The unstoppable pop powerhouse that is Beyoncé had a great night this past Sunday at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards where she was honored with the Billboard Millennium Award, recognizing her career achievements and influence on the music industry. She also delivered a show-stopping performance of her new single, “Run the World (Girls),” backed by some impressive-looking projections that worked just as hard as the singer’s choreographed dance moves to transport her performance to another dimension. Watching Beyoncé’s perfectly executed performance alongside an army of virtual clones, all dancing in sync, was truly mesmerizing.
We were pleased to learn that our friend Kenzo Digital was behind the stunning visuals. As great admirers of Kenzo’s work (we even screened a short film of his at our Beijing event last year), we weren’t surprised to learn that he was the visual mastermind and co-creative director (along with Beyoncé) of the performance. We caught up with the artist via email to learn more about how the whole thing came together.
The Creators Project: How did this collaboration come about?
Kenzo Digital: Beyonce’s choreographer and part of her creative team, Frank Gatson, reached out to me. We rapped about how to make something awesome using video as an interactive medium for her live performance. Then it was a go from that point on.
What was your specific role in the project? Who were the other players?
Beyonce and I were the creative directors on the project, and we partnered with Breathe, the company responsible for the [visuals on] Roger Waters’ (from Pink Floyd) “The Wall” tour. We also had some support from Dirt Empire.
What was the original concept for the visuals?
Beyonce and I talked extensively about various styles and techniques. I was really into creating some kind of a 3D origami jungle world as a means to reveal and move her performance through various worlds. We wanted to combine that with a stark graphic world with accents of color that punctuated the interaction. We were inspired by this Italian pop star’s performance, and created some graphics that lived in between the worlds as a nod to her performance. I threw in some color bars as well as a little nod to Nam June Paik, my mentor.
Were you happy with the results?
Absolutely. It was a great experience, and Beyonce, her choreographer Frank Gatson, and I worked very hard to really marry these two elements and maximize the effect of the video and the choreography. After weeks of putting together pre-visual videos to plan and visualize the concept, it was incredible to see Beyonce bring the whole thing to life in her live performance, and the final live one for the event was fucking crazy, her energy was on another level.
What was the most challenging part of the project?
It was a real process getting the video and the choreography to really marry in a dynamic way. We went through various rounds of video leading the conversation, then choreography, then back again.
Mixing projection and performance, particularly music and dance, is a bit of a trend right now. What do you think is so attractive about the medium for artists?
I think for a long time live visuals and music performance had a very superficial relationship (there are exceptions, of course), but nowadays I think people are just beginning to scratch the surface with how visuals can be worked into musical performances in meaningful ways. People are so reliant on visuals nowadays, there almost is no music without a visual component in terms of marketing and the commerce of music. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, but it is what it is. The technique we used here has been around since the 80s and used by artists like Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik, it’s just now being introduced to the mass audience through these pop star vehicles.