Talking ‘Gibberish’ – An Interview with Greg Jardin

“Gibberish” by MAX is anything but your standard dance-pop video.

Visual trickery abounds as MAX seemingly interacts with a group of dancers moving entirely in reverse – seamlessly combining two separate dance routines into a mind-bending forward-reverse mashup.

“Gibberish” is the latest visually-innovative concept from director Greg Jardin, whose previous work includes Kina Grannis’s epic stop-motion ode to Jelly Belly jelly beans, and this awesome streetside tour of New York City with Joey Ramone.

Luckily for us, Greg was willing to sit down and answer a few of our questions about the production of “Gibberish”, and share some insights into the inherent challenges of reverse choreography.

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Where and when was the video for “Gibberish” shot?

We shot it over the course of two days in March in a loft just outside of downtown Los Angeles.

“Gibberish” is a really unique take on the standard choreographed dance-pop video – what inspired the concept?

I used the reversed vocals in the song’s chorus as a jumping off point for the idea, and I liked the idea of using reverse motion in the video, but wanted to use it in a way that I hadn’t seen before, as there have already been dozens of all-in-reverse music videos.

I’ve done a handful of one-shot videos before, and the whole challenge of doing those has always appealed to me. Plus I had recently seen “Birdman” for a second time so I’m sure that had something to do with it.

How involved was Max in the development of the concept?

I got the job based on the fact that Max and his team liked my all-in-one forwards/reverse concept, but when I had pitched it I had only written up a handful of gags.

After I was awarded the job, I met with Max, Laura Edwards (the choreographer), and Laura Quinn (assistant choreographer) a number of times to really flesh out the concept. Everyone was super-involved, and everyone contributed immensely to the way that the concept came together.

The three of them were obviously much more well-versed in dance and choreography than I was, so developing it so closely with them was pretty crucial. It was the most collaborative experience I have had to date.

We believe it! How did you and Laura Edwards create dance sequences that worked so well both going forward and in reverse?

Laura Edwards is pretty much incredible on every imaginable level. The actual dance choreography was pretty much all her doing. I would suggest things like hair flipping, jumping, and stuff that looked interesting in reverse, but she just did her thing and came up with routines for the choruses and pre-choruses.

The interactive gags were really a product of the brainstorm sessions between myself, Max, and both Lauras. Once we had come up with the “script” for the video (meaning all the gags and so forth), we figured out exactly what beats in the song corresponded to the actions, and then figured out what beats in the forwards version of the song matched up with what beats in the backwards version of the song.

Laura would then take all of that information and teach the actions to everyone, so that everyone individually knew what action to hit on what actual beat. On-set, we had an actual voice recorded counting beats over both forwards and backwards versions of the song. It was all very confusing.

While we were filming I would keep track of how the actions were working in terms of the camera and geographic space, while Laura would make sure that everyone was hitting their designated actions on point with the appropriate beats.

That sounds a heck of a lot more complex than your average pop video! Were the dance sequences captured in one take?

No, pretty much every time someone would exit the frame, that would serve as a ‘cut’ point for them. Max did his portion in four chunks, and the dancers did theirs in a few more than that.

The actual shooting of the video took probably 10 hours or so, once all of the lighting and camera programming was already done.

Speaking of camera programming, we’re assuming you used a fairly high-end motion control rig (like a Milo) to capture the action. Could you tell us a bit about the production process?

Yes, we used a Milo!

A motion control rig is basically a large robotic contraption that holds a camera, which is completely controlled by a computer. You program whatever move you want the camera to do, and the computer tells the robotic arm to do the move exactly the same every take.

They’re used a lot for projects where you have clones of the same person on screen. That way, you do one take with the person doing one thing, then a second take with the same person in a different spot doing another thing, and when you glue them together in post, it looks like you have two copies of the same person in the shot. Because the camera is moving the exact same way each time, you can seamlessly combine them together without any jitters or anything like that.

As far as combining the shots goes: sometimes it was creating a feathered split-screen, but most of the time, it means cutting Max out of his shot, frame by frame. We would then stick that on top of the dancers’ shot, so that it appears as if they’re occupying the same space. It’s called rotoscoping, and anyone that has done it will tell you that it’s incredibly tedious.

Were there any sequences that were particularly difficult to coordinate/capture?

Haha, well, the whole thing was pretty difficult.

But in particular, any bit of interactive action like when Max tosses his sweater and it lands on someone else, or when he grabs a cup of water at a precise moment from someone who isn’t even standing there during his take (who then has to drop that glass out of frame at that corresponding moment) – all of that stuff was really difficult to properly execute since we would shoot each performer separately.

It gives us a headache just thinking about it, to be honest. Given the complexity of some of those interactions, what types of challenges did you encounter in post?

The post was pretty intense.

The video was pretty much start-to-finish VFX, and we only had a few weeks to turn it around. I worked with a company called Baked FX, and we divided the work up between us all.

Apart from the rotoscoping we needed to do in order to combine all of the forwards and backwards shots, the dolly track for the motion control rig was visible in about a third of the video, and that had to be removed, and we had a bunch of kinos on the ceiling that had to be painted out as well.

A huge thanks to Greg Jardin for taking the time to walk us through the video. Greg’s work continues to amaze us, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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