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Interview: Alden Volney

English Version

Q&A with Alden Volney, videomaker (the last three Villagers' videos) and musician.

In The Waves the mixture of real action and animation is really impressive: it's rare to find a video that succeeds in visually interpreting a song in such a powerful way. What was your inspiration and how did you work with images?

To be honest, i don't quite remember being "inspired" by anything in particular other than the song itself, i just tried to translate the images that popped up in my brain as i listened to the song for the first couple of times ; this song, particularly, is fantastic this way, it triggers all these weird images in your mind. The first thing i promised myself not to do for this piece was to represent actual "sea waves" in the video, as it would have been too obvious, in my opinion.
So i started to fiddle with the concept of 'Oscillator Waveforms', I channeled the footage of Conor (O' Brien, Villagers' Frontman) lip-syncing the song through a video software that simulates waveforms (sin, square, triangle etc...) and programmed it so reacts to the beat of the song. I thought it was relevant as it was the band's first song with prominent electronic elements and as the first single of {Awayland}, it was really bound to surprise the fans musically, it had to surprise the fans visually, too, it had to underline the fact that they were creating something really new...And surprise the fans, it did !

The reception was very weird on the day of the release on youtube, there was this one comment that i'll never forget, on day one, someone said "guys, if you can get past the video, the music is actually somewhat decent" i thought "oh my god, they just hate it !", it was my first video for a 'major' band, Villagers has a great following online, so you can imagine i was quite sensitive about the whole thing ! Then they got used to it, and some even said that it was one of the best videos they'd ever seen ! Which is of course a demonstration, as if we needed one, that hyperbole is the internet commenter's favorite figure of speech...but still it's a nice thing to read, as a director !

Also the last video, The Bell, introduces the same mixture, but while in The waves the animation prevails on the real action, here it’s the contrary. Yet, once more, you succeed in translating in images the sounds and the words of the song and you managed to leave a very recognizable artistic mark. How did you proceed this time?

For The Bell, i was less 'in control', artistically. Conor already had this video of them playing 'The Bell' in a studio in Ireland, pre directed and pre edited by Sebastien Escalante. It was really nicely shot and looked fantastic, but obviouly, in this day and time, you need to take things to another level when you put a video out for your next single.So Conor emailed me and basically told me :"Hey Alden, Would you like to Roger Rabbit this ?" i took the job as i thought that it would be interesting to do something i haven't already done before (ie: integrating animated visuals in live footage i had no control over) and i have to say it's been a dream of mine to do so ever since i was a kid, i grew up on stuff like Roger Rabbit and Pete's Dragon and the idea that i'd be the one to make this kind of "magic" happen on screen was attractive.

It turned out to be a very painful and difficult video to make, a lot of trials and error, it was the first time i was using a pen and graphic tablet so i had to learn to tame that.For most of my animated videos there are very few 'leftover animations' pretty much everything i draw ends up in the final edit; for this one there is a dozen of animated elements that turned out to look bad when integrated in the live action, hours of work down the drain. It gave me nightmares ! Also, the ulcer-inducing deadlines of this business required that it had to be finished in about 4/5 weeks ! The difficult part was to track the motion of the original footage, the camera work is very shaky so there was a lot of adjusting visuals frame by frame, so they follow the shakiness of the footage and look really integrated.
I still unsure what to think of this video as it is still so fresh, i typically need a 5 or 6 month period without watching it at all, before i can look back on a video and determine if i'm proud of it or not...But i reckon the reception was positive. The "artistic mark" you're talking about is not something that i control, i suppose that i have a style and that i couldn't get away from it, even if i wanted to.

Nothing Arrived' {a day in the life of Terrence Bliss} has a cinematic slunt and it’s a creative combination of a performance and a narration video. Also in this case the image and the color are very rich and treated.  How did you conceive this video?

I basically conceived this as a silent movie, a short story that you could watch even without listening to the song. My main inspiration for this was a short movie by Swedish Filmmaker, Roy Andersson, called Härlig är Jorden --look it up, it's fantastic-- i loved the idea of telling a story using only elaborate, painting-like fixed shots, with barely no camera movements, it was also a way to play it kinda safe for my first live action effort, i didn't want, like a lot of first time directors, come back home with the footage and realize during editing that i should have shot more material...Originally, it was a video about various people encountering life-changing events, it was really dark and depressing,-- there even was a suicide scene, looking back on this concept, it was not very subtle-- among these people was a guy who's life-changing event was winning the lottery, Conor said to me that this particular idea struck a chord, so i rewrote the whole video, focusing on this man and his sad life.

I have to add, I was blessed to have Adam Cole on board, for this project, as the man who plays Terrence Bliss, he's  a wonderful actor and one of the main reasons why this video works so well...I remember watching the casting tapes and being quite worried about finding the right guy as i felt empathy for none of the first guys, and empathy was a key element; then this guy came on screen and just instantly blew me away as soon as he put on his Buster Keaton puppy eyes. I knew that my lottery winner was him right away. The grading and color treatment, i did myself, too, i took advantage of the fact that all the frames were fixed shots, it allowed me to "paint" some specific areas, in order to create a special 'hidden', overlaid color dynamic within each of the frames.

What's budget for you? Constraint? Challenge?

Well, it depends, for videos like The Bell or The Waves that rely heavily on animation work (which is just me sitting at my computer, in my living room for hundreds of hours) the budget is basically the paycheck that i get at the end of the job, so since i care more about being interested in the song i'm working on, and producing a good video for it, than i care about money, the question of money never interacts with the artistic process, as it can't "buy" me new animation skills, if you see what i mean.
For Nothing Arrived, i was lucky enough to have a very comfortable budget, basically, everything i asked for, i got.
So, no i never experienced budget problems for now, i'll get back to you about this when i have done a few more live action videos !

You are a musician too and you have a new record. Will you make some videos from your songs?

You can count on it ! The fact is, i was almost about to give up music, as the years went by, i just had the growing feeling that nobody cared about the music i was making, and in the meantime, my work as a videomaker was gaining a lot of recognition, so at some point i told myself "well, it looks like this universe wants me to be a video maker", you just can't eternally make music if there's no one for listening to it. So, for a bit, i lost most of my interest in making music or making videos for my existing songs.Then, my album finally came out and a lot of people seemed to dig it, it's been getting really good press, too. The need to promote it was reignited and that includes making videos for it. I'll be putting out a video for my song Agence France Presse.

Luca   Pacilio