Hello, I’m Kareem Ettouney, Art Director and Co-Founder of Media Molecule. We’re thrilled to have just released a music video with Sony Music Artist Noah Cyrus, a collaboration made possible with Dreams, and wanted to show you a behind-the-scenes look at how it was made.
We have been working with Sony for a long time to find the right opportunity to collaborate on making a music video in Dreams, showcasing the potential of the project for this wonderful art form.
Our outreach team spent ages listening to loads of songs from potential collaborators, searching for the right match and finally found the opportunity to work as part of a One Sony collaboration group to make a music video for Noah Cyrus’ beautiful song “July.”
We wanted to fully embrace the One Sony vision where Sony games, Sony music, Sony technology and Sony organisations all jammed together to deliver this video.
Our first plan was to mix live footage of Noah with graphics made in Dreams, but this part of the project got shelved when the COVID-19 lockdowns happened, and we pivoted to a new idea and delivered a truly virtual collaboration.
We loved listening to Noah Cyrus’ July song — it felt so timeless, the melody was effortless.
What was clear by the end of the song is that this wasn’t a story of liberation or enlightenment, it’s about exploring internal conflict, and we loved how brave it is to explore these emotions without promising a fluffy conclusion. So, we decided to take the audience on a visual journey that mimics the experience we had with the music.
The concept was pretty fleshed out in our collective minds from the start… these first ideas came out as a natural response to “July” and as we developed the video and got Noah’s ideas and input more details presented themselves and formed the final result. We imagined Noah as a marble statue sculpted in wonderful detail laying on a plinth in a lonely cold gallery space. From there, organic elements like mountains and forests would flow from her, as visual emotions, and over the course of the video we would gradually pull away from her until she disappeared in a colourful cosmos of gaseous clouds.
As we developed the pitch document we used Dreams to create storyboards, mood boards, concept art and animatics. The idea was refined through this process and elements such as the tear idea emerged, acting as a spark for the emotive visuals flowing from Noah’s sculpture. Through a single tear she sparks a visual orchestra of life…
Noah and the Sculpture
We knew from the start that capturing Noah’s likeness and mood in the song was key. As we were not going to animate the sculpture, it was essential that it was full of life even without movement.
It was a challenging task, even though I have been using Dream tools since our very first prototypes many years ago, capturing human likeness and personality is one of the hardest goals in art, regardless of the medium!
But Dreams’ unique sculpture tools allow for the artist to lose themselves in the form without spending too much of their time battling with complex, convoluted UI concepts. I sculpted Noah’s hair using one of my favorite features in sculpt mode, surface snap, while smearing with the curve tool. It’s pretty therapeutic.
Noah’s reference photos for this piece also inspired new elements – the butterfly we open on comes from her tattoos and we use it to draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.
Ultimately, this statue of Noah has become one of my favourite creations in Dreams.
The Emotive Landscapes
The emotive landscapes growing around Noah’s sculpture were inspired by waterfalls, salt mountains in Iceland and paradolia (likeness of something hidden somewhere unexpected). When we learned Noah had written the song in Bali, it felt natural to design our landscapes around Indonesia’s ‘Ring of Fire’ mountains that dominate here in the background.
We played with scale, keeping everything small in comparison to Noah, so she gradually becomes this epic looming figure within the evolving landscape. Dotted around the scene are these ‘pareidolia’ and imagined them as different captures of Noah at points throughout the relationship in the song. I was very keen on integrating them in the landscapes to relate it all back visually to Noah throughout the piece. In this one, as a small touch, I tried to recreate Noah’s crown in the photo reference provided by her using pine trees to emphasise the scale. We lit these elements in a warm colour scheme, so that’d they’d stand out from the more naturally lit landscapes, and have their own visual identity.
Towards the end of the piece, we use fire, encroaching and drawing into Noah to visualise her internal conflict. This isn’t over, the beauty and wonder that has grown around her is still full of sadness and turmoil.
We pull out of the gallery as the fire and smoke take over.
‘You remind me every day I’m not enough but I still stay’
The box drifts off to become a star surrounded by billions of others.
We imagine each of those stars a box of Noah’s emotions, an experience packaged up and drifting in the emptiness of space, always in us, not always wanting to be found.
There’s a vastness and loneliness that plays nicely with the beauty of the imagery that leaves the song lingering in our minds long after the film has faded to black… and we realise that all these stars are other emotions of Noah’s, the stars then fade one by one to nothingness… this final act of the video was fleshed out in later stages based on Noah’s input and her feeling it needs to relate to the “end of everything” theme in her work.
Dreams Collaborative Tools
We used a lot of Dreams’ in-game collaboration features to help us all work on this project remotely. After all, this project was a true collaboration across disciplines and even countries, with Noah in the US and one of our freelance artists, a talented member of the Dreams community, Martin Nebelong in Denmark. The Mm team, Anthony, Pablo, Suzy and myself, are all based in the UK.
One of the great aspects of the Dreams tools is that one can go in and create the 3d assets faster than making a concept digitally. This speed of 3d creation allows Anthony, our video director, to explore cinematography ideas and gives Pablo, our animator, the material to explore the animation of the elements simultaneously and early in the development process so that concept, previsualisation and final development methods to all blend together.
The “collaborators” feature allows you to assemble a team of Dreams users to work together privately on content and publish work only for them to see and work on.
We organised all our work using another of our in-game features called “collections.” They were a great way of putting all the work involved in this video into one place.
We hope you enjoy the video and reading about how it was created. And as always, look forward to seeing what you create in Dreams.