Isaac Ravishankara's video for Aesop Rock's "Zero Dark Thirty" compresses 10 hours of painting by the artist Coro into under four minutes. The feverish pace of the San Francisco-based hip hop artist's lyrics finds an appropriate mirror in the rapidly evolving imagery that takes over the blank walls behind him. The track, from his forthcoming album, Skelethon, is available here. Ravishankara describes the making of the highly labor-intensive video in an interview below.
The Atlantic: How did the concept for this video come together?
Isaac Ravishankara: The concept from the video came from a conversation Aesop and I had, while brainstorming, about what he was looking for in the video. He already was really good friends with Coro, the painter, and so we discussed ways to incorporate time-lapse of painting, and various videos we had seen, and different techniques. I've always wanted to work with Aesop, and one thing that I think sets him apart from every other rapper ever is just the crazy cadence and intricacy of his lyrics. Nobody else is even close. So it was really important to me to create an environment that would showcase that as the subject, but something as cryptic, paranoid, and surreal as the subject matter of his songs.
Can you describe the production process?
The technique we developed was actually pretty straight forward, and though elegant, largely brute-force. We shot with six Canon DSLR cameras (5Ds and 7Ds). Once we were on location, we blocked the whole thing out and then figured out the placement of each camera. Each "rig" was a camera, locked off on a tripod, with a fixed lens, a lot of memory, and an intervalometer attached for the time-lapse, all wrapped in protective bags for the paint that would eventually be all over.
The first night was spent rehearsing the performance. We knew we wanted to do full performance takes throughout the track, and all of the lighting was being cued on dimmers via an iPad in time with the various sections of the song. The night ended up with some great takes, full-lighting and extras, against blank walls. Then, we spent the second day recording the time-lapse. Without moving any of the cameras, we shot Coro creating the various layers of the mural over the course of 10 hours of spray-painting in a closed room. We were all in gas-masks all day. It was amazing and toxic. But he did the whole thing on his own. It was wonderful to watch. I believe we were shooting three-second exposures with a one-second delay between. So every four seconds, we had six cameras clicking. Crazy.
In post-production then, for each camera angle, I ended up with a variety of performance takes, and a 10-hour time-lapse take from the matching angle, which I could composite. All of the camera movement was added later, from the overall handheld feel, to the more dynamic zooms, pans, rotations, etc. The compositing was basically overlaying the mural take onto the performance take and then cutting out Aesop. I think it ended up working wonderfully (though it was really time-intensive).
What's next for you?
Coming up, I have a few music videos that I'm really excited about -- a smaller aesthetics-based project and a bigger pop project -- as well as a full spring semester of the collaboration between our non-profit, OMG Everywhere, with an after-school program for at-risk youth called Hearts of Los Angeles (HOLA). We will be working with the kids every week after school to create music videos and other shorts by having the kids collaborate with a ton of amazing video directors. Pretty wonderful, I couldn't be more excited