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Frame Studio Explores the History of Music

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Montreal-based Frame Studio recently produced "RIFF"

Montreal-based motion design/VFX facility Frame Studio recently completed “RIFF” – a 30-second spot for a special music exhibit at the Musée de la civilisation de Québec. The piece, produced via ad agency Bleublancrouge, traces the history of musical forms from hip hop through disco, rock & roll, jazz, and blues back to traditional African rhythms. Called “RIFF,” the spot presented an interesting challenge for the boutique facility, which was founded in 2005 and specializes in motion graphics, visual effects, animation and stop-motion for creative multi-platform projects.

“We have worked with Frame Studio for some time now, so we knew we could rely on them to develop the vision for this project,” said Dominique Trudeau, creative director and VP at Montreal’s Bleublancrouge. “The challenge here was that we had an idea, but we really didn’t know what it would look like, so we needed a creative partner who could read our mind!”

“Within a span of 30 seconds, we had to capture centuries of musical tradition in an abstract way,” explained Frame Studio president and creative director Karl Rhainds. “Our starting point was the idea of a long shot of the universe where the viewer is zooming in, closer and closer to the core.”

“We had created ‘mood boards,’ for each of the musical styles,” said Trudeau. “Frame did a lot of research and developed the image ideas further. Then we brought in the music, which provided the inspiration for animating the images. The key for us was that the camera movement would communicate sense of being on a journey.”

“We had to find a way to illustrate each genre of music and represent them in an abstract way,” added Rhainds. “We played around with images as we developed style frames for each. For example, we imagined hip hop as a loudspeaker with a lot of bass, so we created a kind of bouncing speaker cabinet. For disco we designed a light effect that resembled a disco ball. For rock & roll, our motif was the strings of a guitar. We captured jazz with abstract representations of the pistons and valves of a saxophone. The blues are simply conveyed with smoky blue light that illustrates a blues night club, and African music is the heartbeat behind all of it.”

What made the project unique for Frame Studio was the idea of making the visuals respond to the rhythm of the accompanying music soundtrack. “All of the animation movement was generated by the velocity of the music,” Rhainds explained.

Rather than approaching the project with precise storyboards and a series of keyframes, visual effects artist Lucas Schumaker relied on the Espresso tools in Maxon’s Cinema 4D to link the properties of the CG animations directly to the frequencies of various instrument tracks in the audio. Using this suite of under-the-hood tools, Schumaker was able to let the music literally drive the animation.

“Espresso is a node-based system that lets you ‘plug and play’ any part of the software with any other part of the application so you can do things that aren’t programmed into the software itself,” explained Schumaker. “That meant I could take the frequency of the sound samples and plug them into any attribute of the animation I wanted, whether it be the intensity of the light, the color fluctuations or scale positions.”

For Rhainds, “The main challenge when you’re creating an abstract piece like this is making sure that everybody in the creative team is on the same page. This was the first CG project that we’ve done that had no keyframes, so that added a very interesting dimension for all of us. We’re excited about these techniques and we’d like to push this way of working further in future. We like to take on new challenges at Frame Studio and we’re always developing new ways to approach a project.”

“We worked together on each step, with the client, and with Frame,” explained Trudeau. “It’s not just about getting buy-in, it’s about sharing our passion and raising the bar with each step we take together. We’re trying to create great things and it takes great partners whom you can trust to achieve that.”

The RIFF spot is airing on Quebec television for “Riff – Quand l’Afrique fait vibrer les Amériques” at the Musée de la civilisation de Québec in Quebec City. The exhibit runs from June 2, 2010–March 13, 2011.

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