Last night on MTV, in the plum time slot right after Jersey Shore, Kanye West debuted his newest music video, “Power,” which might be one of the most ambitious shorts of the year. Co.Design spoke with the man who created the video, Marco Brambilla, a veteran video artist who lately has been creating stunning “video collages” that combine ancient reference points and cutting-edge technology.
Kanye being Kanye, he stumbled across Brambilla’s work at the bling-y Standard Hotel in New York, in the elevator, which features a video screen playing Brambilla’s mind-boggling Civilization, which stitched together hundreds of found video clips to create a single video collage of heaven and hell.
Kanye eventually got in touch with Brambilla, and they both agreed that one track in particular off of Kanye’s album, “Power,” fit Brambilla’s own aesthetic best, with its intimations of overweening pride and a potential fall. “There’s one line in the song that says, ‘No one man should have that much power,” Brambilla explains. “That apocalyptic video fits my work.” Brambilla, though, insisted on a few criteria: “We agreed that it wouldn’t really be a music video,” he says. “There would be no cuts. And it wouldn’t even be the same duration as the track. Just 1:30.” (Partly owing to how long it would take to make anything longer.) As a result, the work isn’t a music video as much as it is a moving painting–in more ways that one.
Visually, the entire video is a homage to Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco for the Sistine Chapel; the composition was created by layering new images over a photograph of the ceiling. Brambilla usually works with found videos, gleaned from TV, movies, and the Internet, but in this case, he shot each and every one of 40-odd portrait vignettes.
Each character was layered in digitally, replacing the cherubs and angels of the original. The piece begins in the center of the composition, with a tight close-up of Kanye, wearing the comically grandiose chain he wore at the 2010 BET awards.
Then came the technically complex part–Brambilla often has to wait for technology to catch up to his visions, and he’s always just about six months ahead of what’s possible. In 1999, even before the Matrix came out, he shot one of the first 360-degree images, of a falling man that appears about to hit the ground (a visual reference to Harry Shunk’s famous portrait of painter Yves Klein). For Civilization, he actually had to wait for new version of FLAME, the video editing software, to come out, since predecessors couldn’t handle the whopping 350 separate layers of video Brambilla was working with; he was also pushing the capabilities of the newest version of Maya, which was then brand-new. Brambilla used both those tools for “Power” (which has just 22 layers). Additionally, he shot the portraits with one of the newest Phantom cameras, which are capable of super slow-motion.
As to working with Kanye, Brambilla says it was a pleasure. “The first set of photographic references he sent for the video were these really graphic, sexual images,” he says. “These were the types of women he wanted in the video. But because he’s always wanting to push the envelope, there were basically no constraints on the video.” Except one: Kanye would be the star.