Director Taz Tron Delix talks LBB’s Alex Reeves through some of the inspiring characters and moments in the UK rapper’s beautiful, bittersweet promo
A lot’s changed since Taz Tron Delix finished his treatment for Stormzy’s ‘Superheroes’ music video at the start of May. George Floyd was still alive then and the world hadn’t yet erupted into the protests and conversations on the subject of racism that’s made 2020 even more historic than it already was.
Superheroes is about race, but though there is pain at its heart, it’s an inspiring song, celebrating the best in people and the power of the ordinary. "What a flippin' time to be a Black Brit!" raps Stormzy in one line, and the COMPULSORY director’s beautiful video to accompany it is a powerful contemplation on that thought.
Following the racially-charged historic events of this summer, the script needed rewriting to respond to the moment we are in, and Stormzy couldn’t wait long to get this message out at a time when Black people need it most.
Unfortunately, animation isn’t a fast mode of filmmaking, so the fact that Taz and the Argentinian animation studio 2veinte were able to turn it around in an eight-week rush is a significant feat. To manage it in time, Taz decided to focus on pared-back vignettes as we get to know his characters, with simple backgrounds and a snapshot narrative structure.
The result is a heartening tale about finding the superpowers in the normal people in your community, gently rendered in sunset hues and minimalist styling.
Blown away by its unique beauty, LBB’s Alex Reeves picked out some key moments from the video and asked Taz to talk about what decisions went into creating them.
This is Stormzy and the boy. We wanted a central character.
When Stormzy came to us he said he wanted to make a Pixar video. We said we can’t do that. But here are some styles that we really like.
I love Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I wanted it to be ‘trendy’ like that, accessible for adult audiences. We also wanted to soften everything down to make it palatable for younger audiences.
We went through a couple of different costumes with Stormzy. We had him with his Union Jack bulletproof vest on and we had it in black as well. At the moment he loves plain, all black, that’s his thing in music videos.
With the boy, style-wise we just wanted to make sure it looks very UK. He’s got his adidas tracksuit on, that was from the Sounds of the Skeng video Henry Scholfield directed. I was looking at those boys to try and tie it back into Stormzy’s universe.
I like this first time Stormzy meets the boy and he’s looking up to him. I think it’s a really nice moment, low and getting the power of Stormzy with the sun shining through.
He really is a big guy. I was trying to explain to people when we did Audacity, ‘the lorry is four metres tall and Stormzy is two metres tall, so when he’s on top of that, it is six metres in the air!’.
Stormzy’s first idea was about meeting a boy and saving his life. The lyrics are strong and narrate a lot of the story. He was talking about saving a life. He suggested they could fly around.
We had a young boy that we wanted to be our hero. The idea was originally that the boy was going to go off and find all these characters, but we thought it was much nicer that Stormzy was there to show him all the other characters that have all these superpowers. Everybody has superpowers inside them and he has something special to give to the world as well. He just needs to travel around and work out where his place is.
I was looking into the hero’s journey and things. We had ideas of a training camp, the boy trying to fly and not being quite able to. This is that kind of moment, where he’s flying into the sky with Stormzy and Stormzy is starting to let him fly by himself. But he gets a bit shaky, he falls and then Stormzy rescues him.
Another thing that’s quite fun about this frame is that as soon as it came back from the animators we realised it’s very Toy Story - Buzz Lightyear and Woody. That’s a nice nod to the whole Pixar thing. It’s an iconic moment.
None of the characters have names. This one is cutting up vegetables, whizzing around and jumping into the air, but her superhero power is that she puts her family, her grandma, first.
I wanted to show that not everybody lives in the ‘normal’ family. Some people live with their grandparents, for example. Also, it was basically modelled on a friend of mine who lives with and looks after her gran. So I weaved that in.
A lot of this I wanted to be reflective of real people in our communities. What makes them a true superhero is they always put their family first and never let anybody down and just keep on going.
On the look, it’s kind of like Akira, with the energy fields coming through. We wanted some of that, but we were trying to be cautious that it didn’t end up feeling like an anime film. Akira or Dragon Ball Z all screaming faces with backgrounds slowly shifting. We were very cautious that we didn’t want it to fall into that. We wanted it to feel British.
I think it’s a really fun moment when Stormzy’s teleporting everywhere, upside down on his head on top of a car, just for a split second meditating there. It feels like some kind of kung fu flex, like a master. We wanted him to be that classic guru, sensei figure coming into the boy’s life as a role model and playing on that vibe. Also, luring us in with cool things that can happen, but pushing further that there’s a meaning behind why he can do all these things - a greater purpose when you dig deeper.
It’s a conversation that’s going on now. Younger people are being honest. We didn’t want to shy away from some of the political things that are happening in the world. We didn’t want it to be sugar coated and ‘everything’s all hunky dory’. That’s not the reality. Also we wanted to bring in, like in the song, a bit about what the struggles are that young black people might have to face with the prejudice of the police.
We had to highlight the injustice of how many young black males have been stopped and searched in the streets of the UK. It happens all the time. And it can be boys just playing football on the estate or whatever.
I saw it in lockdown. All those people were getting drunk on the field and doing stuff that they probably shouldn’t be doing in lockdown rules, yet the kids who are only 12 or 13 playing football in the cage were the ones getting harassed by police officers.
