I was commissioned by Adam Ostrar and Super Secret Records to create a hand-drawn animated short to accompany “Warlock”, a single from Ostrar’s most recent record, Brawls In The Briar. All of the artwork was drawn inverted, in ink on vellum, then scanned or photographed backlit on a down shooter, and assembled digitally in PS, Premiere and After Effects.
Director/Animator: Dave Merson Hess
Animation Producer: Janine Waranowicz
Story: Janine Waranowicz & Dave Merson Hess
With the video for “Warlock” I set out to make a metaphysical ghost story, set at night. Visually, it was going to be inspired by David Campany’s The Open Road anthology, Moebius & Jodo’s The Incal, and film noir. In the storyboard for the initial concept, what became the main character of the final piece was actually a supporting character; the protagonist of was the narrator of the song.
Then Hurricane Harvey hit Houston hard during preproduction. We were flooded into our neighborhood, watching the bayou rise, holding our breaths, hoping it wouldn’t reach our place. We binged on post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies and shelf-stable Indian food, and helped out with boat dispatch since we were lucky enough to have functioning internet. When the sun finally came out, all I wanted to draw was rain and flooding. Janine Waranowicz (my producing partner) and I sat down and worked out a new idea for a murky journey following the woman named Rosemary, mentioned in “Warlock”’s first verse. I wanted it to meditative rather than horrific — in retrospect, maybe as a way to process the trauma of what had happened.
All of the artwork was drawn in negative, then channels were inverted digitally (revisiting and expanding on a technique I developed for the last music video I directed). In the past I’ve drawn mostly on watercolor paper. But to achieve the underlit Oxberry-inspired look look I wanted for “Warlock”, I drew in pigment ink on multiple layers of translucent vellum, with different visual elements on different layers. Then, artwork was scanned or photographed backlit on a lightbox, with multiple drawings sandwiched together to achieve a very narrow depth of field, and to keep certain details in softer focus (like Rosemary’s face in the floating sequences, or the light emitting from the front door of her house).
As with many music videos, song structure suggested narrative structure (in the treatment phase), and musical rhythm suggested visual rhythm (in the editing room). Since the song has no drums, cuts were motivated by prominent bass notes, and Adam’s lyrics and vocal phrasing.
A lot of the animation is pretty minimal, and meant to highlight illustrative moments — a background here, a detailed, closeup portrait of Rosemary there. Mid-way through production, I switched from super fine point pigment pens (which are really more suited to technical drawings than broad beams of light, or waves and hair) and brush pens to a real brush. This was my first experience with brush inking after being introduced to it in a workshop with my uncle, Kaz Tanahashi, earlier in the year. It freed me to draw more intuitively. With a brush, varying pressure can change line width very dramatically, from broad strokes to trickles of ink as thin as a single hair. No more constantly interrupting my flow to switch back and forth between brush pens and microns. Brushes also immediately expanded my potential level of subtlety and the types of textures I could render. I’m hooked, and as much as I love markers, I may not go back to them for a while.
Adam’s former band, Manishevitz, was constantly in my headphones during film school, so getting to direct an animated music video for one of his solo songs, years on, feels like a milestone. I’ve listened to “Warlock” hundreds of times during editing and I still love it. I hope you will too.