Nothing on the air looks quite like the Offspring's "Hit That" video. Was it shot live? In a studio? Generated by a computer? In fact, all three methods were combined to make one of the band's more visually engaging clips.
"We wanted something really different," singer Dexter Holland said, "a video that didn't look like anything shown before. [Co-directors] John Williams and David Lea came to us with an idea for something half-filmed and half-animated. A lot of people had suggested ideas that were too special-effects looking, but I liked their unique blend."
Williams and Lea, a pair of Brits still in their early 20s, met while studying animation in college four years ago. Their innovative hybrid concept, which focuses on a blue-headed guy searching the city for his enormous dog run amok, earned the pair the chance to direct their first music video.
Despite their youth, the pair have a string of inventive clips on their résumés. They began working together about 15 months ago, and their first project, a video for the nonprofit organization Greenpeace, earned them a young-directors award at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Since then, Williams has worked on Coldplay's "Don't Panic" and "Trouble" and Radiohead's "There There," which gave him experience with the live/CGI (computer-generated imagery) blend he applied to "Hit That."
To pull off the quizzical image of the spiky-haired, facially expressive main character, whose lifelike movements are juxtaposed with his surreal head, the directors animated only the eyes and mouth of the person wearing a mask and gloves. This gave him a more organic, albeit inhuman, look.
"If the entire head were computer-generated, there'd be a seam between what's real and what isn't," Williams explained. "So by having this big blue head mask with animated eyes and mouth, it creates a character you can't peg as either completely real or completely computer-generated."
Rather than employ an actor, Williams and Lea each wore the mask and gloves at various times, since they could foresee the video's outcome and act accordingly.
"We knew the song and what the character had to do," Williams explained. "That's the advantage of having two directors. One of us could wear the mask and act while the other shouted at him."
Getting the massive Great Dane to wear the mask Lea and Williams designed for him was another story.
"We had numerous debates with the animal handler as to whether or not the dog could be trained to wear the head mask," Williams said. "The handler was quite confident, but it seemed the more the handler tried, the more the dog grew resentful of the mask. When the mask was taken out of the car on the day of the shoot, the dog just ran away because he knew what was coming."
The directors solved the problem by inventing a tracking device. Something resembling an illuminated muzzle helped animators create a frightening computer-generated 3D mask they animated to fit the dog's actions.
"It looked really surreal," Williams said. "Imagine a big black dog with all these lights dotted around its head like a Christmas tree."
To avoid anything even slightly resembling a typical performance clip, the band didn't want to appear in the video. A scrapped first draft had the main character's mask resembling Holland, with a van driver who looked like guitarist Noodles. The vehicles' passengers were going to be caricatures of bassist Greg Kriesel and new drummer Atom Willard.
The video's foundation was inspired by the directors' interpretation of Holland's voice, which sounds particularly large on "Hit That." Thus the large-noggined chap, whose quest to quell his mutt's path of destruction stemmed from the song's lyrics. Perhaps not too surprisingly, "Hit That" isn't about a man's search for his "best friend." The first single off the Offspring's latest album, Splinter (see "Offspring Go Beyond Goofy On Splinter") concerns a selfish and irresponsible womanizer.
According to Holland, the song's at least partly social commentary "about the consequences of promiscuity or the idea that no matter what the consequences might be, people are going to be out there doing it with each other."
Williams and Lea obviously didn't literally transfer audio to video.
"The song referred to an irresponsible male," Williams said. "He's loose and wild and out partying, but he's got kids. So we saw the dog as a kind of metaphor for this character. We didn't want to be too literal, to have this man going around being an idiot. So we decided to use the dog. It's wild and needs to be tamed. He gets castrated, ultimately."
Perhaps you wondered about those scissors.
"That's kind of harsh, I know. But maybe that's what needs to be done to irresponsible men," the director declared, only half-joking.