Creativity is often driven by constraints. Often the constraints are time and budget. But a project can also be limited to the media itself – what are you able to visually achieve based on the idea? Animated music videos are a great example of constraints leading to captivating, creative results.
When you begin the process of making a music video, it might be a feeling, a narrative or a concept that drives the visuals, but at some point in the process, a choice has to be made about the medium.
Say you have a song about a breakup.
If your idea involves going down to the local park and gazing longingly at a stream, film might be the best option.
If your idea includes an astronaut hurtling through space past planets with alien life forms, then animation might be the most practical option. (Maybe the breakup song is about an alien breakup? Or a breakup with earth? Or that feeling after you break up with someone that you’re floating through the coldest outer limits of space…)
Neither choice (live action vs. animation) is right or wrong, but sometimes a certain style makes sense and is more easily achieved. Animation is a great tool for showing ideas that feel larger than life. Animation can be surprisingly somber, or silly. It’s flexibility makes it a powerful tool for expression.
The choice of animation for many artists has led to some beautiful, expressive, sometimes weird results. Here are some of our favorite examples of successful animation in music videos.
We’ll start with simplicity. The Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 hit “Do I Wanna Know” became identifiable from the simple single line animation that reverberates with the notes of the song. This is the musical equivalent of an explainer video where the visuals show exactly what the narration is describing. It’s a classic.
Into the 2020’s, pop music videos are bright, dancy and fun. In an era where the world is confusing and frustrating, animation offers an escape into dreamy, pop infused fantasies of characters dancing their butts off in platform heels. What more could you ask for?
The perfect example of this is Dua Lipa’s 2020 hit “Hallucinate.” It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is so fun to watch and dance to. She sells us on a more fun, colorful world and… we’re buying.
This isn’t a film analysis blog but I’m not sure what more there is to read into about the Weeknd creating a robot Ariana Grande in this 2021 music video. A wise man once said, “I don’t know what they are talking about but I love it!” Sometimes all you need to communicate is a vibe.
Childish Gambino created this summer-nostalgia hit “Feels Like Summer” in 2018. The warm colors reflecting blazing heat touch on the relaxing yet melancholic days of summer.
BRNS created this 2D music video with kaleidoscopes of color and animated zoetropes: the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of images showing progressive phases of that motion. The way the harmonies peak along with the animation in the end of the video demonstrates the powerful effects when what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing align perfectly.
As animators, we’re endlessly impressed by stop motion animation due to its painstaking creation and dedication of whoever creates it. If you’ve ever spent any time on the simplest of stop motion videos, you’ll know how hard it can be to create something longer than 1 second.
Because of the time and effort that goes into creating a stop motion, every frame is often meticulous and essential to the video.
First up is the White Stripes Lego masterpiece of “Fell in Love with a Girl.” Along with being a super fun, ingenuitive music video, it stays on brand to Jack and Meg White’s signature red, black and white.
Next up is this wild claymation piece for Grizzly Bear’s “Ready, Able” in 2009.
In 2021 Fleet Foxes released this beautiful stop motion made with paper cut outs and a multiplane, an old filmmaking tool invented by Walt Disney. A multiplane works by putting paper and backgrounds on different layers of plexiglass and using light sources from the back or sides, while the camera hovers above.
Fleet Foxes are well known for their stop motion hits, with this paper animation from 2009.
There is great range in the capabilities of animation. MGMT fulfills their vision of “pure chaos” in this very complex and off the wall music video. With mixes of animation, B roll footage and live action, the video morphs out of any sort of reality and embodies the neon shutter shades era of 2009.
Famous stop motion animator Patagraph has collaborated with band Breakbot on this recent stop motion/2D music video for a song called “Remedy.”
Many will recognize Breakbot from the 2010 hit “Baby I’m Yours” – which also has a stunning mixed media music video using a rotoscope technique – using actual footage and drawing or tracing over each frame – in this case painted over with beautiful watercolors.
One technique of mixed media is to draw frame by frame animation over footage – similar to rotoscope, but the animations aren’t tracing the footage itself but are more related to the footage. You can see an example of this in Go Team’s “Mayday” or Helado Negro’s “Lengua Larga.”
A great (kid friendly!) example is the Post Malone/Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse music video from 2018. The animation is complex, beautiful and fun!
We love staying on top of animation trends and being your trusted explainer video experts. We’d also love to get to know your music! Give us a call and we’ll see how we can make your vision possible.
Want some more inspiration? We’ve compiled a youtube playlist of all of these videos and more. Check it out here!