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11th October 2012
Animal instincts
Title of film: David Guetta ft Sia - She Wolf
Director: Hiro Murai
Production Company: Pegasus Pictures
Hiro Murai's latest promo for David Guetta featuring Sia blends stunning nature with digital nurturing

We’ve featured the work of LA-based director Hiro Murai on OnePointFour before so his new music vid had us rubbing our hands with told-you-so glee. Set to a pumping high energy dance track by David Guetta, the haunting vocals of Sia unravel a tale of wounded love with compelling natural visuals augmented by digital design elements.

OnePointFour spoke with Hiro about the creative process behind the promo.

What was the starting point for your concept on this project? And what’s your method for concepting a film with this degree of post? Do you describe the technicalities of how you’re going to tell the story in the treatment or hope that the artist trust that you know what you’re doing?! How do you reference for a project like this?

The brief from the label was really open. The only thing they asked for was that it’d be narrative-based and feature no artists – which is really rare for a big budget video. So I wanted to take the opportunity to make something that felt appropriately big in scope, but also slightly idiosyncratic and unusual for a big pop track.

I think the way I explained the VFX was by calling it “violently digital”. I told them that it’d be the polar opposite of the organic textures in the locations. We referenced some abstract polygon art, but to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what it was going to be until we made it.

We took Brandon Hirtzel, our VFX creative director, with us to Iceland because I wanted to develop the look of the FX as we were shooting on location. Because music video timelines are so condensed, it just felt like the most organic way to approach it. We were also fortunate to have a commissioner that trusted us to make decisions on the fly.

How closely were David / Sia involved in developing the idea? Did you have quite a free reign or did the commissioner come to you with the seed of a film?

David and Sia were never too involved in the process as far as I could tell. I think they trusted the commissioner to oversee it and make sure we weren’t doing anything dumb. Like I said, the brief itself was very open, so we had a lot of creative freedom. Whatever we made just had to feel good with the music.

Whereabouts did you shoot the location footage? And what were the challenges of shooting in nature? What did you film on?

Because the treatment required snow, and it was August at the time, there weren’t many locations that worked for us. Fortunately, one of them happened to be Iceland. We flew out our core crew out there and filled out the rest with Icelandic crew.

Shooting in nature, especially if you’re shooting live animals, can be really chaotic, but I think that’s also what’s exciting about it. There’s something about the lack of control that makes the shots feel spontaneous and lively. It’s like trying to catch butterflies in a hurricane. You sometimes end up catching unexpected things in your net.

We shot on the Arri Alexa with anamorphic lenses. Most of the time, the camera lived on a steadycam with the operator strapped to an ATV. Larkin Seiple, the DP, and I were often strapped on the same ATV looking over the shoulder of the steady operator. It got pretty crowded at times.

There’s quite a bit of blue/green screen work too correct? How did you go about shooting a running wolf in a studio?! And the hunter sequences? Was it incredibly time consuming to key out the footage and pull selects?

There’re actually only two greenscreen shots in the video, and even those were filmed on location. We wanted the light to feel consistent so we just threw up a greenscreen on a stand while we filmed at the oceanside cliff location. The crew joked about it being the most elaborate greenscreen stage ever.

Did you have a specific stylist you worked with on the film – the hunter costumes are fabulous.

The stylist on this project was Ella Reynis, who we found in Iceland. She was amazing to work with. She had a lot of experience styling hunters and Nordic warrior types, because they film shows like Game of Thrones over there. I think the guys who played the hunters had been extras in Game of Thrones as well.

What was the biggest challenge on the shoot? And in post?

The biggest challenge during the shoot was figuring out the logistics of filming a running wolf, and getting enough emotions out of the wolf to make the story work.

We kind of painted ourselves into a corner by making the wolf our main character in the video. The wolf wasn’t a trained animal actor, so we were constantly trying to figure out how we could make it seem like she was hurt or desperate, when in reality she was jollily chasing birds with her tongue flopping around.
In post, the biggest challenge was time. Because we were trying something in VFX that we’d never tried before, it took a lot of time to get to a place where we were all happy. And on top of that, there were just a lot of FX shots in the edit. It was tough, because we had to make sure the FX shots could hold up when intercut with the gorgeous live action footage from Iceland. It was pretty daunting at times.

Are you working on anything else you can discuss at the moment?

Not at the moment. I’m still decompressing from this one. But I have a hard time sitting still, so I’m sure I’ll get restless sooner than later.

Director: Hiro Murai Producer: Jonathan Wang AD: Jesse Fleece DP: Larkin Seiple Art: Gus Olaffson Wardrobe: Ella Reynis AC: Matt Sanderson Steadycam: Alex Kornreich Edit: Mandy Brown VFX: Brandon "BEMO" Hirtzel Color: Marc Steinberg Exec prod: Danielle Hinde - Doomsday Ent Commissioner: Danny Lockwood – EMI Icelandic production: Pegasus Pictures