If you've seen the acid-fueled desert highway romp in Queens of the Stone Age's video for "Go With the Flow," you might find yourself at a loss when describing it to friends.
Fortunately, Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri has no such problem. "We collide and divide, go swimming and trailblaze into the sunset."
It's an economical description — perhaps too economical for one of the most visually arresting videos in recent memory. The propulsive track is married to scenes of the group — rendered in stark black, white and red images — churning out the song while throttling down a desert highway in the back of a pickup. Throw in a couple of face-painted baddies in a rival truck, a few go-go girls and a different sort of 'big bang,' and you wind up with a clip that seems to have 'breakthrough' written all over it. (Click to see photos.)
The video comes courtesy of Shynola, a collective of visual artists who came together while studying in England. The group has garnered attention with adventurous clips for Morcheeba, Radiohead and Quannum, but it was their video for U.N.K.L.E.'s "An Eye for an Eye" that brought QOTSA calling.
"Often we pursue a band, but in this case the band pursued us," Shynola's Jason Groves explained. "The job was offered to us after James Lavelle showed [Queens frontman] Josh [Homme] the video we had recently made for his U.N.K.L.E. project. Josh liked that piece so much that he asked us to pitch on their next video.
"Josh said he wanted a very aggressive, intense video that was 'like banging your head against the wall,' " Groves said. "The idea was to build up the tension and atmosphere, and we drew from lots of things we liked, such as the original animated 'Lord of the Rings,' Spielberg's 'Duel,' 'Yellow Submarine' and a load of others."
In their previous work, Shynola had displayed a knack for breathing life and depth into seemingly flat animated figures. With Homme's directive and new inspiration, the collective set out to blend live action with animation.
"This job was definitely a step up in difficulty," Groves said. "However, almost every job we take on is just beyond our current capabilities — that's what keeps things interesting for us. Combining animation and live action is one of the hardest things to do and is very rarely done successfully, so we were quite wary of taking this kind of task on. But it was a great track, and we knew that it would get some good airplay, so we pulled out all the stops to make a video that would be the most rock and roll thing we could imagine."
Shynola looked to the bold black and white images of comic artist Frank Miller to help bring QOTSA into the animated world. "A few years ago Miller did a series entitled 'Sin City' that used stark black and white silhouettes, which were very dramatic — and perfect as a way for us to seamlessly, we hope, combine animation and live action," Groves said.
The directors planned to shoot the band's performance, as well as other live action elements, and then render the images as flat cartoonlike figures through rotoscope animation (recently employed in the 2001 film "Waking Life"). The eight-week project began with one lone day devoted to shooting live action footage.
"We only had a day to shoot the band," Groves explained. "They came to the set early so that the makeup artists could dye their hair black and then cover them in black paint. Then we rolled out the truck and they got in and did their thing as best they could with a camera flying around their heads. They were pretty good-humored, really. It's funny to cover yourself in paint, but it's something else entirely to spend the whole day painted up under hot lights having to play the same song over and over again.
"Sometimes a couple people would rock the truck while trying to remain out of sight," Groves added, "but mostly the band were bouncing around so much as they played that it looked like they were speeding along at 100 mph anyway."
Joining QOTSA on the candy-colored highway are two heavies in face paint reminiscent of Hollywood's version of a voodoo priest, played by actors, one of whom put a little too much of himself in the role. "He looked totally cool in his paint job, and he insisted on referring to himself in the third person," Groves recalled. "If you told him to look mean at the camera, he would say, 'The Skull is down with that' or 'The Skull is ready.' He liked being the Skull so much that he stayed in his makeup well beyond the time he was required to be on the set."
As strange as casting for the clip's bad guys may have been, it paled in comparison to Shynola's search for appropriate go-go girls. "We received a package from the States one evening that contained Polaroids of scantily clad women and then a video of them all dancing sexily in underwear," Groves said. "My girlfriend wasn't too amused to find us all intently watching the video."
With all the live action elements in the can, Shynola dove into an extensive postproduction phase that included "late nights, bad meals, coffee breath, unwashed bodies, tired eyes, angry girlfriends and crashing computers." Getting a band to cover itself entirely in black paint and jump around in the back of a pickup for hours is apparently a small task compared to placing that footage into a computer-generated background.
"Each shot where the band is playing on the back of the truck took forever to complete," Groves explained. "There were many, many late nights and later mornings involved. We're still not entirely happy with some shots, but when you make promos you have a strict deadline."
Somewhere in the sleep-deprived haze, Shynola decided to slip in one almost subliminal pat on the back. As the band's pickup splatters a bug on the highway, "Shynola rocks" is spelled out in the splatter.
It seems the long nights paid off, as the "Go With the Flow" clip is turning on viewers and the band itself.
"I was very happy when I saw what I saw because I thought, 'This thing's gonna suck,' " QOTSA's Oliveri said. "I don't know too much about videos or making them or anything like that. That's not what I see or do, so it was very cool when I saw it. I was like, 'Wow, this is just great.' I was really excited about it."
The Shynola folks haven't spoken directly with the band yet about the finished product, but it doesn't seem to matter much. "We like it, and we got paid to do it. What more could we ask?" Groves said.