12 May 2016

Interview with Michael Fragstein:
It’s a Thin Red Line

Text: Marie-Kathrin Zettl

Linking a song with appropriate visuals is more relevant than ever in today’s music industry. Nonetheless, the era of video clips on music television channels is a thing of the past. Musicians are increasingly using video platforms on the Internet instead to share their latest clips with a broad audience. A series of programmes to create films has also made the medium of music videos one of an experimental area for designers – also concerning their 3D aesthetics.

“We work to generate disorder. By dismantling expectations, we hope to achieve a new path, a different perspective, or an unexpected breakthrough.” This is the philosophy of the Stuttgart-based Büro Achter April owned by Michael Fragstein. In addition to exhibition design, design engineering and still images, this art director also concentrates on moving images in his studio. He designed and developed the visualisation to “Dagner”, a song by Dan Freeman and the Serious,  a band from Berlin. We asked the film-maker a few questions about the evolution, conception and production of the clip. 


How did the collaboration with Dan Freeman and the Serious come about?


We came into contact through a recommendation by a Berlin production company that I know. The singer, Dan Freeman, sent me a whole series of unpublished songs to choose from. The title “Dagner” immediately gave me a few visual points of contact.



What does the concept look like? Did you develop it alone or with a team? Which programmes did you use?


The video was created as an experiment with the idea of trying out something new, pushing boundaries and loosening strict production structures from time to time. The video was not developed with a traditional storyboard but rather from 3D scenes that we had collected for this purpose. In order to build the world for “Dagner”, we used a photogrammatic process that constructs textured 3D models from a series of images. The aim was not to create perfect copies of the illustrated scenes but to play with imprecision in the process whereby the system was fed with inferior image material or the software parameters were set on low values. This imprecision focuses on giving the scenes a more vibrant and enigmatic effect. The static atmosphere of a painted image is created and this combines with some animated elements.

I developed the concept on my own. In preparing the shoots, setting up the 3D scenes and doing the colour grading, I was supported by a team. To do these things, we used Agisoft Photoscan, Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Davinci Resolve.


How much time did the production process take up?


Almost a year passed from first contacting the band to publishing the clips. The design and production phase took four months.



To what extent did the song itself have an influence on the design?

There are, of course, direct connections with the visual leitmotif. In the song, there is the lyric, “It’s a thin red line“. The red line comes up directly in the lyrics and as an object in the video. The design of the images is created here not to illustrate the words but rather more to play around them. 



What inspired you?


Talking with Dan Freeman was not limited just to the project. Paths for design opened up from these conversations. Also, the tools used were sources of inspiration too, because while experimenting, the unbelievable range of possibilities grows even more. The surreal, the reduction and the abstract emerge in many of my video creations and are inspired by precedents in painting and literature. 



How did you manage to achieve a harmonious balance between music and design?


My attitude is often that the images have to be coherent and follow a creative idea in all the scenes. Although the video sacrifices classic narration, there is a sense of drama that fits with the song. The world in which the video is built is carried by a specific atmosphere. This atmosphere is the essential link to the song. The images are even more strongly connected to the music via the editing and tracking shots that respond to the music.



DAGNER from Michael Fragstein on Vimeo.


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