Chance the Rapper/YouTube

How Director Austin Vesely Turned Chance The Rapper Into A Train-Surfing Superhero

The 'Angels' director discusses his latest collab with Chance

As fans continue to wait on Chance the Rapper's upcoming third mixtape, devouring every potential update, he dropped bit of a placeholder on Thursday night with the music video for "Angels."

The track is deeply rooted in Chance's connection to and love for his city of Chicago: He brags that he's got the "city doing front flips," mourns the lives of murdered youths on the Southside and shouts out local radio stations, while Saba raps on the chorus, "City so damn great, I feel like Alexand."

The video is equally as informed by the city. Chance flies through the skyline like a superhero (or, uh, angel), rides on top of a CTA train car and dances in the streets.

To create the visual, the rapper linked with director Austin Vesely, who's worked consistently with Chano throughout his career, from 2012's "22 Offs" and "Brain Cells" to 2013's "Juice" and last year's "Sunday Candy."

Here, Vesely tells MTV News how and why they got Chance on top of the train, the origins and concept of the video and more.

MTV: How did you guys come up with the concept, and what does it mean to you?

Austin Vesely: We started putting it together, I think, in November. And we shot everything in two days in December, just before Christmas. Pretty much since then, it's been the edit and getting the animation and everything else.

Brandon Riley, who's the Director of Photography on the video, he and I came up with the idea of putting him on the train. We basically just wanted to do something big; something that was a spectacle, that we hadn't seen before. The initial pitch to Chance was, "Hey, we want to do a video for 'Angels' where we put you on top of a moving CTA train." And he's like, "Alright, figure it out!"

Our initial thing was getting a producer and stunt people involved that we could go with to meet with the CTA and show them that we wanted to be involved with them and what we wanted to do. What was cool was, their liaison over there for film and TV productions, he was really excited about it. He was like, "This sounds really cool, and I don't know if we've put anybody on top of one of these things since like Steve McQueen did it." It was cool to have him be excited about it.

MTV: So you and Brandon approached Chance to say, "Hey, we should shoot this video"? He hadn't already been like, "I want to shoot an 'Angels' video"?

Vesely: I think Chance and I had talked about it a little bit. This was still when he was really just getting into the studio process of his new project. He wasn't thinking that much about music videos, because he was still developing a lot of the songs. But luckily "Angels" came out, he put it out on "Colbert," so we had a really strong single that we could run with. We approached him like, this is so great it deserves a great video.

MTV: Chance is flying and swooping down and it's sort of superhero-ish, but the title is "Angels," so it feels like there's an element of him being that, too. What's his role as a character in this video?

Vesely: It was sort of a play on that idea of a guardian angel or a superhero. The thing about it is, he's in a jumpsuit and a Sox hat -- he doesn't look like your prototype [of an angel or superhero]. Nobody's perfect, so you have this sort of human version of what a guardian angel is, in Chance. That was my feeling. At the time, especially, he was involved in the Warmest Winter project, and he had just done all this stuff over the summer with kids in Chicago. It was an homage to the stuff he had been doing around the city.

MTV: There's this young kid that's a thread throughout the video. He's there at the beginning, and then on the train before they start dancing, and then at the end when Chance and Saba are out dancing on the street. Why is he there?

Veseley: I initially had a more in-depth narrative for what would be going on with that kid, but then it kind of worked out so that he was just there to, sort of, bear witness and be influenced by a positive force in the city. And I wanted people to be able to take from that what they wanted, really. Just to have the youth aspect of seeing positivity coming out of a city that gets a lot of negative images of it.

MTV: I'm curious about these scenes with the train. How did you keep him up there? How long did it take? How did you get them to OK that? I could keep going.

Vesely: We found the right train, which was the initial thing. It's an older version of the train -- they started putting out new trains -- and it had this grating on top, which gave us a good place to anchor Chance to. This was the design of our stunt guys, who are used to doing stuff like this, so we could anchor him on his left and on his right with wires that were attached to a harness he was wearing under the suit. It kept it so no matter which way he moved, or if the train stopped suddenly, he could never go too far in one direction. Our camera operator strapped down the same way, so Brandon Riley was up there shooting it handheld.

It was kind of nuts, because we didn't shut down the CTA. The train we had was totally ours, but there were people on the platforms waiting to get on the train. So we had to stay ahead of the schedule of the real trains that were running. We pull in, stop, and all of us would rush out. Two guys would be on ladder duty to get Chance strapped in so we could all get back in and do a take before the next passenger train rolled into the station.

MTV: So how long was this portion of the shoot?

Vesely: I think we were on the train for about eight hours.

MTV: Wow.

Vesely: Maybe a little bit less, because of the time it took us to get from the train barn to downtown. But, yeah, we just rode around the loop for a good six to eight hours.

MTV: When I was watching, looking at the suit and gloves, and thinking about Chicago's climate, I was like, "Chance must be kind of cold."

Vesely: Yeah, I had to kind of coach him, like, "I know it's unpleasant, but try to look like you're having some fun." We got a day where it wasn't snowing and it was sunny, but with wind, and I think the train was going 15 or 20 [miles per hour], so that adds the win to your face.

There's awnings, so we'd have a stretch of three or four stops that we could run through, and then we'd have to pull him down and put him inside and get past the awnings and put him back up. As soon as he would get down, our wardrobe person would be there to throw a big blanket on him.

MTV: And there's the scene in the train, too, with everyone dancing. How'd you come up with that, and what role does it play in the larger story?

Vesely: Ian Eastwood, who spends a lot of time traveling but is from Chicago, it was around the holidays, so he happened to be home. And he was our main guy for the dancing in "Sunday Candy" last year, so we were like, let's just get Ian involved again, and kind of bring another aspect to this video. Have another celebratory moment. We had Ian come in, and some Chicago footworkers, and D-Low, who were all in "Sunday Candy."

MTV: We're not used to, necessarily, this level of choreography in rap videos -- from the rappers.

Vesely: I gotta hand it to Chance for being the impetus for it. He was really into the level of production for Broadway musicals, and that's why we did "Sunday Candy" with that old feel of musical production. Those same guys who were in this video, some of them were onstage dancing with him at Pitchfork last year.

MTV: There are elements of animation sprinkled in. Is that to add to the superhero feel?

Vesely: When we got the wardrobe together, we realized that it was really reminiscent of Hebru Brantley's iconic Flyboy character, and we decided to lean into that. The video did have this superhero and comic book feel -- we knew we weren't fooling anybody with that skydiving stuff, it was meant to be fun and animated -- so we deided to lean into that even further and brought Hebru into the process. He's somebody we really respect and he's another big time Chicago figure that we could add.

MTV: You were mentioning the positivity in it. That's a cool thing about the video and the song, with how it sounds. He's talking about some potentially sad and dark things, but it sounds bright and looks uplifting. There's this juxtaposition. Was that an intentional thing, to bring light to something that could be dark?

Vesely: I think that's the thing. He is talking about positivity where it exists and where there's potential for it, but he does it in a way that he can't ignore the realities of what goes on in the city and the reasons that we need the positivity. You've gotta have the yin to the yang. He's sure to not downplay the realities.


VMAs 2017