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How Katy Perry's ‘Bon Appetit’ Production Designer Turned Her Into A Literal Meal

Natalie Groce gives us a frame-by-frame breakdown of Katy's freaky food fantasy

Katy Perry’s videography has taken us from the candy-coated dreamland of “California Gurls” to the retro-futuristic theme park of “Chained to the Rhythm,” and everywhere in between. But nothing is as wild as the bonkers kitchen inferno she survives in the “Bon Appetit” video. When it dropped back in May, we said it might spoil your appetite, and that wasn’t hyperbolic — it’s four minutes of total kitchen chaos, as we see Katy get breaded, basted, and boiled to perfection.

Natalie Groce, an L.A.-based freelance production designer, had the awesome job of bringing Katy’s bizarre food fantasy to life. Together with Katy and the directors, French duo Dent de Cuir, Groce worked to create the concept of Katy being served as a beautiful meal, only to flip the table on the diners and make them her dinner. Groce and her team had two weeks of prep for the video — including all of the time to build the set and the props — and they shot it in just three days at Thunder Studios in Long Beach, California.

Ahead of this weekend’s VMAs — where “Bon Appetit” is nominated for Best Art Direction — Groce spoke to MTV News about how she made one of the wildest videos of the year. See the frame-by-frame breakdown below, with Groce’s own scoop.

  • We open on Katy in a freezer.
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    “The idea was she’s in a freezer. The door opens and you can see there’s a light cue where light is let in as if you’re opening the door of a freezer. The light reveals the freezer base.

    We sort of went back and forth about whether that should be something that is literally a freezer, or more of an ice hotel, or more of a conceptual idea of a cold room where she would be freezing. How literal do we want to be? We decided on this concept of a ‘sexy freezer,’ was what we called it. So it’s a freezer, but it’s an elevated version of that.”

  • She's wrapped in plastic like a piece of meat.
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    “We ended up using a mattress-sized bag, and we rigged it with a vacuum and sucked all the air out through the mattress so it got tight around the body. I did a lot of testing with that on myself because I was like, ‘Well, if I’m going to shrink-wrap Katy Perry, I should probably make sure that it’s not horrible.’ But she was totally down for it and not worried about it at all. She was like, ‘I totally got it, don’t even worry.’ Because she’s done stuff like the parachute underwater for the ‘Rise’ video. She does all her own stunts!

    The air sort of sucks out around you — it’s like when something is really static and clinging to you, or how wet clothing sort of fills all the gaps. That’s exactly what the plastic does. So we shrink-wrapped her and it was a very cool idea that the directors had. They were like, ‘What if we just packaged her like she was a piece of meat at a supermarket?’”

  • Katy gets pushed off a platform into a bed of flour.
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    “That is actual flour. We used 1,000 pounds of flour — we had twenty 50-pound bags. And flour makes a giant mess, so that was pretty funny.”

  • The chefs knead Katy’s skin like dough.
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    “The kneading was done in a variety of ways. We had Joanna, the food stylist, make some dough that was a similar color to [Katy’s] skin, and they would put pieces of the dough on her and knead that, as well as her skin. So it sort of gave it the effect of being able to stretch like dough.

    And then they made a leg out of silicone. It was the weirdest thing to hold because it has no structure to it. It’s essentially just a sack of potatoes. It had her tattoos on it, and it was her actual leg, just with no bones in it. That was made so that when they stretched that leg, they could do it practically, rather than do it with visual effects, which is something the directors were really interested in doing: seeing how much we could do in real life. That’s half the fun!”

  • Katy makes a lot of goofy facial expressions.
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    “She was hilarious. We were dying laughing on set. So it’s the middle of the night and she comes in and just killed it every time. She was like, ‘I’m gonna do one where we do weird faces,’ and she just started doing it and it made perfect sense.”

  • Katy gets laid out on a cutting board and gets vegetables thrown on top of her.
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    “We cut so many vegetables! ... She would start at one end, and she was rolling on a rolling table, and each chef was given a different vegetable. Our choreographers figured out exactly how everyone was supposed to come in and dump their vegetables, and then she moved through and would get to the end and we’d scoop them off of her into the buckets for the crock pot. Then they would clean her up and we’d go back and do it again. We did that multiple times.

