Thursday, April 5, 2018

Director & Animator Kendra Morris Discusses Stop-motion Music Video for CZARFACE & MF DOOM's "Bomb Thrown" (The Witzard Interview)

"Kendra Morris recalls singers who straddled Soul and Rock during the early 70's, such as Ruth Copeland and Chaka Khan, while her contemporaries include the likes of Charles Bradley, Alice Russell, and Mayer Hawthorne," reads Kendra Morris' on-site Biography. Morris, who's band consists of Jeremy Page, Sam Merrick, and Jeremy Siegel, has recorded two full-lengths—critically-acclaimed Banshee and 2013 covers album Mockingbird—for Wax Poetics Records since joining the label's roster in 2011. Kendra Morris has worked with the likes of DJ Paul Nice, Chico Mann, DJ Premier, Zack Martin, Godforbid, and most recently, CZARFACE, DOOM & Open Mike Eagle. Morris was also, a member of Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson's short-lived 2013-15 band, The Singles, along with Holly Miranda, Julia Haltigan, and Este Haim (1/3 HAIM) on drums.

One of Kendra Morris' non-musical hobbies and passions is stop-motion animation, as seen on her hand-made #Babble50 12-inches and recent promotional videos. After recording a feature along with emcee Open Mike Eagle for Esoteric, DJ 7L & Inspectah Deck's CZARFACE Meets METAL FACE project, Morris was contracted to direct and animate a music video for album single, "Bomb Thrown," which she and I will discuss extensively within the space below. Kendra's gearing up to release her latest single, "Playing Games," set to be released digitally tomorrow, Friday, April 6th. "Playing Games" will be accompanied by a similarly-minded stop-motion video, as well as a remix created by Greg Nice of East Coast Hip-Hop duo Nice & Smooth and a surprise cover song as a special "bonus treat."


Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Saturday Morning Cartoons Enthusiast

I. How did you initially get involved in the directing and making-of CZARFACE Meets METAL FACE (AKA DOOM)'s recent "Bomb Thrown" music video?

I got involved with "Bomb Thrown" because I had been singing a little bit on the CZARFACE Meets METAL FACE record and we had been following each other on Instagram. I had posted a little stop-motion collage video did for myself and Esoteric & 7L reached out asking who did it. When I told them it was me, things sort of unfolded from there and next thing knew, I was knee-deep in paper and toys for the next two months working on the "Bomb Thrown" video.

II. After getting the CZARFACE & DOOM figures molded and manufactured, what did you and your co-conspirators do next?

Originally, the idea was to have the guys send me photos of the toys that they had made and I would [incorporate] them into the collage world-style stop-motion medium that I work with most often. However, when I saw the toys, I knew immediately that it would be more fun to build a world for the toys, as well and work out the third verse as a completely different art style...

I spent Christmastime at my parents' house in St. Petersburg, Florida and decided to take advantage of my late nights there by hitting craft and aquarium stores in the area for supplies to build what I decided would be a sort of retro-space world for the toys. It took a good day and a half to build and then, I used the other nights there to film the entire third verse. I also "forced" my entire family to help, at some point or another. I think my mom was really annoyed... hahaha. Later, Jeremy Page came in and added all the laser beams and explosions, too.

III. What were your sources of inspiration behind your treatment for "Bomb Thrown?"

I am obsessed with imperfection, analogue, and craftiness. I love old stop-motion and B-Horror or Sci-Fi movies from 50's to the early 80's. I love anything where you can actually see the love that was put into something and usually, that love comes from the little nuances and imperfections. I started out doing stop-motion as a way to extend my creativity and connect visuals to my own music. I love the work that goes into [it and] the way it forces you to think outside-the-box, in order to get from one move to another. I kept doing it because I feel like the more I push myself, visually, the better of a writer and a musician I become and vice-versa.

With "Bomb Thrown," Esoteric approached me with the original concept of two boys reading comics and their imaginations going wild... bringing them into another world together and battling villains. Esoteric had only known about my collage stop-motion stuff... and so, originally, the video was just going to be 2-D, however... I am always excited to push myself and an idea and after storyboarding and listening to the song over and over, I thought it could be great to take the characters into different art worlds. Verse #1 focused [on] the boys and the collages. Esoteric had Lewis Holiday photograph tons of pictures of the boys for me that I printed, cut out, and animated by hand with all my tons of magazine clippings, etc. For the second verse... Esoteric sent me some illustrations their usual illustrator Gilberto Aguirre Mata [AKA El Ultimo Codice] did of CZARFACE, DOOM, and [the] villains. I was originally, going to print and hand-animate with collages, as well, but decided it could be great to bring in even another dynamic for the second verse and had my friend Josh Mac do his After Effects wizardry on the illustrations. I love when cartoons go into real world visuals, so I plotted that out for the second verse and had him set the cartoons various Apocalyptic backgrounds.

IV. I would be curious to know: what type of reaction have you received from Ecsoteric, 7L & Inspectah Deck, as well as DOOM upon "Bomb Thrown"'s release? Have you been lucky enough to personally meet DOOM face-to-face mask?

Esoteric & 7L are the only guys from the project that I have been in contact [with] regarding the video and they've been involved, constructive, and super-positive people to work with. Inspectah Deck & DOOM, I have-not met yet... but I am gonna be pretty excited, when I finally do!

V. I know you recently released a Spotify single and instrumental entitled "Nothing," but what else do you currently have planned to be released throughout 2018?

I have a new track dropping on April 6th called "Playing Games" with Greg Nice from Nice & Smooth on it. I actually, made a little stop-motion promo video for it using Scrabble pieces, a checkerboard, and tiny ME's dancing around. It took a good two days of doing absolutely nothing else, but I'm excited to share that. Every time I work on my stop-motion stuff, I get better and then, come up with something else I want to push myself to do. Planning to release more music and of course, more visual projects, as the year unfolds, so keep your eyes and your ears open. Thanks again!

