With ‘9 Crimes’, Jamie Thraves has directed a promo as poignant as Damien Rice’s moving new single. The video takes inspiration from the 1950’s children’s film, ‘The Red Balloon’, but here the balloon is replaced with the head of Lisa Harrigan, Damien Rice’s co-musician and muse. Prime Focus was brought on board to make sure that Lisa’s head looked like an elegantly floating balloon, rather than a horror movie style severed head.
The clip opens on a desolate city backstreet where a head is found tucked behind some bins. Dark though this may seem, a languid close-up, shot in slow-mo, reveals it to be the peacefully singing head of Lisa Harrigan. Damien Rice, taking the guise of a homeless man, discovers the head and reaches for it, but it floats away like a balloon on a string. Failing to grab the string, he despondently walks away only to find that Lisa’s head is now trailing him. This time he successfully clasps the string, thus uniting the two singers. But their new found contentment is destroyed by a cruel kid’s catapult as it smashes the ‘head balloon’ into pieces.
Jamie Thraves and his producer, Laura Kanerick, approached Prime Focus at an early stage to discuss the concept and technical challenges. Using ‘The Red Balloon’ as reference, the brief was to make the head float in a poetic and mesmerising way. Various techniques were considered at this stage of pre production, such as 4D head scanning. However, the team decided against this approach as it couldn’t be accommodated within the tight eight-day schedule. Everyone eventually agreed that the way forward would be to shoot Lisa dressed in an easily painted-out green bodysuit, on location using mo-sys motion control. The idea being that the camera moves could then be replicated in order to shoot empty plates, allowing for clean composites in post production. Prime Focus VFX artist James Allen, supervised the shoot to make sure all clean plates and angles were covered.
Due to the motion control system’s complexity and the shortened winter days, hours of natural light were limited and the crew was forced to shoot some of the day scenes at night. Prime Focus colourist, Tom Russell, match-graded every shot in Spirit to make them look as though they were captured at the same time of day. He also imbued the Technicolor footage with an organic, earthy feel.
Back at Prime Focus, senior VFX artist, Matt Wilmshurst, managed the edit in Flame and created Lisa's floating head. In keeping with the poetic concept, it was crucial that the head did not come across as a severed bodypart. Matt used various techniques to ensure it floated gently like balloon. A cast model head provided a fixed point of reference for shadow passes, tracking and choreography so that Matt could enhance the head footage by softening, painting shadows, lighting and making a new underside. The string attached to the head balloon was created in 3D.
Prime Focus VFX artist, Matt Wilmhurst, said: “The key to this job within the tight time frame was to pull together work from Prime Focus Flame, Combustion and 3D Team. Artistically the head couldn’t look severed, so we worked hard early on to establish a finish that was both elegant and graceful.”
Prime Focus producer, Jordan Andreopoulos, co-ordinated the project and managed the VFX Team. He said: "It's always a pleasure working with Jamie [Thraves] and Laura [Kanerick]. The transition from the initial concept, to the storyboards, to the finished piece is always remarkable. It's wonderful to see the collaboration of creative minds maximising the post production process."
Factory Films Director Jamie Thraves said: “This clearly pays homage to ‘Red Balloon’. But Lisa [Harrigan] was also interested in incorporating some references from ‘Amelie’, so I accommodated both. The end result is an interesting marriage between innocence and darkness.”
Project: Damien Rice '9 Crimes'
Record Label: 14th Floor
Commissioner: Marisa Hine
Production Company: Factory Films
Director: Jamie Thraves
Producer: Laura Kanerick
Post production: Prime Focus
Lead Flame: Matt Wilmhurst
Flame: James Allen, Tim Davies, Derek Moore
Combustion: Safiya Ravat, Garth Reilly, Yolanda Rubio, Johan Gay
Telecine: Tom Russell
T/K assist: Beanie Knowlton-Parry
3D: Jon ‘JD’ Davies
VFX post producer: Jordan Andreopoulos