    One of the things we chose to do was make the wood grain on the cutting board to scale. If you had a piece of meat on a regular-size cutting board, it would be proportionally correct, so we made it a giant wood grain.”

  • Freshly seasoned Katy gets dumped into a giant, boiling pot.
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    “The crock pot, what it actually is, is an agricultural water storage container. It’s a black plastic thing that’s seven feet in diameter and it was seven or eight feet high. They went way outside of L.A. to pick it up, brought it back, and cut the top off, so we just had this big plastic tub. And then All Sets, who did our construction, came up with this brilliant idea to line the inside and outside with stainless steel sheeting and build a custom rim for the top to make it feel like a crock pot. And then I asked them to weld some pot handles.

    The challenge was, because it wasn’t a jacuzzi, it didn’t have the element in it to keep the water from within, with all the jets and stuff. So we brought in hot water and added that to the tank, and then made a system in the bottom to create all the bubbles, because the directors asked that we be able to make it go from when water starts to simmer, all the way up to boiling. So we installed an air pump system with a grid and made it be able to bubble at different rates, and then pumped smoke just below the surface so it would rise above the water. The lighting department added lights to make it feel hot, and it all just worked out and looked amazing.

    Katy was really stoked about it too, because the last shot we did was in the jacuzzi and she was like, ‘I’m always going to write hot tubs into my videos because this is great!’ She worked so hard for three days, so it was probably nice to just chill.”

  • Katy gets her tongue scorched.
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    “That’s a bit of post [production] magic. We had a stand-in tongue that they crème brûlée’d, and they comped it in because that was not going to happen. That’s wildly unpleasant for everyone involved. So we had a fake tongue that we boiled and then they put that together in post.”

  • And she gets her hair freshly shorn.
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    “It was a really clever idea that the directors had to use the microplane to show that we’re grating her hair off. So we came up with just a fake, not sharp, version of that so that your brain understands what it’s doing.”

  • Katy gets wheeled out into a fancy dining room.
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    “We picked these jewel tones that felt really rich and interesting. These people are going to have this very high-end, sexy experience. We used emerald greens and plums and blues to make it look really saturated and feel really luxurious. That was a really fun set. We got to play with textures and sort of old Hollywood-feeling furniture.”

  • Migos lord over the party in their own private lounge.
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    “The owner’s box, the Migos lounge, we called it. The idea was they were up doing their own thing, but they were still keeping an eye on what was happening as they were conspiring to help [Katy] turn the tables.”

  • A talking oyster says “Offset!”
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    “That was a whole thing. The directors were like, ‘It’d be great if this oyster moved its mouth and had a little pearl in its mouth,’ and my prop master, Lisa, just figured that out. It was our second fake tongue of the set. She got the fake tongue and rigged it with fishing line and made it open and close its mouth like a little talking oyster.”

  • Finally, Katy prepares to dig into a pie made of human body parts.
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    “We actually didn’t shoot that. I think that was something created in post. The first time I saw that ending to the video was when I watched the video for the first time. We had talked about a bunch of different endings and we had filmed an ending with the diners on the table being ready to eat. But the pie was a surprise for me as well. I think the idea is they were preparing to eat her, so she kind of gets her revenge. We did shoot her with the napkin and the fork and knife, and I think that’s a very iconic visual: ‘ready to dig in.’ But the legs coming out of the pie was not me. I don’t even know where I would’ve started with that.

    That seems like the thing that got the most noticed about the video, like, ‘What is this saying about everything?’ And I don’t know. ... I think it’s one of those videos where you love it or you hate it because it’s out of the box, but that’s what makes it special. That’s the goal of making art, is to change someone’s mind or make someone feel a certain way, even if it’s, ‘Ooh, is it cannibalism, is it a statement about the female body, or is it just, like, sexual liberation?’ That’s for the viewer to decide.”

Will the “Bon Appetit” video win big this weekend? We'll find out when the 2017 VMAs touch down at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, August 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. See the full list of nominees and vote for Best New Artist now!