Making the Back to You Lyric Video

I’ve made a few dozen lyric videos over the years. Some for No More Kings, some for Neil's other project Dirt Poor Robins. Some were freelance projects for other bands. But this is my first one for my solo project. This was the first one that no one would have to sign off on. This was just for me.

I usually approach lyric videos thinking of the overall mood. And even further I try to decide on a color scheme early on. Then I consider the energy. Is the piece moody and cinematic? Is it fast and kinetic?

For Back to You, I wanted to reference the night skyline of Honolulu. Each night I would sit on the balcony and stare out over the ocean. The other hotels along the beach created an interesting pattern of lit windows. Through my camera they made a beautiful de-focused bokeh effect. I’ve always been a sucker for that look. There were interesting color variations in the lights. Ambers and greens. Pale yellows. Distant reds of brake lights.

So the main look of the video was based on some night footage I took. I spent a lot of time recreating that look in After Effects. I wanted to be able to move around through that world in ways that I couldn't from my balcony.

I tried a few things that didn't quite work out how I intended. I printed out some frames of a night timelapse I filmed. Then I wet the paper and scanned them back in. It created an interesting jitter, but it wasn't quite what I was going for.

City timelapse printed, wet and re-scanned.

City timelapse printed, wet and re-scanned.

Then I tried stacking repeated layers of the footage and offsetting their position in z-space, to give a sense of depth and parallax motion. That worked pretty well. But still not exactly what I had envisioned.

That's half the battle for me when I work on creative things. There's always a balance between being an architect and a gardener. The architect sees the project in his head, and spends his time arranging the pieces to match that image. The gardener plants seeds of ideas all over and then tends them, pruning the bad ones and cultivating the good ones. I’ve always been more of a gardener with art and music. And sometimes that's at odds when I have a specific image or idea I’m trying to capture.

So this project, like so many projects, was a back and forth between having an idea that I wanted to realize, and giving myself time and permission to play and experiment. And I think I’m getting better at balancing that stuff.

Once I had a couple different shots to choose from, I started creating new shots faking motion from still images. For these I took images I had shot on my Canon Rebel t3i and applied some turbulence in After Effects. Then I added a camera lens blur on top. An interesting thing happened with the combination of those effects. The camera lens blur created bokeh based on the light spots in the still, but when the image warped and moved, so did the appearance and placement of the bokeh. This was exactly what I was hoping for.

Next time I’ll talk a little bit about my favorite shots from the video and how I made them.