Behind the scenes: Stereo by Shimm1

Rap videos aren't typically known for their cutting-edge creativity, often relying on fail-safe booty-shaking women. But then Shimm1 and Notion Studio haven' produced a typical rap video, as we found out.

In these days of DIY media, of MySpace self-promotion and YouTube production values, it's often stated that any monkey with a camcorder and a PC can put together a half decent music video in no time at all.

Not so. In reality, the gap between twee self-hype and truly creative content is chasmic. Just ask Shimm1. This Birmingham based hip-hop artist has been identified as one of the most distinct new voices to emerge from the UK hip-hop scene, and for his new single, Stereo, he needed a video that was just as innovative.

Enter Notion Studio, an animation and video facility owned by the University of Central England but operating as a fully-fledged commercial media company. Though barely a year old, Notion's six-man team had an impressive portfolio to its name, including work for award-wining fashion designer Gavin Douglas, a first place film at the Angel Film Festival for The Acid Game, and a documentary on the world famous art forger John Myatt.

The Shimm1 project needed to be more than a linear-themed promo, and drew on all of Notion's creative talent. Given the studio had a deadline of six weeks to storyboard, plan, shoot and produce the video, the finished package looks even more impressive.

"We produced a few seconds of sample footage showing what we wanted to do," explains Jon Harris, Notion's content developer and project manager. "The brief asked for plenty of movement to tie-in with the theme of the song - stereo. It was just a few buildings and speakers popping up, but Shimm1 was blown away."

Notion then set to work and unleashed Lee Daley and Richard Caldicott - their 2D and 3D animators. Using the Midlands as their backdrop, Notion shot the flat scenery according to their storyboard idea. The backdrops were then imported into Photoshop where they were coloured by eye according to the lighting conditions of the shot. Even the TV interference that flecks the screen from time to time was organically produced in Photoshop.

Guerilla filmmaking
"Everything you see in the video, except Shimm1, was made directly in After Effects or put through Photoshop first," says Daley. "The video was more akin to guerilla filmmaking, as was our bluescreen set-up."

For the bluescreen stage, the Notion artists were preoccupied with getting the lighting spot on. Having crafted the stage, the team set about trying to find keying cloth, and finally stumbled upon what they were looking for in Birmingham's Bullring outdoor market. But come the day of the shoot, things didn't go quite as planned.

"The tests went fine, but we hit a small stumbling block," Daley recounts. "We did our tests on a Tuesday and the shoot was on Thursday, but we forgot that the markets aren't open on Wednesdays, so we had a little panic waiting around at 8am for the stall owner to turn up. Needless to say, he did, and we got our material."

That's not to suggest that the triumph of the finished video is down to the work commitment of one plucky market storeowner. As Daley and Caldicott got started with their illustrative work, they found the stock footage they took lent itself to their ideas for the video quite brilliantly.

The finer details
"We mainly used After Effects because of its ease of use and robustness," Daley remembers. "The software allowed us to take advantage of its 3D work space, enabling us to create our vision of the Midlands."

"I'm fond of the video's underground scene because 99 per cent of it is made from bits and bobs," Caldicott continues. "In one part the floor was made from the side of a building. There's also a sequence where the screen sways, and right in the distance there's a traffic cone that wobbles. It's the small details that may not be noticed that are the most gratifying sometimes."

The finished video is a product that both Shimm1 and Notion Studio should quite rightly be proud of. The £25,000 budget that's dwarfed by typical video shoot budgets hasn't restrained the creative flow, and not only complements Shimm1's lolloping and irrationally addictive tune, but amplifies both the song's subject matter and the Midlands' connection.

Ask Harris for his thoughts on the finished project and he raises an interesting point: "It seemed like the right way to go from the outset and the result has proved that you can have a great rap video without a bouncing booty in sight." Hear, hear.

www.notionstudio.com
www.myspace.com/shimm1
www.shimm1.co.uk
www.uce.ac.uk