Stormzy’s a massive fan of Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman. He’s in the BBC series, he references her in the song and she’s a big Black author. He has so many nods to people all the way through the song and I wanted to incorporate them in a nice way. That wasn’t necessarily having every character in there. We wanted to nod but not too much.
This was one of the last scenes we wrote in. I always wanted the police officer to confront him and then I was thinking this would be a nice moment if he was reading the book before. There’s some really interesting points of views in Noughts & Crosses about the flipside of racial injustice and inequality. It’s about what if Africa had colonised the world and the racial politics were flipped around. In that shot he’s saying to the police officers ‘read this’. If people educated themselves more, they might realise how maybe they’re profiling without realising.
When we get to see the gold in his bones, when he goes translucent and he’s talking about courage. In a visual sense, the video was always trying to push back to ‘it’s inside you’. That’s what really counts.
You can’t always hit everything rhythmically and you don’t want everything on the nose. I was keen to have Little Simz in there, but also I felt that the real story was that he’s talking about Black women not realising their potential and their beauty and needing some confidence.
So I wanted to show that conflict of a young girl trying to work out how she fits in this world. Especially when a lot of advertising and white beauty stereotypes are forced in their faces. I wanted to show this girl finding her power within a positive role model that was similar to her and being able to see that inside herself.
There’s even a sticky note there that says ‘everything you seek is within you’. Then there’s radiant beauty pouring out of her and she levitates and floats, connecting with the divine feminine energy.
To me, it was quite obvious that there was a lot of female empowerment and encouragement within the lyrics. Also the boy is the central journey, so I didn’t want it to be all about boys. I wanted to find a balance.
The London Black Lives Matter protests happened before we had confirmation. We’d already pitched and put a script in. Then they told us they wanted us to make it. We needed to write a new script anyway, to condense it. It was too ambitious. So because I had that moment I decided to write in and tailor all these things to be even more current.
We can’t ignore what happened. It’s what the whole song is about. And it’s what Stormzy’s about. He was there on the day, out there protesting.
I wanted to make it a positive thing and a show of solidarity. All these guys are superheroes.
We chose to leave the face masks on. People don’t want face masks in their videos because it will date them, but I felt that this was all tied together. It was even more impactful that people had to go out while there was a pandemic going on, risking their lives because their lives are literally at risk from the injustice that’s happening all around the world.
It’s a really strong moment. And the colours are lovely as well. Keeping everything in that nice sunset vibe.
The boy does transform into [the UK rapper] Dave, but originally I wanted this mega transformation and the animators were pulling their hair out saying they couldn’t do it. But we found a workaround with the lightning strike that comes down.
There’s a strong bond between Dave and Stormzy. They’ve been friends for a long time, since they were quite young. Of course Dave had some amazing political performances like at the BRITS. It was a moment.
I wanted to bring in the lyric ‘I am young, black, beautiful and brave’ - it’s super strong. Originally they were in a classroom, but when I came back to it I realised we’re in a protest world now and the placards worked really well to drive a strong image.
The image here is very much a nod to Neo in The Matrix. We only had a certain amount of time. And I could have gone on with touching on different people and their values. I wanted to show intelligent people who are putting in the work and owning it.
The idea behind this guy (he was called Smart Kid) was he was working away and he was so smart that he got telekinetic powers. He’d worked out the system like Neo in The Matrix. Originally he was doing lots of mad stuff with the pens but we had to make it more simple.
I wanted to give a big shout out to dads. Talking to lots of people I realised that a lot of Black dads don’t get the credit they deserve. There are lots of stereotypes that they’re not good dads. I wanted to hit home that that’s not true and paint a picture of a dad that can be there for his daughter and do her hair and be a strong role model in his family. That’s his superpower. To his family he is a superhero.
The whole point about racist points of view is that people have been fed stereotypes and in all these bigger conversations we need to judge people just on being humans. So if someone has big muscles or a certain colour skin, the way they look or their age or the way they dress, we’re all human and we’re more similar than we are different.
Again, it was all happening as we had the chance to edit the script. Stormzy’s a massive football fan. I wanted to put a footballer in. In my original script I had the boy going around trying the skills out for himself and failing as he tries to find his place in the world. And he got completely demolished, unexpectedly, by this girl that was amazing at football. So first of all it was just about females being good at football and flipping that stereotype.
I read the other day about a girl who was on free school meals and kept falling asleep in class. They investigated and it turned out that she was taking her one meal home to feed her younger sister because she didn’t have anything else to eat.
You’ve also got the squash and stretch in the ball. The interesting thing with animation is that if you just rotoscope something in live action and then show someone the drawings, they’re not actually that interesting. The movement doesn’t quite carry through. But as soon as you start over-exaggerating movements and stretching perspective, that’s when it becomes larger than life.
This guy’s a musician and he can play loads of instruments, but I was thinking if that’s his superpower then what’s an interesting way to bring that out? Then I thought he can do all of it at once, so he’s got six arms so he can be playing this, recording that, taking samples here and there and just being a fast wizard conjuring up beats and tunes.
I also love the whole city… when we finally got the background how we wanted, we were just so happy with the colours, the shapes and the tones, how the clouds are sitting. Then we felt our whole world was coming together.
We had challenges with time. So we introduced the world so you understand from these wide shots where we are and there’s enough of it in there that once we travel into these vignette worlds we don’t have to worry about backgrounds because we’re all about the characters. Then when we’re back with Stormzy and the boy we can visit the world once more.