As co-director of a video nominated for Best Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards, the last thing you'd think Linkin Park DJ Joseph Hahn would be doing is addressing criticism.
But that's what you get when you fly a whale through a desert, as Hahn does in the acclaimed video for "In the End."
"Any criticism I have ever gotten for that video, has always been, 'What's up with the whale, dude?' " joked Nathan "Karma" Cox, the video's other director. "That was Joe's thing."
"It's not like I pulled it out of my ass," Hahn said in his defense. "It made sense to me."
The whale, which first appears behind Mike Shinoda as he raps the opening verse in a barren desert, was added digitally to create an even more surreal environment, according to Cox.
"It's more of an elemental thing," Hahn expanded. "Where when you think of a whale you associate it with water, but it's a contrast to the environment, 'cause there's no water in the environment. So it was basically a way to visually connect the ground to the sky to the tower, where we were."
"In the End," which Linkin Park filmed during a break from Ozzfest last July, is a performance video of sorts, but instead of an audience moshing in front of a stage, a spectacular landscape is evolving around them. Grass grows over Shinoda's shoes with each step, while vines wrap around his body.
"When you hear the song, there's basically a cycle going on in the song," Hahn explained. "And that's what is going on in the video, there's a life cycle taking place from the environment that's desolate, it's all dry, and basically goes from that point of there being nothing to the end, where a whole evolution takes place."
Cox, whose résumé includes System of a Down's "Sugar" and Disturbed's "Stupify," said Linkin Park were interested in leaving the viewer in a dazzling place.
"The song could be taken in a negative context, this dismal kind of thing, 'I tried so hard and got so far/ But in the end it doesn't even matter,' " Cox explained. "It had this positive tone, but the words were really negative. So the world that they start in is dismal, desert, emptiness, and it starts to rain and then the world becomes a beautiful place."
For the storm scene, Cox installed rain piping over the set, where they had already been filming for several hours. "They didn't realize they were going to be up there for another six hours, with the wind blowing on them," Cox said. "Actually, we laughed through the whole process. They weren't too pissed off."
To keep the mood on the set light, Cox invited a friend of his who is in a bluegrass band to come to the sound stage in Los Angeles. "We brought him and a guy playing banjo and they did a couple of Linkin Park songs," the director said, giggling.
In conceptualizing the intense visuals of the video, Hahn found inspiration in the paintings of Alphonse Mucha, who helped shaped the aesthetics of French Art Nouveau in the late 1800s and early 1900s and often painted figures encased in twining stems.
To bring those ideas to life (so to speak, since most were done digitally), Hahn and Cox knew they needed to find a talented production designer.
"We were thinking, 'Who would our dream guy be?'" Cox recalled. "We were both big fans of 'Dark City,' but we didn't think Patrick Tatopoulos would ever do a video. The guy's just huge."
Tatopoulos, best known for designing the aliens in "Independence Day" and Godzilla in the 1998 remake, called Hahn and Cox the day he received a copy of "In the End" and their treatment and said he happened to have some time to work on their video.
"He showed up in our office with his portfolios of artwork from movies that we love," Cox said. "We were like kids in a candy store. We were glowing."
Within hours, Tatopoulos had the idea to design the building in the shape of woman and to have the band perform on the crown. "He's a genius," Cox said.
At the time Linkin Park were preparing to release "In the End," Hybrid Theory had already produced two hit singles and was a fixture in the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart. Without that clout, Hahn said the video would have never happened.
"We were successful enough that we didn't have to do a performance video with skateboard kids running around, even though that's what the label wanted," Hahn said. "It was kind of a battle to get this video made."
Cox, who was still a relative newcomer and had not done a really big budget video yet, said it took nearly three months to convince Warner Bros. Records to let them do the "In the End" video the way they wanted.
"Originally, the label thought it was a too light," Cox said. "They wanted me to give it some teeth. So I created the rain scenario and the cycle of life that would go ugly for a while and these thorns that would come out of the ground and the label eventually bought it and dug what we were doing."
"No one really understood 'cause it's not something that was done before," Hahn added. "Now there's a lot of videos out there that look like it 'cause there's a tendency with music in general to copy things that are successful."
Perhaps soon there will be more flying whales.
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