Rather than submit a written treatment of his idea for the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" video, director Michel Gondry opted for something more visual.
"One day he came to a restaurant and he had Jack's head in Lego," explained drummer Meg White.
"This is what I want to do for the video," Gondry told them. "It's perfect, really."
"You couldn't argue with that," Jack White said. "When someone brings a Lego sculpture of your head to dinner and says this is what the video's going to be, you pretty much say, 'That's it, go ahead.' "
It took the help of 15 animators and more than six weeks, but the trailblazing director, best known for his eccentric Björk videos, pulled it off. And not only is the clip among the six nominated for Best Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 29, the directors Gondry is up against are picking his video to win (click for the complete list of 2002 VMA Nominees).
"It's so simple, but it's so brilliant," proclaimed Chris Robinson (Nas' "One Mic").
"He is brilliant," added Nathan "Karma" Cox (Linkin Park's "In the End").
The "Fell in Love With a Girl" video even impressed someone who has seen it all with Lego bricks — or so he thought.
"I've seen 'Star Wars' build-ups and huge model displays, but this is most intense creation that I've ever seen done in Lego, and definitely the most creative and original," said Roger Cameron, a senior designer at Lego.
Cameron was most impressed with the minute details he noticed after watching the video a dozen times or so. "Definitely the part where they dive in and it splashes, and some of the 3D facial shots are pretty crazy to watch over and over again to see how they make it look so real," he said.
Lego sells its own stop-motion animation software (and had a film competition to launch the product last year), but Cameron said it uses Lego figurines and modern pieces. Gondry made the Whites out of Lego blocks for his video, and used only the basic blocks in the original colors: blue, red, yellow, white and black.
"It definitely has that retro feel, because they used just the basic colors and pieces from 30 years ago," Cameron said. "They didn't even use green or orange."
Some credit the video with sparking a renewed interest in Lego bricks.
"It's awesome to see our brand trickle in to the viewership of an audience that we may or may not have a strong presence with," said Mike McNally, a marketing executive for Lego. "A lot of people who watch the video and appreciate it are people who played with Lego when they were kids. And even today's kids watch it and think, 'Wow, Lego is cool. There's so much you can do with it.' It opens the door to a new area for us and a new base of enthusiasts."
Gondry, a rabid Lego fan since childhood, took the idea to make a video out of the blocks from the black, red and white imagery the White Stripes use in their album artwork and live show. "There's something charming and naive about [it]," Gondry said. "I made a parallel between that and the basicness of the color of Lego blocks."
To make the video as realistic as possible, the director filmed the actual bandmembers performing and doing the other activities, like swimming. He then printed out pixelated images from the footage at a rate of 25 sheets per second of film and built a different Lego model for each image. The models were then set up in front of a camera and filmed one frame at a time.
"It was a long time, but I wanted it to feel like a children's program, which is why I didn't make it too slick," Gondry said.
The director filmed Jack and Meg playing guitar and drums behind a special-effects blue screen, but for the other activities they took to the streets of London. For each of the scenes, the White Stripes wore heavy makeup to make sure their black eyes and red lips showed up once the film was pixelated — just one example of the careful precision Gondry endured to create the final product he envisioned.
"Having worked in animation a bit, knowing what goes on, how many frames a second animation takes, I was blown away by the work they put into it," Cameron said. "People come up to me and ask if I've seen 'the Lego video.' It's good to be part of the company when there is something out there that is such a great creation."
Catch all the sizzlin', star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News' preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.
‒Corey Moss, with additional reporting by Gil Kaufman and Gideon Yago