Rho Stone’s Audiovisual Adventures: Meshuggah – I Am Colossus

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Sorry for the absence. I’ve been busy in my jerb – gotta earn that beer money. I think I pushed a couple of your buttons last time by talking about Immortal, so now I’ll do the next most logical thing and compare them to Meshuggah.

I should begin by saying I don’t really like what Meshuggah has become. I mean if they’re playing with another band I’d like to see I wouldn’t mind seeing them and would maybe tap my foot along, but I’m not listening to that shit any other way (except watching their videos for you because I like you guys!) Their old stuff is good though. Well, whatever, here’s “I Am Colossus”

Videos like this make me miss MTV. The video is scary as hell and that appeal is kind of lost when you realize that only people who are already into this are going to see it. You might be saying “Pfffffft I wasn’t scared at all”, but most people at the Toilet are grown-ups who watch horror movies like they’re Saturday morning cartoons. Imagine seeing this as a starry-eyed pre-teen with musical knowledge that barely goes beyond Radio Disney. I might be one of them “90’s kids” with our Gamestations and our Star Trek phones, but I’m old enough to remember the first time MTV creeped the shit out of me. I think it’s kind of sad there’s not a medium like that anymore. We have more freedom of choice than ever before, but we’ve lost the magic behind rooting our asses in the couch and seeing obscure shit without having any power over it.

What I’m trying to say here is that Immortal videos can’t scare your grandmother but a video like this can. Notice how this video takes advantage of the song’s structure (also take notice of the imagery and the use of shadows like I have explained earlier). The camera position, the nuns, and everything else moves with the rhythm. It’s like they’re “dancing” with the djent. I’ve never worked with stop-motion but I understand the technicalities behind it: you move shit around the frame and take a picture. You fit said pictures on the timeline depending on what frame-per-second aspect you’re going for. Some common ones are 15 fps for an old film look, 24/25 for cinema style movement, 30 for digital video (this is the most similar to the human eye fps capability), or 60 if you hate your employees.

I think stop-motion was a good choice, particularly using clay models as they did. The creepiness of this video goes hand in hand with it sinking deep into the Uncanny Valley. I’ll explain this concept. Notice the nuns or, well, see pretty much anything in the video? It’s modeled to be human but not quite. Had they used actors or other kind of models they wouldn’t have those scrawny bodies, black hole faces or creepy movement patterns, which are crucial. Check this chart I made:

uncannyvalley click to enlarge

For the most part, the more human something looks, the familiar it feels to us. Imagine that robot arm on the left is in a movie; he goes around on its wheelies and hands the main character his coffee or something like that. It flaps its arm around to show joy or shrinks in disgust depending on how the plot is going. Even though it’s a stick on wheels he moves and does things that resemble things humans do, and we can sympathize with it.

R2-D2 is basically a trashcan with legs but it moves around, makes bleep bloop noises that everyone is somehow able to understand and has a cocky personality. Can you see how things start becoming more human? Then we have Kirby to represent simple cartoon characters, and DK the more stylized ones. There you have your Looney Tunes, Pixar characters, Spongebob Squarepants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you name it. They have the featues of people, like eyes in the front of their faces, elongated limbs and personalities. They talk and fluently move around.

The line peaks in the stylized human figures. The Iron Man suit, Samus Aran, or Master Chief, for example. These are humans that break suspension of disbelief without being photorealistic. From there the more human something looks, the creepier it gets. You and I both know what real humans look like and how they behave. Anything that deviates from the norm will weird us out. Also human features presented somewhere that’s not human (like teeth on a fish) will feel creepy. For some we seem to have some weird disposition to eyes. The part of the brain that says “beware of predator” will trigger. This downward slope between stylized reality and photorealism is called the Uncanny Valley.  It was “discovered” by the Japanese (who else?) when they started asking themselves why were their robots disturbing the shit out of everyone. So now everyone knows that if you want to create a good model, you stick to stylized realism or try to achieve photorealism and hope you don’t creep everyone out. Unless creeping everyone out is your goal, in that case you have the ingredients to do it right down there in the valley.

So now you know: the next time you want to disturb someone, keep your dignity and don’t tell them you like Disturbed. Be like the “I Am Colossus” video and move to the beat of djent. Also be a weird human/non-human creature.

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