Influences for this came from all over the place. Work such as the Gus van Sant film Jerry, the game Death Stranding, artists such as Jeff Koons, Simon Stålenhag, and Filip Hodas and my own design and art works over the years. 

LBB> The Unreal Engine software is normally used for games so how was it to include this in a music video?

Andrew> Many examples of Unreal Engine projects are either projects made specifically to be games or animation projects that use Unreal as a different output tool. As far as I know, no one has used Unreal to create a bespoke, playable game as a way to create a real-time world in which to ‘film’ in. This concept was what was really interesting to me. 

The original version of the idea had Luke and Jarrad playing themselves running across the world. They were to do this together and be recorded as a single take. Then, with our real-time setup I was going to replay their action again - this time with a role of cinematography and shoot the action from multiple cameras through the story, almost like the way sport coverage is simultaneously captured by multiple camera positions during the action. Unfortunately we couldn’t wrangle the equipment as Luke is in remote USA somewhere so I played the duos movements (as you would an Xbox game) and then shot it all in replay.

LBB> There are some stunning bright colours to contrast the grey landscape, what was the intention of using different shades?

Andrew> The landscape needed a level of severity and monotony to accentuate the colour palettes of the toys. For the shrine (the blue trumpet looking building) and hunters, their palettes also connected to basic primary hues designed to connect to the toys and intentionally sit at odds with the natural landscape. 

LBB> What were the biggest challenges that came with this project?

Andrew> A project like this had a lot of moving parts and things to solve. The Hunter’s AI was tricky and took a bit of R&D. The action capture and replay system had bugs we had to figure out and the real-time nature of the image meant there were some limitations around production quality when we captured, but overall and from the beginning I was happy to embrace the game-ness of the visual and stay true to that world.

LBB> Working on a music video means taking account of lyrics and wishes of the bands too - how was it to implement all of this for the final piece?

Andrew> Luke and Jarrad were very supportive of the project from the beginning and put a lot of trust in us which meant we worked harder to make it as good as we could. I always try to be very clear and up front about how the creative is going to resolve but there were many aspects that wouldn’t come to light until down the track when we were in the world running around so we had to do our best with sharing a lot of WIPs and concept development documents to see how the evolution of the piece was coming together.

LBB> What was it like working with Luke and Jarrad?

Andrew> The guys were very trusting and creating outlandish fictional worlds wasn’t something new for them (with Empire of the Sun etc) so they really wanted to go somewhere different anyway. It was a really good atmosphere in the making process for this project. 

LBB> What was your favourite scene and why?

Andrew> When the duo finds the light portal inside the Blue Shrine and jump through, they are teleported 1000m above the game map into a free fall. I love this moment. It’s a very game-typical mechanic and it’s also a great story device to hit that moment in the track. The way they fall took a while to get right and then it took many goes to get the replay camera to the same spot they were falling from and chase them down to the ground. 

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

Andrew> Look out for the next clip. It’s going to be bigger and better again with a prequel story to Running. It has just been completed but won’t release for a few months.

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Collider, Thu, 27 May 2021 16:00:00 GMT