This is the music video for "Happening" by Snakeskin, off their 2021 record Heart Orb Bone. I created the entire video, from 3D modelling to animation and direction, with Snakeskin's Shanna Polley providing a motion capture performance for the animation.
The video depicts a strange version of Shanna Polley's head floating in a dark void. The camera pans around it. We see that the head appears simple and smooth, reminiscent of early 3D art. Upon closer inspection, we see that the eyes are startlingly realistic, as is the movement of the face. The head sings the lyrics to "Happening" directly into the camera. A light flashes across the screen, and we see the reflection of a glowing, angelic bird as it flies by. The camera pulls back and we fade to black.
The concept for the video was inspired by the Super Mario 64 (1996) start screen, in which a floating 3D Mario head appears and interacts with the player's cursor before you load the game. This image is iconic and nostalgic for those who played this game when it came out. I thought that this composition, given a different art direction and tone, could be the basis for an evocative art piece. I did not set out to instill the video with any particular meaning, but rather to set the stage for viewers to attempt to find their own meaning in the video with emotional cues, cryptic imagery, and art direction that hopefully sticks in the viewers minds.
I initially modelled the face with the polygon count of the 3D Mario head in mind, but eventually found that combining a simpler silhouette with a little higher fidelity was more interesting because it wasn't simply an exercise in nostalgia for early computer graphics; that would just be the starting point. In fact, the final sculpture is more similar to the graphics of 3D cutscenes from the time, such as those found in the game Final Fantasy VII (1997) on Play Station. After completing the face, I made the decision to make the eyes as realistic as possible using high resolution textures created by the WikiHuman Project and physically-based rendering using the Arnold Renderer in Maya. To me, there is a suggestion that there is an emotional reality embedded in the uncanny, artificial face... maybe there is a sense that the nostalgic art direction is capable of holding more value and more emotional truth than you may initially think.
I created the head model in Maya, and I built over 40 blend shapes and a control rig to interface with a motion capture tool called MocapX. MocapX uses the iPhone's Memoji API to read a face performance and covert it into inputs for the face controller I built in Maya. You can see how Shanna's performance translated into the video below: