I met Radical Friend a few years ago in L.A., and of the directors I call friends, they definitely occupy the role of the mystics, the critics, and the honest. Film just happens to be the common medium for this visionary duo, though as we’ve seen, they’ve seamlessly materialized their vision in the form of a transcendental, transmedia installation, The Digital Flesh, that previously traveled the globe during The Creators Project’s 2010 event series.
They’re passionate observers of the deconstruction of society at the hands of digital culture, and how in turn, it is driving our intellectual and biological evolution. They have elevated the virtual world to a religious stature and consistently aim to create new worlds and mythologies that capture this relationship between man, land, and technology. They set trends rather than follow them and are completely uncompromising in their vision from conception to performance, art direction, styling, and post-production. There’s much mystery behind these two, but we’re lucky to get a small glimpse into their world and work in this exclusive documentation of their latest birth… the music video for Skrillex feat. The Doors “Breakn’ a Sweat.”
Go behind the scenes with Radical Friend in the video above, and check out the music video and our interview below.
The Creators Project: Can you tell me a bit about your background as filmmakers and artists? Where do you start? How did you link up to form Radical Friend?
Julia Grigorian: I grew up in Russia in the 90s—a decade of social/political reform that meant to be liberating but turned into chaos. I felt everything around me was absurd and I channeled that into writing. I filled sketchbooks with drawings, absurdist poetry, weird stories—like there was one about a secret Leo DiCaprio-worshiping cult that drank milk from radioactive cows while watching Titanic, stuff like that. The reality in my city was so bleak, I had to create my own. When I moved to the US I got a film camera and became obsessed with photography, which lead me to art school.
Kirby McClure: When I was very young I had a rap group, was obsessed with history, and wrote short dark stories that made my parents think I was very depressed, but I wasn’t. When my parents bought a computer I became very into creating geometric shapes and animating them in Flash. I dropped out of high school to just experiment and create things in Photoshop, which luckily turned into me getting a scholarship to art school in Atlanta. Here I started making very dry video art, but was secretly obsessed with films like Baron Von Munchausen, The Holy Mountain, and Total Recall.
We met at this school, and our mutual interest in nature documentaries, warfare, technology, and 70s cartoons lead us to creating interactive art and animated music videos. Together we formed a compound mind. There was no turning back.
Despite the continuing evolution of your films and the worlds they mainfest, you’re constantly exploring themes of the battle and the synergy and conflict between humanity and technology. How do you see your work having evolved in this space? What’s your vision of the future?
I think we are sensitive to the global obsession with technology. Observing technology to us is like looking into the eyes of a monkey or a child. There is this God-like intelligence, a potential beyond what we can imagine, some kind of secret we can’t decode, and so we stare into its eyes hypnotized by the mystery. We’ve put technology on a pedestal. It’s a new character in human history—a new hero, it’s a super intelligent child princess who can’t yet speak and we will nurture her until she says her first word. What will she say? We tap into this feeling of anticipation and can’t help but be influenced by it.
What’s your creative process like when working on a music video? What’s the relationship like with the artists you work with?
First we listen to the song a million times and let it stir up all the images and ideas we have in our minds. We kind of let the song build its own world out of the material we have in our heads. We get inspired by how the artist imagines their song as well, and always weave their ideas into our own. Sometimes artists have many ideas… like with Yeasayer, we exchanged hundreds of images and thoughts back and forth before coming up with the treatment. It was uncanny how similar we imagined the songs actually. In the case of the Skrillex video the only thing Sonny wanted was for it to “look like a movie.” The rest was up to us. Of course he had to approve it and so did the remaining members of The Doors.
Can you tell me specifically about the production and creative process? Where did these ideas start? How did the visual development and literal manifestation of the story take place?
The vision for the two mutant lovers on jet skis has been haunting our dreams for a long time. When Skrillex came to us and we listened to the song, we immediately saw a dark and firey ocean world where these mutants could live in. The Doors sound is on the dark side of psychedelic rock, and Skrillex is definitely on the dark side of EDM, although he is kind of post-music. Skrillex’s sound became the action, the rough sharks, the low rider, the fear, and The Doors lyrical organ and guitar became the vast landscape, the love story, and the general mood. The idea for the electronic baby she bears in her glass belly came from the Jim Morrison sample, where he predicts the future of electronic music. The child is that proverbial electronic artist that Jim Morrison was talking about, not anyone in specific but the spirit of the future musician. He is carried by her from this fantastical electronic world into our own.
The shoot itself was wild and intense out on the open seas. The adrenaline pumps as you start seeing your treatment come to life and the seasick nausea and chilling winds hardly register. We shot the entire ocean part using the HDR mode of the RED Epic, which allowed us many stops of exposure to use in crafting the synthetic and stylized look of the characters and environment. This was defintiely the most post-heavy video we’ve done, and when things click in VFX it feels like magic. We hand picked our own team of artists and worked with a really amazing character animator named Erik Lee. He helped us achieve the ferocity and personality of the CG sharks and baby. We’d like to explore more CG characters and worlds.
What’s your next plan?
We are trying to make our feature film happen.
If budget weren’t an an issue, what’s the film/art piece you’d love to make?
I’d give every person in the world some kind of device that would amplify the sound of their heartbeat and connect them all into a live sound piece that would for several minutes play through giant speakers in the middle of the desert or times square or in a bunch of different places at once.
Learn more about Radical Friend below.