My recollection of music videos from the 1990s to early 2000s is that they were almost like the ultimate VFX showreel. Of course, this was at the same time that CGI was making headways in feature filmmaking, with music videos taking advantage, too, of advancements in digital effects, particularly compositing, to help tell their stories, often in quirky and unique ways. What better way to stand out amongst the crowd in music video promos.
One promo directed by Michel Gondry that has always stayed in my mind is Come Into My World by Kylie Minogue, released in 2002 and now celebrating its 15th anniversary. In it, Minogue strolls around the same Parisian intersection four times, each loop bringing a further duplication of the singer and the people around her.
To make that possible, the clip was filmed with a motion control camera on the street, with the meticulous rotoscoping and compositing led by Michel’s brother, Olivier Gondry. The two had been regular collaborators on some of the most memorable music videos from that time, including The Chemical Brothers’ Star Guitar; at that time their post production company was called Twisted Laboratories. I recently got a chance to chat to Olivier, now an accomplished commercials director himself, to revisit how Come Into My World was made.
Michel Gondry was a go-to music video director around that era, and often employed subtle visual effects methods in his eye-catching clips. Sometimes, of course, his pieces eschewed any kind of enhancement and remained completely and cleverly analogue and relied heavily on ‘simple’ in-camera effects.
His clip for Come Into My World was, on the face of it, also incredibly simple – Minogue would walk around the intersection of Rue du Point du Jour and Rue de Solférino, in Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris, singing the song, but each loop found her, and the others in the street, multiplied.
The director had done something slightly similar in a promo for Neneh Cherry’s Feel It (1997). For Minogue’s clip, the effect would be much more front and centre.
So, how was it done?
To film the clip, a Milo motion control rig situated on a track in the middle of that intersection was used to film exactly the same move over and over, while Minogue and the extras performed their actions. (jump to the bottom for some extra info about the mo-co shoot).
These actions were tightly choreographed, in particular for Minogue so that she would actually do things like walk under her own arm. Background action was also co-ordinated to ensure some fun moments such as the same character climbing four separate ladders.
Before anything could be filmed, however, Michel Gondry had to make one special request of Minogue – change the song.
Olivier Gondry explains why:
“The trick that Michel came up with really required that loop, and so he asked Kylie to change the song a bit, and she said yes. The song was was 4 min and 16 seconds in the end, and Michael made it four loops of approximately one minute long. Originally it was a bit longer here and there. So, Michel had each walk cycle as a one minute loop, then Kylie would come back to the same position, and the motion control rig would go around again.”
That wasn’t the only change Michel Gondry initiated. Just three days before the shoot, the director altered another significant detail. According to his brother, Michel told him, ‘I have 15 extras, but it’s not enough, we need to double it. I need 30 extras!’
The change immediately initiated a response from Olivier, realising he would need to find a faster way to rotoscope more background actors. “I went straight to my computer and programmed a way to rotoscope faster. To this day, I can rotoscope ten times faster than any other rotoscoping programme. I have some little tricks that make it fast and smart. I still use these things today.”
Taking the eventual motion control footage from the shoot, Olivier began post production at his office in Paris, launching straight into the rotoscoping. “I hired seven people, five people who had never done special effects, and they were just using my programme to rotoscope, and they were doing a good job. Rotoscoping is very, very time consuming, you just need patience. One of the trickiest parts was the hair, and for that we used Combustion a lot.”
The first efforts looked ‘good’, says Olivier, but it was almost too perfect. What made multiple Minogues much more convincing was dealing with the hair and ensuring each separate Kylie looked like she was on a separate layer. He notes that it was just grunt work – carried out over about two weeks – to get it done.
“I remember struggling a lot, and we were late because of the hair, and I said to someone, ‘If anybody tells me it’s good, I’ll light a candle in the church,’” Olivier recalls. “And in this church nearby there was Santa Rita of Cascia, she’s the saint of impossible causes, and as soon as I delivered the job, people said. ‘Oh, its good.’ So, since then, in my wallet I have a picture of Santa Rita somewhere. I’m not religious at all, it’s just a fun little wink. To me, Santa Rita is attached to this job.”
Footnote: After I published this story, I found out that then Double Negative VFX artist and now Weta Digital visual effects supervisor, Martin Hill, helped out on the motion control shoot for Come Into My World. I asked him what that experience was like:
That was a great weekend shooting in Paris. I’d been working with Ian Menzies from Motion Control Cameras on a number of projects for Double Negative, such as Below, and Finding Neverland. I’d written DNeg’s motion control software, which optimised camera moves for the Milo rig, minimizing the accelerations on each on the axis’s motors, to be able to push the rig further. So Ian asked if I could go to Paris for the shoot and help out.
Ian was using the Flair software to record the first camera orbit on the giant track that Michel wanted, but he had no way of hooking the first rotation to the second and smoothing it out. So he’d save the original move to a floppy disk, and I’d open it up on an SGI Octane I’d carried out along with a very heavy monitor, load the move in motion control software, loop the move 4 times and run the smooth over the join, then hand it back to Ian to re-run the rig.