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18th November 2020
A M.I.N.D of his own
An eye-bleeding concoction of retro video games, shot-on-iPhone, 3D animation and millennial meme culture, the madly creative music videos of Superorganism have arguably played as big a part as their earworm-y songs in propelling the eight-part indie-pop act to international stardom. Failed pro-guitarist and self-proclaimed ‘massive nerd’, Robert Strange, is the man behind the mash-ups, and he’s having a better 2020 than most: having traded the band house for a ‘pink retro dreamland’, he’s signed to Blinkink and branched out with spots for IKEA, adidas and a new promo for Tinie Tempah - complete with canine cameo. He tells 1.4 about copyright nightmares and why his next move might be writing post-prequel Star Wars fanfiction.

 

Robert Strange 

 

You rose to fame for creating Superorganism’s distinct videos, but in the early days of the band you also had a day job at the London College of Fashion. What’s your backstory?

 

Haha, when I first moved to the UK I used to work on the student admin desk at London College of Fashion in Shepherd’s Bush. I would pretend I was working, but I actually had my laptop in front of me editing music videos. Students would apologise for disturbing me hard at work, but I was just making Superorganism videos on the university dime! Before that I tried to be a pro guitarist, and before that I tried to be an actor.

 

Stock footage, phone footage, 2 and 3D animation, retro video game visuals, millennial meme culture all mashed together with a distinctly lo-fi vibe… your aesthetic feels both original and of-the-moment. What does the creative process look like for you, and where do you get your inspiration?

 

Some of it I’m actually trying to be current and cool, and a lot of it is just influence from stuff I’ve watched throughout my life. I’m a massive nerd so I get really obsessed with things and I have a really good memory for pop culture, so I draw on that. Sometimes I read the tvtropes.com website to figure out which episode of Biker Mice From Mars I can reference for the next sequence. When I’m making music videos, I just listen to the song 100 times in a row and the music video comes to me like a holy vision.

 

 

Superorganism, The Prawn Song

 

Superorganism famously live together in one house, but the songwriting process still takes place digitally, with band members working in separate rooms and sending each other ideas. How much input do the rest of the band have into the videos?

 

I escaped the band house last year and live in my own flat with my wife now. Most of the rest of Superorganism live in a flat just around the corner so I go there all the time, ostensibly to work but mostly to hang out with my friends. In terms of input – sometimes I just show them the video after I’ve finished it and they love it, but sometimes I show them partway through and we have long heated email arguments about insignificant details. I actually really like brainstorming with the band in the initial phases: everyone comes up with cool ideas that I mould into a story or sequence or whatever.

 

 

Superorganism, Everybody Wants To Be Famous

 

With the sheer amount of content you’re repurposing for the videos, the legal and licensing side of things must be a nightmare – in fact, you had to remake the entire video for Something For Your M.I.N.D for copyright compliance. How long does a typical video take to put together?

 

The early videos had a lot of that: there’s a lot of video stuff people have made available through this licensing system called Creative Commons, but you have to credit the original creator etc. When I made the first Something For Your M.I.N.D video, I thought it would probably get 200 views so I was just trying to make something that looked like Off The Air with a bunch of Ecco the Dolphin clips and videos of robots. Then I swapped out all the unlicensed clips with Creative Commons ones. There’s no set time for a video to take – Something For Your M.I.N.D took six months but I was distracted by my day job. Everybody Wants to Be Famous took six weeks – that’s a bit more of a normal length now.

 

 

Superorganism, Night Time

 

The Superorganism promos feature some wonderful recurring characters, like the whale and the retro video-game prawns, as well as the band members in various guises. What’s been your favourite video to work on?

 

Everybody Wants to Be Famous was my favourite one because I quit my job at the university to start making it. I’d never ever worked on a professional production before and there I was, directing the first big video for a hot new band on Domino Records. It was the part of every music biography where something crazy happens and the group of best buds that no one thought was going to amount to anything suddenly has the world at their fingertips. I did all the post-production with Blink Industries and it felt like I was on holiday. The video was such a big success, I remember watching the view count go up and up and up.

 

 

Gorillaz Humility Remix

 

You’ve also masterminded several ‘video remixes’ for the likes of Gorillaz and Hot Chip – what are the biggest challenges that come with fusing two different universes?

 

It’s kind of like writing fanfiction. No matter what you do, some people are like “This is NOT canon!” because they don’t identify with the same elements of the band that you resonate with. All you can do is do your best fanfiction crossover event, and hope people like it.

 

With your visuals being a huge part of Superorganism’s identity, what has it been like to branch off and direct videos for different clients? Have you felt the need to evolve your style/aesthetic?