VI. We've already discussed it a little bit, but would you mind breaking down each section/verse of your "Bomb Thrown" video and briefly describe who did what on-screen?

Esoteric approached me with the original concept for the "Bomb Thrown" video. His idea was a stop-motion video where two boys are reading comics and become CZARFACE & DOOM, as their imaginations run wild. I kinda took his great idea and just kept building on it... I created storyboards for the video, before I did anything. I did these on color-coded memo notes and listened to the song over and over with my eyes closed trying to imagine what would happen as the song unfolded.

Breaking down the three verses of "Bomb Thrown," I started with collage stop-motion. I already had tons of old magazines and books, as well as pre-cut image clippings that I've collected over the years for my collage art. Esoteric sent me pictures of the boys doing different timed out poses and action shots. From there, I went through the enormous file of photos he sent and selected the images that worked best with both my timeline of the verse and action shots that made sense with animating. My dad and uncle are both quick in Photoshop lay-outs, so I put them to work with sizing each photo to three varying sizes and converting them all to the best grayscale tone for printing. After I had all 300 or so photos of the boys organized and ready to print... I printed and spent a good few days cutting out and labeling them. Over time with doing stop-motion projects for myself, I have learned that the better prepped you are, the smoother and quicker the project will go, when you get to the actual animating. After I had everything cut out I spent a good couple of weeks living in my kitchen with a small lighting area set up for the stop motion. I had all my CZARFACE & DOOM cut-outs and random collage pieces laying on about every surface imaginable, as well as my filing drawers of organized pre-cut collage objects, animals, landscapes, etc. and a huge bucket of magazines. My friend, Julia Small, came over and brought me coffee and helped to assist me on some animation a couple of the days. From there, I lived like a zombie on pizza and caffeine and tackled Verse #1. I try not to ever think too much ahead with the details in collage animation, as I like the art to tell it's own story, so other than following the basic storyboards and timeline, I let the finer details tell their own story.

I decided, while I was storyboarding, that each verse transition would need a unifying visual transition. Maybe, part of the reason the video meshed so well with the song is because being a musician as well, when I hear a song... I tend to go to a visual place and vice-versa. The transition was a break-away from the song's catchy hook, so I used that to do another break-away in the storyline and create some simple visuals that could link each verse together.

On Verse #2, I was originally going to print, cut out, and hand-animate the illustrations that Esoteric sent me that El Ultimo Codice did... I wanted to do the illustrations against video green screen of Apocalyptic scenes. I love the strong dynamic of cartoons vs. real life images, however, as I thought more about the necessity of stepping out of my comfort zone and also, knew that if I built a strong team to divide up some of the work... it could be that much greater of a video. I then, reached out to my friend Josh Mac, who is great with the program [Adobe] After Effects. After showing him the concept and my storyboards, he came on board to animate the second verse, as well as all the other smoother animation bells and whistles that you see throughout the video.

Verse #3 is where the characters become toys. This, originally, was going to be stop-motion animated photos of the toys battling in "collage world," but I decided to once again, push myself and the project further. I messaged Esoteric and asked if he could send me the toys that Killer Bootlegs had made and that was that. This was actually, the first thing I filmed, while I stayed at my parents house in Florida over Christmas. My parents have been watching my nephews lately, so I knew there would be a bunch of extra toys around the house and I wanted, originally, to film this scene in a boy's bedroom, where all the toys could come to life, but this proved to be extremely difficult with a full house and not a lot of control over the outside elements and with stop-motion... the biggest thing I come to realize is having complete control is a major factor. I actually, scrapped the entire first day of work that I shot in my nephew's bedroom and had to start Verse #3 from scratch. That's when I started thinking about how much I love all those cheesy Sci-Fi movie sets of the 60's. After spending numerous trips to Micheal's Crafts and the pet store near my folks house... I wound up buying anything neon, flashy, wacky, crafty, furry... anything that would look good under a black light or that I could be imaginative with. I incorporated colors that I love and that would pop out and bring the images into a world of their own. I even bought one of those Discovery Science project volcanos and created lava and ooze out of spray insulation. My husband is a tattooer, so I put him to work drawing the scrolling backdrop that moves with the characters. Then, every night, after full days with my family... I would go out to my parents garage and film the third verse. My dad's identical twin has been my parents roommate for a bit and he would come assist me with the stop-motion every night. Stop-motion is so time consuming and tedious... you start to lose your mind, after a while, so if a friend can help you or even bring you coffee... all the better! A few of the nights, my brother came and helped out, too... (he'd want me to mention that he made the dinosaurs eat the little purple guys!) After I finished the third verse, Jeremy Page came in and added all the laser beams and volcano smoke, etc. Esoteric sent the phrases that he thought would fit best as word bubbles and Josh also, added them in.

Closing out the song... going with the concept that CZARFACE & DOOM become boys again at the end, I decided to actually, animate the first verse backwards. This was actually, super-tedious and I even felt a little dyslexic having the collage world build itself backwards... somehow, pulled it off, though and I never slept better! The video was one of those projects where I definitely had moments of "what am I doing?!" but as a fan of never cutting corners, always pushing new boundaries within myself and building a team and an incredible experience to look back at... I feel really great about what it became. Also, it's pretty awesome how so much of this video revolved and involved family from all ends. Esoteric's son played Little CZARFACE and Lewis Holiday, who photographed the boys, son played [Little] DOOM. There was really just so much involved and so many people that helped to make "Bomb Thrown" so special. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat, but next time, maybe, more coffee...

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