Director Christopher Arcella’s video for Cloud Seeding’s “Ink Jar” features Marissa Nadler and draws viewers in with strictly analog special effects. By using subwoofers and the power of sound waves, Arcella swallows flowers up in homemade variations of oobleck – a goo inspired by Dr. Seuss and most commonly comprised of corn starch and other materials. In the Q&A below, he describes the exploratory and scientific approach he took towards examining the most important aspects of the video’s creation.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the materials you used in achieving the video’s special effects, and did you try others before settling on the ones that were used?

During the development of the treatment, I knew that the basic elements I wanted to work with were flowers and goo.

I don’t know much about flowers, so I decided to browse around the flower district in Manhattan in hopes that something would catch my eye. I gave the area a look around but didn’t see anything particularly inspiring. While I was thinking of what to do next, an elderly woman approached and asked if I wanted to see the stars. I thought sure, why not, and followed her into the building. She boldly grabbed my hand and together we ascended a series of dark creaky steps. Just when I was getting freaked out enough to turn around and run back outside I was struck with a wave of irresistably sweet aroma. We turned the corner and entered a rooftop greenhouse filled with the most amazing flowers I’d ever seen. Strangely, however, after passing through the dozens of brightly colored plants I was most attracted to her snow white spider mums which you could probably pick up at your local florist.

The refinement of the goo, which would be more accurately described as oobleck, was a process of unscholarly trial and error. Kevin Serra (of Cloud Seeding) and I experimented with a number of ingredients as we searched for images that matched our interpretations of the music. This lead to a series of undocumented oobleck recipes that evolved as we shot footage. The ingredients revolved between combinations of motor oil, coconut milk, finely ground iron filings, dirt from Central Park, tar, whipped Arizona bat honey, Hudson River water, quail eggs, peanut butter, saw dust, diner coffee sludge, spoiled tofu, mattress stuffing, latex paint, tequila, corn starch and Brooklyn tap water.

How did you get the inspiration to affect the material using vibrations from subwoofers? Were you surprised by any of the results / movements?

To begin coming up with ideas for the video, I played “Ink Jar” in my headphones, closed my eyes, and freed my mind enough to visualize the music. Some of the images that reoccurred throughout this process were connected to an experience I had in my teens while trimming a lawn for my grass cutting business. It was the fifth lawn I had cut that day and I was feeling quite fatigued under the hot sun. My lawnmower was a push mower that previously belonged to my grandfather; it was a bit old-fashioned and had a hell of a hum that vibrated from my hands throughout my entire body. By the time I was cutting the last line in the lawn, my body and brain were numb. When I finally finished, I was too beat to turn off the lawnmower and fell onto the freshly cut grass for a rest. I was so out of my mind from exhaustion that I experienced a slight hallucination. Everything slowed down and I began to notice how the vibrations of the lawnmower disrupted the tiny Kentucky blue grass ecosystem. The plants and creatures were all moving in a chaotic motion, bouncing with the rytthm of the lawnmower engine. Ladybugs were flipped onto their backs as they attempted to get proper footing. Grasshoppers were catapulted backwards. Loose clippings of grass and dandelions were spewed into the air. And it all was the result of waves and vibrations.

This memory lead me to think of ways to use sound as a physical manipulator of objects. And further research lead me to a chain of experimental YouTube videos made by people fascinated with the effects of combining non-Newtonian fluid and sound by way of a subwoofer. So, other people have done this before; we just added our own approach with the selection of materials and the type of sounds used. Kevin and I were both pleasantly surprised at the results, the shots exceeded expectations.

Were you sure from the beginning that you wanted to achieve these effects through analog means rather than digital, and if so, why?

Even though I’m happy to make use of digital animation, I’d made a firm decision from the beginning to go analog. This was partly due to time and budget constraints, and mostly due to the anticipation that an analog approach would deliver pleasant visual surprises.

I had an idea of what I hoped to achieve, but I preferred to listen to what the materials naturally wanted to do. The process was more of an improvisation where I attempted to guide the materials rather than choreograph them. I’m confident that this approach yielded better results than trying to force them into a mold of the images I had imagined.

For more information on the making of this video, please visit: http://www.christopherarcella.com/watch/inkjar_making.html

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