No Special Effects—Just 12,000 Pieces of Laser-Cut Paper

The new music video for Josh Ritter's "Love Is Making Its Way Back Home" is a gorgeous, handmade collage painstakingly assembled from thousands of paper silhouettes and brought to life through stop-motion animation. A minimalist black and white universe blossoms into a psychedelic experience, saturated with the classic Crayola colors of kindergarten construction paper. With no special effects or digital enhancement, the video achieves an "oh wow!" effect with its amazing, labor-intensive intricacy.

The video was produced by Prominent Figures, a collaboration between Erez Horovitz, the director, and Sam Cohen, an animator. Horovitz describes the making of the video in an interview below, and some behind-the-scenes photos reveal the process of layering the silhouettes (as well as crew members taking naps on the floor during the grueling shoot). "Love Is Making Its Way Back Home" and Ritter's new album, Bringing in the Darlings, are available on iTunes

The Atlantic: What inspired the paper cutout idea for the video?

Erez Horovitz: Sam Cohen is an amazing collage animator who had produced several videos already. He had been approached by Josh Ritter to do an animated video. Sam showed me the work of Lotte Reiniger and I was really taken aback at how simple and beautiful it was. Initially he suggested we do something very similar, construct backgrounds in front of which paper puppets could move. Having worked with the laser cutting facility Danger Awesome in the past on a stop-motion video for OK Go (done on toast), I had been thinking about utilizing the laser cutter on a paper-based project so I was excited to have this opportunity.

How did you develop the technique of animating so many layers?

The animation was done in After Effects which works a lot like Photoshop or Final Cut in that there are layers or tracks which contain all your different elements, foreground trees on layer one, Josh in the car on layer two and background trees on layer three, for example. To create this effect with paper we had to deconstruct the after effects project and print each layer onto its own piece of paper then shoot them physically on top of each other. In the situation I just mentioned, each frame of animation was made of three pieces of paper to create the illusion of three independent elements.

Behind-the-scenes photographs, courtesy of Prominent Figures

Can you give us a sense of the production timeline?

The whole thing, from concept to completion took just over two months. Once Sam and I finished a rough storyboard, Sarah Lynn Graves began creating pictures of animals and cars while I started the animation process. The cutting was done at Danger Awesome and took two or three weeks. Marlie Pesek and Felipe Sanchez did the majority of this brain-numbing task. The shooting was done at a workspace called Industry Labs. Shooting took about eight days most of which was done with Eric Giordano and Marlie. I keep having to say “about” because at this point days started blending into each other. The hours put in during the last eight days were brutal. Sam came to help with the last push and I called in a few favors from reluctant friends. In the end we were working in shifts that lasted pretty much as long as you could stand.

In an age where effects can be created digitally with relative ease, why did you decide to avoid special effects altogether? What is it about physical, handmade animation that people find so compelling?

It would have been too perfect had it been just digital. There is a human element to it, imperfections that came about from making it physical. Technology is getting amazingly good at blurring that line, maybe if I were better with some of these programs I could have made this without the paper step ... and so much more sleep would have been had.

What's next for you?

Sam and I are excited to keep producing videos together and are hoping to keep making things that people enjoy.

For more videos by Prominent Figures, visit http://prominentfigures.tumblr.com/.

Via Neil Gaiman's Tumblr

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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