Filmmaker Benjamin Ahr Harrison and singer-songwriter Jascha Hoffman created this music video by animating still images from Winsor McCay's famous Little Nemo comic strip, which is now in the public domain. Below, they explain how they did it and share McCay's first animated short film, one of the earliest color animations.
The Atlantic: What was the inspiration for the video?
Jascha Hoffman: When I set out to make the video for my song “Some Hungry Guy,” the visual world of the pioneering comics artist Winsor McCay seemed a natural fit. I had already used it as inspiration for the album cover. The song is about how strange it can be to survive in a hostile world. The panels of Little Nemo depict a boy who falls asleep and then must navigate all sorts of wonders and catastrophes—in his dreams. It’s even more appropriate when you consider that McCay was one of the first to experiment with the nascent form of “animated drawing.”
This excerpt from a 1911 short film dramatizes Winsor McCay’s very first foray into animation. The cartoon itself begins at 4:40:
Benjamin Ahr Harrison: Jascha has based a lot of his aesthetics on dreams generally and Winsor McCay in particular. We knew we wanted to use Winsor McCay in the video, so the question was how best to do it.
How did you go about bringing these still comics to life?
Harrison: Basically we started with the song and a big library of the images. We collaborated on a 'storyline' that we could follow, with Little Nemo finding himself in increasingly dangerous circumstances. I made an early animatic that put the images more or less into the time with the song. Then once we had that worked out I had to cut all the different parts of the images apart so that I could use them three-dimensionally. The movement in the frame comes from Jascha's face, which is composited in to replace Nemo's, and a virtual camera that gives a sense of depth to the environment.
What are you working on next?
Hoffman: My next album, The Future Limited, ventures into the territory of science fiction and synth pop. It's a collaboration with the brilliant Brooklyn producer Leo Sidran, and will be released in mid-November. We have a number of videos in the works. “Limited” will be about a case of artificial intelligence gone awry, and “The Future” will be a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a sort of time travel romance. Meanwhile, I’m taking frequent wilderness retreats this fall to continue writing songs based on, among other things, recent obituaries.
For more videos by Benjamin Ahr Harrison, see http://double7images.com/. For more music by Jascha Hoffman, go to http://www.jaschavsjascha.com/. For more public domain comics, visit the Comic Strip Library.