• 01.18.11

Nathaniel Whitcomb’s Animated Collages Bend the Music Video Genre

The Cleveland-based designer cuts up old National Geographic photos and animates them into haunting “motion collages.”

Nathaniel Whitcomb’s Animated Collages Bend the Music Video Genre

Music videos are enjoying a renaissance online — but besides that one with the Google stuff in it, when was the last time you saw one that truly felt visually unique? For me it was last week, when I saw Nathaniel Whitcomb‘s odd, haunting, not-quite-video for the song “White Walls” by Holy Spirits. It’s not made like a video, it’s not structured like a video, hell, it’s not even shaped like a video. But it feels something like the future. Take a look:


Whitcomb works as an interaction designer at a Cleveland-based branding firm, but his background in biology (he did research as an undergrad) carries over into his creative process: “I approach things from a scientific angle — I do a lot of experiments,” he told Co.Design. These strange creations, which he calls “motion collages, for lack of a better term,” grew out of his desire to “turn my collage work into what I was actually seeing in my head,” he says. “But it also comes out of my nostalgia for the imaginative aspect of old album art on 12″ vinyl records. With Beatles covers, you can spend the whole album staring at the artwork, imagining the world behind it.”

One of Whitcomb’s early experiments.

Whitcomb scans cut-up photographs from 1970s-era National Geographic magazines into Photoshop and AfterEffects, then sets the compositions to music. He sent one of them to Holy Spirits on a whim; they were hooked and asked him to create motion collages for every track of their new album, The Afternoon’s Blood. Here’s another, entitled “Tongues”:

Holy Spirits invited Whitcomb to join them on a Kickstarter-funded tour in New York and Los Angeles, where Whitcomb “performs” the motion collages live onstage by manipulating the various photographic and animation elements in real time.


Why the square shape? Whitcomb says it’s simply because most of the photos he uses are framed in portrait-style, and so tweaking them to fit a widescreen aspect ratio would be too much work. But he isn’t going for a necessarily eerie vibe. “That song [White Walls] is very foreboding, but the voices are sort of soothing at the same time,” he says. “I wanted the motion collage to make you feel as if something could be going very wrong here, but it’s all going to be OK.”

So far only one other indie band has approached Whitcomb to create similar compositions, but we think it’s only a matter of time before others catch on. Just don’t force him to work in that vanilla, rectangular aspect ratio: “I keep seeing [the motion collages] getting cropped on other sites,” he says, “and it drives me crazy.”

[See more of Whitcomb’s work on his Vimeo page]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.