Plastic Soldiers

This is by far one of my most ambitious projects to date. After my band The Fever Dreams released our Tregan of Polycorns in 2007, I immediately teamed up with my good friend and fellow video enthusiast Ramsey Midani to take on what was supposed to be a realistically ambitious stop-motion music video. We clearly weren’t thinking all that realistically however, because between work, music, and school it took just over two years to complete.

The video was intended as a cool, “eye-candy” type of promotional video for the band and label. I specifically envisioned the action taking place in the kitchen of a vacant home in a veiled attempt to capture some of my twenty-something feelings toward love and the complicated nature of domestic mores, which aligns with the content of the song. I’m not naive enough to think anyone would ever pick up on any of that, but yes, I specifically chose the kitchen for this reason.

We story-boarded and had a vague plan, but, since this was our first music video, we pretty much just winged it. We had essentially no budget and very few resources, but I think overall we spent around $300 and a whole hell of a lot of time filming. We ordered 1,000 army men off Ebay and off we went to the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store to build a fake kitchen in Ramsey’s garage; a rental home in south Austin.

It took a lot of math, planning, and patience to capture each shot. We borrowed a consumer-grade digital camcorder and built custom camera mounts out of 2×4′s and plumbing supplies, which allowed us to physically animate the pan shots while capturing animation frames. We slowly got better and better at scooting the plastic figurines one-by-one, working in shifts while pounding whiskey and energy drinks. After about 18 months and some relatively dangerous fun with fireworks and propane, we had almost all the footage we needed. Unfortunately we were a little behind schedule and Ramsey’s lease was almost up, so we had to get creative.

We shot the band footage in my garage as filler for the scenes we ran out of time for. Ramsey performed the meticulous work of transferring the video to Final Cut Pro and editing together all the animation frames (our camera was so crummy that these were not still frames). He then stitched together the many composite shots which were created from two, three, and sometimes four separate sequences.

I took a nightwatchmen job which offered paid blocks of time to create all the After Effects post-production and splice the video together. I would haul a home-built PC and extension chords to each job site (in full uniform mind you) and sit out in the elements drawing vectors and plotting key frame animations between patrols. It was a very interesting time in my life to say the least! Shout out to Chris for being one of the most radical bosses in the history of radical bosses.

Eventually we released it at a big party, did a little online promotion, and here it sits on YouTube for the world to see. It’s not perfect. It’s very low budget, obviously. But overall I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’d love to have a real budget for another project like this in the future. We learned a lot and I know exactly what could be improved upon should I ever have the opportunity to create something of this scope again.

Checking in on this now, I’m realizing that I’ve probably been missing out on some serious ad revenue. Better look into that! And no, the goldfish was fine. In fact, (s)he enjoyed lengthy celebrity status in my aquarium until being brutally murdered by a jealous angel fish.