Parallel Teeth talks... music videos and becoming an animator
Parallel Teeth is the alias of New Zealand-born director, animator and graphic designer Robert Wallace. Currently based out of East London, Wallace is best known for his work as an animator, particularly when working with musical accompaniment. He has worked with the likes of Merk, Ladi6, David Dallas and Randa, and has had his work screened at international festivals including Pictoplasma, File Anima+ and CutOut Fest.
Wallace's colourful illustrations and style of animation have even earned him a Young Gun award, and a Motionographer Motion Award in the Music Video category. Though, he did not consider this line of work until much later on.
Robert: "Growing up I never really thought about the process of animation let alone choosing it as a career. I loved drawing though and was particularly interested in album design and skateboard artwork, which lead me to study graphic design at university. In my final year I took an animation paper and realised it was far more rewarding to give objects personality through their movement.
Designing record sleeves was the starting point, admits Wallace. Putting a lot of the focus on the visual narrative of the record helped him to imagine the music into something more than just an audial experience. This, he says, eventually fed into his work as an animator.
Robert: "Generally I’ll start by listening to the song on repeat, reading the lyrics and researching the musician. After I’ve got the start of an idea, I’ll break down the track, mapping out the song's structure... From there it really depends on the video. For story based videos I’ll make a storyboard and cut it to the music before beginning to animate. If the video is more abstract I’ll start making assets straight away and the video will develop more organically. This way they'll evolve through playing around with the content produced and new ideas will emerge over the course of making. It’s a more exciting way of working, though harder to schedule".
Robert: "The trickiest jobs are when the artist is based elsewhere in the world but we really want to included them in the video. The first time that came up was the occult-themed Equipped video for Nice Face. He was living in Washington D.C. and I was based in London. While the video didn’t rely on his inclusion it would help string all the dark imagery together and capture the brash attitude of the track. We ended up screen capturing a Skype conversation of him lip syncing the song in his wardrobe. After heavily manipulating the footage we played it back on an old television and filmed that. While this solution wouldn’t work for many situations, this one suited the lo-fi and abrasive sound."
The Alternative Outfit is all about exploring the relationship between music and art, and Wallace's work as an animator for music videos is testament to the marriage of the two mediums, and how well they compliment each other. A majority of the work that Parallel Teeth has produced is inspired by music, whether it's created specifically for a musician(s), or just simply being used as a catalyst to develop ideas.
Robert: "It’s nice to take inspiration from something that exists in such a different form, it means there’s so much more room for creativity, but you still have a starting point. I have musician friends that do something similar but in reverse. They’ll take animation and make music inspired by the visuals, trying to capture the tone or idea. It’s really nice that each medium can be used as a stimulus for each other... I guess because they are both creative outputs that are influenced by our experiences and observations. The process of creation, refining and outputting is similar in both of them. The main difference is that we just experience them though different senses."
MTV Artist Ident's, Festival Identities, and gig posters adorn Wallace's extensive portfolio, but his work with musicians is arguably a better representation of his craft. Despite taking up a sizeable chunk of his larger projects, his success is driven by his enthusiasm and commitment to his practice.
Robert: "They are a great way to experiment with new ideas and techniques. Plus it’s amazing to work with artists that make music I love. While they definitely hold a special part in my heart I’m hoping to have a little less focus on them in the future. The limitations of stretching a budget over three minutes and making the idea fit to the track are definite struggles. I’m aiming to work on more projects where the sound is created in tandem with the visuals. But I’ll never stop making music videos, they are just too much fun."
Parallel Teeth is also represented as a director by production company Strange Beast, directing the most recent string of music videos for ex Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman, aka, Mr. Jukes. Wallace took charge of directing Steadman's track "Leap of Faith ft. De La Soul, Horace Andy", and worked alongside Anna Ginsburg for the track "Grant Green ft. Charles Bradley", which features a "psychedelic barbershop that explodes with colour and music".
Robert: "Generally the musician will have a very loose idea to begin with. It might be something visual, or just a few abstract words that the song means to them. I prefer jobs like this, where there is a little bit of guidance from them, but ultimately they are interested in a new interpretation. It’s always great working with a musician that has come directly to me instead of a treatment bidding war with other directors. There’s more trust involved and it feels like a proper collaboration."
I suppose for Wallace it helps that he never grows tired of putting visuals to music. His creative genius is manifested in each and every piece he has produced, whether its for commercial purposes or helping bring to life the work of musicians. As Wallace admits, having little guidance from the commissioner allows his artistic dexterity to flow, and flow it does.