How Director/Producer Nick DenBoer’s Collab with deadmau5 for “Pomegranate” Music Video is Disrupting the 3D Motion Graphics World
In this Q&A, Nick DenBoer reveals his behind-the-scenes motion graphics workflow on his latest music video, Pomegranate, for Deadmau5, and industry trends.
Q You’ve collaborated with Joel before. How did you come up with the animation concept for Pomegranate? Did Joel or The Neptunes give you any artistic direction?
NB: I have a pretty amazing working relationship with Joel and his label / management team. They really just let me do my thing. I got no revision notes from the artists on this project which is super rare and amazing.
Originally, I pitched a video that all took place on a tropical island but it seemed too limiting. I didn’t want to make another video exhausting mocap dancing and wanted to go another direction. So, I switched it up to base it around these vehicles in a race. But this song isn’t really a fast-paced high-tempo track where a high-speed race would be appropriate so it kind of naturally morphed into this chill walking-paced adventure where deadmau5 just does his own thing.
Q: Briefly describe the Pomegranate story or creative brief.
NB: The original idea was to just have deadmau5 and The Neptunes cruise through a colorful world in a surreal transforming car. I originally wanted to have avatars of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo from The Neptunes in the car by getting the duo 3D scanned. That never panned out when Covid-19 hit and they preferred to have a more subtle depiction as the planet Neptune. This worked out well and I made the shift to creating all of these extra characters instead and made it into a surreal race through the galaxy where deadmau5 goes down the rabbit hole to an alternate pomegranate dimension and back.
Q: Did you know from the start the “Pomegranate” treatment would be done as an animation?
NB: Yeah, we were already knee-deep in Covid19 and shooting was not really an option. It was definitely more work this time around compared to the last two videos we did together where I used video backplates but animation still made for a great video.
Q: Tell us about the motion graphics workflow. Did you story board any ideas?
NB: Not really. I made a video edit with just text outlining all of the plot points I wanted to hit. That was a skeleton for basic timing and it was about 45 shots. The final video is approximately 100 or more. I like to leave the creativity on the timeline and build the video right until the end with the freedom to change and add new ideas. It’s what makes the process fun.
If it’s all storyboarded out and every detail is planned, I feel like a button pushing robot for 80% of the production. That level of planning is best suited for big teams or a production pipeline of specialists who are cogs in a bigger machine. I like to have fun and happy accidents are the best. New ideas pop up all the time while you are experimenting and the best parts of this video were an afterthought, not on that text edit.
Q: Tell us about the benefit of using Cinema 4D in production.
NB: I started using Cinema 4D ten years ago to enhance my video work, adding 3D animated elements to video layers in composited scenes, but slowly Cinema 4D eclipsed my use of After Effects. Now the situation is reversed where I use After Effects to enhance my Cinema 4D renders. Cinema 4D is so easy and intuitive to learn and it can do just about everything I need it to do. I’d definitely say the strongest reason I use it is because it’s fun and easy.
Q: What main toolsets in Cinema 4D did you rely on?
NB: For this video, the Mixamo character rigging system in Cinema 4D was a huge help. We were able to use it to clean up the weighting a bit and use the character rig IK setups to do steering wheel animation and all of the hand and arm motions. I used a lot of the sculpting tools to create the characters and cars too. The content browser is my biggest tool. I have a huge indexed collection of assets: textures, 3D models, kits, lighting setups, etc. One click and it’s in my scene! It allows me to create extremely fast and I’m always building my library.
Myself and the other two other artists I collaborated with on the video -- David Ariew and Davy Force -- are all OTOY OctaneRender and Cinema 4D artists. The Octane render was also crucial in the making of this video. I heavily rely on network rendering because I have four render machines at my studio and the Octane plugin is really well integrated with Cinema 4D.
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for the whimsical characters, landscapes and bright colors in the video? Do you have a favorite scene or character?
NB: I just thought it would be cool to expand the deadmau5 universe and base all the other characters on his famous helmet as if there was a whole world of these creatures. I made some live tour visuals for him of animals dancing and I guess this was the next evolution of that playful vibe.
Q: What would surprise people most about the character animation workflow on this piece? Did you use any stock images or character animations?
NB: I actually used Signal - a plugin from Greyscalegorilla for a lot of the character animation.
Signal is like an oscillator for data in Cinema 4D. I put signal tags on all the joints of a character to get them to bop to the music. I
love Signal because you can work with BPMs rather than frames and automate motion rather than doing tedious keyframing. A few of the dances and motions used Mixamo animation. Just having the controls in the hands and IK setups in the arms and legs made animating characters in the cars super easy.
Q: Tell us about the content creation timeframe and collaboration process. Were you working on the video during Covid?
NB: The entire video was completed in 54 days start-to-finish. We started work on the video May 1st and finished the last week of July -- all during Covid lockdown time. (The song was released a few weeks before the video.)
The way the collab process worked is that I’d just share bits of the video as I finished each section with Joel. Midway through the project Joel invited me over for a BBQ and lent me his crazy GPU server / super computer, so I went and picked that up one weekend but other than that no one saw each other in person. Force and I worked pretty closely for the first month and had video calls every day for a couple weeks cooking up ideas on building the assets and the interior car animation. Ariew helped on the weekends for a total of 10 days building the initial environments. I worked entire time doing everything else -- character creation and animation, some additional environment building, cars, rendering, etc. It was pretty chill all around with such a small team.
Q: What is it about the animation/motion graphics workflow in Cinema 4D that is suitable for collaboration?
NB: I find it pretty easy to see what’s going on in a project in Cinema 4D so it doesn’t take a lot of detective work to see what’s driving a scene. The user interface in Cinema 4D is really the crown jewel of the software and what makes it so great. Everything is super intuitive, straightforward and logical in a visual way so it makes it easy to pass files around and build on what others have done.
Q: In general, what trends are you seeing in animation content creation collaboration?
NB: Most of the time I’m working alone so I don’t really have my ear to the ground on production pipeline trends so much. But a huge thing we took advantage of in this project was the RNDR network OTOY created in Octane. We were able to do a big chunk of the rendering remotely on their render network and passed finished frames without having to render projects locally. It worked really well and I can see this blockchain based render farm scaling up big time in the future. The OTOY team was a also a huge help on this project.
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Pomegranate music video credit list:
Director / Producer / Editor : Nick DenBoer
3D animation and Design: Nick DenBoer and Davy Force
Environment Design: David Ariew
Production Company: Generic Versatility
Interview source: Vicky Gray-Clark, Ambient PR