 

It’s weird having less creative control on non-Superorganism projects. I’m so used to just answering to myself and my idiot friends so it’s very confusing. It’s less personal but it’s taught me not to think of every decision as life and death. Bart at Blinkink once told me to branch out when I got too obsessed with doing pixel animation and I spiralled into depression for a few days, then got into doing animation with clay/plasticine. Superorganism stuff tends to look like I made it with my hands for Nickelodeon in 1994. I’ve started trying to branch into more live action – I made a horror video at the start of the year. And I’ve directed some more traditionally 2D animated spots recently for IKEA and Adidas, which I learned to do on the Tinie Tempah video. I like cartoonish stuff and there are a lot of ways to do that.

 

 

Tine Tempah, Moncler

 

Most recently, you directed the promo for Tinie Tempah’s latest track. It’s quite rare for hip hop artists to go down the animation route; tell us a bit about collaborating with Tinie (and his dog) and how the project came together during lockdown.

 

Everyone did an animation music video in April 2020. The Moncler video came in through Blinkink and I thought I’d done the worst pitch I’d ever done. I was never so sure that something stunk. I felt like I’d let everyone down, including Tinie. However, he loved it and what I really liked was that he wanted way more humour. He’s just a proper artist and knows how to collaborate. He suggested we have his dog in the video, and he also sent me a voice message on WhatsApp at quite a late stage, asking if we could add a real yak to one of the sections. We couldn’t afford it by that point, but I hope we can collaborate soon on Moncler II: Return of the Yak and Moncler III: Yak to the Future. 

 

2020 has been a strange old year: what have been the highlights (and low points) for you as a director/animator?

 

Well, my career has really gone well this year and without the lockdown I wouldn’t have got the Tinie video, which has been really good for me. I signed with Blink, I made a live-action horror video, everything changed and I didn’t see my best friends in person for like 3 months, I realised I love Star Wars: Episode I, I realised how much we all rely on direct social interaction and how important that is. I worked on a lot of cool projects with a lot of cool people while the world seemed to fall apart around us. I got married and have been helping my wife redecorate our flat into a pink retro dreamland. I’ve also missed my parents back home in New Zealand quite a lot, but I’m happy to be in London.

 

 

Something For Your M.I.N.D.

 

What are you working on at the moment?

 

I’m working on some ads and some music videos, some boxing animations, and I’m trying to think about a cool idea for a TV show. I’ve been trying to think about a cool idea for a TV show for years now, though, so maybe I should just give up and start writing Star Wars fanfiction set in the post-prequels, pre-original trilogy era. I really like it when the Jedi are tempted by the dark side, particularly when it’s really cheesy and Satanic, so I might do some fanfiction based around those kinds of themes. I’m thinking of Obi-Wan wandering around the deserts of Tatooine being tempted by the Star Wars devil and having to tell himself over and over he did the right thing. We’ll see how we go.

 

Interview by Selena Schleh

 

Blinkink website

Robert Strange website

Superorganism

@blink_ink

@robostrange

Credits

Tinie Tempah, Moncler (Feat. Tion Wayne)

Production Company: Blink Ink

Director: Robert Strange

Producer: Corin Taylor

Exec Producer: Laura Northover & Josef Byrne

Production Manager: Rosanna Morley & Sebastian Jowers

Illustrator: Rob Flowers

Animators:Jac Clinch, Knifeson Yu, Campbell Hartley, Hannah Lau-Walker, Andrew Clarke.

Compositor: Tom Fisher

 

 

Everybody Wants To Be Famous

Directed by Robert Strange

Dan Hawkins – Director of Photography, Lead Compositor

Letty Fox – Compositor

Alex Holberton – Producer

Production Company: Blink Industries

 

 

The Prawn Song

Directed by Robert Strange

Dan Hawkins – Director of Photography, VFX Artist/Compositor

Chuck Duke – 3D Animator

Antoine Bourruel – 3D Animator

Felip Docolomansky – CGI Generalist

Philippe Medina – 3D Animator

Robert Strange – Pixel Animation

Alex Holberton – Producer

Ollie Craig – First AC

Robin Brigham – Gaffer

Natalia Rogalska – Make-up Artist

 

 

Gorillaz + Superorganism remix Humility

Production Company: Blinkink

Director: Robert Strange

Executive Producer: Bart Yates

Producer: Alex Holberton

VFX Artist: Dan Hawkins

DOP: Ollie Craig

1st AC: Francesca Zucchini

Gaffer: Lorenzo Guerrieri

 

 

Superorganism, Something for you M.I.N.D.

Directed and edited by Robert Strange

 

 

Superorganism, Night Time

Directed by Robert Strange

Dan Hawkins – Director of Photography and Lead Animator

Phillipe Medina – 3D Animation/Whale Wrangler

Sam Dunn – Illustration

Robert Strange – Pixel Animation

Alex Holberton – Producer

Production Company: Blink Industries

 

 

Superorganism,  Nobody Cares

Directed and edited by Robert Strange