What do New York dirty chic, tech-a-licious southern California, glam ghouls spewing metallic body fluids, and taxidermy all have in common? They are parts of the twisted DNA spiral that underlay the new 3D music video produced by stereoscopic technology developer PassmoreLab for NYC garage-glam saboteurs, Semi Precious Weapons.
The video for SPW's song "Magnetic Baby," from their debut release, We Love You (Razor & Tie), is the second groundbreaking live-action 3D music video project undertaken by PassmoreLab, following this year's production for the LA art noir band Miss Derringer. The new video, directed by Greg Passmore, ups the ante by incorporating innovative set design, a cast of gold-painted and glittered models, and the use of some new cinematographic technology and techniques to capture Semi Precious Weapons' distinctive, gender-bending musical vision.
"We seek out unique and unusual subject matter to explore and document," says PassmoreLab creative director and music composer, Michael Page. "We look for things that are out of the ordinary and would creatively lend themselves to artistic 3D translation, so naturally, with such a visually exciting band as Semi Precious Weapons, I could see this thing coming from miles away. It all began with a discussion with one of my NYC friends, Dave Bason, who had initially suggested the idea of shooting behind-the-scenes Coney Island carny scenarios, with the circus freaks and such. After much conversation he also mentioned this interesting rock band, Semi Precious Weapons, that he was working with and which was making huge noise back east, and suggested that we might be interested in them."
Page, who began his creative career in the '80s as a professional musician, touring with the likes of Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, Chubby Checker, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others, knows the rock 'n' roll scene inside-out. He points out that, after a bit of research, SPW presented credentials that peaked his interest.
"It's been a very long time since Manhattan has offered up anything extraordinary in the rock world, so initially I had my doubts," says Page, "but after digging around a bit I discovered that their record had been executive-produced by the legendary producer and arranger Tony Visconti, who is known for his work with David Bowie, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, Wings, Iggy Pop, U2, Morrissey, and many other top artists. The Village Voice 2007 Reader's Poll had also voted them the 'Best Band in New York,' so I dug a little deeper and found that these guys could really rock and roll, and look great while doing it! They seemed to muster up an artistic concoction that had similar tastes and sensibilities as my old cronies the New York Dolls sprinkled with a bit of Iggy Pop flavoring... the band was awesome and ripe for 3D, so I'm predicting the rest will be history, 'cause we shot 'em good."
Semi Precious Weapons' flamboyant frontman, Justin Tranter, came up with the somewhat bizarre concept for the video, which, he says, the production team shot without compromise - or even batting an eye when the band sent a truckload of stuffed and mounted animals to be used on the set. "Greg Passmore and the whole team let me have my own f---ed vision," says Tranter. "They did everything they could to help make it work, but what was even more fabulous was that Greg directed me and the models in such an amazing subtle and smart way that you almost didn't realize he was directing, but he was, brilliantly."
Bason, Semi Precious Weapons' manager, is quick to point out that PassmoreLab's art-foremost approach was a significant element in making the project a success. "I manage a band called Miss Derringer, who had previously done a 3D video with PassmoreLab, which was shot on location at the band's loft in downtown LA. They told me about the experience and how Greg Passmore is 'one of us,' meaning he is driven by creativity, makes art, etcetera. I saw the video for their song, 'Black Tears,' and while it works to showcase the band and the 3D technology, I wanted to push the production a little more to see if we couldn't come up with something really different for Semi Precious Weapons. We talked with Greg and decided that we should come to the PassmoreLab complex in San Diego, where they could up the production value considerably.
"At their production facility Mike Page showed us a short demo of their work in 3D, and we were all blown away. There were some things you'd expect to see in a 3D demo, but the interesting thing was how versatile the technology can be and that it doesn't need to be flashy all the time. It doesn't need to feel like a staged set specifically set up to show off the 3D effect. That's when 3D really takes the leap, when you can enjoy seeing something with heightened effect and not feel like the entire shot was set up to show off some camera trick.
"The band's singer, Justin Tranter, had a vision for the video and Greg let him run with it, never once asking him to change anything. Justin wanted a big silver room with a pile of gold people in it who come to life and spread and spit gold all over the band. For the song's bridge, he envisioned the band in a very small room filled with taxidermy and pictures of Elvis and the Virgin Mary. These two diametrically opposing shots balance each other and lend some dynamic to an otherwise all-out rock song."
In order to capture all of these visual elements, as well as the band's in-your-face energy, it was necessary to design the equipment to handle the full range of stereoscopic angles that would be required.
"One of our concerns was shooting the close-up 3D, which was essential for capturing the immediacy and drama of the band as they interacted with the camera," notes PassmoreLab stereographer and cameraman, Keith Driver. "To address this, our technicians built custom platforms and controls specifically for this shoot. Basically, the interocular distance required for a close-up shot is less than what can be obtained with two cameras configured side by side -- the actual camera bodies don't allow such a narrow separation between the optics. In order to achieve so small a distance, it's necessary to use mirrors, and align one of the cameras vertically and slightly offset from the other to bring the optics close enough together. I'm not going to give away any secrets, but let's just say that it worked very well."
The video for "Magnetic Baby," shot in both 3D and 2D format, is currently in post production. Bason sums up his experience on the project by echoing his and Tranter's previous observations, adding, "Greg and his people let the band have complete creative control and built the sets without questioning the vision. That is a rare quality that could only come from other artists, not just a production team."